closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

Default Homepages and Becoming

Mahmood (2001) did ethnographic research with some Islamic women who did not come from devout families, but sought to live their lives more in accord with Islamic doctrine. Achieving piety "entailed the inculcation of entire dispositions through a simultaneous training of the body, emotions, and reason as sites of discipline until the religious virtues acquired the status of embodied habits" (p. 212). In her conversations with these women, she found that their actions such as being shy and wearing a veil made them feel hypocritical or untruthful at first, but then they came to the realization that their actions were intended to create an internal state rather than announce its existence. They are "the critical markers, as well as the ineluctable means by which one trains oneself to be pious.... at stake in this conceptualization of veiling as a disciplinary practice....is an entire conceptualization of the role of the body in the making of the self in which the outward behavior of the body constitutes both the potentiality, as well as the means, through which an interiority is realized" (p. 214). There are some similar findings for cyberspace, where someone's online activity serves as a script for remapping their identity. Turkle's (1995) research on MUDs discovered "slippages--places where persona and self merge, places where the multiple personae join to comprise what the individual thinks of as his or her authentic self" (p. 185-6). For example, one woman told her: "I was born in the South and I was taught that girls didn't speak up to disagree with men" (p. 221), but her experiences on MUDs "enabl[ed] her to reach a state of mind where she is better able to speak up for herself in her marriage" (p. 221).

One specific way that that people can use online activity to redefine identity is through one's selection of a default homepage. This is not to say that everyone selects their default homepage for this reason, but merely to point it out as a possible motivation. For a while, I made the Pew Internet & American Life Project my default homepage because I wanted to make sure that I remain informed about cyberspace studies. Might it be possible that other people have chosen a default homepage to achieve the "inculcation of entire dispositions through a simultaneous training of the body, emotions, and reason" (Mahmood 2001: 212)?

References Cited

Mahmood, Saba
2001 Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival. Cultural Anthropology 16(2):202-236.

Turkle, Sherry
1995 Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.
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