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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:How to blog about Africa: travel writing in the digital age
Author:Pearson, Caitlin
Periodical:African Research and Documentation (ISSN 0305-862X)
Geographic term:Africa
social media
Abstract:The blogs Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like (henceforth SEAWL) and Gurl Goes to Africa seek to highlight and critique examples of 'orientalism' and 'exotification' found in other travel blogs, and therefore to draw a comparison between the discourse of colonial travellers and missionaries and that of young 'gap-year' travellers and aid workers. These blogs form part of a wider internet trend of satirising the pretensions of privileged 'Western' travellers. Satirical travel blogs and contemporary travel journalism both focus on the personal experience of the traveller encountering a new place and an unfamiliar culture. Representations of 'the Other' are likely to form part of this writing, and given the effective dissemination of postcolonial criticism about how problematic such representations can be, writers must be equipped with specific strategies to overcome the epistemological problem of representation. Anthropologists have debated this issue extensively, and have devised particular strategies for avoiding the procedures of dichotomising, textualising and 'othering' prevalent in colonial era ethnographies. Elfriede Fürsich raises the question of whether representing cultures other than one's own is 'epistemologically possible': 'Can one ultimately escape procedures of dichotomizing, restructuring, and textualizing in the making of interpretive statements about foreign cultures?' (Geertz cited in Fürsich, 2002: 64). Geert Lovink and Jodi Dean, who have conducted extensive theoretical analyses of blogging, highlight key features that differentiate blogging from more mainstream forms of journalism and fictional writing (2007; 2010). The author of this article uses their theoretical arguments to chart the origins of blogging, evaluate the position of the reader in relation to the text, and, finally, to suggest the most appropriate approach with which to analyse the function of satire in blog writing. As internet guides, the satirical bloggers essentially adopt a deconstructive role, signposting directions that should not be taken, and styles of writing that should be avoided. This passive stance of deconstruction recalls that of postcolonial criticism - the approach which Fürsich holds responsible for the pervading sense of 'representational crisis' in travel writing and journalism (2002: 58). In the end, the readers of SEAWL and Gurl Goes to Africa, despite the postmodern characteristics of self-referentiality and polyvocality of these blogs, is no better equipped to write about travel than when they first encountered the satire, and are left epistemologically disorientated in an enclosed web of online dead ends. Bibliogr., notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]