Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Blogging

So, there seems to be a lot of discussion recently about blogging within the theory academic blogosphere (Theoryosphere?).

Two places in particular to look at. The first is from Tim Morton, the second from Stuart Elden. In both we see strange objections being raised against the very reality of academic blogging. In Tim's case, we have an audio recording of a talk he gave at a recent conference. In the response to his paper, Ed Cohen (whose works I have found very useful and interesting), gives a strange and very ungenerous response to Tim's talk. I highly suggest readers follow my first link, and read the comments from Eileen Joy which I heartily endorse. Cohen doesn't really advance an argument, but instead simply puts down blogging and by association Speculative Realism (I've been teaching fallacies to my Argumentation class, and the technical term for what Cohen engaged in is an appeal to ridicule). Meanwhile, Stuart reports on a discussion over at the crit-geog-forum on blogging, in which it was argued:
[T]he question [was] raised as to why anyone bothered with blogs? The commentator said that “it seems to add nothing, but gears and joys itself on self-serving romance”

I don't have a strong sense if these are isolated opinions, or if they are merely the tip of an anti-blogger sentiment within the academy. However, this is not the only time I have come across dismissive and condescending attitudes toward blogging among other academics. There seems to be a cluster of 'arguments', (1) It trades off with doing the 'real' work of being a scholar. (2) It is too vague, too hasty, too half-formed, too unpolished. (3) It is time consuming. (4) It will trip me/you up in getting hired/tenured/published/loved/respected/etc. (5) People and movements use blogging in order to get hired/tenured/published/loved/respected/etc. that are fundamentally inauthentic or ephemeral.

There are probably other arguments, and I am interested in those, but these five sort of defines the parameters. Excepting number four*, which is more pragmatic, I think we can take these various objections to chart the anxiety people feel in regards to blogging. To wit:

Blogging is not legitimate academic work, at the same time it requires a lot of work to keep up with a blog (both writing it and reading other blogs). However, these 'bloggers' are increasing making blogging seem as legitimate academic work. And in so doing are getting access to legitimate academic resources and prestige -- invitations to conferences, publications (including a series of 'upstart' journals and book publishers that is tapping into academic bloggers and their work), attention from grad students and junior academics (and sometimes senior ones), and the ability to speak for movements/schools of thought. This puts non-bloggers into a bind: either they are forced to engage with blogging (which requires more work), or they stand a chance that blogging might become increasingly more legitimate and bloggers will be taken increasingly serious.

To be honest, I sort of understand that fear. Blogging fits very well with the ways I like to think and communicate. It provides a wonderful sounding board, it is unofficial enough that I can just treat first drafts as important enough to hit the publish post, and I can see lots of other projects as they develop. I also get to be part of far flung academic communities. Whereas I am the sort of academic that enjoys hours and days of just researching in a library, I don't enjoy the isolation that such work can cause. Blogging is a way of thinking as part of a community. But what if that wasn't true? Academics are already asked to do all sorts of things, another time drain that doesn't even help you do your other work sounds like a nightmare.

Of course, I could be wrong. These objections might really be more about blog and bloggers, and less about the people making the objections. That is hard to really believe, though. When Cohen says that it is hard to imagine that SR bloggers have time for anything else, and he is doing this in direction to Tim Morton, one figures this is more about the way Cohen works and thinks than about SR bloggers. After all, it is quite clear that Tim Morton has an amazing academic output, and indeed many academic bloggers do (Stuart Elden being another example, of course Graham Harman, and Adam Kotsko is pretty intense for someone that junior in the academy).

I don't have any solutions or final thoughts. A blogger backlash is annoying, but ultimately I think digital, open, and on-going productions of knowledge will win out. It is cheap, easy, and many of the emerging scholars are openly embracing these changes. (Kunzelman reminds I have to read Jodi Dean's Blog Theory. He is write).

* Considering the state of the job market, and the academic program I have come from, I am more free than many of my colleagues to put myself out there. True, it is the freedom that Janis Joplin sang about, but I still get to have my blog.