(Aca) Blogs are Like Assholes…
You’ve heard the joke, right? There are over 152,000,000 blogs on the internet. And in one small corner of the internet are the academic blogs, the aca-blogs. I define “aca-blogs” as blogs written and moderated by an individual (as opposed to a collective) currently involved in academia (whether as a student, instructor or administrator). The content of these blogs vary widely but they are usually at least tangentially related to the blogger’s field of academic study. Most of these bloggers write in a looser, more informal style than they would for a more traditional scholarly publication, like a peer-reviewed journal or a monograph published by a university press (i.e, the kind of documents that — at least at one time — would get you a job or tenure).
Now, I’ve never been an early adopter. I’m a proud member of the “early majority,” the folks who watch and see what happens to the early adopters before taking the plunge. I was late to Facebook (August 2008), Twitter (March 2009), and (aca)blogging (August 2009). I only started blogging in the wake of the medium’s “golden age” (an era which, like all golden ages, varies wildly depending on who you consult). I use the term “golden age” to signal a time when a large portion of the academics I interacted with on social media also had blogs, and posted to them regularly (see my blogroll for a sizable sample of media studies bloggers). Starting a blog was common for people like me — that is, for people who liked talking about popular culture in a looser, more informal way, online, with other fans and academics. And with gifs.
Part of what (I think) my early readers enjoyed about my blog is that I was using my PhD, a degree that (supposedly) gives me the ability to provide nuanced arguments and historical context about the popular culture they were consuming. I like that my online friends (including folks I went to elementary school with, my Mom’s friends, my kids’ friends’ parents) can read my mom’s Oscar predictions or why I think the Jersey Shore cast is a lot like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and they don’t need to buy a subscription to a journal or be affiliated with a university to do so. That’s important. If we, as Humanities-based scholars, are terrified about the way our discipline is being devalued (literally and metaphorically) then we need to show the public exactly how valuable our work is. How can we say “people need media literacy!” but only if they enroll in my class or pay for a journal subscription? That just supports the erroneous belief that our work is elitist/useless when it’s not. I know this work is valuable and I want everyone to have access to it. I also like the timeliness afforded by this online, open-access platform. I can watch Mildred Pierce the night it airs and have a review published on my personal blog the next day, which is exactly when folks want to read it. If I want to do some detailed research and further thinking about that series, then sure, I’d spend several months on a much longer piece and then send it to a journal or anthology.
Indeed, Karra Shimabukuro, a PhD student who maintains two different blogs, explains her interest in blogging this way:
I like [blogging] because it lets me share my work, and in this day and age perhaps get people to know my work and me. Now that I’m in my PhD program, I try to post stuff pretty regularly, and I always link to Twitter when I do, so get more views. I think it’s important to share my research. I read quite a few blogs, usually when I am looking for something specific though- job market, conference, early career advice type stuff.
In the early days of my blog’s life I posted frequently (several times per week) and my posts were generally short (less than 1000 words). These posts were written quickly, often in response to an episode of television I had just watched or a conversation I had just had with someone on Twitter (or Facebook, or occasionally, real life). My early posts were also interactive. I almost always concluded posts with questions for my readers, invitations to engage with me on the platform I built for just that purpose.
Ben Railton, a professor who blogs at American Studies, told me via email:
For me individually, blogging has been infinitely helpful in developing what I consider a far more public voice and style, one that seeks to engage audiences well outside the academy. Each of my last two books, and my current fourth in manuscript, has moved more and more fully into that voice and style, and so I see the blog as the driving force in much of my writing and work and career.
And collectively, I believe that scholarly blogs emphasize some of the best things about the profession: community, conversation, connection, an openness to evolving thought and response, links between our individual perspectives and knowledges and broader issues, and more.
Looking back at these early posts I’m surprised by the liveliness of the comments section — how people would talk to me and each other in rich and interesting ways. In 2009 my blog felt vibrant, exciting, and integral to my scholarship. A few of of my posts became longer articles or conference talks. Writing posts made me feel like I was part of an intellectual community exchanging ideas back and forth in a productive kind of dialogue.
In hindsight it’s strange to me that I blogged so much in 2009 and 2010 because those years mark one of the most challenging periods of my life — just before the birth of my second child, a beautiful boy who never ever (ever) slept. During the brief snatches of time when my newborn son was asleep, or at least awake and content, I would grab my laptop and compose my thoughts about The Hills or Google+ (LOL, Google+!). I found that, when the muse comes calling, you have to write then, not sooner and not later, or she’ll go away. So I wrote posts in the middle of the night and even while nursing my son. Blogging felt vital to me then, like a muscle that needed stretching. And when the words came, they came in a stream. The sexual connotations here are purposeful — blogging was satisfying to me in the same way sex can be satisfying. And like sex, sometimes when you try to blog, you just can’t get it up: the moment’s not right, the inspiration vanishes.
