In reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s chapter on authorship from her book “Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy”, I was particularly interested in her observation that “[scholars] cling to a profound individualism in thinking about scholarly activity.” It is understandable that a professional who is being assessed on his/her intellectual output or contribution to a field would have an instinct to protect his/her ideas – even the paranoia Fitzpatrick notes about ideas being “scooped” is reasonable; however, the element of this discussion that sparks my interest is the role of blogging in the academic sphere. In a profession based so firmly around ideas and authorship, is there room for a open space where no formal, professional “credit” is given?
In considering this question, I came across Liana Silva’s 2012 article in The Guardian about academic blogging. The article was written in response to a controversial blog post about black studies as a discipline. I am not going to get into the arguments in relation to that topic; however, the incident led to a response from many academics about the value of blogging in general. Silva states “for minority scholars, such as myself, blogging is not just a bullet point on a CV; it is an intrinsic part of what my research is about: a commitment to making the struggles, achievements and contradictions of African Americans, Puerto Ricans or women visible to the broader population.” Much of the commentary around academic blogging seems to be around issues of assessment and credit in terms of tenure committees. While I agree that online activity such as blogging should be acknowledged and rewarded in a professional sense, Silva’s point about how blogging opens up a discursive space, and further, has the potential to democratise that space, is also crucial to any conversation about the relevance of blogging.
Rohan Maitzen says in her post on Open Letters Monthly “[the reason scholars] do research and publish it in the first place [is] to advance or improve a conversation–then writing online makes perfect sense. I also stressed that for me, the real benefits are intellectual.” In this sense, Maitzen sees blogging as a way to inject life into her research and to generate further conversation. Scholarly work is ultimately about communication. Thus, it makes perfect sense for scholars to use every available avenue at their disposal to break down any boundaries associated with that communication. Maitzen calls for tenure and promotion committees to take a more active role in considering blogs as a way to contextualize research. She also deems blogging to be part of her “real work”, rather than a casual pastime. As Jason B. Jones, and George H. Williams, the editors of ProfHacker, point out in their article on The Chronicle of Higher Education “Blogging is something other than ‘here are some thoughts that aren’t long enough to go somewhere else and are too long for Twitter.” Blogging can be a meaningful part of academic authorship. When scholarly blogging is undertaken in furtherance of research goals, it serves to flesh out areas of interest by accommodating a broad space for conversation. Hopefully, such conversations can have a beneficial impact on any resulting research, as well as potentially exposing that research to a wider, more varied audience.