Archive for the ‘academic blogging’ Category

I posted quite a while ago about academic blogging on this blog. Stuart Elden has just offered the following useful remarks (updating earlier remarks) on his blog with some links to other recent interesting posts about academic blogging.

Progressive Geographies

Sam Kinsley has compiled a list of Geographers that blog, and followed this with a post questioning their focus, an excerpt of which was:

It was a surprise to me how quite a few of those blogs, with some honourable exceptions, are tightly focussed conduits for personal research and are not participating in wider online/offline conversations. One of the big claims made for blogging in the noughties was, of course, that ‘social’ media precisely enable broader conversations. While the majority of those active geography bloggers I found use wordpress.com for their blogs they do not seem to use the ‘social’  functions such as ‘reblog’ and other conversation tools on the platform.

Jeremy Crampton and Clive Barnett have engaged with this question on their own blogs. Jeremy talks more about the sharing question, including that of platforms; while Clive offers some very interesting reflections about why his blog, Pop Theory, began…

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Kate Clancy notes the following on The Scientific American blog (link via Jo VanEvery’s blog)

But are peer-reviewed publications, read and cited by only by a select group of those peers, the best way to assess influence and importance? They are certainly no longer the only way. My 2006 paper on iron-deficiency anemia and menstruation has been cited by six other papers; my 2011 blog post on this paper has been viewed tens of thousands of times and received almost sixty comments between its two postings. Some anthropology blogs have been responsible for starting entire new branches of the discipline, others show an applied side of anthropology that helps us see the impact of this field in our everyday lives; some ground their writing in a historical and evolutionary approach or move us with their perspective on war and poverty, where still others are not only influential, but regularly get more hits than the website for our main professional association. Some use their blog as a service to the discipline, and a newcomer is dispelling myths about milk (full disclosure: both of those blogs are by collaborators, kickass collaborators in fact). This is by no means an exhaustive list.

This is another confirmation of earlier observations I and others have made about the relative impact of academic blogging and publication in peer reviewed journals. Kate Clancy also remarks

There are two problems with the current criteria for tenure: they don’t reflect modern, interdisciplinary scholarship, and they don’t include metrics to evaluate influence and perspective beyond peer-reviewed publications.

One might add that this applies to criteria for promotion as well as tenure. There is no doubt that the global university as an institution is ill-equipped at present to deal with innovative practices engaged in by the academics in its ranks. This is perhaps one of the effects of the corporatisation of the university over the last twenty years. Academics have been recast as employees of an institution, rather than the university being an administrative arrangement to support the work of academics as they seek to introduce innovation into various fields – including how their own work is dessiminated within the social body.

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There has been quite a discussion of late going on in the academic blogosphere about both the advantages and difficulties associated with academic blogging. (See links at the end of this post).

I have found references in this discussion to an avoidance by academics of public exposure particularly interesting. This kind of avoidance has become a notable trend in certain sectors of the humanities and social sciences. Too much public exposure and too public a statement of position (unless it supports the status quo) is tacitly, and sometimes explicitly, seen as detrimental to one’s career in the university institution as it is currently structured.

The publication of large numbers of articles which are able to be counted by metrics systems which measure academic performance is the type of academic output currently preferred by institutions. Such activity can be easily quantified and ranked by money dispensing bureaucrats with little knowledge of the truly byzantine rules which govern the academic field. The actual content of this kind of production is of secondary importance to those doing this kind of measuring. As for other types of academic publishing – books, magazine and newspaper articles, blogs – these are simply too difficult to evaluate in terms of their relative status and impact by those outside the relevant fields.

This is having the effect of pushing many academics down very narrow paths in relation to the dissemination of their work. In the current fearful environment which surrounds academic appointments and cut-throat promotion processes, many academics are only too willing to comply with this metricised vision of their role and their work.

As various studies have shown, and which have been cited in the current discussions, the readership of journal articles in the humanities is extremely low. The end result of the institutional insistance on this form of academic publication is thus the implied censorship of academic work. I might qualify this, however, by drawing attention to the growing practice of university libraries in publishing ‘eprints’ of journal articles produced by the academics of their associated institutions. This practice (at least from the statistics of hits on these sites) seems to have boosted the readership of journal articles.

