July 09, 2005
Why I Blog Under My Own Name (and a Modest Proposal)
Gotta weigh in on this recent piece of tosh in the Chronicle. The mix of paranoia, conservatism, and raw ignorance on display is downright creepy.
First off, this is the kind of thing I cancel subscriptions over. The real issue is not Ivan Tribble’s ruminations, but the Chronicle’s motivations in publishing them. To what end? To be edgy and controversial, to stir up just this kind of buzz in the blogosphere? That’s not why I have a Chronicle subscription. That’s why I have cable TV. I don’t need both.
Being edgy and controversial is also not why I have a blog. As readers here will know, I generally eschew politics and current events (my blog resides on a publicly funded university server and I respect that) and I also spare visitors my midnight anxieties. As I’ve mentioned before, this blog functions first and foremost as a kind of public academic workbench for me. Why public? “What is the purpose of broadcasting one’s unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world” in the memorable prose of Mr. “Tribble”?
The science fiction writer Harlen Ellison once described a stunt in which he sat in the window of a bookshop all day writing a story. He was curious about what would happen if writing became a public spectacle rather than the mysterious, solitary endeavor it usually is. That scene piqued my imagination and stuck with me, enough so that when I explored the idea of writing an electronic dissertation in the mid-1990s (at the same time the Web was emerging as a popular medium) I immediately decided do it it “live,” in “real time” on the network. That is, I would simply publish drafts of my work, and revise them, and the whole would take shape as a massive, interlaced hypertext.
The idea was to keep myself motivated. By writing in a fishbowl, I reasoned, I would have some real, external pressure to keep at it. I would never know who was reading (watching). Yes, the fishbowl was also a panopticon.
What I really wanted, of course, was a blog. They didn’t exist then, at least not as such, though if anyone wants to see a proto-blogger in action my fellow Charlottesvillian The Gus deserves to be up there with Justin Hall. A whole virtual world he made with his musings and ethnography of Big Fun.
But I digress. Was I worried about plagiarism when I published drafts of my dissertation online? Nope, red herring. I was branding my ideas, imprinting them with my name, putting them into public circulation. Sure enough, there followed conference invitations, citations of my work in other scholars’ work, and contacts and connections that to this day form the basis of my professional community.
If anyone needs an answer as to “why blog,” an utterly crass, careerist answer (as befits the Chronicle), here’s one: networking. First, go read Phil Agre’s “Networking on the Network.” Then ask a blogger how their blog has paid off in terms of networking dividends. Bet they’ll have some stories to tell. In fact, why don’t we do just that? Would all academic bloggers reading this consider posting a comment or a trackback entry about some specific professional dividend that their online presence in the blogosphere has garnered for them?
If there’s sufficient response I’ll send the URL to the Chronicle.
(Thanks to GZombie, KF, Bitch.Ph.D., and the Little Professor for the initial tip-off here.)
Update: I regret that I have had to close comments and trackbacks on this entry due to spam. Personal comments to me can be sent to the address at the top of the page. I have also opened a new thread here for discussion of “Ivan Tribble’s” second piece, “They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They,” in which this entry figures prominently.
Posted by mgk at July 9, 2005 08:59 AM
So here's my "dividend": as a direct result of this blog (I can only assume) I was invited to contribute the chapter on "Blogging and Social Software" to the MLA's forthcoming volume on Teaching and Technology.
Not a bad venue.
Congrats on the MLA gig! I'm looking forward to reading it. Not sure you got my email, but I'll add here in your comments that I'd be interested in seeing "Lawrence" at the AFI. Unfortuntaely comments on my blog are still down....
Chuck, thanks, but I'm not looking for accolades. I'd really like people to list out some specific, tangible bennies that have come their way because of their blog.
Not sure if this counts, but thanks to my postings on machine/mechanical/optical collating (and with due thanks to MGK for 'borrowing' his piccy of Randy McLeod at work), I'm currently being 'interviewed' by a journalist from the New Scientist for a piece on the Hinman collator...
Recenty, I organized a "different" kind of session for the Organizaiton of Historians meeting. The idea was to extend the discussion beyond both the physical and temporal boundaries of a standard paper session. I worked up some polls, a website, and a blog and posted my request for respondents to two large listservs and generally emailed folks. At the end of two weeks, I had 40 respondents--not bad but not good. Since I wanted a wider range of opinion, I "cold" emailed two bloggers whose blog work I respected and asked them to post the appeal. One of them, in turn, passed it on to another blogger with a wide readership. Within 48 hours, I had nearly 200 respondents from all over the world. This was a much better result. Had it not been for blogs, the results of the experiment would not have been nearly so rich and diverse.
