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August 10, 2004

Chapter 3. Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

3. Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality by Clay Shirky

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at August 10, 2004 7:53 PM


See also 'The Science of Inequality' by Mark Buchanan in Network Logic, published by Demos.

Free to download at http://www.demos.co.uk/catalogue/networks/

Posted by: John Turnbull at August 16, 2004 12:07 PM

Unfortunately, I would have to accuse the author of this particular essay of the same lack of attention to qualitative detail that plagues most, if not every, form of quantitative sociology that deploys statistical methods in order to infer patterns of phenomena. By this, I simply mean that by confining one's self to quantifiable indices, one is inevitably going to commit the violent act of reductionism to all of the various factors and influences, which might contribute to a particular condition, such as the inequality of the blogosphere.

In this particular case, the author of the essay fails to consider other factors, such as the influence of money on the rates of exposure that a specific blog might acquire. Agreements between a blogger and pay-per-click advertisers in just one of a possibly infinite array of scenarios, of which one could conceive, when attempting to come to an understanding of the practices involved that might contribute to the consequent that the sociologist is endeavoring to come to terms with.

Another possible antecedent that the author fails to consider is the chance that privileged statuses in society might have a disproportionate amount of free-time with which to blog. If this is, indeed, a causation of one's degree of proliferation of writing, then this would have a serious impact upon the validity of the author's assessment as to whether the current inequality of the blogosphere is 'fair' or not.

I would suggest returning to Habermas in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how a deliberative participatory form of democratic polity would operate. I agree that not everyone has to participate in every public policy decision, and Habermas has expressed this sentiment as well. Nevertheless, as Habermas argues, if one is affected by a policy decision, then that person should have the publicity available to him or her, in the form of representative space, in a proportion that is roughly egalitarian, with respect to its distribution, among those who might find the policy decision to be impactful upon them as well.

The author, if she is correct in her conclusion that the continuous flow of material into a blogsite is influential in the prospects of maintaining and growing a readership, then this, in addition to the possibility that economic class and social status are antecedents to one's ability to blog, would render her conclusion that this inequality of publicity that is instantiated by the blogosphere is, in fact, somehow the result of one's political interests and enthusiasm for activism. I think everyone is fairly interested in the formative processes involved the creation of public policies that might affect them.

I am not saying that this book is on the wrong track. I am merely attempting to illuminate additional considerations that, if taken into account and integrated into the systemization of the book's considerations and content, might help to foster a more 'fair' form of a conceptualization of democratic polity.

I do not want to give the wrong impression, so I shall add that I am excited to finally meet others who are interested in transcending the traditional oppositional politics generated from the Left. Also, I might be prejudiced against quantitative sociology, simply because I find its claim to a greater degree of empiricism to be dubious. However, just as qualitative sociology certainly enhances one's subjective horizon with the ongoing disclosure of a seemingly infinite amount of possibilities, which might contribute to a particular condition, I am sure that quantitative sociology can play a beneficial role as well. Unfortunately, this last proposition appears to condescending, but please accept my assurances that it is not intended to be. I simply come from an alternative tradition and have yet to give full contemplation to the beneficial role of quantitative sociology to critical theory.

You Have My Complete Admiration,
Russell Cole

Posted by: Russell Cole at December 3, 2005 1:51 AM

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Tracked on January 19, 2005 9:00 PM