Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Blogging

“Mainstreaming” Academic Blogging

I have all kinds of responses owing to various people – apologies for this: I’m booked absolutely to the gills this week, conducting field interviews for a community development project, and then involved in an annual planning process within my university. I really do want to pick up on the various hanging threads, but may not find the time to do this for several days.

Evidently, I don’t believe that my comment debt has grown large enough, however, because I did want to toss up one new question for consideration. I just received this from my university:

The project we’re working on is an amalgamation of current blogs produced by academics into a best of the best style tumblelog (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumblelog) that can work as a place where people can see the ideas coming out of the University.

This is the first step in creating an atmosphere of blogging throughout the University to help build a community based around academic thought and its relationship to the world. It will help to build a reputation … as a place for experts.

This is an achievable goal but only with your participation.

In this first stage, the tumblelog will link directly to existing blogs and feature posts from those blogs as they are updated.

My impulse, I have to admit, is to decline to participate in this project. I feel somewhat perverse in saying this, as I’ve put some effort into promoting the concept of academic blogging within the university, and defending the potentials of the medium for serious intellectual exchange. I have no idea how widely read my blog is within the university, but most people who know me, have probably heard that I maintain an academic and a course blog. So it’s not as though I’ve kept the blog secret, or assumed that what I write here would have no ramifications for my professional work. I think it’s generally a good thing that blogging become accepted as a potential medium for serious intellectual exchange, and I personally use blogging to try out most of the concepts I later use in more formal work. All of this suggests, I suppose, that I should be comfortable with the idea that my posts might be syndicated through something like the project above.

Strangely, though, I’m finding myself having a negative reaction to this request.

A large part of what makes blogging valuable to me is precisely that difference in style, tone and content that differentiates it from other forms of academic writing. And I find myself wondering how that difference in style, tone and content meshes with the notion that the blogs of university academics will somehow showcase the university as “a place for experts”. Something about this formulation sits very poorly with how I understand blogging – which, among many other things, I value for its (occasional and partial, but still important) puncturing of claims to expertise. And not simply due to the risk that someone might leap from the ether with some kind of devastating critique, but also because the sort of intellectual production that takes place via blogging is often raw, and dynamic, and strangely collective in extremely complex ways – my felt experience of blogging, and my personal motivation for persisting with the medium as a major medium for my intellectual work, don’t mesh well with the notion, tacit in the formulation above, that blogs might be a means for experts to disseminate their views to a broader (passive?) audience.

I may be over-emphasising the focus on expertise in the invitation above – this may be more of a throwaway line, with unfortunate unintended connotations.

I am curious, though: how are other people struck by this notion? Would other bloggers be happy for their posts to be syndicated on a university-branded site? What impacts would you expect such a formalised syndication arrangement to have on your writing? What problems – and what benefits – would you anticipate?

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Do You Believe in Me?

Via Acephalous: my author function has been analysed! Critical Theory and the Academy, a course blog that provides the nucleus for several student blogs that explore major themes in critical theory, has assigned the following task this week:

First, you will discuss a specific point in Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” or Foucault’s “What is an Author?”. Second, you will venture out into blogworld, find a post on an academic/theory blog that discusses authorship (the author function in literature, blog authorship, pseudonymity, etc.) in some way, link to the post in your post, and offer commentary on the linked-to post. You may handle this in one long post or in two separate posts.

Ozzman5150 finds inspiration for this assignment at Rough Theory. After an extended discussion of the concept of the “author function”, Ozzman suggests:

The second part of the assignment for this week was to find a blog from the internet on the idea of what an author is or what makes an author. I did some research and I think that I found one right from the main page of Dr. Mcguire’s blog. The blog is titled Rough Theory and I think that it provides some good insight on the idea of what an author is. I think that this blog makes some assumptions as to the ideas of what an author is and how it helps to shape our understanding of the “author function” and texts. This blog seems to hint through various posts that the author is more a work of fiction rather than acting as a function from which we can better understand the texts that we come across.

Over at Acephalous, Scott Eric Kaufman concurs:

One student insists N. Pepperell’s fictional, and I’m inclined to agree. No actual person could write that much that quickly and remain sane.

So, now I really must know: how many of my readers truly believe that “N. Pepperell” is, as Ryan/Aless might put it, “a real (material, historical) person”?

Read more of this post

Sights and Sounds

So one of the interesting things about blogging, is occasionally getting to meet people in person, whom you’ve previously known only in virtual space. Last night, I had the opportunity to meet, and talk the ear off of, a fellow blogger. This afternoon, I received the following piece of feedback on the crossover impact of this meeting on our future blog interactions:

Your blog’s totally going to have that combination accent (like, easily mistaken for Australian except for occasional curls in the words!) from now on.

