Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blogging for Academics

I decline to comment on the politics of the Juan Cole affair--the issue is whether the controversial ideas expressed in his blog had an effect on his failing to receive a position at Yale.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has invited seven bloggers to comment on various issues the case raises--on politics, blogging, and being a public intellectual (and has uncharacteristically made the forum free for non-subscribers. Hooray!). What are the hazards of academic blogging? Indeed, what are its benefits? To the blogger, to their academic communities, to the broader public?

For one thing, academics blog about a range of topics. Some are mostly personal, and some discuss their professional setting in a personal way. Privacy issues arise. But what about blogs that are continuous with a person's (or a group's) academic activities? Is blogging a distraction from our work, is it a complement to our work, is it (can it be) a part of our work?

It certainly seems plausible that there are individual benefits for the academic blogger, and that these may vary according to where the person teaches, her rank, her other academic obligations, her experience:
- frequent writing exercise. This may be especially helpful for graduate students or other inexperienced, rusty, or blocked writers.
- an informal venue in which to work out half-done thoughts
- a place to get feedback other than at conferences (especially for those with limited travel funds or travel abilities)
- a way of keeping track of ideas that have not yet found a home in a scholarly paper, and a way of keeping track of sources and examples
And there are surely community benefits as well:
- group blogs can unite a coherent core of bloggers (and readers) to discuss academic topics
- informal exchange of ideas (through comments) that does not depend on being invited into a social network--and that can extend social networks
- a central location for storing calls for papers, announcements, and book reviews that is more easily searchable and more optional than listserves
- through the blog's very publicity, in comparison to listserves, it permits easy access to newcomers and an exchange (or flow) of ideas from one academic subcommunity to another via links
- again, via links, blogs encourage permeability between academic exchanges and real-world events and non-academic readers which are rare through venues like conferences
Some communities and community members stand to benefit more than others. Although some blogs are guarded by gatekeepers, which reinforce the prestige of those associated with them (need I mention a particular philosophy blog?), blogging is also open to all comers--beyond the policing of pre-set standards--and so encouraging of experiment and innovation. The structure of blogging therefore explains their popularity among graduate students and young academics. It should also be attractive to other academic groups that struggle with feeling marginalized or are spread thinly among institutions.

Finally, weblogs are a venue for public intellectuals--something philosophers and feminists should aspire to.
About the benefits of blogging, Brad DeLong writes:
Plus — and this is the biggest plus — it is a play in the intellectual influence game. My blog got about 20,000 page-views a day last month.
And Michael Berube adds:
And though there are people who consider my blogging a waste of time, my guess is that many of them see writing for newspapers and magazines to be a waste of time as well.

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