The narrow set of rules concerning what counts as valid academic output is a sad state of affairs – surely it is the social duty of the humanities academic to try to push not only the boundaries of knowledge and critique but also how this work is disseminated. One can reasonably argue that one of the social functions of taxpayer funded academics is to offer their expertise to the broader academic community and to the wider social body in every way possible. Participation in online communication technologies therefore seems obvious. Otherwise why research and write if nobody can see what you are doing?

Many of the counter-arguments in relation to academic blogging seem to assume that it is an either or situation – but any academic blogger will point out that blogging is simply only one of their publishing activities which complements their publications in journals or books for example. Blogging enhances and enriches these other avenues of publication allowing new ideas and trains of thought to be tried out in a public forum without the lengthy delays and formal requirements that refereed and commercial publication involve. Blogging also allows for the sharing of information and the creation and maintenance of intellectual networks.

Another counter-argument is that blog posts are ephemeral and soon forgotten – but my own experience looking at the statistics of readership on my own blogs is that people use search engines to find blog posts that have been posted at any time. Blogs may once have operated this way – but this is no longer the case.

Blogs are, I would argue, an ongoing continuation of the ideal of the ‘republic of letters’, [1] an informal network held in high esteem in early modern Europe which fostered the global interchange of scholarship and ideas. As far as I am concerned, the blogosphere is nothing less than a wonderful way of continuing that utopian and generous ideal.

I’ve listed some links below to current entries in the discussion on academic blogging. I’ve listed them as much for my own records as in the interests of the dissemination of information. If you know of any other contributions to the debate – send them on!

Alex Reid on Digital Digs
Tim Morton’s Ecology without nature
Scu at Critical Animal
Stuart Elden at Progressive Geographies
In Socrates’ Wake
Immanence blog
JoVAnEvery.ca Helping you be a better academic
Another comment from Jo
Craig McFarlane at Theoria
Ray Brassier makes some incendiary remarks in an interview

Links added later…

Nigel Thrift, ‘The power of blogs..’, The Chronicle of Higher Education

[1] I am indebted to Christian Callisen and Barbara Adkins for this idea.

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I was interested by this comment by Rhiannon Bury in an interview on Henry Jenkin’s blog

Let me close by saying that Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way I disseminate research on fandom. The norm in academia is to analyze our data behind closed doors and not report on it until we have a finished “product” in the form of a conference paper, a journal article, a book chapter, etc. With the use of blogging and microblogging technologies, I plan to informally report on findings as I work my way through the data in the coming months. I hope this will provide opportunities for dialogue with fans and fan scholars, and in turn provide feedback to inform my analysis.

Christian Callisen and Barbara Adkins have written an interesting paper (to be published in New Media and Society) arguing that the academic blogosphere is actually a contemporary rendition of the early modern ‘Republic of Letters’.

The Mapping the Republic of Letters project, describes the Republic of Letters as follows:

When early modern scholars (from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment) described the broadest community to which they belonged, they most frequently called this international community of scholars the “Republic of Letters.”

The Republic of Letters was an intellectual network initially based on the writing and exchange of letters that emerged with and thrived on new technologies such as the printing press and organized itself around cultural institutions (e. g. museums, libraries, academies) and research projects that collected, sorted, and dispersed knowledge. A pre-disciplinary community in which most of the modern disciplines developed, it was the ancestor to a wide range of intellectual societies from the seventeenth-century salons and eighteenth-century coffeehouses to the scientific academy or learned society and the modern research university. Forged in the humanist culture of learning that promoted the ancient ideal of the republic as the place for free and continuous exchange of knowledge, the Republic of Letters was simultaneously an imagined community (a scholar’s utopia where differences, in theory, would not matter), an information network, and a dynamic platform from which a wide variety of intellectual projects – many of them with important ramifications for society, politics, and religion – were proposed, vetted, and executed.

I very much like the idea of the academic blogosphere as a continuation of these utopian ideals of intellectual community and the free sharing of ideas in an environment which minimises institutional hierarchy (although one can certainly debate how far this latter ideal can actually ever be realised). It is a way for academics and other intellectuals to sidestep the increasingly regulated and corporatised institutional environment of the university and continue their collaborations, work and outreach to other sectors in the social body.