But things are different in 2014. I’ve had tenure for a year. I just completed a manuscript and turned it in to the press. My son (now 4 and a half) sleeps through the night (almost) every night and I find that I can work while lounging in a hammock next to my 8-year-old daughter as she reads. In other words, I have plenty of time to stretch my blog muscle. Yet, I’m just losing my desire for blogging. It used to be that if I went more than a few weeks without writing a post, I got twitchy, an addict in the midst of withdrawal. But now, my blog’s stagnation engenders no such discomfort. It’s like the day you realize you’re over an old love. Dispassion and neutrality abound.
Taking stock of her own blogging hiatus last year, Slaves of Academe writes “As it turns out, walking away from one’s blog was relatively easy, given the surplus of competing screens.” And I suppose that that’s the first reason why I blog less frequently than I did 5 years ago. Back in 2009 it seemed that the internet was quite interested in the proto-scholarship offered up by the academic blog. There was an excitement there of seeing new scholarship take shape right before our eyes. And Michael Newman, a media studies professor writing about this same topic on his own personal (neglected) blog, zigzigger, explains:
People mixed personal and professional. They’d get first-persony and confessional even in efforts at engaging with intellectual concerns. They’d make the blog as much about process as product. No one was editing or reviewing your blog, so it had a raw immediacy missing from more formal writing.
Newman notes the rise of academic blog collectives (like Antenna), a move which has, for better or worse, worked to legitimize the process of academic blogging:
As blogs become more legitimate and serve these more official functions, they seem less appropriate for the more casual, sloppy, first-drafty ponderings that made the format seem vital in the first place.
This has certainly been true for me. I often find myself starting to write a post and then abandoning it for it’s lack of intellectual “rigor.” I second guess my posts more often now, worrying that they might be too frivolous, too self-indulgent, too weird. But of course, that’s what my blog has always been. It just seems like that sort of casual, stream-of-consciousness style writing is less acceptable now among academics. Or maybe everyone is just bored with it.
Justin Horton, an ABD who has been blogging since 2012, has noticed an overall decrease in the numbers of posts coming out of personal blogs. He tells me:
Personal blogs have been diminished by other web spaces (Antenna, etc), but there is still a place for them, and oddly, it seems be occupied by very young scholars (who haven’t gotten their names out there) and senior scholars whose names are widely known and have a built-in audience (I’m think of Bordwell, Steven Shaviro, and so forth).
Years ago it seemed like blogs represented the next wave of academic scholarship: short bursts of freeform thinking published immediately and set in dialogue with other robust online voices. But blogging has not yielded the legitimacy many of us hoped for. While I still put my blog in my tenure file, citing (what I believe to be) its value, I understand that my department’s personnel committee does not view it as a major component of my research, teaching or service (the holy trifecta of academic values), even though it has greatly contributed to all three. So without institutional legitimacy or scholarly engagement, what purpose does the academic blog hold today? Has its moment passed?
I had a chat, via Facebook message, with three fellow aca-bloggers — the aformentioned Michael Newman, Kristen Warner of Dear Black Woman, and Alyx Vesey, of Feminist Music Geek — to get some answers. I’ve pasted our discussion below:
Kristen started things off, by addressing the rise of the so-called “critic culture”:
Editor’s note: I really really love Google books.
Editors’s note: here is a link to Kristen’s post on Jessica Pare.
Editor’s Note: Alyx is referring to Myles McNutt, of Cultural Learnings (and the AV Club and my heart).
No, the slow disappearance of the personal aca-blog isn’t exactly a crisis — not like the academic job market crisis, or the humanities crisis, or the crisis in higher education. But the downtick in blogging in my field does give me pause because I see real value in the kind of intellectual work performed on blogs. Posts are loose, topical, and invite others to join in. They’re accessible in a way that academic journal articles usually are not. And unlike the think pieces and recaps I most frequently read online (and which I enjoy), personal blog posts are rarely subjected to the rabid feeding frenzy of misogyny, racism and obtuseness that characterizes so many comment sections these days. The personal blog affords a certain level of civility and respect. If we disagree with each other — and we often do, thank God — we’re not going to call each other cunts or trolls or worse. At least not in public for everyone to see. We’re…classy.
So while my blogging has slowed, I’m not quite ready to give up on the platform yet. I still think there’s value in this mode of intellectual exchange — in the informality, the speed with which ideas can be exchanged, and, of course, the gifs.
