Unrequired Writing

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.

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6 Responses to Unrequired Writing

  1. I have toyed with in the past with a research blog during my Masters and while it was useful in some regards, I didn’t stick with it. I’ve had this unease about the whole process of posting my research ideas online in any substantial form. Part of this is an anxiety about the value of blogging in academia and it’s relationship with traditional forms of publishing, which is a point you bring up.

    If a blog is place to further research, what happens when you want to publish a blog post that fits the genre of an article, especially when they have copyright stipulations like “Submission of an original manuscript to the Journal will be taken to mean that it represents original work not previously published”. Does this mean you should not write blogs posts in the style of a journal article? If so, what then is the style of a valuable academic blog post if it attempts to steer clear of being an article?

    Does Fitzpatrick address this elsewhere in her book?

  2. duttpuneet says:

    Blogs change the image of what we have of traditional scholarship, and now it’s a matter of having to learn and utilize other skills in this field, and not relying on things to stay the same. Blog posts may not appear to be like any traditional scholarly article, but they do attempt to serve the same function, although only partially. So I do agree with what you wrote about Maitzen, that “tenure and promotion committees [should] take a more active role in considering blogs as a way to contextualize research.” Often, it is a space to discuss, be provided with additional information or receive help from others. In this way, perhaps the ‘others’ that have always existed in scholarship are more recognized for their help, or at least they’re more visible. That may be a good or a bad thing for a researcher. Another consideration that might soothe the fear of being ‘scooped’ — exclusive rights versus open access — is that perhaps the author must consider that the information they’re formulating and disseminating online will only be a partial fragment of a work in progress. The entire research will not divulged online, so this collaborative atmosphere and community does get created for everyone’s mutal benefit.

  3. julie.morrissy says:

    I think the issue is that blogging lies in a liminal space between journal-style publishing and ideas that are not fully formed. The problem then is how to instil legitimacy in a blog post, without making it too legitimate! What I mean by that is, it is important that scholarly blogs explore ideas with the weight and attention they deserve in order for the blog to have authority; however, the idea cannot be formed to an extent that would preclude it from being published. This is a tricky line to walk, but I think it can be done. My impression is that scholarly blogging is more associated with the early processes of forming ideas, so in that sense maybe would not interfere with publication guidelines?

  4. clairefarley says:

    I agree that blogging can be a meaningful part of academic scholarship. I often consider the relevance of the scholarship I pursue to the wider cultural audience. I think that this is broadly felt by scholars in the humanities and it is our obligation to connect our research goals concretely with the communities and movements that they affect and reflect. This seems to be what Liana Silva is suggesting is necessary in what she calls “minority scholarship” but I think this is relevant to all scholarship. It is important to have our work seen not just as “a bullet on a CV” or to promote ourselves in the increasingly “utilitarian” job market, but because our work is relevant to broader audiences than academic journals reach and should be made available to these audiences.

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