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Metablogging Monday

I usually find it useful to step back every now and then and consider the enterprise of blogging. Most people who've read this blog for any significant length of time, know that I make (over and over) certain arguments for how blogging helps me as a scholar to work better. Three things have led me to return to my thoughts on academic blogging this lovely Monday:

1. I was asked recently by a blogging colleague whether I knew of any good literature that would help a new academic blogger. I've read some of the recent and "standard" works on blogging: Rettberg's Blogging (Polity 2009), and Rosenberg's Say Everything (Crown 2009), some of the old faithfuls on e-literature like Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck (MIT 1998) and some works on participatory culture like Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture (NYU 2008) and Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers (NYU 2006). All these works tend to locate blogging the realm of popular culture. This is not particularly helpful to an aspiring academic blogger. In fact, academic blogging has been almost complete ignored. In fact, in the 2004 Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities (a nicely expansive and representatively volume) there are no references to blogs or blogging. In general, the popular press tends to ignore academic blogging as well. Technorati's annual "State of the Blogosphere" has never (in my knowledge) referred to academic blogging. The academic trade press, namely the Chronicle of Higher Education, hosts blogs, but, in general, the attitude toward blogging is cautious with a dose of pessimism. This all being said, the best place to start thinking about blogging is probably this post at Millinerd.com. In particular, I liked the idea (from Matt Mullenweeg via Andrew Keen) that blogs are aggregation points for the content that defines (in whatever context) one's identity. As most of us celebrate multiple personalities (appropriate for multiple contexts) academic blogs tend to represent one facet of my identity, namely my research interests. My blog is the home of my book notes, my rough drafts, my academic (and almost intellectual) musings, and, in many cases, my naivete and curiosity. If someone wants to know about me as an academic and my work, read my blog.

2. This past week saw the publication of a review essay on three anthropological blogs in the Public Archaeology section of the American Anthropologist 112 (2010), 140-141 (via the Ancient World Bloggers Group). The review focused on three blogs: a group blog, Savage Minds, a personal blog, Zero Anthopology, and the American Anthropological Associations official blog. The pros and cons of each approach were weighed, in a fairly uninteresting way, the usual caveats appeared — blogs aren't peer reviewed, they can be hastily written, and they might include logical fallacies or half-baked ideas (as if the peer-review processes and these problems were mutually exclusive categories) — and the typical critique of the assessable value of academic blogging:

"Like any other writing project, the time required for effective blogging can be enormous and with some of the high scholarship shown in detailed and thoughtful postings and exchanges by scholars at blog sites like Savage Minds, Zero Anthropology (formerly Open Anthropology), or Culture Matters, there are reasons to wonder about the unrewarded disciplinary usefulness of establishing and maintaining such valuable public commons. The political economy of academia is not structured to reward individuals building things for a common good outside of the peer-review process. It has long been true that many of the most useful academic resource tools (annotated bibliographies, reference books, and the like) are undervalued or unrecognized by formal academic assessments. For now at least, academic blogs seem to be an electronic extension of this troubling phenomenon."

It's good to realize and recognize this. In most cases a blogger blogs on their own time and for personal benefit more than academic recognition (although the value of blogs for the construction and maintenance of the informal networks that play such a key role in nourishing the academic discourse should not be underestimated). The greatest disappointment that I had with this review is that it made almost not comment on the content of these blogs. It did not, as one would expect an academic review to do, comment on the strength of particular arguments, the value of the contributions in the blog, or even the extent to which the posts in a blog represent a useful companion to the more scholarly discourse manifest in its perfected form in peer-reviewed journals. In effect, the review critiqued blogging as phenomenon. From my perspective, this is the equivalent of reviewing a book that appeared in 2002. What would have been of particular value for a reading public, perhaps tentatively recognizing blogs for the first time as a complement to the traditional academic press, would be a month review of blogs for content, argument, scope, and significance. If blogs move at the speed of our keyboards and the internet (which peer reviewed journals move at the more leisurely pace of institutions, publishers, and collegial good will), a quarterly round up of blogs as sources for information would not only be useful, but also recognize the ability of blogs to shape conversations from the academic margins.

