Saturday, September 11, 2004

How seriously should one take academic blogging?

I've been involved in a small way in a discussion started here (Unfogged), continued here (Little Professor), and then here (Brandon, of Siris).

The debate is on how seriously academics should take their blogs. The obvious first answer is that it depends on how seriously the blog is done. Most academic bloggers who are not pseudonymous do discuss some fairly serious issues on their blogs, though very few are exclusively serious. In these cases, the blog as a whole should not be considered seriously, but individual posts might count.

But as it is, even bloggers who are semi-serious usually feel compelled, when asked by colleagues, to dismiss blogging as a form of actual scholarship: "no, it's just something I do for fun." And it is usually fun -- more fun than writing papers for actual journals, at any rate. But could it be more than just fun?

In order for blogging to become more serious, what one would need is the institution of some kind of editorial body -- some standards. Vehicles like Arts & Letters Daily and Political Theory Daily Review collect their editors' idea of the 'best of the web,' but they limit themselves to essays published in the established media that are available on the web. It might be interesting to imagine a comparable entity that would select the best of academic blogs on a weekly or daily basis.

But isn't it possible that academic blogging with higher standards would instantly become much less fun? Who would pick the 'editors' of the vehicle I was just describing? Why not just start more digital journal/newsletters like CTheory?

There might be a middle course -- between the fun and informality of blogging and the requirements of formal scholarship as it is currently known. Perhaps (and here I'm echoing LP and Brandon of Siris) academic blogging might not ever be a venue for serious scholarship, because the institution won't accept it and because we (as bloggers) don't want to take it in that direction. But semi-serious academic blogging might be a venue for something more along the lines of academic journalism -- similar to the kinds of writing one sees in the Chronicle of Higher Education and, in the old days, Lingua Franca.

I must confess I don't really know what I think about this yet. On the one hand, the structure of academic scholarship may change as the digital revolution continues to develop. And on the other hand, blogging is such a new form (it's been around for a few years, but it's only become massively widespread in the past year) that it is impossible to see where it's going yet. If the definition of scholarship may change, it seems to me that blogging will certainly change. The problem becomes much more difficult if both variables are in flux...

Update: See the comments on Cliopatria.


Kerim Friedman said...

I think a related question might be: How seriously should one take academic conferences? Some conferences are important, even monumental, while most feel like excuses to socialize. People pad out their resume with endless conference talks, but it is only their publications that really "count" down the line. Blogging is one step down from a conference in terms of prestige, since nobody invites you - but the discussion is often more interesting and certainly more interdisciplinary than many conferences I've been to.

I personally often avoid blogging really serious topics close to my academic field because I don't feel I can do them justice in format aimed at a broad audience where there is little patience for really long-winded essays. But I see blogging as a form of escape from the narrow constraints of professional specialization, allowing us to engage critically on ideas and topics outside of our speciality. I like to see academics from all different backgrounds discussing issues of common interest. It is an attempt to be a "public intellectual" rather than a technocrat.

Over time I imagine that the technocrats will claim a portion of the blogsphere. There are already linguistics blogs that are very technical - quite different from LanguageLog which is aimed at a broader audience. Over time I'm sure that there will be more and more blogs that only a specialist would be able to read, but I don't think the more public ones will go away either.

5:51 PM  
Richard said...

"It might be interesting to imagine a comparable entity that would select the best of academic blogs on a weekly or daily basis."

You might be interested to hear about the blogging 'carnivals' then. See, for example, the Philosophers' Carnival (philosophy), and Tangled Bank (science - especially biology). The posts are self-selected (i.e. submitted by their authors), so perhaps not quite what you had in mind here. But it's a step in the right direction, at least.

10:07 PM  
Brauer said...

Greetings! I have just been trolling through posts on the web about academic blogging and have surfed in here. I have added it to the news about academic blogging as I think the post and links provides a lot of insights into academic blogging challenges and opportunities.

Please join BlogScholar - acdemic blogging portal to register your blog in the non-profit academic blog directory and access rss feeds and news about academic blogs.

12:14 PM  

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