Gender, Communication, and Technology/Feminist Invitational Collaboration in a Digital Age: Looking over Disciplinary and National Borders

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Feminist Invitational Collaboration in a Digital Age: Looking over Disciplinary and National Borders edit

This chapter as it first appeared here on September 4, 2008, will be published, in basically its original form, in the Fall 2008 issue of Women & Language. (The Table of Contents will be posted on <>) With the permission of the general editor, Anita Taylor, and the editors of that special issue, Patricia Sotirin and Victoria Bergvall, we are posting the contents here, to serve as the start of a more collaborative, larger project. We hope that this process serves as an illustration of the discussion of the valuable uses of wikis for collaborative work across disciplines and national boundaries.

We invite interested readers to co-edit this article, which provides an introduction to a Wikibook entitled Gender, Communication, and Technology. We hope to develop the Wikibook and relevant resources together with teachers and students in different universities, and are open to many sorts of collaboration.


For feminists, working collaboratively across differences has been a critical process for much of our work. Now, given our awareness of enormous changes, instability, challenges and possibilities in global politics as well as in available collaboration technologies, feminists in communication studies can better work together with researchers in other fields to develop new forms and forums of knowledge-making, creativity, and problem solving. Through the past decades, scholars and activists from many disciplines, geographical areas, and concerns have contributed to the vibrant language and gender research field. However, while the theories, questions, and methods used in one discipline sometimes act as prompts for additional research in another, there are relatively few dialogues and collaborations on language and gender studies across the disciplines. We propose to develop invitational collaboration, a feminist model of international/interdisciplinary collaboration, and suggest that increased integration of interests and concerns across disciplines (along with more global networking) is made easier with the assistance of new collaboration technologies. We are envisioning more sustained interdisciplinary and collaborative work, along with deeper understandings of individuals, cultures, and social change. We are dreaming large, but, we hope, realistically. And, in the spirit of invitational collaboration, we are opening up our discussion to others through a wiki site.

Tags: Invitational collaboration, language and gender, feminism, multiculturalism, gender, social identity, invitational rhetoric, interdisciplinary research, IFU, globalization, networks, collaboration technologies, Web 2.0, wikis, blogs, western academic conventions

Reconsidering collaborative conventions edit

Working with others on a shared project can be very time consuming, difficult and, let us just say it, not always effective, especially if the very process of our collaboration is not given enough attention.

An October morning at Hamburg University in Germany. A play was beginning in an auditorium. A group of women in different colours, costumes, and hair styles stood up one after another from among the audience members, each saying “I am the future of education” in her own native tongue. They all walked to the stage, each carrying a cardboard with a letter from the English alphabet, and cautiously shook hands with each other, deliberately keeping a distance between their bodies. After some initial failures in matching the English letters into a sentence acceptable by every woman in the group, they threw the cardboards to the floor and walked aside, turning their backs to each other. A woman in a red cap came to rescue. Assisted by the woman’s mediation, the group voted for their preferred word combinations and merrily pieced up all the card boards into a sign that read “WE ARE THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION”. Hand in hand, the women ended the play, reading the completed sentence in unison.

This performance was a theatrical representation of the process of collaboration of the Future of Education project group at the International University of Women (Internationale Frauenuniversität – IFU). From July 15 through October 15, 2000, more than 700 women academics and professionals from more than 60 countries participated in the IFU postgraduate academic programs. The two of us worked as project director and facilitator with the women in the Future of Education group, which consisted of 14 women from diverse disciplines in 13 different countries. Eight years later, collaborating on this article allows us to reflect upon our IFU experiences and to examine approaches of feminist collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries, a topic with relatively limited literature, yet becoming increasingly critical as the global changes in immigration, environment, commerce, and communication media call for expansive international/interdisciplinary feminist collaboration.

When working with the participants of the Future of Education, we did start with a discussion of the goals of feminist collaboration on education: Would it be a search for universals or a sharing of diversities? However, under the pressure of the institutional requirements of generating a combined product within three months, the participants soon dropped the discussion of these fundamental issues critical to the success of interdisciplinary and international collaboration and turned to more immediate and practical concerns such as the product of collaboration. During these early group sessions on guiding images for the project product, the participants suggested numerous possible guiding visual metaphors such as the quilt, the garden, the city, the tree of life, the dictionary, and the recipe book, providing a great opportunity for a reflective inquiry upon diverse knowledges and experiences relevant to women and higher education in different countries and disciplines. Unfortunately, the group did not have the time and space to reflect upon these possibilities. The anxiety mounted as time slipped away in the endless group meetings trying for consensus on the project product. A professional moderator was brought in. The circuitous approach of inquiry was replaced with an efficient one that led smoothly towards the decision of a group product by majority vote: a website of annotated links of existing online resources of common barriers facing global women in higher education.

This was a safe decision since the differences across many boundaries were successfully hidden behind the on-line resources created by others rather than the participants, but it was also an impoverished decision, as possible routes to new insights from diverse knowledges and experiences were removed along with the supposed obstacles to international/interdisciplinary collaboration. Moreover, even this impoverished result of a collective on-line search for universals in women’s higher education has not been preserved. The website constructed by the group is gone, in part since funding was discontinued soon after it was set up, but also because there was no excitement about what innovative and compelling approaches could be created through continued interaction. Now, the group of women who once struggled for universals together for the Future of Education project rarely hear from each other (although the IFU website still exists as an important means of continued, though limited, networking for the IFU participants.) Further, and important for our discussion here, we noticed that in the process of face-to-face group interactions, the major mode of communication for the group, the voices of the minorities and those in less dominant positions were frequently lost, if not silenced. These reflections alert us to the limitations of feminist collaborations across disciplines and national borders built upon top-down institutional hierarchical approaches of collaboration that value product over process, efficiency over efficacy, consensus over disagreements, and resolution of conflicts over appreciation of and respect for differences.

