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Digital Barbershops: The Politics of African American Oral Culture in Online Blogs

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posted on 28.10.2014, 00:00 authored by Catherine Steele
For African Americans, the legacy of oral communication within the community is being transferred to online spaces. Blogging provides a platform with features that mirror many of the components of the black barber shop. The barber and beauty shop symbolize a space of retreat, wherein African Americans have formed alternate publics used to critique the dominant culture, foster resistance, and strengthen African American institutions. A critical technocultural discourse analysis of black blogs yields three levels of analysis: the features of the technology, the means by which community is formed, and the themes of discourse that emerge from participants. Analysis of nine African American blogs revealed differences in site construction in the areas of advertising, blogger involvement, and availability of resources for participation. Each blog used traditional black rhetorical strategies while making modifications for contemporary goals. The strategies involve modifications made to traditional black humor and folktales. The writing style is highly performative yet relies upon participant interaction. As the theme of discourse changed on the blogs, bloggers and readers alternated among types of publics given the resources available to them and their motivations for participating in the dialogue. Bloggers use discussions of black culture to form satellite publics where black institutions can be protected. A new black feminist politics is visible in the discourse of the blogging communities that is separate from both white feminism and traditional black feminism and womanism. This study yields valuable insight into the political communication of a sub-segment of the African American community. By analyzing the use of African American rhetoric and discourse, one finds a tension between bloggers’ connections to ‘blackness’ and a perceived distance from the economic and social realities of a large part of the black community.



Barnhurst, Kevin



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University of Illinois at Chicago

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Jones, Steve Rojecki, Andrew Brock, Andre Noble, Safiya

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