Concrete dividends? The students seem to get something from it; at the very least, the chance to demolish my more inane small-hours speculations. That's dividend enough for me.
I don't think I can cite professional dividends yet, except perhaps for the talk on blogging I gave at a regional conference. It's paid me fantastically in terms of my personal professional development: being part of a lively and broad discussion of historical and cultural issues has been more of an education than my journal subscriptions. And, though it hasn't resulted in anything I can put on a (traditional) cv, I've made some damn fine friends and been involved in some important discussions.
Hmm. Sp far bloggers get to talk about, um, blogging? I think job candidates *should* be wary of drawing attention to their blog within applications if it is not directly relevant to their professional career. I sit on recruitment panels and do follow up URLs contained in covering letters and will treat such web pages, blogs etc as part of the total material submitted for consideration (i.e. I'm not going to pick and choose the exciting from the banal, the scholarly from the frankly embarrassing. What I don't do, however, is try and dig the dirt on candidates by putting their names into Google -- I don't think that's fair.
A quick answer for now: I have corresponded with two scholars who found out about what I'm working on in my research (which is not blogging, by the way) by doing a Google search and finding my blog. We've exchanged ideas and information.
I've given and received a great deal of advice about teaching.
Also, I've been interviewed by journalists a couple of times as a result of something I blogged about.
And I second Jonathan Dresner's comment about personal and professional development: it's all about the network. There is no such thing as the lone blogger, typing away in isolation under the illusion that silent readers hang on her or his every word. We have a fairly good idea of who reads us through such things as comments, trackbacks, and server logs.
I suspect the networked aspect of blogging is the main thing that those who know nothing about blogs--and who don't care to learn--fail to grasp.
Whatever else they might be, bloggers are people who like to write. I find it fascinating that this would be stigmatized and even seen as threatening in the humanities, particularly an English department. Incidentally, hasn't the last thirty years of critical theory given us somewhat better terms with which to talk about texts and their communities of reception than "banal" or "frankly embarrassing"?
I know, you said you were not looking for accolades, but I have to say this is an excellent and very constructive post as to why people blog. When I started blogging, I faced the debate of whether to put my name to it or not. I decided to go with my name on it. Like you, I leave politics, current events, and such out of my librarian blog (I have a second blog for that other stuff, but I still keep away from stuff "not discussed in polite company."). I started mine to be a learning tool as well, just something to reflect and work ideas out. It disturbs me that search committees out there and members of academia who supposedly spouse learning are so ready to condemn people for using a learning tool. Since my blog is pretty new, not much networking yet. However, since it is first a tool for me, whether the network grows is a matter of serendipity. Thanks for the thoughts; they are very encouraging. Best.
Last December I posted a link to a project (on a Tuscan mural) I found interesting, and at my conference a few months later the lead on the project dropped by and gave me a copy of the beautifully-illustrated booklet on the project. A very nice encounter, one of several stop-bys from people who read my blog. These conversations, and other blog-seeded networking, led me to propose a roundtable session on academic blogging for the 2006 conference.
OTOH, I have been told, by faculty in a department to which I had applied and had been denied admission, that the 'whole department' had been reading it. Most of what appears are links to projects and articles like I have described, above, so I was and remain more than a bit baffled...and it made me rather uncomfortable for some time thereafter.
Obviously, I was not cowed.
I was infuriated by the CHRONICLE piece, not just because of the stereotype of humanists with technical leanings (the bit Matt picked out to share with the Humanist email list). Here's an LTE I just sent to the Chronicle.
To the Editor:
It may be unwise, as "Ivan Tribble" suggests, for an academic job seeker to permit too much self-disclosure in a blog that members of hiring committees may read (whether invited to or not). It may even be unprofessional. But at least it is not loathsome; that is an adjective I would reserve for the behavior of a humanities professor hiding behind a pseudonym who assigns mocking epithets to unsuccessful applicants and describes their online publishing activity in sufficient detail that any of them who chance to read "Bloggers Need Not Apply" will surely recognize themselves as the object of pitiless scorn.
