November 2, 2007

Update: More on Academic Blogging

Renewed discussion is breaking out about academic blogging among those who have been doing it for a while; here are some additions, then, to my earlier list of links.
  1. "A Skeptic's Take on Academic Blogs" (Adam Kotsko, Inside Higher Ed, November 1, 2007)
  2. "An Enthusiast's View on Academic Blogs" (Scott Eric Kaufman, Inside Higher Ed, November 1, 2007)
  3. "Academic Blogging Revisited" (Joseph Kugelmass, The Valve, November 1, 2007)
There are many points of interest in all of these pieces. In light of my own meandering reflections on generating "dialogue and exchange" through blogs, I was struck by Adam Kotsko's remark that "having a productive conversation in an online format is very hard work, which is why it happens so rarely." I think, too, from my own experience and from conversations with non-blogging (but often blog-reading) friends and colleagues, that a lot of academics are so accustomed to working in relative isolation and communicating about their research or scholarly practices exclusively with other specialists, if at all, that there is a kind of culture of secrecy (some might call it privacy) in the academy--aggravated by our defensiveness about how we are perceived by non-academics--that makes many academics anxious about expressing themselves publicly. There's also a fear of exposure: you'll say something careless and expose your ignorance, or you'll expose your views to those who disagree with you and have to answer for them, or you'll expose yourself to ill-conceived and ill-tempered attacks from those who don't understand the nature of academic scholarship, or to cranks (academic or not) who read without charity, take you out of context, etc. These factors discourage academics (many of whom are reclusive bookworms at heart, after all) from engaging in online conversations when the benefits (professional or other) are uncertain or elusive. I know I take a deep breath before clicking "post," either on my own blog or as a commenter on someone else's (the latter is more stressful for me by far). But I think Joseph Kugelmass points towards where things might go when he mentions the widening acceptance of social sites such as Facebook as an example of people coming on board with something that initially seemed fringe or irrelevant. There was a time that some of us can remember when e-mail was a strange new medium and listservs seemed like cutting-edge ways to reach across distances and form academic communities. But I wonder if any active academic today is not linked electronically in some way to others. Some form of blogging may well be equally 'normal' and common in the near future. As far as benefits go, one possibility is that such a development would work against the excessive specialization and resulting fragmentation typical of today's humanities departments; one of the commenters at Inside Higher Ed makes the point that "often, we’re not even interested in what our colleagues are doing," something with which surely many of us would ruefully agree. And if it brought differences of view and style out into the open, would that be such a bad thing? Affinities and serendipitous connections might emerge as well. The string of closed office doors in my hallway up here does not make this place look much like an intellectual community. Blogs at least open windows. More "interfacing" between academics and a wider public seems to me like a good thing as well, if only to counteract the bizarrely excessive hostility some people show towards us. (Maybe we fear that if they knew us better, they would not like us any better? Are we so bad at explaining ourselves that we feel safest not even trying?)


Joseph Kugelmass said...


I was very interested in the hyperlink between this post and your post on hostility towards academic work in the humanities (particularly theoretically-informed literary criticism). In truth, my own experience with commenters dropping by to write obituaries for lit crit (regardless of what book I was writing about) made me tone down my praise for the democratic nature of blog readership; I've just seen too many threads derailed that way.

At present, I feel as though such comments should be ignored in threads, but flagged, and answered in later full posts. That way, one avoids spending hours trying to convert one person to respect for literary criticism (to what end, really?), while still using blogs to initiate conversation about the function of criticism, and legitimate possibilities for reform.

Rohan Maitzen said...

That's basically what I tried to do in that case: I think I put one comment in the thread on 'Footnoted' before deciding it was not going to be worth the aggravation and set out instead to think about the problem on my own terms and turf. Mind you, that did not go altogether well either, as I drew fire from the "other" side for proposing that there might in fact be some "legitimate possibilities [or reasons] for reform," or at any rate for taking such possibilities seriously in public.