Membership and Activity in an Online Parenting Community

Membership and Activity in an Online Parenting Community

Sarah Pedersen (The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK) and Janet Smithson (University of Exeter, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch005
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Recent studies have shown that British women, especially mothers of young children, spend a particularly large amount of time online. Many are logging on to parenting websites. This chapter investigates Mumsnet, a large British parenting site, and evaluates how members use and conceptualise the site. A combined method of a questionnaire survey with open and closed-ended questions, and discourse analysis of discussions on the site, was used to explore this. The analysis considers how membership and expertise are displayed and acknowledged in online groups, how people view their involvement with the site, how online and “real life” are segregated or integrated in various ways. The positioning of “lurkers” (those who read but do not post) and of “trolls” (those who post false information or fake identities) is explored within the context of how power is reproduced and challenged in the type of discourse produced in an online discussion forum.
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With the growth of parenting sites has come a related growth in research into the use and discourse of such sites. In the UK, this growth can also be attributed to a growing concern about the state of parenting and an appreciation of the benefits of such websites from government departments. Madge and O’Conner’s research into empowerment of new mothers through the UK-based website BabyWorld focused on the ways the site provided virtual social support and alternative information sources for new mothers. However, they argued that the site reinforced traditional stereotypes of mothering and unequal gender roles. Their research focused on how the website offered parents a safe space in which to communicate, but also enabled them to occupy positions of agency in the production of parenting-related knowledge. Madge and O’Connor concluded that BabyWorld was used mainly by white, middle-class, heterosexual women and that the culture of mothering that emerged from discussions on the site was traditional and conservative. Sarkadi and Bremberg’s work on the Swedish website the Parents Network (FöräldraNatet) suggested that use of parenting websites could cross the “digital divide”, with lone parents and those with lower levels of education and income finding support from this website. They agreed with Madge and O’Connor that website users believed that the opinions and advice of other parents are more valuable than the advice of experts.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Newbie: a new poster on a forum

Lurker: someone who reads posts on a forum but never or rarely posts.

Membership categorisation analysis: (MCA): A method for locating and analysing the locally used, invoked and organised membership categories in everyday conversation.

Discussion Boards: an online bulletin board where users can leave messages and receive answers.

Mumsnetter: a user of the Mumsnet discussion boards.

Troll: Someone who posts under a fake identity, posts information they know to be false, or who deliberately posts information to cause trouble.

Discourse Analysis: an approach to the analysis of naturally occurring talk that considers the social actions and consequences achieved by the words’ use, and the resources which participants employ to achieve these actions.

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