Why Blogging Is Good
Recently, there have been many thoughtful discussions about whether blogging is a good activity for academics to be engaging in. I sure hope it is! Jack Balkin at Balkinization has a terrific post about blogging. He writes: “It has become increasingly obvious to me (and to many others as well) that some academic writing works perfectly well as a blog posting.”
A recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Henry Farrell (political science, GW), a blogger at Crooked Timber, offers some fantastic observations. Here are a few nibbles (actually, more like a few bites, because it’s such a good essay):
Properly considered, the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today. Academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison. Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars. While blogging won’t replace academic publishing, it builds a space for serious conversation around and between the more considered articles and monographs that we write.
What advantages does blogging offer over the more traditional forms of academic communication? Blogging sacrifices some depth of thought — it’s difficult to state a complex thesis in the average blogpost — but provides in return a freedom and flexibility that normal academic publishing can’t match. Consider the length of time it takes to publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal. In many disciplines, a period of years between first draft and final publication is normal. More years may elapse before other academics begin to publish articles or books responding to the initial article. In contrast, a blog post is published immediately after the blogger hits the “publish” button. Responses can be expected in hours, both from those who comment on the blog (if the blog allows them) and from other bloggers, who may take up an idea and respond to it, extend it, or criticize it. Others may respond to those bloggers in turn, leading to a snowballing conversation distributed across many blogs. In the conventional time frame of academe, such a conversation would take place over several years, if at all. . . .
The essay wonderfully captures the positive influences blogging is having on the academy. More from Farrell’s essay:
Academic blogs should be especially attractive to younger scholars, to whom they give an unparalleled opportunity to make their voices heard. Cross-blog conversations can turn the traditional hierarchies of the academy topsy-turvy. An interesting viewpoint expressed by an adjunct professor (or, even more shocking, an “independent scholar”) will almost certainly receive more attention than ponderous stodge regurgitated by the holder of an endowed chair at an Ivy League university. Prominent academics who start blogging do have an initial advantage; they’re more likely to attract early attention than people without established reputations. But if they want to keep readers and attract other bloggers’ links over the medium term, they need to provide provocative and interesting content. Otherwise, they’re likely to fall by the wayside.
By the same token, less-well-known academics, and nonacademics with interesting things to say, have a real opportunity to speak to a wider public and to establish a reputation over time. In this respect, the blogosphere resembles not only the Republic of Letters (where a printer’s devil could become an internationally renowned intellectual), but the “little magazines” in their golden age, when established scholars, up-and-comers, and amateurs rubbed shoulders on a more or less equal footing. This openness can be discomfiting to those who are attached to established rankings and rituals — but it also means that blogospheric conversations, when they’re good, have a vigor and a liveliness that most academic discussion lacks. . . .
Both group blogs and the many hundreds of individual academic blogs that have been created in the last three years are pioneering something new and exciting. They’re the seeds of a collective conversation, which draws together different disciplines (sometimes through vigorous argument, sometimes through friendly interaction), which doesn’t reproduce traditional academic distinctions of privilege and rank, and which connects academic debates to a broader arena of public discussion. It’s not entirely surprising that academic blogs have provoked some fear and hostility; they represent a serious challenge to well-established patterns of behavior in the academy. Some academics view them as an unbecoming occupation for junior (and senior) scholars; in the words of Alex Halavais of the State University of New York at Buffalo, they seem “threatening to those who are established in academia, to financial interests, and to … well, decorum.” Not exactly dignified; a little undisciplined; carnivalesque. Sometimes signal, sometimes noise. But exactly because of this, they provide a kind of space for the exuberant debate of ideas, for connecting scholarship to the outside world, which we haven’t had for a long while. We should embrace them wholeheartedly.
Very well said. Blog on.