So, what do you think (all 10 readers who are still reading)? Is the aca-blog dead? Does it matter? Did you like my gifs? Comment below. And please don’t call me a cunt.
16 thoughts on “(Aca) Blogs are Like Assholes…”
June 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm
I don’t think the acablog is dead, but I also want to say, while I love when blogger shows that something I wrote got a lot of traffic, I write my blog for myself more than anything. Am I happy when others in my field read it and respond? Of course. Do I secretly hope it gets my work out there? Sure. But I write on the topics I do because I feel I have to- whether it’s rants about the sexism in an EW cover, or my latest project, I feel the need to write about it. And because I’ve found acablogs helpful to me (in getting into a PhD program, and getting through it), I hope some of my posts pay it forward.
And that habit of writing I think serves me well in other venues.
June 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm
First of all: https://38.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m851ys68Ml1rycns2o1_500.gif.
This is a tremendous conversation, and a particularly meaningful one as I face the moment of translation where my academic future depends on the student-led scholarly blog movement entering into pre-existing hierarchies of academic value. And so the following may be a bit about me, I’m afraid, but with an eye toward how my experience has shaped how I would speak to incoming or current graduate students regarding this topic.
I’ll know more about just how futile this transition might be in a year’s time, but in general I’m prepared for an enormous gulf between the value I’ve experienced personally and the value that it will have when translated onto a C.V. That’s the trap of academic blogging as a graduate student, I would argue. It has immense personal and professional value in connecting you to scholarly communities, developing a voice, exploring a range of ideas that shape your research interests, and—loathe as I am to frame it in these terms—establishing a professional reputation. These are all the reasons I can’t imagine not blogging, and ultimately have no regrets about my choice to prioritize informal rather than formal forms of academic publishing in my development as a scholar. At the end of the day, my personal—I have to believe this is still an important part of the graduate school experience—and professional development have been better served by platforms like Cultural Learnings or Antenna than I believe they would have been by bounding off work from a broader scholarly/popular community and sending it into the academic publishing mechanism.
But I did it wrong, at least practically speaking. You need to be doing both, to prepare yourself for the time when everything that you have placed such value in, and received such value from, is going to be in many instances tossed aside as amorphous service, and pieces of writing that received great feedback (whether through social media spread, or through being used as teaching resources, or through being cited by other bloggers/scholars/etc.) no longer function as individual scholarly contributions but rather as evidence that you’re one of “those bloggers.” And so as I’m in the process of translating Antenna posts into journal articles and preparing how to frame my contributions to this space as formative to future research projects, I’m accepting the devaluation of this work to a lesser form than how I understood its value initially, and how I still understand its value on a personal level, because those forms of value simply don’t translate within this transition.
I don’t mean to argue that these forms of value should be weighed equally—an Antenna post is not a peer-reviewed journal article, and no amount of Antenna posts “add up” to one either, and the same goes for academic blog posts. My point here is not an upending of the traditional systems of academic value to the point where that blog post I wrote four years ago goes on the C.V. like it’s a Cinema Journal article.
However, I personally have questions about the trickle-down effect of academic value hierarchies moving further and further into the system. When I talk to Master’s students who believe they need peer-reviewed publications to get into PhD programs, I see a system where scholars at a point in their career where informal platforms and scholarly “exploration” are hugely beneficial are being exclusively directed toward forms of productivity that offer comparatively limited value as it relates to a broader understanding of professional development than what counts on a C.V.
The rise of aca-blogging as a “student” phenomenon is not just because we’re closer to being so-called “digital natives,” or because we are less likely to have families and the commitments that come with them, although I will admit those are certainly factors. Rather, though, I would argue student aca-blogging proliferates because it is a natural fit to the challenges of graduate school: it’s a way of understanding your place within an academic community when you don’t yet have one, engaging with that community in the process of developing as a scholar, and creating a foundation on which to transition to the forms of value that will “count” when the time comes. And yet as long as we anchor our understandings of academic value on what translates in that transition to the job market, as opposed to an understanding of professional development that’s framed around becoming a better scholar as opposed to “proving” it, we risk losing—or at the very least disincentivizing—a significant space of value that could help enrich the next generation of scholars at a formative stage in their careers.
And thus ends my long-winded defense of the aca-blog.