Each instance and type of collaboration will be different, of course, shaped by the experiences, views, skills, and goals of the individuals involved. Swasti Mitter (2005) reminds us that even in the same society women do not form an undifferentiated group.[1] This may make working together very informative, but also very difficult, especially given prevailing ideas about individualism and competitiveness rooted in some of our cultural assumptions and academic processes—even though, increasingly, we know that cooperation has been a basic mechanism of evolution, and, increasingly, a necessity for a global civil society. Nowadays, many feminists have realized the value of collective actions that bring about greater social and economic equality. This issue of what kind of collaboration to use has become particularly urgent when sources of injustice need to be addressed through new alliances across many boundaries in a world of increasing globalization [2]and when the impact of globalization is disproportionately greater on women, who are the first to suffer the negative effects of globalization (Ross-Sheriff, Fariyal, 2007, p.135). [3]

Institutional hierarchical approaches of collaborations

And yet, many feminist collaborations still heavily follow institutional hierarchical approaches of group work and many international/interdisciplinary collaborations are international/interdisciplinary only in name, that is when it means only that a number of people from a number of disciplines and countries were involved in a project, even if each person was working primarily on an individual section of the project. In this kind of collaborations, feminists from dominant cultures often make an uninspected assumption of universalism—an assumption that ideas and experiences can be evaluated everywhere according to the same criteria, and an assumption that what is important is a summary of issues but not information about where the issues come from, nor discussion of all the cultural subtexts behind them (Shih et al. 2005, p.152). [4] We will not gain much insight from such summaries, and the result of such collaborations will not be effective for changes meant to improve the status of women and minority groups, which include the potential changes and transformation of ourselves in an enriching process of international/interdisciplinary collaboration that values process, efficacy, and diversities. For feminist collaborations across disciplines and national borders to be truly international/interdisciplinary, the problems in the current state of global flux require innovative responses. For many of us this means a rethinking of the role of communication in the process of collaboration. Pretty basic and yet fundamentally world-shaking.

Using our IFU reflections as a point of departure, we propose, in the following sections, a feminist response to international/interdisciplinary collaboration, with a fresh attention to an existing welcoming communication approach. In particular, we will discuss the potentials of new collaboration technologies in supporting feminist collaboration on language and gender studies built on invitational collaboration. We also offer a companion wiki version of this article, encouraging comments and contribution from others who might want to critique and revise, in an enlarging collaborative effort.

Preparing ingredients of invitational collaboration edit

In the thinking of a number of feminists who have collaborated in the past, including our own analyses of our experiences at IFU, there seem to be some similar approaches, satisfaction, and advice on the establishing and maintaining of effective collaborations. With close attention to a developing feminist model of communication, we propose to an initial feminist model of international/interdisciplinary collaboration—invitational collaboration. We start with a discussion of the following ingredients: 1) appreciation of and respect for differences; 2) emphasis on linkages rather than similarities; and 3) willingness to inspect issues of power and authority in the process of collaboration.

Appreciation of and Respect for Differences

Appreciation of and respect for differences. In their analysis of feminist geographers working together across national borders, Janice Monk et al. (2003) suggest that cultural, disciplinary and language differences can be both obstacles and routes to new insights (p. 103).[5]And yet, frequently, the primary goal of communication in hierarchical models of collaboration is to reach consensus, which is often achieved through persuading all the participants to comply with the perspectives and decisions of the dominant or the majority. Persuasion, as Sonja Foss and Karen Foss (2003b) note, “with its intent to change others, violates our definition of feminism because of its focus on control and domination” and devalues those who we intend to change.[6] We find it difficult to reconcile this approach of collaboration with feminist collaborations across many boundaries, which aim at disrupting the ideology of oppression and domination of women and minority groups that pervades in many cultures, be they national or disciplinary.

A developing feminist approach to communication initially proposed by Sonja Foss, and Cindy Griffin is particularly helpful for feminist collaboration across many boundaries (see[7][8][9][10][6]). Drawing on the early work of Sally Miller Gearhart (1979)[11] and critiquing some of the long history of a western rhetoric based on persuasion, Sonja Foss, Cindy Griffin, and Karen Foss point out the problems of the intent-to-change others approach and the advantages of invitational communication. At the heart of this welcoming model of communication is “joyful allowing”, which means, rather than attempts to change others or merely tolerate differences, “we joyfully allow another person to be different from us, celebrating and appreciating those differences because of the richness they bring to our world.”[12]

There are many reasons for why we might want to try to more often use rhetoric that invites rather than persuades, insists or opposes in international/interdisciplinary collaborations. An important one is that offering is often more effective than persuasion, as explained by Sonia Johnson (1987, 1989) when she suggests that, "when we identify ourselves in opposition to something we become its unwitting accomplices. By bestowing the energy of our belief upon it, by acquiescing to it, we reinforce it as reality" (1987, pp. 26-27).[13][14]Trying to change others may just prompt greater resistance. But showing a willingness to listen and change may make dialogue or multiologue more fruitful all around.

We are not rejecting various methods of working together in different cultures, only suggesting that sometimes enlarging our repertoire to include more respectful, fluid, and flexible collaborations can be useful in generating new insights. Also, in developing invitational collaboration, we do not mean "consensus" is unnecessary for all feminist collaborations. What we suggest here is a new option of reaching a decision not through changing others, but through listening, offering, reflecting, and changing, perhaps not others but ourselves as we generate new insights in the process of a more respectful and rounded multilogue. This invitational approach to collaboration, already in use by many, does not mean that we can’t each introduce topics we think need attention. Researchers and activists will continue, for example, to identify and examine normative conceptions of gender that appear to drive institutional change. At the same time, those interested in rethinking the interaction choices made during the process of studying, collaborating, and reporting, can consider whether less hostility, marginalization or invisibility, and more understanding and free choice (Gearhart, 1979) [11] might come from using invitational collaboration. This may begin processes of recognition, reflection, and transformation in which, as noted in Foss and Foss (2003b), participants’ “worth”, “value”, “power”, and “freedom” are acknowledged, allowing more enriching collaboration across many boundaries.[6]