David R. Sewell
University of Virginia Press
A couple of things:
A professor on the west coast (I forget where) emailed me last fall to ask for a copy of a conference paper I had given, and the abstract for which I had psoted on "raining cats and dogma." That class was appraently stimulated by the argument, and sent back some useful feedback.
Moreover, as a recent successful job seeker, at both on-campus vists, a faculty member mentioned that they had visited my blog. (I was aware of this possibility, and posted less, and more carefully, than at other times, perhaps). But both said they found the material and the format compelling. One used the link to my course blog, which was just getting rolling, and said she had found that to be a very exciting space, and initiated a great conversation about blogging in the composition class. While she will not be one of my new colleagues, the discussion yeilded result that will find thier way into my next classroom blogging experience. So blogs with real names can benefit job-seekers who craft them carefully.
[I receieved the follow comment backchannel which I'm reposting here, anonymously, with the original author's permission. MGK]
I appreciate your perspective on the Chronicle article posted to Humanist. It (Chronicle article) was not a very balanced piece and could have given
much better advice in terms of how a blog might be used effectively--I'm thinking here about yours and, for example, Stéfan Sinclair's "Musings and
That said, some candidates really are quite stupid about this blogging business and when they take the further step of listing their blog on their
vitas, they invite trouble. The biggest problem with Tribble is in his condemning of the medium, and not the fools who employ it so ignorantly.
For privacy reasons, I am not responding to you via your blog or via Humanist, but thought you'd be interested to know that a candidate we interviewed two years ago sealed his fate by actually being stupid enough to blog about his interview! Among other things he referred to his would be supervisor in less than flattering terms.
The real issue here as far as blogging goes is not blogging, but lack of discretion when it comes to content. And Tribble makes the mistake of
suggesting that these bozos might have actually gotten the job if it hadn't been for their blogs, of course, the truth is that it was the content:
"Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more."
Obviously any candidate listing a blog on a vita or even publishing one "in a private sphere" that can be easily googled can and should be held accountable for what he publishes. If we as potential employers learn something from a candidate's blog that makes us think twice--well, that's great for us; the exact opposite is equally plausible.
Discouraging candidates from blogging is not the right track; instead, Tribble should encourage them to blog intelligently. After all, the committee was quite eager to investigate the candidate's digital recourses. This speaks well (and highly) to the marketing potential of Blogs and should be lauded, not condemned.
Easy question! My fieldwork for my senior thesis was about LiveJournal, the blogging community I belong to. As a result of that fieldwork, my first conference will be a panel I co-chaired and organized (and subsequently became the invited session of the National Association of Student Anthropologists) on the ways in which anthropologists' studies of networking, language, and the body can intersect with blogging practices. I met most of the people on the panel through LiveJournal. Besides that, I think that I would not have made the decision to apply to the graduate school that I finally chose had I not been reading about the experiences of people at that school and had I not gone to visit the city that it is in several times because of friends there who I met through LiveJournal. What I really like about the LiveJournal interface is that I can "friends-lock" entries that I'm not sure I want to have public. This is not foolproof, but you would have to have a considerable knowledge of both LJ community practices and LJ code to break into that. I wish more weblogs offered security features (through OpenID or Typekey ids, for example). My blog is not as professional as I would like, but I'm working on a professional web presence right now, and my current blog isn't easily connected to my real name (if you had my username you could easily guess who I was in real life, but not the other way round).
I'm new to blogging so I might not be able to offer anything more than what's already been mentioned. On several occasions, I've posted on some research I was (or am) conducting and, on several occasions, I've received compelling and fruitful feedback. I, too, have met colleagues through blogging that I otherwise not have.
So what can I say here that hasn't been said already? Only this-- that the success stories listed above, those telling of heightened recognition, conference meetings and the like are exactly what I came to blogging for. And, so far, I've had a limited amount of success in the process.
And, in case we forget, it is most certainly a process that we're speaking of here when talking about blogs. Not coincidentally, the posts where I've managed to distill my thoughts most clearly, most vigorously and with the most passion are those that are usually responded to. Those with few or no comments are usually the opposite. And I think that anyone who blogs can relate to this causal dynamic-- even those hardened veterans who seldom look twice anymore at who is commenting.