June 22, 2014 at 8:46 am
I jump into this conversation as someone who doesn’t blog or read (m)any blogs. (I guess that makes me either an old grandpa or an innocent babe…I think I know which one I really am.) I found this conversation interesting because it helped my see the different functions blogging offers (and perhaps different cost/benefit analyses of blogging) for people who are at different stages in their careers (i.e., grad students, adjunct, pre-tenure, post-tenure). Myles’ comments about the benefits of grad-student blogging reminded me of the benefits I gained from being part of a close-knit and engaged community of grad students and professors in my grad program (if I had the time and skill set I would post a gif of John Fiske drinking a diet coke). Our seminar conversations/presentations and weekly colloquia served a similar function as the blogging seems to for Myles. Of course, there are differences (owing to my ignorance, I can only speculate)–mainly between the ways my grad school experiences were supervised versus what I assume is the more democratic, crowd-sourcing dynamics of the blogging world. In grad school, there was a clear hierarchy of experience and a sense of professional responsibility on the part of the faculty to see that I developed as a scholar. While blogging can be a complement to that (especially for grad students who don’t have the kind of support system I felt I had), I would never trade the time/energy I put into my non-virtual grad school community for what sounds like the “virtual” support system offered by blogging (especially if one’s career goal is a tenure-track position…if I wanted to follow another career path, the cost/benefit analysis might shift dramatically). Of course in an ideal world, the two would seamlessly mesh together, but in reality, one only has so much time and energy to spend. I just had a conversation with a grad student (I am a post-tenure faculty member) about his experience blogging. Although that serves as only one data point, our conversation resonated with a question I have long had about aca-blogging: how easy is it to translate the experience of short-form writing typical of blogs into the skills or the kind of theoretical thinking and nuance required of traditional scholarly genres? Developing the skills needed to produce the kind of scholarship needed to write a good journal article or book is hard (at least it was for me). It takes a lot of practice (drafts, revisions, feedback, etc). Utopian discourses around the democratization of blogging celebrates the fact that we can share our ideas more widely, more quickly. I agree on all those points. At the same time, learning how to think, research, and write nuanced, in-depth scholarship takes time and a heck of a lot of training. I don’t teach grad students, but if I did, I would always ask: is blogging helping you develop the skills you need or not? The reason to write journal lengths articles isn’t simply because we need them to create a cv that will translate into a job. The reason to write them is because they make it possible to produce a kind of nuanced, in-depth, fully-steeped analysis/research that someone needs to produce (the kind of analysis that the most valuable blog posts rely on).
June 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm
Although the immediate juxtaposition of our two comments may suggest some degree of disagreement between our comments, Ron, I agree with the bulk of your—necessary—concerns here. Blogging is—and always will be—a supplement and not a replacement, and must work in conjunction with the traditional forms of training that constitute a graduate education.
Now, I’m slightly more optimistic than you are in terms of how a blog can fit into those traditional forms of training. This is, anecdotally, because I’ve personally never felt that my participation in platforms like Antenna or my personal blog has been at the neglect of a local grad school community, and therefore would not say I feel like I traded one for the other. As you note, this conversation changes if someone is developing a virtual community where they lack a local one (which means I speak from a point of privilege in this regard), but I think the balance one strikes is—like blogging more broadly—a personal one. It requires navigation, but I don’t think it need function as a replacement for other forms of training.
And while I agree that we need the journal length article as a part of our scholarly eco-system, I think my questions revolve around when we are expecting graduate students to enter at that point in the food chain. As an A.B.D., my energies are focused in that space, not only out of necessity but also because it feels like the natural space to be demonstrating the cumulative education I’ve been receiving and how that carries forward into the articles and monographs to come. As an early PhD student, though, I didn’t feel the same way, and found blogging to be a great way to explore ideas that didn’t fit within course work (which always remained the priority), and that would have gone into a vacuum in the context of scholarly publishing without gaining the more expansive feedback offered by the scholarly community blogging online. And I certainly didn’t feel that way as a Master’s student.
Your question to prospective graduate students is absolutely necessary: blogging doesn’t work for everyone, and while it’s something I see as being productive in relation to other forms of training that wouldn’t be the case for all people. I also say this as someone who doesn’t do a lot of “short-form” writing, given how often my blog posts push the limits of shorter journal articles. That doesn’t make it an ideal world, but I think my larger concern here is that we don’t so limit the *potential* personal and professional productivity of blogs in our definitions of academic value that we dissuade graduate students from even considering adding one as part of the metaphorical well-balanced breakfast of a PhD program.
June 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm
June 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Great line of inquiry, Amanda, and great discussion so far. As you can see from my WordPress avatar, I’m one of those academics with a (VERY) occasional blog. I’ve published a whopping three posts there in the past two years, and while I gamely keep the lights on (sort of), like Amanda and Michael, I’m not as fired up to make it a regular thing in the same way I tried to in the past. I’m not exactly sure why; it’s a stew of internal and external factors, and probably particular to me. Perhaps we’ve all got some combination of these things affecting our approach to blogging.
