Doxa

I’m sure I’ve gone on before about the benefits of working within a community, but I’ll say it again: you guys are ace.

While running the [a][s] Twitter account, I do my best to follow back everyone who follows the account.  This isn’t simply a nice-guy type thing to do; some of the best inspiration comes from all you fuzzies out there.  After all, the articles here would get pretty boring if they were solely about what it was like to be a furry without being a member of the furry subculture.  This week’s article comes from a recommendation and brief conversation with Drenthe, a raccoon of quality, about a book he had seen a review of which I subsequently purchased.  The book was Hanne Blank’s Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality.  I think it’s fairly obvious by now how much gender and sexuality interest me.

One of the early chapters of the book brings up an interesting concept that I only recently thought to apply to the fandom, and that’s the concept of doxa.

Doxa, from the Greek meaning “popular belief”, has come to mean something very specific in sociology today.  Doxa is everything that goes without saying in a society.  In Blank’s book, she uses it to describe the fact that, for the majority of our western society, it goes without saying that heterosexuality is the norm, that homosexuality has to do with two people in a binary gender system engaging in sexual activity or feeling romantically attracted to each other, when, on close inspection, neither sexuality nor gender are quite so simple.  This is part of our doxa, part of what we just assume is the case via popular belief.  It is rarely taught explicitly, and in fact rarely ever mentioned out loud because it is so common a belief.

This concept shows itself primarily in language and communication, though it’s also visible in many of the social structures of the society.  One of the most common linguistic elements surrounding doxa, Blank asserts, is markedness, or marked categories.  That is, two categories related by a rule and an exception, or a general category and a specific category.  For a pertinent example, one might consider the unmarked term “marriage” and the marked term “gay marriage”. Or perhaps in the language of media, this could be “advertisements” and “girls’ advertisements”, which in Chandler’s “Semiotics for Beginners”  is marked by “significantly longer shots, significantly more dissolves (fade out/fade in of shot over shot), less long shots and more close-ups, less low shots, more level shots and less overhead shots”.

All of this, of course, got me wondering about what sort of doxa and marked categories we have within the fandom.  Culture as whole has the givens and the goes-without-sayings, and individual subcultures, as parts of that whole, are just as susceptible to their own specific doxa.  I’ve written before about some of the stages of growth of an individual within western gay popular culture, and those, in their own way, are a sort of doxa, if it goes without saying that younger members of that culture go through their phases of discovery.

One of the big problems with discerning doxa amid that noisy channel of communication that is language and media is difficult, and it is most often found when it is challenged, such as when one notices a marked category.  After all, doxa is not a static thing: it changes and grows or fades as the society around it advances or declines.  Here are just a few of the things I’ve noticed within the fandom that could be called doxa, though as they’re all either currently being challenged or have already been challenged, they may sound a little dated.  To be sure, finding any sort of doxa that is currently well-entrenched is nearly impossible – it’s difficult to ask oneself what one takes for granted, after all.

  • Everyone has a personal character – When I first started getting into the fandom and learning more about furry, it seemed as though the first thing you did was choose a species and attributes that fit your personality and did your level best to let that character become you.  Everyone I knew had a character that fit them well and only a few I knew had alts, which were mainly used to either sneak around or separate adult aspects of their interactions from more general aspects.  However, over time, I noticed that many of my friends (and me, for that matter) started to create different characters or at least different morphs to correspond to different aspects of their personality.  It wasn’t so much that one was just a foxman anymore; one was a foxman when chatting with friends, a foxgirl when questioning one’s gender identity, a wolverineman to roleplay stronger emotions, and so on.

    While this was likely the case even when I was still in my “fursona” stage, I think that things have become more clearly separated now as we get into such things as character auctions and “adoptables”, where one creating a character no longer has much to do with the personal aspect of having a character.  Now that the doxa of having a personal character is being challenged, you see more and more people on FA having journals listing their many characters, only a few of which they may have a personal connection with beyond simply “this is mine”.

