We were sent Motherhood Online by the editor, Michelle Moravec.
This book is a scholarly academic tome, but even given that, there are only two articles in it that I would call inaccessible to non-academic readers. (And those two articles are both short and probably inaccessible to most academic readers as well.) Non-academic readers will find the first section just as amusing and the second and third sections just as interesting as this academic reader.
The book starts out with case studies that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a pregnancy or mothering forum. It does seem that if you’ve been on one of these forums, you’ve really been on all of the forums, for all the differences we perceive between the mothering.coms and the babycenters of the world, the dynamics are not that much different, even across forums from different countries. Oddly, this section is titled “Theoretical perspectives” but is, for the most part, a-theoretical and, for the most part, focuses on each author’s own experiences with an online parenting community.
The second section… titled, “Case studies” includes articles with a broader theory base, more formal qualitative methods, and comparisons across different cases. This second section focuses on communities that many of us have had less experience with, but are interesting in their own rights. I especially enjoyed the studies of teenage mothers, autistic parents, port-wine stain, stay-at-home dads, and really most of the articles in this section. I felt like I learned something reading many of these articles.
The last section focuses on blogs and community, with the stand-out piece being one on the community of people from developed countries who use (employ?) Indian women as surrogate mothers.
Although the introduction focuses on the positives to these online communities, the articles themselves are even-handed with both the positives (community building, information sharing, support) and the negatives (conflict, incorrect information, rationalization, etc.) The authors come from a number of different disciplines, including communication, sociology, public health, anthropology, history and others. These different disciplinary paths and perspectives come across in the methodology and writing. Obviously we feel more comfortable with the social scientist methodologies, but other disciplines provide for entertaining reading and discussion.
Is this worth reading? Sure! Especially if you’re into non-fiction and would like to think a bit about they dynamics of online communities. The book includes a nice collection of articles that, should, for the most part, be as easy to read as a Malcolm Gladwell book, but with perhaps a few more citations included.