I started blogging in 2006, and looking back on that time, I’m in awe at my productivity. I was mid-tenure-track at my current job, and we had a two year-old AND a newborn, and yet I was on a cracking pace at the blog, with a few pieces a month. The big slowdown came in 2008-10, as I was working on my CSI book, and we were dealing with some administrative turmoil (putting in mildly) in my department. And then I attempted weekly blogging of CSI in the fall of 2010 (to plug my book), followed by a smattering of pieces on comics and Doctor Who, and that’s about it.
Externally, part of this shift away from blogging is due to the always-changing field (in the Bourdieuan sense) of online knowledge circulation. In the last five-six years, Twitter has become much more active as a site of discussion and quick ponderings and reactions. More importantly, though, the “popular blogosphere” really cranked up. That is, whatever we’re calling the levels of the Ryans, Rosenbergs, Sepinwalls, Marcottes, and Holmes of the world (including, of course, your McNutts and Petersens, among other more academically-inclined voices), as well as entire platforms from short click-bait-y but still enticing (Salon, iO9, Kotaku, etc.) to longer and more thoughtful (in my range, typically sites like AV Club, LARB, Medium, Gamasutra). In this environment, so much is now being said so quickly by so many, that it’s difficult to process and respond before the world’s moved on to the Next Thing. This goes along with Kristen’s frustration with much of these types of pieces being kind of “critical-lite,” but more on that in a bit.
Internally, getting more personal, is that since I received tenure four years ago, I’ve been focused more on teaching and administrative matters, which has made it frustratingly difficult to build and sustain focus on research and writing. I typically teach seven or eight courses in a calendar year (3-2 teaching load, plus 2-3 extra courses taught in January and June), and have created or overhauled 12 entirely different courses in the past five years. In addition, as any other Associate Prof can tell you, the expectations for service are much greater. I’ve advised all of our MA and MFA students, helped create our new MA program, helped create an interdisciplinary minor, chaired a search committee, and served on the university’s general education committee, all since tenure. At the same time, family life has had its own travails, of course; something everyone has to deal with in various ways no matter their individual situation.
I should probably add here as well that, with the exception of some fantastic comics (e.g., Fatale, Manhattan Projects, The Massive, Mind MGMT, Ms. Marvel, Rachel Rising, Saga, Sex Criminals, Velvet, The Wicked + The Divine), and a handful of TV shows (The Good Wife, New Girl, Mad Men, OITNB), I’m undoubtedly consuming much LESS new media than I used to, and I’m beyond OK with that. I used to think that being a media scholar presumed a deep immersion in many contemporary media texts, but now I’m increasingly convinced that’s not the case.
So, while I certainly want to write and share more, I have little time for the sort of thing I used to do, and I’m increasingly dubious about the whole endeavor (as it seemed to exist for me at least when I blogged semi-regularly). What we value as scholarship is, and should be, changing for the better. But we still need to think through these systems of knowledge generation and circulation even as we use them, rather than latch onto something that might seem to matter a lot at a moment, only to fall out of favor within a couple of years. While I often enjoy their work, the professional bloggers cited above are working in a different cultural and economic system than we are as academics. They can’t afford to linger deeply; we can. So we should aim for a longer shelf-life than a blog post, while simultaneously granting some space for more timely, shorter-term contributions. The analysis and reflection–on the whole endeavor of “human knowledge” going forward–should be the humanities’ core mission at the moment. But since we’re all uncertain about the form of this work, and (let’s be honest) the viability of our careers and fields, it’s very difficult to sustain that longer-term project, and very tempting to fixate on the Current Thing.
Side note, soap-boxy: I believe the proper venue for academic fixation on the Current Thing should be about 90% digital platforms, 10% traditional published monographs. There’s nothing less sexy than a brand new printed anthology about That Thing that everybody talked into the ground four years ago. Save that stuff for faster, more of-the-moment venues like Antenna, Flow, In Media Res, Mediacommons, Scalar, or elsewhere. For traditional published work, craft arguments and examples with a longer view and/or broader perspective. ALWAYS ASK yourself if anyone will care about That Thing by the time the journal or anthology comes out. End side note.
I still want to write and share my ideas, and I will, in different venues (and maybe even that forlorn blog, on occasion). But I have to balance that labor vs. everything else I need to, and would rather, do. And for that reason, maintaining a regular blog, and talking about Last Night’s Episode of X, isn’t something I’ll likely come back to.