This is not to say that successful blogging = 20+ comment posts. Quite the opposite, in fact. Blogs are, it seems to me, a means of developing networks both within academia and within one's own work. Tangible, Matt? No, probably not, but down the line the results may be. And that's what I'm driving towards by blogging-- "real" world corollaries to online discussions in academia, in research, in my own process. As a newbie blogger I can't offer anything more concrete, but I do know that concrete results do exist. This discussion in itself is a big example of that.
I hooked up with a post-doc friend of mine who also has a blog and we rewrote a conference paper of hers together. She had the paper online for download from her blog. The finished essay is to be published in September. Would it have happened without blogs? Maybe, but very unlikely.
If I wanted a career that demanded the sort of staid 'professionalism' that the article's author implicitly suggests is proper of academia then I would've pursued a career in law or something equally insipid.
The Chronicle would do well to interview intellectuals outside the academy about the value not only of blogging but also of established on line presences by academics at all points in their careers.
I am situated extra-muros. As a visiting scholar I have been lucky to have access to an account that allowed me to publish sundry pieces to the WWW. Someone found a small piece on "bibliography and theory" and I became a ghost reader for their dissertation on Holocaust literature and trauma.
In terms of blogging proper at http://weez.oyzon.com/ Elouise Oyzon indulged a month's long experiment in extended comment blogging along the fold. It's rewards were many and the traces of the exercise still produce interesting matter: pedagogical (the value of exploring silliness) and theoretical (access to the re-description of an intersubjective unconscious).
A small piece "Blogcraft and Sprezzatura" arose from http://karik.wordherders.net/archives/002592.html when Kari Kraus blogged about the "art of participation" and in doing so invoked a term I first encountered as an undergrad in Renaissance Lit.
Can the Chronicle ever tabulate the value of such entries and exchanges to those of us who spend most of our days outside the academy?
From the space of the extramuros... the bit you quoted from the tribble dribble (See Humanist 19.139 www.princeton.edu/humanist/) "we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job" reflects some of the the attitudes that led in part some of us leaving the tenure stream and the sessional appointment carousel. And with the greatest admiration and respect for those that remain. May the blogging give you strength!
While I keep a personal blog that rarely touches on academic issues, I do believe it has proven beneficial to my work. First, it became a practice space for the blogging that I have practiced in the classroom and, an outgrowth of that material, a presentation and article. Even the daily writing is beneficial as a warm up to the work related writing that I pursue.
I am participating in the UVA NINES workshop this week and, after a day spent discussing the innovative impact of technology on humanities with colleagues from Canada, the UK, and the US who are doing amazingly innovative and beneficial technology-driven work, I can only blink in disbelief at this article.
I'm writing this response while sitting in the living room of a lovely apartment in Bellevue, WA, looking out over Lake Washington at the Seattle skyline and the Olympic mountains.
The reason I'm here and not in Rochester, NY (where, as you know, I'm a professor at RIT) is that I've landed a plum sabbatical position at Microsoft Research for the year. They'll be paying me handsomely to do interesting work for twelve months, after which I'll return to my home institution.
I'm here 100% because of my blog.
Last year, my blog posts in my area of professional interest--social computing--resulted in my being invited to a symposium on social computing at Microsoft Research. That invitation in turn led to the sabbatical invitation.
The Ivan Tribbles of the world are a dying breed. They're unaccustomed to living in the increasingly transparent world that Google has brought us--one where anyone with an online history (which will soon be everyone) will have to deal with the good, bad, and ugly of their online tracks.
[Cross-posted with permission of author. MGK]
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2005 06:40:49 +0100
From: Wendell Piez
Subject: Re: 19.139 the trouble with tribbles
At 02:22 AM 7/11/2005, you wrote:
>The Chronicle recently published a truly extraordinary piece of tosh
>WARNING job candidates not to blog, lest hiring committees Google them
>to reveal political passions or midnight anxieties of the soul....
>That's what we still face in many corners of the humanities, folks: a
>seething cauldron of resentment, intimidation, conservatism, and
Undoubtedly, but I wouldn't put too much stock in it. Theirs is a
losing battle, and the condescension the attitude of heirs of an old
family who, having squandered their inheritance, now watch the
tradespeople cart the furniture, linens, silver and crystal away.
Students and young academics who heed this warning will just find, in
the end, that they have staked their careers and reputations on the
self-serving advice of a recalcitrant insiders' group bound only by
resentment, which will continue to shrink every year, whatever
dominance they may still hold in hiring and tenure committees. These
people can hurt their own programs and departments, but they can't
stem a rising tide. They will find it more and more difficult to
limit their appointments to those who fear the Computer Science department.
