Search Results for 'pseudonymity'

As an aspiring sewist (I guess “seamstress” seems too old-fashioned, though I like it, and “sewer” clearly doesn’t work), I also read garment sewing blogs. Which are tremendously helpful fonts of advice and inspiration for sewing, but for thinking, offer an interesting counterpoint to discussions about pseudonymity and academic blogging.

Like academic blogs, there are many many women blogging about sewing (just one man I read regularly). Most of them have a bit of a persona, but also use a real first name, rarely last names. They post full-on pictures of themselves all the time, and sometimes their children—you have to, you can’t blog about garment sewing without posting pictures to show off, or ask for fitting advice as a garment is in progress. Garments might be shown on a dressform, but that is less common. (I might actually use my sewing blog if I had a good picture-posting workflow).

They are usually open about what city they are in, and sometimes people have meetups. (On the other hand, they are not findable as professors are—-that is, knowing a first name and city does not generally enable me to show up outside their office, as would be the case with most professors. A few people do specify their jobs.)

The content, unlike pseudonymous academic blogs, is pretty exclusively focused. The expectation is that blogs are dedicated to sewing—people will sometimes apologize for the occasional post that is not about sewing or clothes. A few of them have other blogs, but not very many.

Some other participant-observation notes:

  • The blog community seems to be an extension of the Pattern Review community, which does forums, classes, and contests as well as reviewing and selling patterns. A “pattern review” discusses making a garment in detail, and people often post their pattern reviews both on the PR site and as a blog post.
  • Garment sewing blogs also overlap and intermingle with the vintage clothing blogs, and general fashion/style blogs. They don’t overlap with the mommy bloggers that much, that I can tell.
  • The community is very international. Many more bloggers and commenters from England, Australia and New Zealand, but also continental Europe and Asia and a few people using Google Translate to automatically blog in two languages.
  • There’s also a significant number of black American women (a contrast with the mommy blogs, I believe).
  • Most of them are on Blogger—very few on WordPress—and they make heavy use of the Follower option in Blogger, tending to do giveaways when follower count hits 100, 200, etc, and keeping the widget in the sidebar.
  • Community interaction is pretty strong. Sometimes people just do random giveaways. Expert sewists often lead sew-alongs, where everyone buys the same pattern and works on the same project while the leader does instructional posts over a few weeks or months. Tutorials are common.
  • There are a lot of regular commenters with Blogger profiles who Follow blogs but do not have a blog themselves.
  • Comments are almost invariably positive compliments (this is difficult for me, as I tend to comment to debate rather than to agree).
  • I much more frequently run into blogs that disallow anonymous comments and have the name/url option turned off (which generally means I don’t comment much, especially since I don’t have a proper google account for my sewing identity, and thus don’t Follow any blogs).

PS. Sewing is going quite well. Just over a year after starting, I successfully made myself a flattering and attractive semi-formal silk dress for a gala weekend before last. I am very proud.


The guest post at Tenured Radical linked to Kevin Levin, a Civil War scholar and blogger, talking about his own blogging quite a while back.

The mistake that people make is in thinking about social media as a way to build community. Some of you who have been around for a while know that not too long ago I was fixated with creating a Civil War Memory community. At one point or another I included Google Friend Connect and even a widget for the Civil War Memory Facebook page in the sidebar. Somehow I envisioned readers connecting with one another and continuing discussions in various online spaces. I now see this as completely misguided. There are no Online communities; in fact, it demeans the very concept of community.

In the end, social media affords the user the opportunity to build an AUDIENCE.

He gets excellent pushback from the commenters on this, and follows up:

I guess I would like to know what the difference is between a couple of people whining about my site and a community of interest or even a more robust notion of community. In the end I don’t see myself as fostering a community or taking part in one. Again, I see my readers as an audience, but an audience that I can interact with in different ways.

I find this really interesting—and admittedly, somewhat bizarre—in part because I started this blog not to get an audience, but to join a community. The blog was largely a home to give my comments elsewhere some context, to make me an identifiable and contactable character while I was out and about on the web. Readers are always conceived of as people who followed me “home” because I wrote a comment they found appealing—because that’s exactly how I read blogs.