Some communication scholars have criticized the theory of invitational communication as misrepresenting feminism as a monolithic viewpoint, as essentialist, and as ignoring the importance of conflict and struggle to making important social changes (see [15][16][17]).[18]. However, another reading is that invitational communication encourages recognizing and respecting the differences as well as the conflicts in the perspectives of women (and men). Additionally, Foss, Foss and Griffin do not posit that invitational communication is the only kind of communication approach that should be taken, only that it can be considered. Here, we suggest that it seems particularly valuable for international/interdisciplinary collaborative work.[19]

An emphasis on linkages rather than similarities. Jacqui True (2003) notes that the international trade in feminist ideas requires that we all become newly self-conscious of our scholarship, as we ask for whom and for what purpose do we theorize and how do we work together across many boundaries so that our work may be completed with and used by activists and policymaking audiences, as well as by academic disciplines (p. 387).[20] We need to involve feminist researchers, activists and policy makers inside and outside academe in order to understand and transform the sources of social power based on (take a large gulp of air) “gender, race, class, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, caste, religion, country of origin, national identity, aboriginal status, immigration status, regional geography, language, cultural practices, forms of dress, beliefs, ability, health status, family history, age and education” (p. 387). Not all collaborations will deal with all of these institutions, of course, but it’s a useful list to have near one’s computer.

Developing more expansive feminist collaborations across many boundaries is a daunting task. In her examination of transnational feminist collaboration, Vera Mackie (2001), after questioning the notion of “global feminism” or “global sisterhood”, suggests that, rather than focusing on similarities and universals, it may be more useful to emphasize linkages—networks built on a commitment to common goals but not requiring reciprocity, sameness or commonality among potential collaborators.[21] In other words, it is possible for women who may never meet but who share “a recognition of mutual imbrication in structures of inequality” to be engaged in collaborative efforts.

We find an emphasis on linkages based on overlapping interests rather than similarities is useful for feminist collaborations across many boundaries. Once again, we note that we are not implying that all women have the same interests, or experiences. As Naomi Zack (2007) notes, what all women do have in common is a relation to the category of human beings who are: “designated female from birth, or biological mothers, or primary sexual choices of (heterosexual) men” (p. 203).[22] It is a relationship to these categories--whether self-identification or assignment to them—that women share. An emphasis on linkages rather than similarities provides a solid basis in developing more expansive feminist collaborations that involve diverse groups of participants beyond the traditional scope of collaborations.

Willingness to inspect issues of power and authority in the process of collaboration. Many people would agree that it is sometimes very desirable to conduct on-line research with a plurality of people and perspectives—not just working together with people who have disciplinary-specific concepts and approaches, but coming to understand, share, and use multiple points of view (sometimes called a transdisciplinary approach). However, meaningful transdisciplinary on-line collaboration will not happen just because it is a good thing. The preparation requires establishing and sharing a plan for how it can be done equitably. Expressed good will and tolerance of the approaches of other disciplines are usually not enough. The plan for each project needs to be worked out by the on-line participants, with the awareness that it will need to be reinspected often during the process. Here we provide just a few questions that might be useful in early discussions to anticipate potential difficulties:

What does it means to collaborate with others who are in disciplines or jobs that are not equally evaluated by the participants? What inter-professional rivalries might be present? What are the existing relationships among the new community members? What are the race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, age and class inequalities and boundaries that may be present? How can each member’s contribution aid in involving all group participants? What are the differing language proficiencies (especially important when the effort involves some who are second-language speakers/writers in the primary language used in the interactions)? What are the implications of, and plans to understand and deal with, the inequalities of fluencies? What kind of on-line space can be designed to address communication challenges during the process? What are the differing access issues (including access to computers and software, time, budgetary considerations) for each participant? What are the motivations and needs of each participant involved and how will these impact on the planned collaboration?

Creating an on-line environment for invitational collaboration edit

Openness and Collaboration

In feminist collaborations in the past, many feminists have mentioned the effectiveness of “talk” to good collaborations, especially at the beginning stage of planning. But our IFU experiences suggest that for large group collaborations across many boundaries, creating an environment for invitational communication may actually be quite difficult in face-to-face communication. Research on the differences between face-to-face communication and computer-mediated communication regarding opinion change in small group decision-making suggests that people in a discussion using computer-mediated communication tend to be more likely to resist persuasive messages. [23] [24] [25]). New developments in collaboration technologies such as knowledge creation and management tools like blogs, wikis, RSS, and shared workspaces, conferencing tools such as Skype and Instant Messaging, and research tools such as social bookmarking, have enabled the emergence of a new paradigm of collaboration as people from diverse fields form loosely connected grass-roots communities through publishing, sharing, and connecting in multiple modes. In this section, with a special focus on the implications of collaboration technologies on language and gender studies across national and disciplinary boundaries, we will explore the potentials of two popular authoring tools—blogs and wikis in creating an environment for invitational collaboration.

Blogging edit

The growth of blog communities started in 1999, the year in which Rebecca Blood, now widely recognized as an authority on blog studies, first created her blog—Rebecca’s Pocket. In less than ten years, the number of blogs, according to Technorati, has rocketed, with more than175,000 new blogs being created every day and more than 18 updates per second, with the top percentages of blog posts in Japanese at 37%, English at 36%, and Chinese at 8%.