So, if anyone’s been wondering what I sound like… 🙂

Blog Talk Tomorrow

For folks at my university, there will be a panel session tomorrow on “Online Tools for Building Research Networks”. Different presenters will be discussing the internal DLS system, Facebook, developing a research project website, and academic blogging. I’ve been tagged for the blogging presentation – but, chances are, if you’re seeing this announcement here, you know everything you want to know about blogging in general, and this blog in particular (when I was invited to present, I was told: “Don’t prepare anything special – just show them your blog!” Yeah right…). But if you want to show up and heckle, correct the grandiose claims I’ll no doubt make about what I write here, or similar, feel free – perhaps it will give a live performance version of what blogging is really like.

My thought was to hand out copies of the Ivan Tribble anti-blogging article and my response (although I’ve loosened up a lot on blogging since I wrote that piece…). For fun, I thought I might also toss in Adam Kotsko’s diagnosis of the medium – and perhaps pair this with something that gives a sense of the more productive cross-blog discussions that sometimes range around, although the more productive the discussion, the more difficult it is to show this briefly… I’m tempted to show them some of the results from Scott Eric Kaufman’s unintentional experiment in using the blogosphere for methodological feedback

I would also like to hand out something simple that gives people the basics about how to find academic blogs specifically, how to set up a blog if they want to give it a try, etc. I’m hoping there’s something lovely and pre-made that I can stumble across in the next 24 hours, rather than making something myself…

The session will be held in the Research Lounge (entrance across from Swanston Library in Building 8 level 5), from 3:00-4:30. There seems to be some rumour about going to the pub after…

Tracking Conversations?

I just wanted to draw attention to Adam’s technical question, posted in a comment below:

Great discussions like this one make me think there is a gap in our technology.

What I want is a metasite that only tracks conversations. It would represent the posts (including comments) relevant for any conversation sorted by time posted and post responded to, much like a threaded forum or mailing list. Does this exist? Can anyone make it?

Does anyone have a good workaround they’ve been using to keep track of this sort of thing?

To be honest, I tend to follow conversations via RSS readers and via wandering off to check out incoming links, and have therefore never looked into conversation tracking tools. On a very quick glance around (it’s amazing how motivating marking can be… ;-P), something like blogpulse’s Conversation Tracker looks designed to do something like what Adam is after.

When I entered the URL for the theoretical pessimism post at this blog, for example, it generated this. For Sinthome’s Problems of Self-Reflexivity, which was the more proximate epicentre of this discussion, it produces this. Some moments of the broader conversation drop out of these searches, perhaps because of the specific URLs with which I started – the discussions at Nate’s what in the hell… and Gabriel’s Self and World are two that come to mind…

Other ideas? How do people tend to track these things, once they start unfolding? This strikes me as the kind of thing that Kerim over at Keywords might have some thoughts on, perhaps… Or maybe GGollings or LMagee?

Spring Research Carnival

So that presentation on blogging that I mentioned a couple of weeks back, which was originally tentatively scheduled for today, has now been repackaged into something called the “Spring Research Carnival” – a set of events that will take place over the next few months, covering a range of topics (most of which are more useful, I suspect, than my own presentation will be). I’ve attached the carnival flyer for local folks who might be interested. The basic dates, times and details for these events are:

Monday, 10 September, 3-4:30 p.m.: How Will the Research Quality Framework Affect Academic Careers?

Wednesday, 19 September, 3-4:30 p.m.: Using ABS Data in Social Research

Friday, 5 October, 3-4:30 p.m.: Online Tools for Building Research Networks

All events are in the Research Lounge, which is across from Swanston Library, in Building 8, level 5 – no RSVP requested. I have the impression that something pub-ish might happen after the events.

I will be (a very small) part of the panel for the 5 October event. The organiser tells me: “You don’t need to prepare, just come and show people your blog and talk about your experience with it, pros and cons and advice for others with similar ideas.” I’m not sure about the “showing people my blog” part (and am mildly nervous that the URL for the blog has appeared on the event flyer), but I’ll cobble something together that will hopefully be of interest.

A Friend in Need

Naive netiquette question. I have a Facebook account, which I don’t use (I created it some months back for some specific reason I have now forgotten, but which didn’t involve an intention of using the account actively for the near future). I occasionally glance in to look at some of the discussions about my university, but have generally avoided learning much about the whole thing because, frankly, I have well and truly exceeded my personal quota of opportunities for online distraction for the foreseeable future. (I need something like a carbon trading scheme for units of online procrastination: disciplined people could fund their dissertations by trading their unused procrastination credits – they’d probably finish sooner and live more comfortably during their write-up – and so would the procrastinators!, having been appropriately incentivised to ration their procrastinatory impulses. Can everyone tell I’ve been sick and am still slightly delirious?)