Lastly, I have to echo what my colleague, friend, and former denizen of Vilas Hall in the days of Fiske, Ron Becker said. The personal connections you make, with people of every level, are critically important for you as a younger scholar (and as an older scholar, for that matter). Absolutely, developing an online voice (especially on Twitter) is also important these days. But the day-to-day, project-to-project, and conference-to-conference relationships you make with your fellow students, your profs, the people you meet at conferences, and so on, are what really drive not only your career but the field as a whole. As I suggested several years ago in one of my favorite posts from my blog, build and sustain those long-term relationships, and worry less about how many hits your blog post got.
June 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm
Derek, your final point reminds me of how I often speak of tweeting in the backchannel of conferences: it’s a great starting point, but it works best when you follow it up by asking questions after panels, and talking to the people you’re tweeting with, and extending the virtual into the real. Blogging functions the same way, in that it serves as a foundation for building relationships that result in the panels we establish together, the collections we contribute to, etc.
Your broader reflections point me to one point, though, which is whether or not a blog post by definition has to have a limited shelf-life. I know we’re speaking in generalities, and that in general a blog post will have a comparatively shorter shelf-life if focused on an of-the-moment subject, but is this necessarily the case? I guess I’m defending the same *potential* of the blog that I speak to in my reply to Ron’s comments, but I’m not entirely convinced that blog posts need necessarily be comparatively ephemeral objects, and I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on that characterization.
June 22, 2014 at 8:55 pm
Hear hear, Myles!
June 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm
I love your point about following up Twitter discussion with face-to-face discussion. I think that’s crucial where possible.
As for the shelf-life of blog posts, they can absolutely last longer than the immediate moment, and I didn’t mean to suggest that they were by definition purely ephemeral. Indeed, they could even have an effectively more flexible temporality than journal articles or books, especially since they’re instantly out in the wild while the academic work takes months or years to finally arrive. There are many blog posts I’ve used and will continue to use in teaching well past their immediate moment because they articulate particular arguments and analyses very well (e.g., Todd VanDerWerff’s primer on 1980s sitcoms, David Lowery’s letter to Emily, and Emily Finke’s account of slut shaming and concern trolling). Aside from the undoubtedly longer period from submission to publication in traditional academic publishing, there’s nothing intrinsic in either medium of distribution that requires ephemerality.
That said, the speed of blogging as a platform, when coupled with the speed of the digital attention economy, certainly favors ephemerality. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But we’ve (that is, the “we” of academia) not yet established the same sort of value to that ephemerality that we have to traditional academic forms. And we should, or at least start putting out more arguments for how to value it.
Until then, and in addition to it even once we do have that value, I do think our particular position in the field of knowledge production requires us to generate and produce deeper (though not necessarily longer) work with a greater potential for longevity, regardless of its medium (personal blog, group blog, podcast, e-book, video essay, print journal, anthology, print book, etc.).
June 24, 2014 at 11:33 am
Karra, Myles, Ron and Derek,
Thanks so much for these thoughtful comments.
As I mentioned in my original post, I would never suggest that blog posts are interchangeable with peer-reviewed journal articles. They’re different forms of writing with different purposes. There are some topics which require weeks/months/years of thought to explore fully and responsibly. Those topics require deep research, the eyes of a 2nd (3rd, 4th, etc) reader, and then blind reviewers who can add final suggestions (even if all of those suggestions don’t find their way into the finished document). All students pursuing a graduate degree need to learn to do that kind of writing. It’s hard, slow work and, at least in my experiences writing my dissertation, it can be alternately baffling and exhilarating. I took so many wrong turns in my dissertation — entire chapters tossed into the garbage, books I read which never found their their way into the final document — and it’s only years later that I see how necessary that was. That was my apprenticeship in scholarship.
So, no, I would never recommend that a grad student prioritize blogging over the process I just described.
However, I do want to address a point made by Ron and Derek and that’s this idea of person-to-person networking. One thing (among many) that blogging (and social media) has given me is a large, supportive community of virtual colleagues. Those of you who attended some of the larger graduate programs with folks who have gone on to get jobs in the field have built in networks upon graduation. Your schools have cocktail parties at SCMS and you’re sure to find alums wherever you go. But for those of us who attended smaller programs the online community has been absolutely vital. It’s also vital for those of us who work in departments in which we are the only representative of our field. The online community gives me support on my research and teaching. They share my work and support me. That is one thing that my peer-reviewed journal articles and even my book have not given me.
So my advice for a newbie grad student? Write your dissertation. Learn how to do it properly. But if you like to write, if you have ideas bouncing around and you need them to go somewhere? Start a blog.
June 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm
I began blogging (over here) as a graduate student largely to answer for myself the following question: “How does my training as a philosopher connect to the media (and media criticism and media studies works) that I consume?” I wanted to explore what specifically philosophical contribution I could make. I tried this in all sorts of ways, none of which really stuck.