Blogging can be empowering. Millions of non-technical people can easily express and reflect upon their opinions using text, images, audio, or videos, and subscribe to and comment on other blog posts in a rich social environment in which “audience” can transform into “authors”, and “users” into “creators.” The potentials of blogging are especially significant for women whose social presence is traditionally marginalized in cyberspace and academe. In “Weblogs: a history and perspective”, a heavily cited post at Rebecca Blood’s blog, she writes:

Shortly after I began producing Rebecca's Pocket I noticed two side effects I had not expected. First, I discovered my own interests. I thought I knew what I was interested in, but after linking stories for a few months I could see that I was much more interested in science, archaeology, and issues of injustice than I had realized. More importantly, I began to value more highly my own point of view. In composing my link text every day I carefully considered my own opinions and ideas, and I began to feel that my perspective was unique and important. [26]

Through the construction of Rebecca’s Pocket, her public/private space on-line, Rebecca Blood has the opportunity to rediscover her interests, reconfirm her voice, and reconstruct her identity as an authoritative author in blogosphere in the process of linking, blogging, and reflecting. Owning public/private spaces to communicate is important for feminist collaborations across many boundaries because they enables us, especially those in less dominant positions, not only to listen, but also to speak and be heard. New blog features such as microblogging,[27] which allow bloggers to publish from any location by text-messaging sentence-length posts from cell phones, have enhanced the potentials of blogs in creating an environment for invitational collaboration that promotes conversation and diversity and reduces opposition and dominance.

While often considered individual journal and professional logs, blogs are also sites of multilogue, making them more decentralized forms of interaction than the traditional essay or argument. Blogging can pull together academics and diverse groups of participants (much more diverse than those for academic journals) to effect change in ways other than through persuasion, pervasive in almost all disciplines.[28]For example, many woman bloggers post personal stories, which may invite empathy, critical reflection, and an open conversation. [29]Narratives or stories are important aspects of our cultures, often used as examples to entertain and to illustrate points.[30] Now, some people are creating “digital storytelling,” using new multimedia tools, including graphics, audio, video animation, and Web publishing. Whatever the form--short, personal tales, or cultural myths, or digital narratives—our storytelling is an act of partnership between teller and listeners, that encourages imagination on the part of everyone involved.[31] Personal stories, traditionally associated with women, are not considered a part of serious research in mainstream academia. And yet, we know from experience that storytelling can serve as one good way of facilitating conversations among cultures and disciplines, and among people with varying ethnicity, nationality, class, age, ability, and sexual orientation.[32]

An illustration of an academic blog: Li Yinhe, a well-known Chinese sexologist-sociologist, who proposed to legalize gay and lesbian marriage in China, has described her personal experience with parents of gays in her blog hosted by, one of the most popular blog hosting service in China. In a recent post, Li Yinhe (2007) recounts the two telephone conversations she had with a father and a mother who blamed themselves for their sons’ sexuality and attempted to persuade their sons to “改正” [correct] their sexuality.[33] Devastated by their failed attempts, (one mother became so desperate that she even considered committing suicide), they called up Li, an expert on sexology for help. Li tells the story of the conversations and concludes: For the happiness of your children, accept them as they are.

Within two months, the post received 22,006 visits and 451 comments, and the number keeps growing. Following Li’s short one-screen post were soon many pages of comments with diverse content, perspectives, and lengths, ranging from one-sentence notes such as “I support you” to elaborated associations, analysis, and reflections much longer than the original post. Indeed, the story in the post has opened up diverse directions of participation in a never-ending conversation. In their comments, the participants connect Li’s story to their own lives, express their fears of coming out to their parents, challenge the appropriateness of Li’s words for the parents, respond to each other’s stories and reflections and monitor a small number of hate comments themselves (Li neither responds to any comments in public nor deletes the comments).

The participation of diverse groups of highly mobile participants in this conversation has generated new insights for change, even though these changes are not always immediately translated into tangible products or actions. As the participants have transformed from audience to authors, their stories and opinions, together with Li’s story in the original post, have formed layers of stories and reflections that invite, constantly, new responses to the post as well as to the comments. One commentator pointed out that the parent who considered committing suicide as told in Li’s story may have had another reason: Having a gay son makes her “lose face”. Following this line of analysis, several commentators responded that not only do the Chinese parents feel ashamed of their homosexual children, but the Chinese homosexuals themselves feel ashamed. Posted at 21:00:55, November 20, 2007, Dillyking, a contributor, wrote:

"To be honest, the parents are not the only ones who care about losing face. Those who care about losing face most are the homosexuals! Chinese homosexuals are too meek! Without the courage to come out and to defend [our] rights, all [we] can do is just to thank Prof. Li and to give voice support to Prof. Li. What is the use of such support? There is nothing substantial! If one does not try to demand one’s own rights, how can [we] succeed by asking a straight woman to protect the rights for millions of homosexuals in China? It’s just like helping an unmotivated person, who will never succeed no matter how much help [s/he] receives. [We] have never heard about Pride Parade in China. Nobody dares to do it, even though [we] know it is right. Chinese people always like to hide in a safe place to observe, feeling sad but not really caring about unfair things. Some homosexuals even marry straight people. Do you think you have treated other people fairly? The biggest victim is the one who marries you but cannot be loved by you. Who is suffering for the sake of saving face?"

The analyses and multilogue continue.

Blogging can help us develop, expand and sustain a large number of fluid social networks vital for the creation and diffusion of innovations (Moore, 2004). Frequently, international/interdisciplinary collaborations are controlled by various close-knit strong-tie institutional networks and governed by a set of dominant, often Western, conventions. Away from the conventional academic pressure to conform, highly mobile participants from diverse close-knit social groups can develop more fluid ties as individuals combine and recombine into numerous new voluntary communities in blogosphere. And, as suggested by Granoveter (1973, 1983),[34][35] it is within and across loosely tied networks that innovations such as new cultural ideas and symbols, including, especially, language (Milroy & Milroy, 1992),[36] are more likely to occur and diffuse.