Your blog post already put its finger on the corrective response:
that a blog is not (only) about one's obsessions, but about making
connections, laying the foundations of a healthy and engaged
intellectual life. Of course this can be done in many ways these
days, not just by blogging. Which is part of my point. It used to be
that scholarly articles in respected journals on the accession lists
of major libraries used to be *the* way to make an impression in
scholarly circles, to alert others of your existence, to find
readers, collaborators, mutual admirers. This is no longer the case.
In fact, I suspect that what really bothers the old guard is that the
hegemony of scholarly journals and elite monograph publication is now
clearly coming to an end, and they don't know what to do, since these
are the levers they know how to pull. But this demise has been
inevitable ever since the object of getting published in a journal
stopped being what it ought to be, and once was -- reaching readers
-- and lapsed into being what it has been for some time now --
providing a line on a CV. Writers who have readers are always more
vital than writers who don't. (Contact with readers is not only an
effect, it is a cause of vitality.) And departments that cultivate
scholars who engage with their communities will thrive and flourish,
whereas those that encourage scholars to do all the work up to, but
not including, really engaging with others with similar interests and
concerns, by whatever good means are available -- because once the
line on the CV is inscribed, the job is presumably done, and all that
is left is to inscribe another -- will stagnate and retreat,
eventually to be judged not worth the cost of supporting them.
Come to think of it, to the extent that this latter fate has already
been evident across Academia, maybe now we can see why. In turn, this
highlights the best answer of all: you must continue doing what you are doing.
Wendell Piez mailto:email@example.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
I posted my abstract for the upcoming SLSA conference, mentioning that I would have to be careful not to overlap with Jill Walker's work, and Jill posted to ask me to be on a panel with her. This is a big deal for me since it's only my second conference and I haven't yet given papers with people who weren't other grad student classmates... and Jill never would have seen my abstract without my blog (or certainly not until the conference).
I'm pseudonymous, so I don't post about my work online--nonetheless, I've found the blog useful for networking "behind the scenes." I've met people who work in my field, and people in other disciplines who have similar interests. I've found out about job opportunities I wouldn't otherwise have heard about. I've learned a lot about how universities work by "talking" with academics from different departments, administrators, and staff members through blogs. I've had students write and ask me advice about graduate school applications. I've had a couple of people cite my pseudonymous writing in their academic work, which tickles me. I've been invited to contribute an essay on blogging to Scholar & Feminist online, and I was also invited to that MLA panel (although I missed out on that opportunity b/c I put off responding for too long, I'm sorry to say). I've developed friendly email correspondence with some of the top scholars in my field.
From my side, I've got to say that I think of my blog as a substantial asset in terms of my employability in the tertiary sector. Sure, my blogs posts aren't always serious or confined to my thoughts about academia, but the majority of what I comment on is in some way related. It does help that I position myself broadly at the interesections of Media Studies, Communication Studies, Literary Studies, Digital Humanities and New/Digital Media, so there isn't a lot that happens online or in the media more broadly that I can't justify writing about. That said, I think it is important for all academics to have some sort of public voice in order to maintain a rich, vibrant and engaged relationship between academia and the public more generally; blogs are one of the best ways of maintaining such engagement. Moreover, on a personal note, while I have some wonderful collegues in Perth, it is the most isolated capital city in the world, and the blog is a wonderful way to build, maintain and enhance my connections with scholars (and others) across the wired world.
Sorry to post twice, but Dr. B makes a great point concerning learning more about academia by hearing the experiences of people working at other colleges and universities. I hadn't thought to articulate this, but for me it's certainly one of the best parts of membership in the world of blogs.
I am obviously not blogging under my real name, but I
have to say that I've still gotten an enormous amount
out of blogging. For a bit of background, I began
back when Invisible Adjunct was still doing her thing,
and found my blogging an essential coping tool while
dealing with the failure of my academic job search.
Although I currently consider myself a
"post-academic", I have found that blogging has
allowed me to stay in touch with a community of
scholars and friends in a way I would not have
otherwise. Without the blog, I would have been
isolated and a lot more hostile to the academy than I
Moreover, as Dr. B. has noted, there is nothing
preventing me from sharing my identity with others who
express interest in the ideas and perspectives I share
on my blog. I have a number of such contacts now, and
they have passed along a number of pieces of advice,
entry into social networks, and offered career advice
as well as much valued emotional support.