  • Furry is dramatic – As I mentioned in my previous post, it seems as though a meme will move in a certain arc shape that has become familiar.  That post was about the larger meme of drama within the fandom, but even that one can be seen to be moving in certain ways.  Whereas before it was considered implicit that furries were going to be dramatic people, now it is something that we hang lampshades on nearly constantly – heck, some of us even write introspective meta-furry articles about the subject – and it seems that a lot of that default-to-drama attitude is starting to fade away.  Just like all of the smaller bits of strife within the larger world of drama, the drama itself is starting to move in that same arc.  It is a doxa that is being challenged by the very fact that we’re so willing to point it out and name it.

  • Furry is unpopular or uncool– Kathleen Gerbasi, referencing the infamous Vanity Fair article, mentions, “The furry stereotype promoted by [the article’s author] indicated that furries were predominantly male, liked cartoons as children, enjoyed science fiction, were homosexual, wore glasses and had beards (male furries only), were employed as scientists or in computer-related fields, and their most common totem animals were wolves and foxes”, which does seem to fit in nicely with our own exploration of what might be the default furry in the fandom.  Needless to say, it doesn’t paint the picture of what one might call a cool or popular guy.

    However, as the fandom has grown and changed, it has entered into a marketing feedback loop: the more furs there are out there with purchasing power, the more money is to be made on them by creating products to suit their tastes, which in turn, helps to broaden the audience of furries out there.  At some point, it became cool and hip to adopt some items that could be seen as related to our fandom, if not necessarily to be furry oneself.  Spirit hoods, tails, and kigurumi pajamas are some examples of how this doxa has been challenged even from outside the fandom itself.

It’s important to note, here that there is a blurry line between doxa and opinion.  One can hold an opinion as a belief and even believe in it quite strongly, but doxa are things that we implicitly believe are true about the society in which we’re embedded, things that we take as fact.  The reason that the line is blurry is that, not only is it sometimes difficult to disentangle opinion from perceived fact, but that as doxa shifts and changes over time, it can veer closer or farther way from opinion.

Watching the shift and change of what we take as given within the fandom is a good way to watch the way our subculture grows and changes, itself.  As we watch these ideas shift from doxa to a division between orthodoxy and heterodoxy – that which is accepted as normal, and that which is seen as going against the norm – to an accepted variety, we can see the way that new members influence the fandom and how external factors can change our social interaction.  The perceived sexualization of furry and the consequent backlash from both older and newer members can be seen as part of this, for example, and there are even visible artifacts such as the numerous ‘not yiffy’ and ‘no RP’ groups on FA being tagged on artists’ and watchers’ profiles alike.  That is just one example, however, of a shorter change that has shown how the fandom is shifting along with its members’ participation.

So is doxa good or bad?  That’s a tough question to answer.  Doxa may be one of those things that “just is”.  It’s an artifact of the way we work as individuals as well as the way our societies are built.  Certainly, some doxa cause harm to individuals and minorities, and even within those minorities, sub-doxa of a sort can cause additional problems in the form of backlash, but commonly held beliefs and ideas are part of the glue that holds us together in cultures.  Even within our own fandom, there are several currents and ideas that form the shifting background of whatever furry is.  Equally difficult to ask, then, is what is the next doxa?  What new ideas will we find out we are taking for granted when they’re challenged?  What commonly held beliefs will lead to contention in the future of our small group of animal-people?  While it is difficult to look within ourselves and figure these things out now beyond searching for marked categories, it certainly bears exploration once they come to light.

About Makyo

Makyo spends her time as a frumpy arctic fox, usually, but she's all over the map. She's been around furry since about 2000 under a variety of names. She writes, programs, and screws around with music.