Recent studies of language innovation on the internet suggest that Chinese netizens are constructing their internationally oriented identities through innovations and adaptations of Chinese writing systems [37][38]. A good case in point is the evolution of the Chinese equivalent for “lesbian”. When the concept of “homosexual” was first introduced into China, a direct translation— “同性恋”, stamped with a clear Western mark—was used as a general term for both gays and lesbians. In recent years, a playful innovative use of “同志” (comrade) that draws on local linguistic resources, has been widely used as an alternative for “同性恋” (homosexual), a change that may be connected to the desires of gays and lesbians in creating their national identities. However, “同志” (comrade) is still a general term that refers to both gays and lesbians. To differentiate between them, one needs to add “man” or “woman” as pre-modifiers of “同志” (comrade). From Chinese online communities for lesbians, a new term solely for lesbians—“拉拉” (pronounced as [la: la:]), has emerged and started to become popular nowadays especially in online communities for lesbians. “拉拉” comes from the adaptation of the Chinese writing system for the English initial of “lesbian”. Innovatively pulling the local and international linguistic resources together, Chinese lesbians have created their unique identity, which suggests a desire to connect to lesbians in other countries. The possibility of creating and spreading language innovations across loosely tied social networks has special significance for feminist collaboration on language and gender: It may allow feminists to reconstruct desired identities, suggest new academic guidelines, and promote social changes without as much overt opposition as has been traditionally experienced.

At a methodological level, blogosphere can be a fertile site for us to explore important issues in the field of language and gender studies, for instance the relationship between language and identity. Many researchers consider language and identity to be dynamic. However, in many studies on language and identity, the very methods employed such as questionnaires, observations, and interviews are, as noted in Jette Hansen and Liu Jun (1997), “typically one-time occurrences” that “do not allow for dynamism” (p.572).[39] The evolving and conversational nature of blogging turns blogosphere into a fluid site for the study of the dynamic relationship between language and identity allowing a weaving of factors such as language, gender, culture, and identity into “a dynamic continuum” that has the potential of going on and on, which helps us to pay close attention to local, national and international contexts and languages, and to respect, and try to understand, and learn from, differences in ideas of feminism and how they are spoken.

Most surveys suggest a growth in the number of women bloggers in recent years. In China, for instance, the percentage of women bloggers is even a little greater than the percentage of men.[40], and a survey in the U.S. shows that teenage girl bloggers greatly outnumber teenage boy bloggers [41]. However, an increase in the number of women bloggers in the blogosphere may not automatically translate into gender equity and social justice. While current public discourse still accords more value to filter blogs, i.e., comments on news and politics and knowledge blogs, which are mainly created by men[42], well-known women bloggers more frequently suffer from the harassment of abusive comments [43]. To fully realize the potentials of blogging for international/interdisciplinary collaborations on language and gender studies, feminist researchers and practitioners need to take collective action to deal with these issues, which may include, but is not limited to, creating and sustaining more feminist blog communities and organizing specific global campaigns regarding language and gender issues in the blogosphere. We might well visualize that with the collective actions of girls/women with a variety of knowledges and needs (see [44] for a list of feminist blog communities), we can increasingly use blogs to more effectively support our global networking and collaborative research and actions.

Wikiing edit

More than a technological innovation, wiki, a fairly simple authoring tool that allows for collaborative writing and editing on the web, can pull a group, either small or large, together on a jointly developed project while allowing revisions and expansions and honoring diversity of participants and ideas. For feminist collaboration on language and gender, wiki has the potential of creating an environment for invitational collaboration by involving the participation of global women with local knowledges and experiences.

Our own experiences of working on this article can illustrate some of these potentials. Cheris is a visiting professor at the Center for the Study of Women in Society, University of Oregon, USA, and Wei is an associate professor at the Department of English, Peking University, China. We live in Eugene and Beijing respectively while working on this article. Cheris’ research interests include language, communication, gender and technology, and education, while Wei’s research interests are on digital literacy assessment, teacher education, and instructional technology. Starting with quite different ideas for the focus of this article, we set up a wiki at a free wiki host.[45] Editing our common webpages makes a very different experience from emailing draft sections to each other. Without the pressure of sending completed drafts, we have been more motivated to write, and less intimidated about sending ideas and passages, especially when we know that one of us will continue with the bits and pieces when the other author is asleep. (The time difference between Eugene and Beijing is 15 hours, a difference we are very aware when we use Skype, another collaborative technology, to talk to each other on-line.We also noticed that wikiing helps create a more equal relationship between us in the process of collaboration since it allows us equal access to the latest document and shared ownership of the history of revisions, which makes the communication of differences and disagreements in the process of writing more like a nurturing and reflective dialogue rather than a threatening and oppositional conflict which might silence one or the other collaborator. The article in its current shape, which is a synthesis of our diverse knowledges and experiences, is very different from any of our original ideas.

The most collaborative wiki project to date is Wikipedia. Open to global participants for editing, Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopaedia has now grown into more than 250 languages and dialects with more than 9 million entries. Wikipedia versions in different languages and dialects are not directly translated from each other; they provide different content on frequently overlapping topics and can help preserve cultural heritages and differences impossible to imagine within a centralized publishing system.

One issue that is frequently under discussion regarding Wikipedia entries is inaccuracy. For example, the entry of “gender” in the Chinese version fails to reflect the nuances and the implications of the concept in the field of language and gender and the entry of “gender” has been simply redirected to the entry of “sex” as interchangeable terms. Gender, in contrast to sex, has been an important concept and tool that has encouraged analysis of power relationships beyond the physical characteristics of the bodies of women and men, and has helped provide critiques of biological determinism.[46] The term “gender” used to be translated as “性别”, which is the same word for “sex” in Chinese. In recent years, Chinese feminist scholars have started to add a pre-modifier “社会” [social] before “性别” [sex] and used the term “社会性别” for the translation of “gender” to distinguish “gender” and “sex” (Wang, 2002). Feminists in some other countries, however, have pointed out the problems with considering “sex” as biological, and gender or “gender roles” as socially constructed (noting that what sex differences are noted and what meaning is given to sex differences is culturally determined, and that the usual thinking about sex as referring to binary categories of female and male is more than misleading). The distinction between the Chinese translations of “社会性别”[gender] and “性别” [sex] emphasized by Chinese feminist scholars and the critique provided by feminists in the US and other countries are lost in the treatment of this entry.