Without my blog I'd be a lonely, haunted person,
trying to do my work in isolation and with increasing
But that does seem to be the type of person that the
likes of Ivan Tribble favor. ;P
But you illustrated one of the dangers of blogging in this entry. People on the job market in English should not misspell authors' names (here, "Harlen" for "Harlan Ellison"). No blog shows its author off in a strong light, even a blog as intelligently conceived and carried out as yours usually is. Tribble's piece was right, if a bit melodramatic. Most search committees won't know how to look up (or even read) a candidate's blog, so grad students are generally safe. But I've NEVER been impressed by an academic's blog (including yours, GZombie's, Timothy Burke's, etc.): blog = wankery. The best thing a graduate student can do (while the world is as it is) is to write good articles and try to publish them.
I am not on the job market.
That said, if you place a higher premium on people's vowels than you do evidence of commitment to a living intellectual community, one that communicates by "writing good articles" as well as through other, more diverse channels, well, then that's a choice you've made.
I am fairly astonished by the failure to focus on Tribble's main point.
Nearly every blog, especially by those under 30, reveals *more personal information than its author realizes*.
Tribble's article was specifically and only about the academic job market. A blog is like a personal diary. While one is not trying to keep secrets on the job market, the ONLY thing the candidate can control is the information he or she releases.
Job searches very often come down to fights between factions within the hiring department. It is incredibly dangerous to provide the "enemy faction" of the committee with any more information than it needs. You can't afford to give your enemies ammunition. Part of the appeal of only providing scholarly writing is precisely that it is controlled to only provide professionally relevant information. That BENEFITS the candidate, rather than hurting him/her.
I counsel any grad student who asks me not to maintain a blog while they are on the job market, and certainly not to advertise it. In too many cases, and in ways candidates do not understand, a job is like a personal diary. You would NEVER give your personal diary to a potential employer, even if you believe they might like the "real you."
The closer a blog stays to professional issues, and the less the blogger takes sides, the better, of course.
People in job markets that are extremely tight and extremely close-lipped about information *cannot afford* to spread personal information and opinions widely. This is why political nominees don't blog, and when they do, it is very carefully "handled" by their PR advisors.
When the day comes when the majority of professors blog, it may not be risky for grad students to do so. Until then, the more you blog, the harder you are going to make it to get an academic job. That was Tribble's point and I think we do a real disservice to grad students if we suggest otherwise.
I want to amend my last comment just slightly: of course, if a grad student is working particularly on the digital world, and especially on blogging, then it may be desirable or even necessary to have one--but I would still be very cautious about the subjects one brings up, and probably have a senior advisor look it over before sending out your job materials--just as you should do with all the rest of your job materials of course.
No one should be counseling job candidates to fling their blogs around with reckless abandon, job candidates--indeed, any professional--should exercise some good old fashioned common sense about what they choose to publish on the network. But my concern here is that the very word "blog" has become a shibboleth; witness the above comment, "blog=wankery"--the worst and crudest form of media essentialism. Ultimately a blog is a piece of software. That it. It can be used wisely and well, or otherwise. Despite the fact that I blew a vowel, Mr. Churchill concedes that my blog is usually "intelligently conceived and carried out." Is that a professional asset to me then, or is it wankery? One can't have it both ways.
In your case, because you work on new media, my answer would be "both wankery and professional asset." That is, your blog is not a peer-reviewed publication, but because of your particular interest, the "vanity press" aspect of self-publishing won't hurt you. For young scholars working in different areas, a non-peer-reviewed blog signifies "time waster" to search committees. The key issue is peer review, not the particular medium. Perhaps we'll have peer-reviewed blogs at some pointin the future, but right now Edwin Mellen is a better bet for publishing one's work than a blog.
I think [M/D]r. Churchill is right to soften his point for academics working in digital/new media studies, but I think it's not enough to say that blogging is less harmful for us. On the contrary, it's practically required. In my line of academic interest it would be ridiculous not to use this relatively well-tested method of engaging in online reporting and discussion; if there are changes to the academic experience due to its being an online medium, that's part of what's interesting. That is the reason I have a blog, PERIOD -- that and the fact that every more established digital studies person already had one.
