October 26, 2006
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It’s always interesting watching people who aren’t familiar with academic blogging try to come to terms for the first time with what an academic might do with such an online space. One of my first-year students heard about the blog for the first time yesterday, and blurted out: “Oooh, cool – so it’s, like, your MySpace site!” (Given how greatly amused other students were by this comment, I gather I’m not commonly perceived by students as someone who might have a MySpace site…) I think some faculty colleagues have similar assumptions – I have the distinct impression that certain specific staff members think a blog is a chat room: they make comments that suggest they visualise text streaming past, and wonder how I could possibly write anything serious in such a format.
What’s a bit more odd to me are the disparaging judgments that periodically crop up on academic blogs themselves – there seems to be a common judgment that discussion that happens on academic blogs can never be properly academic – that academics may happen to blog, but that the notion of an “academic blog” is an oxymoron. I always find these observations somewhat odd – among other reasons, because they imply that only a very specific type of reflection or speech or writing “counts” as academic – specifically, the kind of reflection and writing possible in a lengthy, peer-reviewed academic journal article.
What’s odd to me about this truncated definition of academic speech is that, if anyone were to apply it seriously to contexts outside of blogging, it would exclude the overwhelming preponderance of the kinds of reflection and discussion that academics actually do – journal writing and field notes, water cooler discussions with colleagues, conversation and writing for seminars and many conference presentations, teaching, supervision… I assume that other academics learn and refine their thoughts through these looser, more informal kinds of academic reflection, speech and writing – that these activities are, in fact, part of the way we all prepare for the more formal kinds of writing that is expressed in peer-reviewed journals, part of what helps us lift our game for serious scholarship. It’s fairly easy to see how something like academic blogging “fits” into the context of these more informal, but common and important, academic activities. And yet, for some reason, academic bloggers themselves often single out blogging – of all the less formal media for academic exchanges – for criticism.
I wonder at times whether I react differently from some other academic bloggers because I never expected academic blogging to be anything other than what it is – a medium for less formal intellectual exchange, appropriate for refining draft ideas and writing, which introduces a useful incentive to raise your game a bit because it is possible for unknown and unanticipated readers to comment on your work… I see academic blogging as fitting somewhere between the informal conversations in which we solicit feedback from academic colleagues, and the seminar or less formal conference presentation at which we solicit feedback on draft writing… For this purpose, I think, the medium is really quite good…