3. I'm contemplating going up for tenure next year. I've received assurance from the involved parties, compiled good reviews of my scholarly output, teaching, and service, and have the supportive of my colleagues. I feel confident that my traditional scholarly credentials will live up to the expectations of our department, college, and university. Now, what to do about the blog? None of my colleagues are bloggers and few, if any read blogs. And I don't feel like I need my blog in order to gain promotion and tenure. On the other hand, over the past month I've scrawled more the 13,000 words here. That's almost 50% more than the 9,685 words that I have written for various other research projects, book reviews, public lectures, correspondence, and grant proposals. Surely that output represents something, if only the misguided folly of a junior scholar who values prematurely exposing his half-formed ideas to a reading audience. Again, I am not going to insist that the blog count the same as 13,000 peer reviewed words or that I get special recognition for this effort (which as I note in point 2, is mostly done on my own time for my own academic disciplina), but on the other hand, blogging is not as removed from my academic identity as, say, gardening (which I don't do) or religiously watching every lap of every NASCAR race on the weekend (no comment). How does blogging fit into a modern academic curriculum vitae?

UPDATE: Do check out Shawn Graham's response to this post.  He's an iconic archaeologist blogger whose Electric Archaeologist has long set the standard for high-quality academic blogging.  When he chimes in, it does us all good to listen!

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Categories: The New Media
  1. March 1, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I think academic blogging like this is a great way to break down doors and disseminate information to people who otherwise wouldn’t be reading anything having to do with this kind of research. Sure, a lot of the people reading will already be interested– but every so often you’ll open someone’s eyes, get them hooked, make them think.
    Furthermore, for those of us no longer in Academia, but who still wish we had at-our-fingertips access to all those peer reviewed journals and subscription services (which we can’t afford to shell out for), the alternatives are limited, but academic blogs are a great taste of what we are missing.
    I guess what it comes down to is this: Information and research being shared and read and put out there is, in my opinion, a very good thing. It should be admired and celebrated. I kind of want to compare it to volunteering time for a charity, but that is probably overstating things by a large margin. But I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know.
    Of course, just because I think it does not mean that’s how the greater academic world sees things.

  2. Richard Rothaus
    March 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Since I’m commenting today, here’s a comment. When I was an evil administrator, my problem with crediting blogs (and webpages) as academic activity was an inability to judge impact. If no one reads a blog, then the brilliant words might as well have been written on a napkin. In a respected journal or book, I can at least assume someone might have read it.
    That of course has little to do with reality. I imagine many an article (including mine) languishes unread in “respectable” journals; it’s simple math–published articles/year far exceeds the time available to scholars in the discipline to read them.
    The technology is already there to figure out an impact–page counts, google ranking, number of subscribers, cross-linking. Nobody can fake all of those (and cumulatively they indeed are a form of peer review). But this is where the system fell apart. Too many less-than-google-savvy folks couldn’t keep up with how things work, and recognize the different significance of hit count vs cross-linking. On top of that the internet authors whose trite postings should have been reserved for napkins, fought tooth and nail against any such evaluation system. They wanted anything on the web to count, and were desperate as they usually had written nothing else.
    Since scholars who don’t get promotion or tenure sue (or worse), the system goes totally risk-adverse. The curmudgeons (me) refused to consider the electronic media without some form of evaluation (even though I think some web stuff has a greater impact than articles/books). The career politicians embraced all web based media (crappy or otherwise) as wonderful, forward thinking scholarship. Then I went to the private sector (where you can blog on your own time, mister, but until those ads generate your pay, it’s not work).
    This of course will be resolved in time, about 10yrs after blogs have become irrelevant.
    R.

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