For a counterpoint to Levin’s view, we can check out Ta-Nehisi Coates and a cute piece in The Economist. If you don’t read TNC, he’s known around the blogosphere for having good discussion in the comments, especially on tricky subjects like race. I don’t participate in the Open Threads over there, but if I remember correctly, the creation of the Open Threads, or at least doing them every day instead of intermittently, was a request from commenters to open a space to build community among people they enjoyed talking with. And they just held a meet-up, and are planning more.

The Economist piece focuses on unintended communities, with some nice quotations:

It’s somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.

I have an unposted draft that claims people want to join cults—Apple, aerobics, football fans, bullying, etc. That’s a bit too snarky. But forming a community strikes me as a natural tendency of most of the people I run into online these days.

Re: Katrina Gulliver at Tenured Radical, yadda yadda yadda. There’s discussion there, or check out Not of General Interest, Another Damned Medievalist, and Dr. Crazy for more excellent commentary.

Jonathan Dresner’s comment at Another Damned Medievalist’s:

One of the downsides of the internet, and this goes way back before facebook, is the way in which it collapses your activities – personal, professional, political – into equally visible and interlocking things. Whereas our lives offline are segmented and our identities situational in ways that we rarely question until the boundaries of communities get collapsed somehow.

That exactly explains the main reason why I am pseudonymous. It’s the only way to resist that collapsing, which I see as a perversion of normality.
New Kid on the Hallway, at Dr. Crazy’s place:

I think one of the things that’s at play here is how difficult it is to distinguish “work” from “non-work” in academia. That is, like you, Dr. Crazy, I never wrote in any sustained way about my academic field (teaching, yes, teaching medieval history, sometimes, struggling with research in general, yes, but not actually about the subject of my research). But I wrote a lot about being an academic because I *was* an academic, and being an academic takes up a whole lot of one’s life. It’s not one of those jobs you leave at work when you get home. (Plus, being on the tenure-track is unlike almost any other kind of job.) So I think that there’s one kind of academic-life-blogging that is really life blogging, but because academia TAKES OVER your life, that kind of life blogging entails talking about academia quite a lot. And because it’s about academia, some readers assume it’s also professional blogging, and bring professional expectations to the experience. But such blogging is *not* a professional document.

I think New Kid nailed it. I was trying to figure out how to express that.

Even in many anti-pseudonymity screeds, there seems be a general acceptance that putting one’s real name and picture online is a position of privilege that perhaps women and people of color might be excused from as vulnerable populations (I’m somewhat cynically reflecting these ideas, not endorsing them, here).

But I wonder if there is something else going on, that is not at all about vulnerability or fear, particularly as regards people of color (and I apologize if these are old ideas—I’ve don’t remember seeing them emphasized in the several discussions of pseudonymity that I’ve read):

For the Chinese-American who has always had a family name and a school name; for the Latino who easily flips between Spanish and English conversations at the same party; for the black female professor who only straightens her hair during the semester—an internet name may simply be a natural extension of the kind of code-switching they’ve been doing all their life. For them, there is nothing fake or unreal about adopting a particular persona.

By contrast, someone who has never had to practice constant contextual adaptation at such a level of self may feel less comfortable with the act of going by another name; they may feel that setting up a persona is an act of deceit, or a loss of part of self. For instance at Prof Hacker, Brian Croxall begins his endorsement of using real names with:

I try to be myself….What being myself online has meant to me has been achieved through using one username across most of the Internet and one avatar.

That’s what it means to him. For me being myself has rarely involved any sort of consistency in my daily life, regardless of the internet. I admit that I’m an extreme case. But the internet didn’t make me that way. I remember desperately wanting contact lenses in high school because while I was already “the smart kid”, I really did not want to be “the geek with glasses.” I love this bit from Rana because it so clearly shows how using a real name is disconnected from being oneself. Half the reason to begin using a variant online name was to signify female more clearly—in other words, to be more myself.

