Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

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 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.

3 thoughts on “More on academic blogging (2011)

  1. BM says:

    Is there also a degree of intellectual snobbery at play – the rejection of the perceived ‘low culture’ of blogging? After all, how can it possibly be taken seriously when there are spotty teenagers blogging about Lady Gaga or the colour of their navel lint?


  2. Inna says:

    A somewhat related discussion about blogs and their role in academia and popular media was initiated by Kent Anderson at the ScholarlyKitchen blog


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