While no encyclopedia entry should be considered as a final article, of course, the wiki process, especially, allows for alternative “truths”, which are difficult to present in print encyclopedias. We see the inaccuracy, gaps, or oversimplified treatment of information on language and gender in Wikipedia as an opportunity for women in different parts of the world to reflect and collectively deal with what is seen, in so many places and so many ways, as the increasing complexity and instability of any binary sex or gender system. Indeed, women are in action. At Take Back the Tech, a global network of 175 women from more than 55 countries has started campaigns on promoting gender equity through blogging and wikiing. Feministing Wikipedia, one of their recent campaigns, calls for women to have more presence in public online spaces by contributing to Wikipedia. In addition to editing Wikipedia which is started by men, we can also create our own Wikipedia, or to be more accurate, Femipedia, in different languages.

Being aware of the restraints and limitations edit

We acknowledge that these forms of working together require non traditional ideas about the norms of collaboration, about modes and media of publication, and about academic reward. New collaboration technologies certainly have great potentials in supporting invitational collaboration that expands and sustains feminist collaborations across many boundaries. However, dominant Western academic conventions and gated publishing communities may discourage many from using these technologies. For example, traditionally, in fields other than science, the contributions of first authors are highly valued while those of second or third authors may not be. [47]Official evaluation of much academic work is still based on “originality” of an author who points out the errors of others rather than encouraging and respecting differences [48]. Academic writing and publication are considered illustrations of personal knowledge and forms of instruction to others, not as learning processes for the author(s). Research projects that result not only in papers but also action (e.g. establishment of a blog community on gender and language) may not be much valued in academia. Further, “disciplinary” is still the unmarked or normal way of doing and categorizing research.

And yet, because of the way that knowledge is being made and distributed on-line, academic customs are changing, and the organization of universities by "disciplines," or even "interdisciplinary departments," will likely not be the same in future. The restrictions of disciplines (for our thinking, interaction, publication, evaluation) will lessen. During IFU, the international women's university pilot study, we experienced the transformative process that occurred when the traditional "disciplines" are changed to major global issues. (At IFU the major subjects included not such segregated topics such as, say, sociology, philosophy, engineering, and political science, but, rather, Water, Migration, Health, Work, Body, City, and Information, in a transnational home-space in Germany.) Tensions and possible solutions, including economic, socio-cultural, and political, between local and global, were deliberately highlighted throughout the six faculties. Differing language and communication practices were issues throughout, of course. Research on language and gender work for inter-/transdisciplinary networking is vital to all further collaborative efforts such as IFU, as are innovative ways of overcoming traditional categories and ways of knowledge production. As a group of IFU women from nine countries wrote in a manifesto, "...we are busy reconstructing our relation to TECHNOLOGY. One cannot exaggerate the meaning of technology in today's societies....But what kind of relation do we want to have concerning technology? This can be a question of life or death...."[49]

We do not for a moment think that most of the people of the world (and certainly not most of the women) have access to all, or even any, of the methods of communicating that we discuss here involving digital technologies. The availability of computers has spread slowly in most developing countries and even well-meaning global projects such as “One Laptop Per Child” can have unexpected negative consequences. However, the use of cell phones, for example, is growing rapidly, both in many countries and for many types of communication. While many internet leaders, activists, and analysts think that, within a decade, a low-cost global network will be thriving [50], international collaboration and activism will be needed to insure more equitable access to digital communication tools. For new collaboration technologies, participation is often limited to the more privileged; however, with conscious work on the part of many, the ideas, critiques, and information come from and flow to other groups and local networks, including women without Internet access.[51]This won’t “just happen.” Rosi Braidotti (2003) reminds us that new technologies, and changes in the way things are done, do not necessarily address the way that people are placed in very different relationships to the new practices.[52] We might best reserve the word “innovation” for processes that have altered those relationships in more equitable ways. [53]

We also note that as the related structural changes start to expand into many aspects of social life, concerns about the responsibility for the quality and security of information are growing, especially when the line between academics and people with different knowledges are blurring. (See the critiques by Keen, 2007[54]; Tenopir, 2007[55]). In the meanwhile, efforts by major corporations such as Google and Microsoft in controlling and capitalizing on user-generated contents and social networking sites have set new constraints on the potentials of Web 2.0 development.[56][57] What we need now, and have available, are communication practices that can help enable feminist partnership, and collaboration.

Concluding remarks edit

Broad historical developments are dramatically changing the practice of feminism and communication research. Meetoo and Mirza (2007) point out that the potential, perhaps inevitable, “collisions of discourses” mean that we need to understand a lot about the intersectionality of race, class, and gender dynamics, along with the dynamic interplay of international and domestic politics.[58] Whether these remain “collisions” or become new connections depends, in part, on whether we can together create new stories built on collective awareness. Increasingly, we are seeing the necessity of merging and of collective wisdom as we seek positive creativity and problem solving, which has always been a goal of feminism.

We have highlighted the potentials of the Web 2.0 innovations to the creation of an environment of invitational collaboration. Using new communication technologies such as blogs and wikis effectively can help expand “a basic human right to communicate for everyone” [59], encourage self-expression and self-empowerment, [26]support a diversity of perspectives, create “a richer basis” for critical reflection, [60]transform traditional research and publication,[61]and expand feminist linkages across disciplines and countries. Of course, technology will not be the deciding factor in resolving all the issues in interdisciplinary and international collaborations. While some people talk about the “end” or increasingly irrelevance of geography because of modern forms of transportation and communication, most people do not live totally or even primarily within the computer screen, but have very real lives with definite geographic locations, languages, and cultures. And yet, new collaboration technologies can invite and support global conversations and transparent collaborations as we create, share, network, interact, and evolve together across national and disciplinary boundaries. Working together across many boundaries requires us to look over our own knowledges and experiences into those of others. Invitational collaboration would seem to be central to efforts to transform ourselves in the process of international/interdisciplinary research and of challenging injustices together.

