Networked Selves

Trajectories of Blogging in the United States and France

by Ignacio Siles (Author)
©2017 Monographs XIV, 222 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 111


Networked Selves is an original analysis of one of the most defining cultural features of our time: how people turn to the Web to construct a public self. It examines the trajectory of a practice that embodies this sociocultural shift in fundamental ways: blogging. The book traces the evolution of the Web as a means to publicly perform a self through an analysis of the emergence, development, and transformation of blogging from the mid-1990s to the early years of the 2010s. It discusses processes that have shaped practices of subjectivity on the Web over two decades in two countries: the United States and France. Through this comparative analysis, the book shows that the cultural identity of blogging as a practice of subjectivity in these countries is neither inevitable nor neutral. Instead, it demonstrates that the development of the Web required the forging of various articulations between specific conceptions of self, publicness, and technology. These articulations were responses to both transformations in the daily life of actors and larger economic, political, and cultural processes—notably neoliberalization. The book also explains how the cultural imaginary around blogs came into being in the United States and how it has also functioned as a model for actors in other countries, such as France. Networked Selves discusses how and why actors in the technology field in France have gradually abandoned traditional makers of exceptionalism that were key in the development of the country’s national identity and favored notions that characterize the United States instead.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Advance Praise for Networked Selves
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Voicing the Web
  • Why Blogging?
  • A French-American Comparison
  • Conceptual Grounds: The Web as Technology of Subjectivity
  • Analyzing the Voices of the Web
  • How the Research Was Done
  • Three Registers of Voice: An Overview of the Book
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2. The Emergence of the Blog
  • Blogs and the Early Web Ecology in the United States
  • The Early Web Ecology in the United States: A Genealogy of Precursors
  • A “Format” for Multiple Voices: The Stabilization of the Blog
  • Early Voices on the French Web
  • The Early French Web Ecology
  • Blogues, Jouebs, and Carnets: The Stabilization of the Blog in France
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3. The Proliferation of Blogging
  • The American “T-Shirt-Clad Army of Bloggers”
  • A New Context for Blogging
  • The Voices of Citizens: Of “News Blogging” and “Political Blogging”
  • Organizations Begin to Blog
  • “Blogonomics”: Making Income Out of Blogging
  • Turning Blogs Into a Model
  • The French Republic of Blogs
  • New Grounds for New Appropriations
  • The Voices of French Citizens
  • The Days of Glory of the “Political Blog” in France
  • French Organizations Begin to Blog
  • “Blogs for the Pros”: Blogging for Income in France
  • Turning Blogs Into a Model
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4. From Blogging to Microblogging
  • Inventing “Microblogging”: Toward a New Web Ecology in the United States
  • New Software for a New Web Ecology
  • Reconfiguring the Web Ecology: The Invention of “Microblogging”
  • Redefining Blogging: Tensions and Opportunities
  • Between Blogging, “Microblogging,” and “Curation”: A New French Web Ecology
  • Redefining Blogging: The Threats
  • Redefining Blogging: The Opportunities
  • New Software for a New Web Ecology: The Invention of “Curation”
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Rethinking Self-Performance in the Digital Age
  • Self-Performance in the Digital Age
  • From Paris to San Francisco: A Story of Americanization?
  • The Reconfiguration of Public and Private Lives
  • Technology and Subjectivity: A New Scale for Voice
  • Self-Performance in Times of Neoliberalism
  • From Register to Regime
  • Notes
  • References
  • Appendix: Research Design
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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Books are themselves networks and I would like to recognize some of the “nodes” that were crucial in the development of this project. I am grateful to Steve Jones and Kathryn Harrison for their enthusiasm and support for the book. It has been a pleasure to work with the talented professionals at Peter Lang. I also thank Niels Brügger for his editorial advice.

I thank the support received from Universidad de Costa Rica’s (UCR) School of Communication (ECCC) and the Centro de Investigación en Comunicación (CICOM). I couldn’t have asked for a better professional environment and intellectual community. I am very grateful to Vanessa Fonseca, Carlos Sandoval, and Patricia Vega for the feedback received on parts of this book and the support they have offered me since I joined UCR’s Faculty more than 15 years ago. For their friendship and encouragement, I thank my colleagues in the School of Communication at UCR. I would also like to thank ECCC’s students who, above anyone else, make UCR the most stimulating place to be.

