Tag: blogs

Blogging and the Republic of Letters

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 (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’

‘Public Intellectuals 2.0’ (2008)

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.

Academic blogging

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.

‘Boffins blogging’

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.