Will it damage me, in five years or so, to a degree that won't be offset by its benefit to networking and expanding my CV? Maybe, but I doubt it.
In response to Frank Churchill, I'd say that it is beyond me how anyone could read through all of the above comments (and linked and trackbacked blog entries) and conclude from what people have said about their motivations that academic bloggers are
1) trying to "impress" people with their blogs,
2) blogging instead of submitting scholarship to peer-reviewed venues.
A blog is a "time waster" in the way that any activity that is not writing for peer-reviewed publication is a "time waster." Like many normal people, academics have hobbies, online friends, and interests outside of their area of professional expertise.
It is possible to be ambitious in one's efforts at scholarly publication in the traditional venues while maintaining a blog.
I think you have to decide if you want to work with colleagues who will respond to everything they learn about your life in terms of whether it increases your scholarly profile.
Given the tight job market in most humanities disciplines, some might say that job candidates cannot afford to decide what kind of colleagues they want to work with, that they should be thankful for any job they are offered. Maybe so, but that statement tells us a great deal more about the attitudes brought out in hiring committees by the job market in the academic humanities than it tells us about blogging and bloggers.
I didn't understand we were talking about a "hobby." There seemed--in this thread and in the wounded self-righteousness of academic bloggers after the Tribble piece in the Chronicle--to be the idea that blogging somehow constitutes academic work that should be recognized by universities and hiring committees. I don't' know about you, but I don't put my hobbies on my CV, nor do I claim that my amateur piano playing suits me to teach about music. Professor Kirschenbaum's book is forthcoming from MIT Press. When Michael Berube wants to play at being a pundit through blogging, nobody really cares, as he's proven himself. However, when a graduate student spends time writing and reading blogs in the delusion that she or he is "plugging into the network" or some other such malarkey, it's a bit sad. If one would rather be a hobbyist than a scholar, that's fine, but don't blame search committees for seeking out committed scholars. Fooling around with a blog is certainly no worse than many other vices pursued by aspiring academics, as GZombie implies. Superluddite (above) is right: you can rail against the unfairness of the process, but it's self-indulgent career suicide, in the current market, to stick to your hobby instead of your work.
I find the distinction between "work" and "hobby" (with regard to blogs) simplistic, and I wonder if anyone reading this really believes it can be maintained. (I don't think that's what GZombie was saying, btw.) Indeed, the point of my entry here was to solicit examples of the ways in which blogging has contributed to academic pursuits, and the first couple of dozen of the comments (and trackbacks) here serve to document that phenomenon. Many bloggers will tell you that pieces that began as entries on their blogs ("malarky") have subsequently evolved *into* the very chapters and articles the profession so values. That shouldn't really be surprising. Surely we can all agree that writing is a *process*?
As for my book, this blog has been an invaluable aid to the writing, as I've posted excerpts, gotten feedback from some of the people I care about most, and, on a more mundane level (though I'm sure the marketing department at MIT will be pleased) built an advance readership as I can't tell you how many people have said, "I've been following your progress on the book on your blog, I can't wait to read it."
To which my stock reply is, "Me too."
I also read the Chronicle piece and responded to it on my blog. I do not blog for professional reasons (it's pretty banal) but keep a blog on a professional site that is under my own name. I don't post embarassing information about others and only gently poke fun at myself. It's my right. Now maybe, like Michael Berube's amateur punditry, I've "earned" the right to have a banal section of my professional website -- I'm a tenured prof at a good school and I have a long list of publications.
But then, I have to say that it's not just an indulgence. I've gotten a lot of mail from grad students and correspondents who say it's so refreshing to see a prof who is a "real person" (nb that my blog persona is one more constructed public performance, like my classroom persona). I'm told I have a lot of readers here at McGill. I'm glad it works for them and of course I like the attention.
As for professional advancement out of the blog, not so much. But back in the day when I was in grad school, listservs were where it was at for that sort of thing, and my participation on several led to publications (two chapters in fairly high profile edited books) and my time on the Bad Subjects list has put me in a huge network of cultural studies academics and left wing intellectuals outside the university. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
Matt, for some reason I missed your response when I first came across the Chronicle piece... great response.