The Media, Technology and Society (MTS) program at Northwestern University provided an extraordinary community without which this project could not have come to fruition. I could not think of a better mentor to navigate the waters of academia than Pablo Boczkowski, chair of my dissertation ← ix | x → committee. He went beyond the call of duty and pushed my thinking with his rigor and originality. In the process, he offered me a friendship for which I will always be grateful. I will always value our conversations about the greatness of academic research (and soccer) as the highlight of my time at Northwestern. Ken Alder taught me everything I know about the history of science and technology. With his unique capacity for identifying “germs of ideas,” he showed me how to pursue difficult questions and challenged me to develop them. Jan Radway introduced me to cultural analysis and generously offered her sharp insights on numerous drafts of each phase of this project. A master of the craft, she also provided me with valuable practical tips to conduct research and resolve problems I encountered in the field. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from these extraordinary mentors.

I would also like to thank my professors in the MTS program, particularly Eszter Hargittai, Jennifer Light, and James Webster, for helping me turn early ideas and interests into concrete research questions. For their friendship and support, I thank my fellow graduate students: Will Barley, Alan Clark, Lindsay Fullerton, Katie Day Good, Yu-li Patrick Hsieh, Nicole Joseph, Eugenia Mitchelstein, Jesse Nasta, Jacob Nelson, Rachel Plotnick, Aditi Raghavan, Harsh Taneja, and Xiao Angela Wu.

As part of the fieldwork I conducted for this project, I spent the 2011–2012 academic year in Paris, hosted by the Médialab at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). I want to thank the Paris Program in Critical Theory at Northwestern University for making this research trip possible. I am grateful to Dominique Cardon and Sylvain Parasie, who read earlier drafts of this book and provided extraordinary feedback. In Paris, I was very fortunate to meet with many researchers and collaborators whose assistance was invaluable for conducting my research: Karen Bastien, Valérie Beaudouin, Jean-Sebastien Beauscart, Dominique Boullier, Eric Dagiral, Jérôme Denis, Remi Douine, Patrice Flichy, Guilhem Fouetillou, Alexandre Hocquet, Benoit Lelong, Camille Paloque-Bergès, Ashveen Peerbaye, David Pontille, Serge Proulx, Franck Rebillard, Chloë Salles, Valérie Schafer, and Viviane Serfaty. They shared relevant information, discussed valuable ideas with me, helped me find potential interviewees, and invited me to present my research findings on several occasions.

This book would not have been possible without the people who gave me their time to share their experiences and talk for hours about the use and development of the Web as a technology of subjectivity. Borrowing a phrase from my former advisor Thierry Bardini that applies neatly to this project, I ← x | xi → hope you find your voice in these pages. I also thank Thierry for speaking to me about blogs for the first time while I was a student at the Université de Montréal and for introducing me to the literature in science and technology studies.

This project benefitted greatly from comments by participants at the MTS’s brown bag seminar, the Science in Human Culture program’s doctoral colloquium, meetings of the American Sociological Association, International Communication Association, National Communication Association, Society for the History of Technology, and Society for Social Studies of Science, and seminars at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Institut des Sciences de la Communication (ISCC) du CNRS, the Sciences Sociales du Web (W2S) seminar organized by La Cantine and Orange Labs, Télécom Paris-Tech, and Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée. The Fulbright-LASPAU scholarship program helped me in the process of applying to Northwestern University and provided economic support. I also thank Northwestern University’s Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, The Graduate School, School of Communication, and Science in Human Culture program, and Universidad de Costa Rica’s Oficina de Asuntos Internacionales y Cooperación Externa, for their assistance and financial support.

Finally, my deepest thanks go to my family for their love and encouragement. I thank my parents, Yamileth and Berman, who remain my greatest teachers and biggest source of inspiration. I also thank my sisters, Mariana and Marcia, for standing by me through both the happiest and the most difficult times. My daughter Lea, mi pequeño todo, arrived in this world while I was working on an early version of this project. I thank her for revealing to me a new kind of happiness and strength. My wife, best friend, and partner in crime, Tania, has done more for this project than I could find words to express. I will be eternally grateful for her love. It is to her that I dedicate this book and everything that I am.

Earlier versions of parts of chapter 2 appeared in Ignacio Siles, (2012) “Web technologies of the self: The arising of the blogger identity”, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(4), 408–421, reprinted with permission from John Wiley and Sons; Ignacio Siles, (2012) “The rise of blogging: Articulation as a dynamic of technological stabilization”, New Media & Society, 14(5), 781–797, reprinted with permission from Sage Publishing; and Ignacio Siles, (2011) “From online filter to Web format: Articulating materiality and meaning in the early history of blogs”, Social Studies of Science, 41(5), ← xi | xii → 737–758, reprinted with permission from Sage Publishing. An earlier version of some parts of chapter 4 was published in Ignacio Siles, (2013) “Inventing Twitter: An iterative approach to new media development”, International Journal of Communication, 7, 2105–2127, published under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd) license.