Notes and References edit

  1. Mitter, Swasti (2005). Globalization, ICTs, and economic empowerment: A feminist critique. In Ng, Cecilia & Mitter, Swasti (Eds.) Gender and the digital economy: Perspectives from the developing world (29-53). New Delhi: Sage.
  2. Talk of “globalization” makes it easier, and perhaps too easy, to think about the world as having become a single space. We acknowledge the danger of using the term to ignore all kinds of on-going separations, even while we welcome the increasing assumption of con nections among all people and their environments.
  3. Ross-Sheriff, Fariyal (2007). Globalization as a women's issue revisited. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 22 (7), 133-137.
  4. Shih, Shu-mei, Sylvia Marcos, Obioma Nnaemeka, and Marguerite Waller (2005). Conversation on 'feminist imperialism and the politics of difference'. In Marguerite Waller and Sylvia Marcos (Eds.) Dialogue and differences: Feminisms challenge globalization (pp.143-162). Houndsmills, Basingstoke, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  5. Monk, Janice; Manning, Patricia & Denman, Catalina (2003). Working together: Feminist perspectives on collaborative research and action. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2 (1), 91-106.
  6. a b c Foss, Sonja K. & Foss, Karen A. (2003 b). Reconceptualizing the Role of Change in the Communication Discipline. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from Invalid <ref> tag; name "Foss03b" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Bone, Jennifer Emerling; Giffin, Cindy L. & Scholz, T.M. Linda (In press). Beyond traditional conceptualization of rhetoric: Invitational rhetoric and a move toward civility. Western Journal of Communication.
  8. Foss, Sonja K. & Griffin, Cindy L. (1992). A feminist perspective on rhetorical theory: Toward a clarification of boundaries. Western Journal of Communication,56, 330-349.
  9. Foss, Sonja K. & Griffin, Cindy L. (1995). “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric.” Communication Monographs, 62, 2-18.
  10. Foss, Sonja K. & Foss, Karen A. (2003 a). Inviting transformation: Presentational speaking for a changing world. (2nd edition). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
  11. a b Gearhart, Sally Miller (1979). The Womanization of Rhetoric. Women’s Studies International Quarterly 2, 195-201.
  12. Some pieces of this approach have been described by traditional rhetorical theorists, as well as those practising Zen Buddhism and some other philosophies and religions, for example.
  13. Johnson, Sonia (1987). Going out of our minds: The metaphysics of liberation. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
  14. Johnson, Sonia (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the she/volution. Albuquerque, NM: Wildfire.
  15. Wood, Julia T. (2004). The personal is still political: Feminism’s commitment to structural change. Paper read at the 90th annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL, Nov 11-14.
  16. Dow, Bonnie J. (1995). Feminism, difference(s), and rhetorical studies. Communication Studies 46, 110-11.
  17. Cloud, Dana (2004). Not invited: Struggle and social change. Paper presented at the 90th annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL, Nov. 11-14.
  18. See Bone et al (in press) for a summary of the Western and European criticism of “Invitational Rhetoric” and the authors’ responses. We hope that our article also encourages more wide-spread discussion of this approach to collaborative work, locally and globally.
  19. Joshua Gunn (2008) writes that invitational communication theory can be considered as a theory of love (too seldom theorized at all in communication studies) and as rejection of communication practices of control and domination (p.147). We invite further discussions.
  20. True, Jacqui (2003). Mainstreaming gender in global public policy. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 5 (30), 368-396.
  21. Mackie, Vera (2001). The language of globalization, transnationality and feminism. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 3 (2), 180-206.
  22. Zack, Naomi (2007). Can third wave feminism be inclusive? In Linda Martin Alcoff and Eva Feder Kittay (Eds.) The Blackwell Guide to Feminist Philosophy (pp.193-207). Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell Publishing.
  23. Smilowitz, M., Compton, D. C., & Flint, L. (1988). The effects of computer mediated communication on an individual’s judgement. Computers in Human Behavior, 4, 311–321.
  24. Blasio, Di Paola & Milani, Luca (2008). Computer-mediated communication and persuasion: Peripheral vs. central route to opinion shift. Computers in Human Behavior 24, 798–815.
  25. Wilson, V. E. (2003). Perceived effectiveness of interpersonal persuasion strategies in computer-mediated communication. Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 537–552.
  26. a b Blood, R. (2000). Weblogs: A history and perspective. Retrieved December 25, 2007, from
  27. Twitter is one of the first "micro-blogging" hosting service that allows users to publish and receive short posts via the Web, text messaging and instant messaging.
  28. A directory of academics blogs can be found at <> and
  29. According to Herring et. al (2005), more than 70% of the blogs are personal journals in which bloggers record and reflect upon personal lives.
  30. We should not minimize the challenges of working across cultures and various relationships of authors and readers. In the original version of this article we began with the story and image of Guanyin, the mythical god/dess with the many arms to help many people. We knew it was a non-conventional way of beginning an academic article, but we were interested in ways of thinking about caring connections with others. However, a U.S. reader of the earlier version commented that while it was a charming story, it delayed the introduction of the article and should be cut. Given that we are interested in the value of storytelling in collaborative work, we discussed how we could might be able to keep the story. Cheris suggested that we might start our article by offering a reason for including the story, perhaps beginning by stating "Since some articles can be best understood by a guiding metaphor or tale, we will begin with a Asian, but increasingly universal, story of Quan Yan." Wei replied, "But that would be rude--an insult to readers--as if they couldn't figure it out for themselves."