At any rate, one consequence of not having paid any particular attention to Facebook is that I have no real idea of the internal norms and etiquette within the system. This morning, I got an email letting me know that a student has added me as a “friend”. Since I have hitherto remained friendless in Facebook, and am therefore actually reading the boilerplate text on notification mails, I noted with some amusement that Facebook: “need[s] you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with [x].”

My question is this: is it normal for students to add faculty to their “friends”? Is it normal for faculty to confirm that they are, in fact, “friends”? I normally follow an expansive “when in Rome” policy on such things – in this case, though, I haven’t read the travel guide. Perhaps more Facebook-active folks can give me a sense of their experiences?

Online Tools for Building Research Networks

So I’ve been asked, somewhat at the last minute, to present as part of a panel on “Online Tools for Building Research Networks”. Specifically, I’ve been asked to speak on “Blogging about Research”. Hmm… is that what I do here?

The other panellists won’t be bloggers (the intention of the event is to provide an overview of the various sorts of online tools, communities, and projects that might be useful to academics relatively unfamiliar with the concept of online networking tools). So I suppose I’ll need to introduce the medium in some way (and try to keep the discussion as far as possible from what I personally do… ;-P). If people have any ideas about what it might be useful to say (from experiences you have with similar presentations or discussions with non-bloggers in an academic context), I’m all ears.

The questions I get most frequently are along the lines of:

  • What the hell is a “blog”?
  • Is it, like, some kind of chat room/online dating site/bulletin board/strange arcane hobby you picked up in America, etc.?
  • How do people find you?
  • Why do people find you?
  • Aren’t you worried someone will steal your stuff?
  • Isn’t it risky, putting your draft work up where everyone can see it?
  • If you write something good on a blog, isn’t it wasted? I mean, there’s no way for people to cite blogs, is there?
  • How much time do you spend on this, anyway?
  • Wouldn’t that time be better spent doing something else?
  • How much “serious” discussion can you really do on a blog?
  • Don’t you have to know programming to do this?
  • Don’t you have to pay money to do this?
  • Will anyone pay you for doing this?
  • I looked at some blogs once – I couldn’t make any sense of the conversation! How do you follow this stuff?
  • I looked at some blogs once – I couldn’t find anything I was interested in! How do you find blogs that are relevant?
  • I posted at a blog once – they ignored me/yelled at me/banned me! How do you actually get a conversation going?

If other people can think of other questions that pop up in discussions with non-blogger academics, more than happy to take them on board.

Local folks are welcome to attend – provisionally the formal panel will take place on 31 August, from 3:00-4:30 p.m., with the session then relocating to the pub (as no doubt befits the seriousness of our topic…) – some details on times, dates, and locations to be confirmed; I’ll post an update here when things are finalised (assuming this post doesn’t get me kicked right back off the panel…).

Word of the Day

I’ve just been marking a student essay that uses a word I haven’t heard for a long time: adhocracy. I suspect I’ve been living in one of these for a while now…

Apologies for the very infrequent updates recently – it’s a very busy end to an unusually heavy term, and so posting may remain a bit light for a bit. I’m eager to get back to more regular writing, once the marking slog has ended…

Notes to Self

I recently received an urgent request from a reader for a copy of an article I had discussed on the blog some months ago. The article is in fact quite difficult to find – the reading group had trouble sourcing it – and so I was happy to help out. I offered to scan and email the article the next time I was in the office.

Now that I’m here, and having rediscovered the hiding place of this particular document – conveniently filed in a pile of completely unrelated reading materials – I see that my only copy of the text is covered with my own marginal comments. Anyone who has seen my handwriting knows that it is beyond illegible, so any substantive remarks I’ve made on the document are probably quite safe from being deciphered. What is legible, unfortunately, is an embarrassing number of impatient and exasperated ventings, including the occasional “No!”, the periodic melodramatic “sigh”, and one off-kilter smiley face… While this text admittedly contains nothing as bizarre as the marginalia for my copy of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I nevertheless find myself blushing at the thought that I have committed to passing on to someone else a text annotated with my own temperamental outbursts, interspersed with illegible “substantive” scrawlings that read to me now rather like I’ve been caught in the act of pacing around like a mad person, ranting at the absent author…

The things we assume no one will see…