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19 thoughts on “Doxa

  1. Good overall view of the concept. Of course it’s a lot more complex and interwoven.

    The notion that furry is “uncool” goes much farther than that, to the point where young furs who still live at home are often terrified that their parents/families will “find out” that they have furry interests. The stigma goes every bit as deep as the one associated with being homosexual. Many of these young furs that I have encountered are in fact not gay, or at least haven’t yet formed a stable concept of their own sexuality. But it is a doxa that furry is something to keep secret, an embarrassment that will result in ostracism. Perhaps this is true in some concepts, but I suspect the real truth is that most people in the wider society, at least in the US, are completely unaware of the furry phenomenon. After all, who reads “Vanity Fair” these days?

    The “sexualization of the fandom” is a very real issue that has become doxa. That is, the generally accepted notion is that sexuality is a central pillar of furry. Those of us who have been here the longest often dispute this, but get the feeling that “no one is listening.” A newer doxa that is arriving as a result of heavy media attention in recent years is the idea that furry fandom centers on the fursuit. While costuming is certainly popular and a major visible element at gatherings and conventions, the truth is that it is not essential and is a late development in some respects. I think it will be a long time before the majority of furries have fursuits…

    1. As I read that, I found it interesting to note that some of those doxa (doxi?) were almost mainstream doxa about the furry community, not necessarily furry doxa from within the community.

      Specifically, the “furry is a stigma”, and the media-issued “the furry community orbits the fursuit”. Not so. The MEDIA coverage of the furry community orbits the fursuit. Probably because it’s visually sensationalistic to do so. The same goes for media coverage of Pride parades.

      1. Well, I seem to encounter furs all the time who are embarrassed about their involvement and don’t want anyone to know (sometimes even including fellow furs.)

        Likewise, the fursuit. It’s a self-fulfilling thing, I guess. The press trumpets the “fact” that furry is about costumes, and we get a lot more people who are mainly interested in costumes, who in turn accept that as a doxa. This is a recent change, the wave influx AFTER the “it’s all about sex” thing.

  2. Firstly, thanks for the follow back on Twitter. I haven’t said much on what gets posted here, though, I really enjoy reading what turns up on this site and most of the articles compel me think deeper about furry. I guess that’s what this blog aims to achieve, right?

    Doxa isn’t a word I’ve heard of until now, but it makes complete sense. Like you said, it just is and it changes as society evolves. The part about furry being uncool or nerdy got me thinking about how the perception of the geeky stereotype has changed recently, probably for the better. These days, it seems that being a bit of a geek, wearing glasses and being obsessed with video games doesn’t have the same stigma that it used to when I was at school (I’m only 22). Most of the “geeks” I know would probably be regarded by most as pseudo-hipsters, i.e. edgy and cool with a geeky twist. Is this the same for furry too? I’m pretty open about my interest in furry and rarely receive a negative reaction from people. Most folks, even those who might know of or be familiar with the fandom, regard it as pretty interesting or edgy. Perhaps I should start stocking up on flannelette shirts and skinny jeans :P .

    1. I suppose that, in the instances in which I’ve mentioned furry to others recently, the reaction has been fairly positive, mixed with a bit of “that’s kind of weird.” I think you’re right to make the association with geek culture, though. Part of the reason that the reactions of others have been positive to furry might have a lot to do with the more positive portrayals of geeks, the wider acceptance of video games, and the expansion of technology in the western world. If you take all of those together and add an affinity for anthropomorphic animals, you’ve got something that looks rather like many members of our subculture, after all.

    2. I’ve been noticing several hipsters recently wearing tails, a la the furry community. However, they’ve been made of real fur. Which makes about as much sense to me as attending Woodstock in a three-piece business suit and black leather attache case.

      1. I’m a little undecided about those, since they seem to have made their way more from the Renaissance Faire scene than from furry, at least around here. Ditto cat-ears being more from the anime culture side of things. I have, however, seen a few little faux-fur tail keychain charms that come from a closer realm, not to mention many of the recent shirts on http://shirt.woot.com having vaguely furry content (and, at least once, a furry designer)!

