Facebook and Foolywang: An Alternative Digital Cohort Story

The day I realized that, for me, Facebook was not just a photo album or a daily reunion of high school classmates was mildly* life altering. ABD and needing a respite from thinking and writing in the cultural register necessary for a dissertation, I sought out alternative ways to discuss what I was trying to theorize. Discussing notions of acceptable Black womanhood, for example, began as as a more traditional conversation but exploded into a cacophany of Black women singing lines from their favorite R&B songs as a way of playfully engaging the "shade" thrown at us by mainstream media. I would keep posting and people would keep talking and at some point I realized that by turning my Facebook page into a discussion board of sorts, I unintentionally stumbled upon a place of community that reveled in what I will call "foolywang studies." Foolywang studies, characterized by a balance of droll humor and thoughtfulness, allows for conversation across a myriad of tones, vernaculars, backgrounds, and cultural specificities.

Here's the point: Creating a space to talk plainly and humourously about the issues surrounding our research is a key component to building a digital, scholarly community. My Facebook friend list, made up of those both inside and out academe, is a part of that community. Sharing links to articles is part of the process but more than that, having a smart and diverse cohort to partake in the foolywang with me and generating conversation around those issues is where the magic happens.

*Mildly life altering because I believe in constraining my hyperbole.


Great post! My favorite thing about this situation is that the two communities that you cross reinforce the importance of each other. Your work in writing academically about the community solidifies the community it in print. The Facebook community reinforces the importance and relevance of your research. These two communities need to be talking and you serve as the facilitator. 

Wonderful word - foolywang! You reminded me of how the "intellectual" debates that sometimes crop up between myself and my siblings are occasionally interrupted by our parents. Their not-so-subtle acts of humbling not only publicly call out our BS but remind us to laugh at ourselves and whatever position we’re stubbornly defending. If our pontificating gets particularly...deep...the world might be privy to embarrassing (yet harmless) tidbits from our past!

You’d think this humility might be limited to Facebook but I’ve found this carries over to any time I’m offering an idea, whether it be a classroom discussions or conference presentation. I feel as though it offers a playful tone that implies my position is admittedly half-baked and that critique is not only welcome but will be wholeheartedly considered.

(Just don’t show any of my awkward childhood photos.)

Thanks for giving me a classification for my favorite field of research: foolywang studies (foolywangology?)

The type of playful reflection that you're describing here is incredibly important within any kind of community. The British phrase "taking the piss out of" comes to mind for the sort of thing that is happening here. Common practice within our program at ODU is to make a Facebook page for each class at the beginning of the semester and use it as a way to discuss ideas from the class or (more likely) engage in foolywang studies. It becomes the proverbial water cooler for each class and I personally found it extremely helpful for expressing immediate, from-the-gut reactions to readings for each class. These might be reactions that may pass or not be appropriate to bring up in the professional setting of class, but may be shared among the other students via the backchannel of Facebook (professors are not included in the Facebook groups). 

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