Ultimately, and largely because of twitter, I decided that mostly what I needed to do was listen. Blogging helped me establish some of my early online contacts with folks in film and media studies, but I mostly sustain and develop those friendships through twitter. Blogging requires a certain (minimal) level of “I have something to say,” but right now I find it’s more useful and interesting for me to ask questions and listen to answers. That immediate feedback and unified platform is why I keep twitter active but not my never-completely-aca-blog.
June 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm
Oof, This is such a good post, and I have a lot of thoughts about it. My aca blog is RARELY updated and does not include comments (simply because I don’t have the time, inclination, or energy to deal with comments – I very much salute those of you who take that on), and I do understand that it means that I’m basically shouting into a void, and I am 100% okay with that.
The one I update (sometimes daily) is my personal blog, which is hidden, doesn’t use my real name, and is on Internet Lockdown (friends-only, with maybe a dozen readers).
I’m totally aware that this means: Blogging: I Am Doing It Wrong, but it’s a way for me to control content, readership and response, which is something I still feel the need to do at this point. I think my plan has always been to slowly build a backlog of content on the aca blog (which I keep for a variety of strange reasons) in the hopes that I eventually have more time and energy to commit to making it more public.
I would be bummed as hell if you stopped blogging, Amanda. I even have you in my Feedly.
June 26, 2014 at 9:12 pm
Thanks for this, all of you. Derek’s reflections on why he stopped blogging sound familiar to me, as I’ve also struggled to keep my blog running in the face of a mix of personal and professional cha(lle)nges. I started blogging mostly because I’ve always been a graphophile, needing to write, but also since I lacked academic community outside of conferences, and because I was playing around with ideas and wanted to test them out. If I’ve slowed to a snail’s pace, it’s mostly because my time for writing has evaporated.
I still think it can have immense professional value, but perhaps not in the direct silver-bullet fashion that some hope for. Academic blogging doesn’t directly improve the CV, and while it’s perhaps sad that it counts for so very little on the CV, I never thought it should count for a whole lot there either, since its dividends lay elsewhere. Rather, my blog helped me to establish, maintain, and build academic community and connection. That of course had immense personal value in and of itself, but it also helped my career inasmuch as it introduced my work to some, and helped me strengthen other, existing professional ties that would lead to collaborations, job opportunities, ideas, and more. I never thought it healthy to assume the blog would matter much on the CV, but without my blog I would have been pretty alone, isolated, and uninspired, so it was really important nonetheless. For instance, when I came back from Malawi and blogged about what I saw there, I assumed nobody was reading (I don’t have analytic programs on Extratextuals), but instead found a lone comment from Michael Curtin. Just knowing that he saw value in what I was doing there and was interested gave me a shot in the arm that allowed me to continue with a hard project. And later when I interviewed at Wisconsin, he and I had things to talk about and a small history. Quite apart from the interview even, I had a new academic comrade. That’s one of many examples of where the blog gave me drive, connections, and purpose.
But because of how it works, I think that especially young scholars need to ensure they’re balancing their various duties. If all I had written was blog posts, I doubt Mike Curtin would have been that impressed (nor should he have been), or thought I had a chance of earning tenure at Wisconsin (and he’d have been right). I used to have the time, moreover, to blog AND to do everything else I needed to do. I don’t now, which is why I’ve stopped more or less. And others shouldn’t be shooting themselves in the feet by doing it if they too can’t keep up with their other tasks. For those who can, I still think that few things helped my career as much, so I’d heartily defend blogging.
July 4, 2014 at 4:22 pm
Great piece, Amanda. Thanks for letting me participate.
I realize this post has been up for several days, but I was held up with Rock Camp and a family visit and I didn’t have time (or make the time, or whatever) to enter into the exchange as it unfolded. But I wanted to say a few things. Also, as someone who loves getting feedback and RTs from things I wrote in 2009, I figured that there’s no wrong time to leave a comment.
First, as an editor, I wanted to finesse some of my off-hand comments about Antenna that were quoted in the body of this piece. Foremost, I don’t want to suggest that academic blogging is something discouraged by Madison faculty. Jonathan’s comment makes this plain. In addition, many faculty members (like Gray, Bordwell, and J.J. Murphy, with whom I had the pleasure of participating alongside Myles in a joint colloquium on academic blogging) host blogs that are meaningful sites or extensions of their existing scholarship. So I don’t want to suggest that graduate students lack support and interest from faculty when it comes to blogging.