My fourth annual review at my previous school referred to my weblog as a "hobby" -- despite the fact that I was hired there as an electronic text specia1ist. I went back on the job market, and gave my weblog a prominent mention in my application letter and CV. I even showed my blog during my teaching demonstration for the on-campus visit that landed me my present job. And I know that at least one of the search committee members e-mailed the others to make sure they looked at my website (which includes a bank of online teaching handouts, in addition to the weblog). Since I was seeking a job in new media, one would expect the search committee to think favorably of weblogs.
When I come across a CFP that interests me, I can often bang out the first draft simply by cutting and pasting from blog entries I've written in the past few months. I've been accepted at, and been granted funding for, more conferences than my wife will permit me to attend (especially since my position carries a 4/4 teaching load).
Other benefits, big and small...
Recently I went online looking for Gregory Yob (creator of the classic computer game "Hunt the Wumpus") and he left a comment on my weblog. Of course, I'll have to confirm his identity, but without the blog, getting the lead would have been more difficult.
Since more and more students are coming to university with LiveJournals that they've kept since middle school, having a blog of my own has been a great tool to help those students make the transition from emotive expression to expository writing and more advanced cognition.
Matt, with your kind indulgence, may I open up a tangent? I venture to proposed that peer-review does not end with publication. Very often I have read pieces that had passed through reviewers and editors and, well frankly, required further work either in the formulation of the argument or the quality of the evidence (including factual errors). The World Wide Web has provide opportunities to find and contact authors and provide feedback either through regular or electronic post.
This issue of the readerly attention is very much at the heart of the response to the questioning around the discursive environment that the potential job seeker inhabits. Overworked faculty cannot in all cases and all times provide close reading of every bit of a student's or a peer's work.
If I were on a hiring committee I would want to see evidence that a candidate is in touch with the value of sketches, drafts and works-in-progress. It would be a sign to me that such a person would be able to assist both colleagues and students.
The question of blogging or not is separate from the question of blogging in one's own name. The advantages of blogging accrue to those that host, comment and read, regardless of the moniker they sport. The question of the (un)tracability of the signuature to a person is very much the one of tainting not by content published by mere choice of venue of publication. This is how you have put it Matt and I believe any squiggle in the direction of the (in)appropriate content theme is avoiding the fundamental question: who (and for how long and how far) gets to rule the roost, who (for how long and how far) controls the means of distribution, production and participation, who, how far and for how long, is installed as the arbiter of taste and the judge of quality?
Old questions. New bottles. Perpetual lure. :)
My blog indirectly helped me get into the Humanities Computing MA at the University of Alberta. I've been keeping an online journal since 1996; in 2000, I converted this to blog form, and started talking about technical issues around CSS and HTML, web servers, and the like.
This caught the attention of Glasshaus publishing in 2002, who offered me a book chapter on Intranet design, and later (2004) a book on the Apache web server. Having these publications under my belt (in addition to several other articles published around the web) helped secure my placement in the program. I later learned that the Associate Dean of Arts had also discovered and read my blog -- he mentioned it to me while we were at a dinner for a prospective faculty member.
Now, I'm conducting research on blogging, online journalling, and confession. It promises to be a very intriguing study, which - like Matthew - will be pre-published in draft form on my blog.
Just read your post and call for comments. Here are some of the rewards of blogging:
1. Networking, as you put it. A number of times people have e-mailed me about a blog entry with information or feedback. This on top of the fact that I had to turn off the comments due to spam. The responses have led to interesting conversations I would never have had.
2. I have used blogs for administrative purposes for a group to track their work in an open fashion. In my experience "open administration" works - it gives people who are interested/worried about your leading a project a way to follow and it gives them a sense of what you are thinking.
3. My blog has become my notebook. I can check it or add to it from anywhere, I can send people to it instead of having to find the notebook and look up the information, and I can search it. (Not to mention advantage 1. - that people respond.
4. It allows my students to see that I too struggle with ideas and that they can teach me. I don't know how many times students have answered questions or set me right on something.
5. I have been invited to give talks as a result.
As for the issue of people knowing the "real" Geoffrey through my blog ... I see that as an advantage. Anyone who doesn't want to hire me (or deal with me) because of what I write is either narrow minded or there is a real tension. Either way we are probably better off not collaborating. At the end of the day, it strikes me that people should worry more about their e-mail than their blogs.
Due to the proliferation of comment spam, I've had to close comments on this
entry. If you would like to leave comment, please send email
to me at mgk =at= umd =dot= edu. Thank you.