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In the fall of 2012, Facebook announced it had reached one billion users, 80% of which resided outside the United States (Facebook, 2013; Vance, 2012). This represents almost 15% of the world’s total population. By the end of 2014, users had risen to 1.39 billion. According to the company, 4.5 billion “likes” and 4.75 billion content items were shared on the platform on a daily basis by mid-2013 (Constine, 2013). In early 2015, less than a decade after Twitter’s launch, over 288 million users shared 500 million “tweets” a day (Twitter, 2015). Originally designed to help users respond to the question, “What are you doing?”, Twitter has also become a means to sustain conversations with others (Honeycutt & Herring, 2009; Humphreys, Gill, Krishnamurthy, & Newbury, 2013; Lenhart & Fox, 2009; Siles, 2013). In a related vein, an average of 70 million photos and 2.5 billion “likes” were shared each day on Instagram in early 2015 (Instagram, 2015). According to researchers associated with the Pew Internet and American Life project, these photos have become the “social currency” of our time (Rainie, Brenner, & Purcell, 2012, p. 1). Before the application was split into two products, people across the planet used Foursquare to share their location. Approximately 4.5 billion “check-ins” were reported in September 2013 (Foursquare, 2013). Through posts, “likes,” “tweets,” photos, and “check-ins,” the Web has thus ← 1 | 2 → evolved into an important means to share a variety of thoughts, activities, opinions, feelings, and movements for a large and growing portion of the world’s population.

Since the early days of its popularization, users have turned to the Web to put things “out there,” that is, to bridge the interface between the sense of a private self and the public world of others. As the Web has stabilized into a fundamental part of their daily lives, to provide others with a public window onto a self has become almost a necessity for many people (Cardon, 2010; Lange, 2007; Papacharissi, 2010; Rainie & Wellman, 2012; Schwarz, 2012; Trepte & Reinecke, 2011; Viégas, 2005). In Couldry’s (2012) words, “To have a public presence beyond one’s bodily presence, to construct an objectification of oneself [has turned into a] requirement in everyday life” (p. 50, emphasis in original).1

How did this crucial transformation, a defining cultural feature of our time, come into being? Why did the Web turn into a key means to publicly reveal a self to an extent and with an ease that was difficult to imagine only a few decades ago? What are the implications of this major cultural shift? This book is devoted to answering these questions. It does so by studying the trajectory of one specific set of practices and technologies that embodies this sociocultural shift toward self-performance on the Web in fundamental ways: blogging.2 I trace the evolution of the Web as a means to publicly perform a self through an analysis of the emergence, development, and transformation of blogging from the mid-1990s to the early years of the 2010s decade. I examine processes and dynamics that have shaped practices of subjectivity on the Web in two countries over more than fifteen years. The United States and France constitute ideal cases for this comparative analysis because of their rich histories of practices and technologies to conceptualize and perform the self. These histories have translated into traditions and means to enact the boundaries between private and public (Ariès et al., 1987; Benjamin, 2008; Goffman, 1959, 1963; Goldstein, 2005). In this book, I analyze how users and software developers have enacted certain notions of the self, conceived of the publicness of their Web appropriation and development practices, and built and utilized media technologies such as websites and software programs to these ends.

The cultural identity of blogging as a practice of subjectivity in these countries is neither inevitable nor neutral. In the United States, liberal and neoliberal notions about the self have informed the imaginary surrounding blogs in crucial ways.3 Thus, media technologies such as websites and software ← 2 | 3 → applications have inscribed views of the self as a singular, unique, free entity that requires expressing original ideas. These technologies have also encouraged individuals to imagine themselves as entrepreneurs and to build social relations that resemble market partnerships.4 In this book, I show how this cultural imaginary around blogs came into being in the United States and how it has also functioned as a model for actors in other countries, most notably France. I discuss how and why actors in the technology field in France, a country that has consistently positioned itself as an alternative to American domination in cultural life have gradually abandoned traditional makers of exceptionalism that were key in the development of the country’s national identity and favored notions that characterize the United States instead (Roger, 2005). In this way, this book shows how trajectories of the Web as a technology of subjectivity in these countries have undergone a significant process of convergence.5