From my experience, the question of whether to blog seems to be purely a grad student concern (this also goes for some of the professional resentment I’ve observed with regard to Myles’ online visibility, which isn’t so much a pervasive issue as it is a peripheral concern). In my original comments, I was referring to discussions I’ve had with colleagues (often Myles, though not only Myles) about the weight and merit of blogging. For grad students, it’s a big, open question of whether to start a blog, or even submit a piece to Antenna, Flow, and IMR. I think this is contingent on grad students’ individual writing processes and how willing they are to share (or subject) work that is in process to the endless, searchable middle of the Internet. How much does blogging “count” when you’re also expected to publish peer-reviewed articles? And how do you balance such second-shift labor (blogging, being an active presence in the comments thread and social media back channel) against the work you have to do to be competitive on the job market (publishing journal articles, presenting and networking at conferences, taking on service responsibilities) and the work that is expected of you while in grad school (completing your dissertation, effectively teaching undergrads what “hegemony” means). Of course, these responsibilities only further accumulate for faculty.
Myles’ comments speak to these anxieties. I have them too. I often feel like I’m working toward a publication ideal that doesn’t entirely exist or is purely contingent on the job market and specific institutions’ expectations. I do my best. With the application of luck, I’ve turned two shaggy term papers into an anthology chapter and an In Focus piece. In addition, I have two pieces currently under review and hope to submit two more pieces by the end of the summer. But the entire time I’ve been at Madison, I’ve tried to create a work structure for myself to account for the different expectations of dissertation writing, article writing, and blog writing. I try to give myself one day a work week toward “extra-curricular” writing (blog posts, stuff I write for Bitch and Antenna, etc.). I do it because it energizes the other work I’m doing. I also do it for the same reason I host a radio show on WSUM: because it’s fun, and you should always make a little time for fun as a graduate student.
This may be incredibly cavalier, but I don’t worry too much about whether blogging “counts” as scholarship. First, I’m never not going to have research questions to ask about how music is a site of labor and how gender (as it intersects with other identity categories) shapes that work. Sometimes the things I write become traditional scholarship. You can trace the evolution of my interest in RuPaul’s Drag Race from Feminist Music Geek, to Antenna, to my dissertation. Sometimes, my posts are one-offs. I have a post I’m working on about coordinated dance routines in musical performance just because I wanted to contextualize St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness” dance for myself. Sometimes, my posts could become fodder for future research. I wrote about the Rock Hall induction recently. Perhaps that’s the start of some future research on award shows that, for now, is an Antenna column and the subject of several ongoing conversations with Myles. All of this is useful to me, regardless of how or if it appears on my CV.
Second, after course work I’ve approached blogging as a way to refine my writing. Within the past year, I tended to treat posts as discrete case studies upon which to apply concepts and theories. I’ve approached blogging in this fashion in order to improve my writing. I was pretty unhappy with my performance during pre-lims because the material I generated from them was diffuse and tangential (this is an internal critique; I passed). So I’ve blogged in order to work on structure, analysis, and argumentation while writing about interesting phenomena in (more or less) real time. In that regard, I absolutely think that blogging “counts” because I’m starting to see my academic writing develop as a result. But it all emanates from basically turning my blog into a writing exercise that may only directly benefit me.
I’ll close with a question: to what degree does academic blogging need to be legible to “matter”? Academic blogging still hasn’t entirely escaped public sphere ideology about entering into the commons and engaging in ongoing, legible deliberation. A blog has to last, adhere to reliable publishing schedules, accommodate a relentless news cycle, and shape critical discourse. That can be difficult to sustain. I struggled with the relative illegibility of my writing for a long time. I had to get right with the fact that I might never acquire the platform that some of my colleagues have. I had to beat back the notion that this was indicative of my viability as a scholar. But a lot of cultural expression I value is obscure, illegible, and ephemeral. Some of my favorite music comes from Girls Rock Camp bands, who may only produce one song and break up after the summer. While I don’t want to suggest that such work is inherently better (it isn’t), it does have value even if it can’t sustain itself or capture a large audience. If a blog post only got one RT and a couple hundred views (which, comparatively speaking, can be a lot), I’m still glad I wrote it. So, at the risk of treating the counterpublic as a utopia (it isn’t), I wonder how we might perceive academic blogging differently if ephemerality and illegibility were treated as possibilities rather than liabilities.
July 29, 2014 at 11:34 pm
Reblogged this on Chosen and commented:
It is. For the sake of writing with its million thousands ways of elaborating things we see which no one would ever done. Aca blog is the answer thru mixing personal thoughts and those scholar stuffs. Assholes, most of the times this brainy takes days to get things written yet it isn’t well enough. Keep working on it!
August 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm
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