List Service Etiquette: Towards a Happy Listserv

This posting has four parts:

(1) Clarification of the Purpose of the AQA listserv;(2) General Guidelines for Listserv Postings;(3) Listserv Etiquette; and (4) Procedures for Removing Subscribers.

1. General Purposes of the AQA Listserv

Since the listserv serves AQA, postings to it should relate to one of the four main goals of AQA as these are laid out in our by-laws and mission statement:

1) to facilitate communication among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer anthropologists and between them and similar scholars in other fields;2) to encourage and support anthropological research on homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality and gender in all subfields of the discipline;3) to help develop materials for teaching about the above topics in various cultural contexts; and 4) to serve the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender anthropologists within the American Anthropological Association.

Some general points that follow from this:

Announcements and dissemination of information are highly relevant to this list, as are many kinds of discussion and airing of ideas. In the past, for example, we have had productive discussions through this listserv on topics related to AQA’s mission, such as a) should we change the AQA name; b) AQA and the Ethics Committee; c) AAA resolutions proposals; and d) national and global gender and sexuality oppressions; among many others. AQA listserv subscribers should thus not refrain from the free exchange of ideas on the AQA list, and specific theoretical queries are entirely appropriate for this listserv. However, postings of a most general nature (such as “Is there a God?”) are very difficult to respond to in manageable form: most subscribers will have opinions, and such discussions quickly become unwieldy. Such discussions would be more appropriately sited in a chatroom. This list is not a chatroom.

2. General Guidelines for Listserv Postings

Given the purpose of this listserv to facilitate discussion, we certainly do not want a situation where weeks go by without a single posting to the listserv. However, we also want to avoid a large volume of messages. Here are some guidelines to help us achieve manageable volume while making good use of the listserv as a key AQA forum:

1) Appropriate Audience. Postings to the listserv should address the readership at large rather than individuals specifically. If a discussion develops into an exchange between two parties, the conversation should move to private e-mail immediately. For example, here’s an appropriate post: “I was musing the other day about the effects of the minimal funding available to sexuality researchers… what do subscribers think about this lack of funds and its impact on queer scholarship?” Here’s an inappropriate responsive posting to the list: “Great question!” In general, the listserv is not the appropriate forum for posting a message that merely forwards one or more old messages with a comment along the lines of “I agree!” Such comments should be sent off-list, i.e., privately.

2) Conference announcements, calls for papers, and specific calls for references, reflections on projects, or assistance are appropriately directed to the group at large. Responses to such calls could be directed to the list at large. If, however, the nature of the response engages the original poster specifically, strongly consider answering such calls via personal correspondence. For example: If the listserv receives an inquiry regarding good grad schools for queer studies, it would be appropriate to respond to the list with suggestions. If, however, you as a prospective responder want more information about what the inquiring person is studying or how their project connects with your own work, correspond with them off-list. (Alternatively, the person posting the initial request might ask people to respond off-list (privately) with their suggestions, and subsequently compile all of those suggestions into a single edited e-mail to post to the entire listserv. Another example: If someone e-mails the list requesting information about a topic, book or article, or conference, replies should be directed to the original requester privately and not to the whole list. If you are summarizing the literature on a certain topic in a manner you think would be of interest to a broader audience, exercise your judgment as to whether or not it should be sent to the entire listserv. We would encourage subscribers to more frequently incorporate the line “Please respond privately” into their postings requesting assistance.

3) Professional Decorum. Treat the virtual space of the listserv as a professional setting: discussions should refrain from name-calling and dismissive responses. If readers wish to disagree or challenge statements made on the list, they should do so without directing hostility at the original poster. To emphasize: for all postings, writers should presume that the reader is the entire list and not just the person originating the discussion. If a reader does not see a way to respond without personalizing, they should not post to the listserv at large but directly to the person in question.

4) Topicality. Discussions should be topical to AQA’s stated mission. Off-topic comments, questions, etc. are not appropriate. As “topicality” is to some extent in the eye of the beholder, there is considerable leeway under this guideline and greater responsibility placed on members to respect the need to have some coherent focus for the list. Example of borderline off-topic posting: “I’m relocating to a new university … what’s the queer atmosphere like there?” Responses to that specific question should probably go directly to the poster rather than to the list. But broader discussions could be developed from the original posting about, for example, the connection between a positive queer atmosphere and the presence of queer scholars or support for queer research, etc.

3. Listserv Etiquette

Chatter, banter, ad hominem attacks, and excessively long postings are inappropriate for this list (and most other lists). Because we lose verbal and gestural clues when communicating via e-mail, some special considerations apply to listservs. Avoid using caps (IT FEELS LIKE SHOUTING AND IS ANNOYING); use *asterisks* instead to indicate bold type and _underline marks_ to indicate underlining or italics. Avoid “flaming” emotional responses and in particular avoid terms (including swearing) that could offend precisely because of the absence of verbal and gestural clues. For example, we might say “fag” or “dyke” regularly in verbal talk with our colleagues, but it is not recommended for a listserv. Even quotation marks can offend in e-mails, as when I say that someone is looking “beautiful” or their point was “interesting.” It is particularly important to wait before ever replying to an e-mail that makes you angry or offended. Unlike a regular letter, it’s very easy to type something out in anger and hit “send” without thinking through how what you’re saying will be interpreted. If something gets you emotionally upset on the list, please do not reply immediately. And, if you do feel compelled to respond, direct your response to the person privately and not to the entire listserv of subscribers. Chances are that what’s involved is just a misunderstanding or an e-mail typed out late at night when the person wasn’t thinking clearly. Patience, generosity, and good humor can go a long way towards a happy listserv.

4. Procedures for Removing Subscribers

Subscribers who do not agree to follow the guidelines may of course unsubscribe themselves. Subscribers who post to the list in ways that seriously violate the guidelines will eventually be given a formal warning from the AQA Board advising them of their misuse of the AQA listserv, and identifying the specific guideline(s) the subscriber has neglected to follow. If the subscriber persists in such misuse of the listserv following the formal warning, the subscriber will be removed from the listserv for a period of one month. Repeat offenders are liable to be banned from the listserv for longer periods or permanently.

Yours sincerely,

The AQA Board