|I'd like to develop what I think is at least part of the core of werewolf's posts.|
Of course, we cannot remove the personal, the real-life, from considerations of the power dynamics of the board. But I think the immediate area of consideration is the structure of power *here*, in the forum itself. As the forum is composed of writing purely, apart from a very basic mod/regular user power structure, this power dynamic it seems to me takes the form of a discourse.
This is where Barbelith is remarkable, both in terms of its power, including its liberatory power, and its exclusionary/oppressive side. I will be straightforward here, because I think this is actually quite a straightforward issue - Barbelith uses an *academic* or literary discourse, and any discourse which attempts to impede on it which finds itself outside of the sphere of academic structure gets pretty much torn down.
This thread is a perfect example - we have an argument consisting of many thousands of words to begin the thread, over a relatively obscure distinction. We have references to and quotes from quite heavy literary/academic writers; bouvouir and friere. Certainly, this is 'headshop' and is thus labelled to an extent as academic. However, the discourse pervades every forum - if not overtly then covertly. the 'paddywhack' thread for instance is a wonderful example of how any 'casual' conversation thread, apparently under some kind of laid back, easygoing, humourous discourse, belies a bubbling undercurrent of academic thinking that is liable to take over the thread at any time. Each word thus chosen on the forum is chosen with this discourse in the back of the poster's mind, by necessity. As an interesting observation, in this thread, note bacon's reaction to the eruption of worry over the meaning of the word paddywhack; he is convinced the whole thing is a joke; he finds it unbelievable, ridiculous. I believe a very large proportion of people would react similarly, or simply stop reading.
'But why do you insist on calling it academic?' - I hear this in the back of my mind. An argument may run that this discourse that I identify would be better characterised as liberatory; it attempts to proceed in all fairness, arresting discrimination, sharing knowledge, providing a full, rigorous analyses of one's motivations, reasons behind saying particular things, etc etc. This kind of impulse in discourse exists everywhere, through all segments of society - but nevertheless, the form presented here is still academic. Barbelith is excellent at arresting anything steeped in foolish assumption for example, and many 'urban' cultures here in the west that seem furthest from academia seem to me to do this excellently well also; however, the discursive form is starkly different; where in one discourse we might see an honest, blunt dirisive word to shut the idiot up, in Barbelith we see very, very lengthy insistences on a full account of the contents of the person's mind, and lengthy counter-posts full of various cultural and literary references beyond the scope of the majority of the population. Furthermore, I know that many of the members of the boards actively dislike a certain form of 'standard' academic discourse; with good reason. I use the word for simplicity's sake - it rests on the basic fact that to operate within this discourse you really need to have read quite alot of books, preferably to do with critical theory, politics or magic. Thus, academic or literary.
I don't think this discourse is in any way more negative than any other, but I believe it to be the prime operative in any exclusionary power-dynamic on Barbelith. To operate within it you need a literary background, and a literary background has cultural and socio-economic factors. This is not about ability, or cleverness; people who do not operate with an academic discourse are not less able than those who do - it is cultural, and economic, and the lack of familiarity with this discourse is what alienates the vast majority of the population; not only practically all ethnic minorities, but also even most middle-class white people. The representation allowed in Barbelith, with the exception of a few self-taught individuals, is the same as the representation we see in the universities.
The only way to make Barbelith more open is to destroy this discourse in some sections of the board, which is very, very difficult to do.