Committing Public Sociology: Reflecting on our Experience

Our course has come to an end, but fret not as we have one last blog post for you. Read our joint blog post as we reflect upon our experience with this project and the impact it has since fostered.

J. is the author of emBody Sociology.
N. is the author of Simply Sociology.

Blogging as a Form of Public Sociology

J: I wanted to do an independent that specifically looked at the body from a sociological perspective and the impact that violence, in varying forms, has on the bodies of different marginalized groups. When a classmate with very similar interests wanted to pursue the same learning objectives, our instructor then offered us the idea of writing blog posts as an alternative to writing formal written assignments, especially given that each of us had written so many at this point in our undergraduate career. Consequently, with this idea becoming an actual project to make sociological knowledge more accessible and interesting, especially to our friends, family and the wider public, blogging would be an exciting way to share what we learn in the classroom of others to not only learn from us, but with us.

N: I was especially interested by the idea of public sociology because of the opportunity it offered. As a fifth-year sociology student, I feel I have accumulated all this knowledge and formed all these opinions that I don’t have the chance to share with everyone. Blogging as a class project gave me the opportunity to make sociology accessible to others, and to share my thoughts with more than just one professor. The topic we chose, (bodies, marginalization and violence) was one that I felt I had a lot to say about, so the opportunity to do so in a de-formalized academic setting was very appealing.

Anonymity as Freedom of Expression

J: Given that there’s a lot of anti-feminist backlash, commonly through anti-feminist trolling in social media outlets, against those who publicly speak out about their experiences with marginalization in, we ensured our actual identity and associated identifiers (i.e. name, institution, city, etc.) remained anonymous. We would still, of course, share our writing with our friends and colleagues to follow along knowing this writing belonged to us. However, we wanted to share our voice and opinions on a platform that would afford them a sense of validity meanwhile not needing to worry about being berated by complete strangers. Throughout the process, the blogs became our own safe space for personal sociological and feminist expression, with that safe space extending out for our readers as well.

N: The opportunity to be anonymous on the Internet is appealing to me because it can serve as a shield from any possible personal backlash that I could otherwise receive. I am often fearful of sharing certain opinions on some platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, because I know I will quickly be labeled as an “angry feminist”, so the blog posed a challenge for me. My purpose for this blog was to not only make sociology accessible, but to also create a conversation about the issues that I care about, and part of that has been sharing a feminist perspective. As part of the process, I also learned that being angry and a feminist, and being both at once, is not something I am ashamed of. I am passionate about the topics I wrote about, and I think that the anger I feel towards social injustice actually helped me write the posts.

Making the Sociological Accessible and Engaging

J: Considering that one of the proponents of this project was to make sociological knowledge more accessible, we needed to ensure our writing was more informal and approachable. It was certainly a challenge at the start as I essentially wrote my first blog post on Canadian sex workers, Bill C-36 and abjection like any other formal paper that I would hand in, despite the incredible passion I personally have for the subject matter. Although we were trained for the last 4+ years to write academically as our grades would depend on it, I needed to make my writing less like an academic paper to one that felt more like a conversation with a friend over coffee. I worked on my approach in my next blog post where I described my actual experiences in a Blanket Exercise—which teaches the long neglected colonial history of Canada, including the realities of the residential school system, in an intimate setting—where I described the actual feelings that took over me. As I wrote that post in particular, I thought to make it more like a guided conversation as to what settlers, myself included, needed to do next as our duty to engage in reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

N: At first, it was difficult to unlearn my usual process of writing an academic paper. For four and half years, I have learned to formalize my writing, to not use contractions, to never write in the first person. I had to tear down all those ideas of what “good writing” is, and sort-of begin fresh. It was a difficult process, and one that I’m certainly still working on, but I am glad for it. I think that it has overall made me a better writer and has helped me share ideas in a new way. I’m also happy that by de-formalizing my writing through this blog, I was able to share opinions and ideas with friends in a more accessible way.

Social Awareness and Allyship

J: I really wanted to do justice to the groups that we were writing about. Considering that my experiences and identities differ incredibly from the marginalized groups we would write about such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and people with disabilities, I wanted to do my absolute best to avoid coming off as if I was the authoritative voice of their marginalization. N. and I placed ourselves as allies with the recognition that we were still learners as much as we wrote about those we were allies to. Even in the cases of sharing my own experiences, I did not want them to come off as being the sole experience.

N: When we first discussed the topics for our blogs, I was a little a worried that I would not be able to speak to some of the issues that I personally don’t have experience with. For instance, as an able-bodied person, I haven’t experienced the challenges faced by people with disabilities, and I was afraid of unintentionally misappropriating an experience. When I actually began to write, this wasn’t an issue anymore; I recognized that I am an ally and that my responsibility is not to tell someone else’s story, but to bring to light social injustice issues.

Beyond Blogging

J: I thought this process was incredible and it taught me a lot about myself as a writer. I especially felt the compassion I gained from this project as I wrote with the purpose of sharing the knowledge I attained in the classroom. When you think about the way you hand in a research paper, the learning experience exists solely between you and your instructor. Therefore, when you blog about it, you’re really able to share it more widely with an invested readership. It was really rewarding to have my friends and colleagues read my blog posts, shared them within their own circles, and encourage me to continue writing. My blogs was completely mine. I had the agency over what I wrote about in sharing my opinions and exposing my vulnerabilities. Whether I choose to blog or not after this process, I’m really grateful for this experience and will use it as a guide for how I widely share academic knowledge in the future.

N: I have enjoyed the process of writing this blog, and especially being able to share sociology with others. Although I struggled with writing in my first few years of university, it has become one of the tasks that I enjoy doing the most now. I am proud of the work that J. and I put into our blogs, and happy to see how well our posts have been received by our friends. It was very rewarding to hear from friends that had read and enjoyed our blogs, and to feel that my opinions were well received. I do plan on continuing with the blogs and expanding on topics that I care about.

We would like to thank you for following along with our blogs. We hope we’ve inspired you to engage with the sociological issues we’ve written about and that you’ll continue engaging in these conversations.

“For any of us to do this work, we need all the allies, lovers, community, and friends we can gather, all the rabble-rousing and legislation, all the vibrant culture and articulate theory we can bring into being.”
– Eli Clare, poet, essayist and queer disability activist

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