  31. A well-told story has the effect of activating our schemata as we live “vicariously” the lives and experiences of others and reflect upon our own lives and ideas (Lisa Disch, 2003. Impartiality, Storytelling, and the Seductions of Narrative: An Essay at an Impasse. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 28 (2), 253-266). Story plots, small or large, can provide condensed information about dissimilar lives and ideas, yet lives and ideas that are also understood as connected to others through various forms of social marginalization. (For discussions of the values of storytelling for comparing and examining experiences across boundaries, see Ramaswami Mahalingam & Cameron McCarthy, 2000, Multicultural curriculum: New directions for social theory, practice and policy. New York, NY: Routledge; and Ramaswami Mahalingam & Pamela Trotman Reid, 2007, Dialogue at the margins: Women's self-stories and the intersection of identities. Women's Studies International Forum, 30, 254-263). It should be noted, however, in pointing out the effects of stories on fostering change, we are not putting narratives in opposition with argumentation, but rather, suggesting another option that may invite diverse responses and effect change without overt oppositions.
  32. Further, we are not arguing that all women will appreciate or understand the same narratives. Just as gender is not an essentialist concept, an abstract category, but rather related to historical periods, cultural context, age, ethnicity, and class, so too narrative structures cannot be separated from their context. See E. Ruth (2006). Literacy and linguistic approaches to feminist narratology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan for discussion of storytelling in cross-cultural atmospheres.
  33. Li Yinhe (2007). 如果你的孩子是同性恋[If your child were homosexual]. Retrieved February 2, 2008, from
  34. Granoveter, M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78 (6), 1360-1380.
  35. Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Retrieved January 13, 2008, from
  36. Milroy, Lesley & Milroy, James (1992). Social network and social class: Toward an integrated sociolinguistic model. Language in Society, 21, 1-26.
  37. Gao, Liwei & Yuan, Rong (2005). Linguistic construction of modernity in Computer-Mediated Communication. NACCL Proceedings 17.
  38. Yang, Chunsheng (2007). Chinese Internet Language: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Adaptations of the Chinese Writing System. Language@Internet,4. Retrieved January 20, 2008, from
  39. Hansen, Jette G. & Liu, Jun (1997). Social identity and language: Theoretical and methodological issues. TESOL Quarterly, 31 (3), 567-576.
  40. CNNIC (2006). “2006年中国博客发展权威报告” [China Blog Development Report 2006]. Retrieved December 21, 2007, from
  41. Lenhart, Amanda, Madden Mary, Rankin Alexandra & Smith, Macgill (December 19, 2007). Teens and Social Media. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved December 30, 2007, from
  42. Herring, Susan C., Kouper, Inna, Scheidt, Lois Ann, & Wright, Elijah L. (2004). Women and children last: The discursive construction of weblogs. In L.J. Gurak, S. Antonijevic, L. Johnson, C. Ratliff, & J. Reyman (Eds.), Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community, and culture of weblogs. Retrieved June 14, 2008, from
  43. Valenti, Jessica (April 6, 2007). How the web became a sexists' paradise. The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2008, from
  44. Tobias, Vicki (2005). Blog This! An Introduction to Blogs, Blogging, and the Feminist Blogosphere. Feminist Collections, 26 (23), 11-17. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from
  45. “Gender” has also turned out to be a safer, less political sounding term for English-speaking academic researchers (even used by many nonfeminists), with its seemingly closer identification with theoretical sophistication, and its distancing from both “sex” (as “genitalia”) and “women” (as in “women’s studies”).
  46. Collaborative publications do not need to obscure the work of individuals. Often individuals involved in collaborative work are assigned or take on heavier responsibilities or specific tasks. Noting the individuals and their efforts, perhaps throughout the document as well as in the headings, can add to the clarification and depth of information provided.
  47. Collaborative publications do not need to obscure the work of individuals. Often individuals involved in collaborative work are assigned or take on heavier responsibilities or specific tasks. Noting the individuals and their efforts, perhaps throughout the document as well as in the headings, can add to the clarification and depth of information provided.
  48. Moulton, Janice (1996). A paradigm of philosophy: The adversary method. In Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (Eds.) Women, knowledge and reality: Explorations in feminist philosophy (pp. 11-25). London: Routledge.
  49. Weber, Jutta (2002). Stepping across the border: Talking about interdisciplinary and intercultural communication. In Christiane Floyd, Govind Kelkar Sivie Klein-Franke, Cheris Kramarae & Cirilia Limpangog (Eds.) Feminist Challenges in the Information Age (pp. 135-146), Opladen: Leske+Budrich.
  50. Anderson, Janna & Rainie, Lee (September 24, 2006). The Future of the Internet II. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved December 21, 2007, from
  51. Zorn, Isabel (2005). Virtual community building and networking. In Ng, Cecilia & Mitter, Swasti (Eds.) Gender and the digital economy: Perspectives from the developing world (pp.186-208). New Delhi: Sage.
  52. Braidotti, Rosi (2003). The return of the master’s narratives in e-quality. Retrieved February 27, 2008, from
  53. Rowan, Leonie (2007). Theorising innovation and knowledge creation in pursuit of educational justice. In Bridget Somekh and Thomas A. Schwandt (Eds.) Knowledge production: Research work in interesting times (pp.112-125). London and New York: Routledge.
  54. Keen, Andrew (2007). The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy. Doubleday.
  55. Tenopir, Carol (Dec. 15, 2007). Web 2.0: Our cultural downfall? Library Journal, Retrieved December 20, 2007, from
  56. Kevin, Allison (Oct. 9, 2006). Google to buy YouTube for $1.65bn. Financial Times. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from
  57. Siklos, Richard (January 21, 2007). Big Media’s crush on social networking. New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from
  58. Meetoo, Veena & Mirza, Heidi Safia (2007). "There is nothing 'honorable' about honour killings": Gender, violence and the limits of multiculturalism. Women's Studies International Forum, 30, 187-200.
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