Incidentally, for an amusing and, alas, all too accurate a take on this issue of academic versus corporate university culture see Joseph Gora and Andrew Whelan’s opinion piece: ‘Invasion of the Aca-zombies’

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Daniel W. Drezner, ‘Public Intellectuals 2.0’, Chronicle of Higher Education, v 55 n12, Nov 2008, p. B5
My rating: ***

Link to article (word doc)

Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the USA and has run his own blog for about seven years. His interesting and well referenced article lists some of the objections to academic blogging and systematically refutes them.

The first section is a brief history of public intellectuals in the United States. What I find interesting about (North) American discussions on this subject is that they rarely refer to intellectuals outside the United States and the effect is much like that curious phenomenon of American World Series baseball which imperiously seeks to render the local global.

This criticism aside, the second section on the blogosphere (although still American in its focus) as a new arena for intellectuals and for academics is an interesting read.

Drezner notes for example:

For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, weblogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of the academy – and expand beyond the academy. Rebecca Goetz observes, “Because I blog I now have contacts, online and offline, with a variety of scholars inside and outside my field. They don’t particularly care that my dissertation is not yet done; the typical hierarchies of the ivory tower break down in the blogosphere so that even graduate students can be public intellectuals of a kind.” Brad DeLong characterizes scholar-blogging as creating an “invisible college” that includes, “people whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well.” Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life – including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower. Indeed, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction. Similarly, survey evidence also suggests that academics view blogs as a form of public service and political activism. This increases the likelihood of fruitful interaction and exchange of views about culture, criticism and politics with individuals that academics might not have otherwise met.

I might add here that intellectual activity in the public media outside the traditional circuits of academic publishing has long been regarded with more than a little ambivalence by universities. This is quite evident in France for example, which has a long and sometimes acrimonious history of a split between university academics and intellectuals active in the public media dating back to at least the eighteenth century. The blogosphere is perhaps the latest chapter in that struggle over the ownership and dissemination of knowledge and what counts as truth. And also, not to put too fine a point upon it, over modes of intellectual fame and reputation.

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Joy Wattawa (2008) ‘Can Academic Blogging Advance Wisdom Research? Defining Wisdom project.

My rating: ***

I have just found another useful article on the benefits of academic blogging. From the references it appears to have been written this year (2008). In case you were wondering, given this is my second post on academic blogging, I wouldn’t really classify my own blog as ‘academic’ in the strict sense of the word. It’s more of a hybrid exercise. The advent of the web has been fantastic for allowing this kind of hybridity which has wasted no time in proliferating. It is something I have also played with on my pseudonymous Christopher Walken site – which floats somewhere between a fan site and a cultural studies site.

There are some really useful references attached to Wattawa’s article which further elaborate on how blogging is viewed within the academic community. The academy is a conservative institution and strictly polices both what is regarded as suitable subject matter for research and the forms in which that research is disseminated. Blogging is widely regarded with deep suspicion, although it has its advocates as well. Earlier in this blog I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of ‘tipping point’. Academic blogging has a long way to go before it reaches this point of viral explosion, even if very recently, there has been some cautious progress towards a more positive point of view on this front.

Of particular interest is the Academic Blog Portal, a wiki which indexes academic blogs.

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Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly, ‘Boffins blogging: unlimited review’, ANU Reporter, Summer 2008, p. 34

My rating: ****

Here are some extracts from an excellent short analysis of the benefits of the blogosphere for academics. The two writers have been running a blog titled New Mandala since June 2006.

I absolutely agree with what the two writers have to say here. I find writing for an online audience really works for me. If I could just redirect that enthusiasm into more formal publication!

‘Academic blogs … dramatically extend the boundaries of conventional peer review and academic readership… With engaging content, regular updates and savvy marketing, academic bloggers can build a community of peers that would fill seminar rooms, lecture theatres and conference venues many times a day. Statistics we have seen indicated that a blog run by a couple of academics can generate as much internet traffic as the conventional websites of an entire Faculty…

And perhaps most important of all, blogging maintains the daily discipline of writing. At a time when administrative loads distract many academics from their interpretive vocation, writing online is one way to keep the tools of argument and analysis as sharp as possible. Blog posts provide valuable building blocks for more formal academic articles. And they also open up discussions to a much broader and varied audience than the academic world, which in some ways exceeds feedback from peers. Blogging promises unlimited review.’

As another example, Henry Jenkins uses his own blog, ‘Confessions of an aca-fan’ in precisely this way.

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