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American Anthropologist

“The Vulgar Spirit of Blogging”: On Language, Culture, and Power in Persian Weblogestan

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Abstract

This article is an ethnographic study of Persian-language weblogs (blogs), focusing on a divisive argument among Iranian bloggers that came to be known as the “vulgarity debate.” Sparked by a controversial blogger who ridiculed assertions that Islam was compatible with human rights, the debate revolved around the claim that blogging had a “vulgar spirit” that made it easy for everything from standards of writing to principles of logical reasoning to be undermined. My study focuses primarily on the linguistic side of the controversy: I analyze blogging as an emergent speech genre and identify the structural features and social interactions that make this genre seem “vulgar.” I also examine the controversy as a confrontation between bloggers with unequal access to cultural capital and a struggle over “intellectualist” hegemony. In the conclusion, I use the construct of “deep play” to weave together multiple layers of structure, explanation, and meaning in the debate.

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