Together, the analysis of parallel trajectories of blogging in the United States and France challenges an established view in the popular and scholarly literature that tends to attribute the success of the Web in general, and the blog in particular, to the availability of certain technological capacities (Boehlert, 2009; Perlmutter, 2008; Pole, 2010; Rettberg, 2008; Rosenberg, 2009; Trippi, 2004). Instead, I demonstrate that the development of the Web required the forging of various articulations between specific conceptions of self, publicness, and technology. These articulations were responses to both transformations in the daily life of actors and larger economic, political, and cultural processes, in particular neoliberalization. My comparative analysis shows that the blog’s success was a product of how, against the background of these processes, actors made it “fit” within the histories of subjectivity practices, traditions, and cultures in both countries. In this sense, the blog’s uptake in the United States and France cannot be mapped to or interpreted as the natural outcome of any specific feature or intrinsic capacity of the technology. The main features of the contemporary new media ecology should be considered a product of cultural and historical processes rather than technological imperatives.

Why Blogging?

The evolution of blogging from the mid-1990s to the present day affords a unique opportunity to examine the cultural imperative to construct a public objectification of the self on the Web. In this sense, the trajectory of the ← 3 | 4 → blog encapsulates the history of the Web as a technology of subjectivity in important ways.

Contrary to common assumptions (Andrews, 2006; Barlow, 2007; King, 2010; Melnick, 2009; Tremayne, 2007a), the blog was born not in the aftermath of 9/11 but rather in the mid- to late 1990s when the Web was still in its infancy. In this sense, examining the conditions of the blog’s emergence allows understanding how early ideas and meanings about the potential of the Web for self-performance arose, crystallized, and partially stabilized. Blogs came to be envisioned as an ideal “format” for capturing a range of practices of subjectivity that characterized the first decade of the Web. Studying the process of the blog’s emergence thus helps to contextualize the “moment of arising” (Agamben, 2009, p. 89) of the belief in the Web as a suitable means for elaborating a self and providing a public window onto it.

Not only did the blog and blogging software survive the dot-com stock bubble but, in the first half of the 2000s decade, they were also established as icons of the Web’s reinvention in public culture. By 2005, blogs had become a symbol of the so-called “2.0” or second generation Web. In this capacity, the blog was envisioned as a key means to realize “the true potential of the web platform” (O’Reilly, 2005), as a popular essay at the time put it. The belief in the potential of the blog found wide resonance in both journalistic and academic discourse (Benkler, 2006; Bruns, 2008; Cardon & Delaunay-Teterel, 2006; Kline & Burstein, 2005; Lovink, 2008; Rodzvilla, 2002; Rosenberg, 1999, 2009; Tremayne, 2007b). In a typical account, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (2005) described the blogger as a “digital citizen,” thus associating it with the possibility of political and cultural participation in public life. In a similar manner, scholars lauded blogs as the ideal embodiment of a capacity to transform important aspects of social life. Extending the increasingly long list of revolutions associated with the Internet (Sterne, 1999), in this period blogging was recurrently invoked to illustrate the potential that digital culture held for society. An account of the blog’s development thus enables an analysis of dynamics that were fundamental for imagining the Web’s cultural significance in the first half of the 2000s decade, right after the dot-com bubble burst.

More recently, the creation of new media technologies (often tied to notions such as “microblogging,” “social media,” “curation,” and “social network sites”) has challenged the prominence of blogs in the contemporary Web ecology. Yet, the belief in the potential of the Web to voice opinions and experiences, to open a window for others onto a self, has not disappeared but ← 4 | 5 → rather found wider resonance with the rise of these media technologies. Moreover, the blog has played a fundamental part in shaping the understanding, design, and use of these technologies. Evan Williams, a software developer involved in the creation of both Blogger and Twitter, thus argued:

In this respect, Rettberg (2008, p. 156) argues, blogs have “spread” into social network sites. Similarly, Dean (2010) contends that social network sites and media technologies such as Twitter “traverse, extend, and include” blogs (p. 36). Terms such as “microblogging” also reveal the centrality of blogging in shaping the conception (at both cultural and technological levels) of more recent media technologies for enacting notions of the self through short and varied forms of content. Therefore, an assessment of the blog’s recent evolution makes it possible to identify the various dynamics that have shaped the contemporary development and use of the Web as a technology of subjectivity.