        1. Hey that’s great information, Makyo! Thanks for sharing it. I hadn’t been aware of the Ren Faire connection.

          Considering the number of graphic arts furs we have, it would be interesting to find out what happens as those freelancing get approached to do “non-furry” projects… that will probably frequently have furry imagery, memes, or subtle references from the furry community in there somewhere. That seems likely to happen more often given the situation, and it’s pretty neat to imagine.

  3. Another one is that we’re pretty open about things. In average conversations, it’s very uncommon (at least in my experiences) that people talk about anything, from hobbies to fetishes, at the first meeting.

    I also think that a common belief in the fandom is that everyone other then you has already figured out their sexuality and are no longer a virgin. Obviously not true, but I still think it’s a common thought.

    I wish I could think of more, but you hit the nail on the head when you said ” it’s difficult to ask oneself what one takes for granted”

    1. … to clarify “average conversations” was referring to talking with people outside the fandom.

      Tried to make it sound all nice and professional, which I obviously can’t do ^.-.^;;

      1. Thank you very much for your comments! Some topics are much easier to grasp and understand than others, and yeah, it is difficult to dredge up things that one might take as given. It usually takes such…well, markers as marked language and strife in order for these things to be brought out into the open.

        To your first point, I definitely agree. It comes as no surprise that among those we consider close friends with an automatic interest-in-common that we share more easily than with others around us where we don’t have that nearly guaranteed commonality. Now that you bring it up, I can certainly think of quite a few instances where I know that I’ve shared more with furs than with others, and even more instances where I’ve heard the more security- and privacy-minded among us bemoan the sheer amount of information furries are willing to share with other furries.

        As to the second point, I can see what you mean. This, though, is what I would call more a contrast of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, and it has a lot more to do with the way the parent culture of western society treats sexuality than how the fandom does: previously, figuring out sexuality and reaching that first step was a matter of doxa to be sure. Everyone figured out they were a deviant or not and did what they wanted or felt obligated to do. Over the last fifty, twenty, or even five years, though, things have been changing. It’s still considered orthodox, or normal, to grow up, be straight, have fun sex, then have procreative sex and be mature, whereas it’s heterodox, or different, to take your time in figuring things out. This is true whether or not you’re a furry, but perhaps more evident in our subculture that places so much emphasis on interpersonal communication! It’s part of the plight of the young, I suppose :o)

  4. Another fascinating article. I’ve never heard of doxa, I may have to do some follow-up research. Thanks for the thoughts and observations. :)

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! It’s always good to know that people appreciate them :o) I’d certainly suggest the book I mentioned at the beginning of the post, if for no other reason than Mrs. Blank does a much better job of explaining the concept than I do!

      1. I’d never heard of it either, and certainly appreciated it. There’s a near approximation if you’ve ever read Ishmael, described as “Mother Culture whispering in your ear”.

        1. Ahah! That’s an excellent concept! Sort of like a secular Bat Kol. Perhaps it’s a little closer to “Mother Culture whispering into your subconscious’ ear”, though, in order to maintain the idea that it’s not something we normally consciously think about.

          1. The idea presented in Ishmael is that the whispering came in the form of unspoken assertions that come at us through every aspect of our culture.

            Humanocentricism is one. The idea that the world is primarily meaningful and relevant in terms of humans, with animals sort of an afterthought.

            Acceptance of the idea of totalitarian agriculture is another. The intrinsic right and sustainability of spreading out our farming and cities over what had been the habitat of thousands of other species, not to mentin other human tribes. (This may explain the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, which is presented well in the book.)

            Also, the idea that people’s buy-in to what we somewhat wryly term civilization is always better than the alternative, no matter what your standing or quality of life is. That a poor person would ever cut his losses and leave “civilization” would be unthinkable – he would be thought a “savage”.

            You don’t hear these “whispers” spoken outright on television or the radio, but they’re unstated assertions – so unstated that we’ve never really considered them. Just accepted them.

            Interestingly, new “whispers” are put out by the mainstream media on a steady basis, promoting new acceptance of illogic that facilitates the further breakdown of our political system and our society. When accepted, as they usually are, one generation’s “whispers” become the next generation’s normative convention.

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