A single avatar? Let’s consider gendered norms for appearance. I was once given a (wholly ridiculous) dress code of “business elegant” for an academic celebration. For men, the range of clothes they might wear in that context was fairly tight—the main decision was whether to wear a full suit or just a jacket and pants. Women, trying to decide what clothes such a context required, showed up in everything from a casual skirt and tanktop to a long evening gown. On another day, they might have made a different choice. Many women also have a much greater range of hairstyles to experiment with, or have had at some point in their life. Women get makeovers. Thus, women rarely present an identical “avatar” in all contexts in real life. Why should they do so online?

I resist photographic avatars because I think they cannot help but lie to their audience. I don’t want to pick one moment, one attitude, to attach to everything I post online, when I may be writing happy, angry, pensive. My affinity for rivers and my love of a curve through the landscape, expressed in my current avatar, are far more fundamental to being myself than any fleeting facial expression.

In which Dr. Crazy makes the distinction I wanted to make:

Anonymity, is about being without identity, about being untraceable.

Pseudonymity, on the other hand, is not about being untraceable but rather about taking on a traceable identity that is distinct from one’s legal identity, or one’s identity at birth.

People, if you want to argue against pseudonymity, please stop missing the point. First, stop conflating pseudonymous and anonymous. Second, recognize all elements of what it means be pseudonymous, which operates well beyond a fear of people knowing “she said that!?” I will respect arguments against pseudonymity when they address what is really going on when people use a pseudonym.

See also:
University Diaries, with comments (including from me)
Dr. Crazy’s first take.


New Kid says a lot of things I agree with; Ad Nauseum intellectualizes. Dean Dad articulates.

Late Update:

Not of General Interest weighs in, and gets comments from the original CHE author.

I’ve been using fake names since I started getting catcalled by men on the street (when was that? My only memory with a clear date attached: telling some man on the bus that I was eleven when I had turned twelve a month before. Note: by this point, I was familiar enough with the whole situation that I knew a minor lie was a good idea).

So why would it ever cross my mind to put my real name on the web?

(And re catcalling, check out this interesting post about a video game based on it)

Direct followup to this post, one in a series.

Commenter PHB at Crooked Timber:

There are many different definitions of identity, not all of which make sense. I prefer the view that an identity is a set of assertions about yourself that you may lay claim to. So in a sense everyone only has one identity and has only ever had one ‘identity’. But in practice we expose different sets of claims depending on the circumstances. Nobody puts their membership in Alcoholics Anonymous on their CV.

In response to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Huh. I’m concerned, naturally.

Rana knocks the anti-pseudonymity ball out of the park:

Finally, you write “I’d rather be able to connect what people say to who they are.” You know what? I find this to be a not-so-charmingly naive statement. “Who they are” is contingent on context and situation. What I write, here and elsewhere, is a far better measure of “who I am” than a formal title on a faculty website. In some contexts, “who I am” is a 39-year-old white woman who wears glasses. In others, “who I am” is “that blogger who writes about nature, photography and academia.” In others, I am “that yoga student who keeps drifting in and out of practice.” At times who I am is “pantheistic Unitarian Universalist who votes Green.”

If you Google my legal name, none of this information will come up. In fact, what will come up are references to about fifteen other people who share my name. On the other hand, if you Google my pseudonym, and read my blog – which I link to in all my comments on other people’s blogs – you will learn all these things.

In other words, my real name is a lousy tool for figuring out “who I am” – unless you are interested only in my degree and where I teach.

Context: First, Second. This one is from Third. My previous discussion, with links.

It’s a real shame when you have so many online identities you don’t know which one to use where.

I have myself, then an easily identifiable self that is only designed to beat a google search, not really to hide my identity, and then this highly anonymous one. Every time I create a login for some internet service, I have to wonder how separate I need to keep that service from my professional and real-life self. Am I likely to post things on here that I don’t want people knowing about? I ask myself.

But then, part of the appeal of posting on the internet, and of blogging, is the community that develops. Which self of mine ought to be part of this community I am joining? I wonder. What if, on this blog, I want to reference something that grew out of the activity of my googlefoil self—am I then risking my pseudonymity?

Update: a more lighthearted look at this issue.