A French-American Comparison

A growing body of work has been devoted to better understanding the blurring of the boundaries between the private and the public entailed by the availability of the Web to construct an objectification of the self. However, despite its many contributions, some shortcomings have limited research on this issue in important ways. Research in various fields has tended to adopt a uniform view of the self by privileging the study of single, specific locations (most notably the United States). Moreover, by situating and studying subjectivity practices during certain moments or events only, scholars have often posited views of self and publicness as relatively fixed in time. A typical expression of these tendencies has been prevalent notions such as the “networked self” (Cohen, 2012; Papacharissi, 2011; Rainie & Wellman, 2012), which tend to render the self into an ahistorical and universal entity.6 This is also the case of studies that adopt the language of “self-expression” or “self-representation” (Rettberg, 2014). As work on the formation of modern identity shows, what counts as a self and a public self-account are cultural and historical constructs ← 5 | 6 → (Martin, Gutman, & Hutton, 1988; Prost, 1991; Seigel, 2005; Taylor, 1989; Wahrman, 2004). As Goldstein (2005) puts it in her history of the self in post-revolutionary France, “What passes for a self is not the same in all places and times” (p. 2). Thus, by limiting the analysis of technologies of subjectivity such as blogs to single locations and events, or by deploying all too general notions such as the “networked self” or “self-expression,” research has mobilized largely ethnocentric assumptions to account for the uptake, development, and significance of these media technologies.

Another major shortcoming in recent literature on the self and the Internet has been the relative inattention to how media technologies (as cultural artifacts) emerged and how this process relates to self-fashioning dynamics. For the most part, research has tended to focus on the role of users and how they appropriate certain tools for self-performance but has not examined how these technologies came into being (boyd, 2014; Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013; Papacharissi, 2010, 2011). As a result, researchers have typically espoused a view of technology as a neutral “background” or “architecture” against which users simply perform a self. How technology comes into being is thus separated from the processes of self-fashioning and self-performance. Research on this issue typically treats technologies as “affordances” that a pre-constituted self uses in relatively standard ways to express itself.7 Both technology and self, and their relationship, are thus unproblematically assumed to be constant entities that don’t require interrogation.

A comparative and longitudinal study becomes indispensable to consider technologies and practices of subjectivity as culturally and historically situated. This kind of analysis renders visible the different conceptions of what publicly performing a self means in various contexts and at diverse moments in time. A comparative analysis of the trajectories of blogging as a cultural and historical practice facilitates identifying the taken-for-granted assumptions and dynamics that have shaped the use and development of the Web as a technology of subjectivity and how they have evolved over time. This approach helps to contextualize the development of blogs in various national settings rather than to generalize or normalize its uptake by focusing on any singular case. This is the task set out for this book.

The United States and France constitute fruitful research cases for making sense of the development of the Web as a technology of subjectivity. Both countries are liberal democracies and free-market economies characterized by similar levels of economic production. Media technologies have historically played a crucial role in shaping a sense of national identity in each ← 6 | 7 → (Alder, 2007a, 2007b; Benson, 2013; Czitrom, 1982; Feenberg, 1995; Hecht, 1998; Nye, 1994). These countries also have rich traditions in developing technologies of subjectivity, which allows for a consideration of how historical factors have mattered in shaping the Web (and blogs in particular) (Schneider, 2000; Schneider, Charon, Miles, Graham, & Vedel, 1991). In this sense, the popularity of blogs and blogging software in these countries can be considered both an expression and an extension of this rich history.

In fact, the United States and France are two of the few countries characterized by both a burgeoning number of blogs and a local blogging software field. Software developers in both countries built numerous programs for the creation and management of blogs. This facilitates a comparative assessment of the role of software in shaping the trajectories of blogging. It also makes it possible to identify how different cultural values about the self and the public/private distinction might have been inscribed into software, and how these values might have shaped subjectivity practices on the Web in these two national contexts.

The boundaries between the public and the private have been historically demarcated in significantly different ways in the United States and France. Walter Benjamin (2008, p. 103) traced the emergence of what he refers to as the “bourgeois interior” to the July Revolution: “For the private individual, the place of dwelling is for the first time opposed to the place of work. The former constitutes itself as the interior. Its complement is the office.” In his history of private life in France, Prost (1991) notes that French society more strictly protected this frontier between the private sphere of the household and the public realm of the workplace than did the United States and England during most of the twentieth century (cf. Kuhn, 2007, 2010). Drawing on a diversity of cases, Thévenot and Lamont (2000) explain how this distinction has historically evolved in these countries:


XIV, 222
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 222 pp.

Biographical notes

Ignacio Siles (Author)

Ignacio Siles is a professor in the School of Communication at Universidad de Costa Rica. He is the author of Por un Sueño En.red.ado (2008) and several articles about technology and society. He obtained his PhD in the media, technology, and society program at Northwestern University.


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