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Sunday, 12 February 2006


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» Anonymity in the Academic Blogosphere from BlogHer [beta]
Why do so many academics blog anonymously? And why are so many of the anonymous ones women? Scott Kaufman of Acephalous blogged recently about this phenomenon: There are two distinct academic Blogistans. This blog represents the more scholarly and less [Read More]


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Belle Lettre

You already know why I blog anonymously, but I'll also just point out that from what I've observed, blogs that are more "personal" in nature (without devolving into LJ or Xanga solipsistic "all me, all the time") are much more dangerous to operate. Yet, why can we not admit that all off-duty time is not your own? That you will be judged by the words you write about yourself can be considered by the tenure committee, no matter how brave you were for surviving cancer/heartbreak/dysfunctional upbringing? Except for Michael Berube, who writes lovingly and sensitively about his son, I know of very few bloggers writing under their own name who go into such personal detail. If you do, as I sometimes do, it's probably best to leave that out.

Also, it depends on how small your commuity is and how conservative your field. In my field, it's rare to see an untenured junior faculty blog or do any other activity (besides serving on committees or other school-related service) that would indicate that they're not working on their tenure piece. Check out "Juan Non-Volokh", presumably a male, over at the Volokh Conspiracy ( I imagine that for people who run in very small circles, it's not good to blog about one's political opinions, religious beliefs, or personal life. You don't want a hiring committee or tenure committee knowing that much about you.

Your blog is as you say, mostly academic--which is also the only place some junior faculty feel slightly safe blogging. Specialty topic law blogs feel most academic and non-time wasting, although even there the junior faculty are not safe--even if they don't say who they vote for or their relationship status.

Finally, not all bloggers are anonymous all the time. I chose to write a blog that wasn't pure law--there are plenty out there that do it better anyway. I wanted to write about my relationship with the law, which is inherently personal and is analysis _plus_ opinion and commentary. If it were pure law, I might be less reluctant about blogging under my own name, but it wouldn't be nearly as fun to write, wouldn't be as accessible to a wider general audience of non-lawyers (most of my friends), and wouldn't give me a venue for self-reflection and yes, narcissistic writing. But when I do write purely about about the law under my real name (you know, every other waking moment of my life) I have my own scholarship and at least 15/75 law blogs I cruise to post comments/send hat tip articles to. I can use my pseudonym to blow off steam/write pure opinion and lay the groundwork for future writing I'll do under my own name in articles or around the net. That's the benefit of having two identities.

Scott Eric Kaufman

BL, I should've said something like "Many of you have already written mission statements which I've read and taken deadly seriously." I don't mean to make people repeat anything here. That's cruel and unnecessary and makes me look truly lazy. I've compiled a list of Declarations of Anonymity, and the case is in favor is intelligently argued and convincing. And yes I can admit that without regretting my own decision to step out of the shadows . . . but only because I'm of the "No Regrets Even If You Ought To Have 'Em" schoool. It's not the best, or good, or even almost mediocre school . . . but it's the one I belong to now. I should've thought through things more carefully when it began, but now I can only make the best of what I've done . . .

. . . which despite all these ellipses ain't half bad all things considered.


I'm a grad student who blogged semi-anonymously for a year before putting my site on hold so that I could finish my dissertation. I'm also a lurker here, popping my head out of the bushes for the first time (Hi, Scott! I admire your work).

I fall into the second category of bloggers you described. My blog was and is largely about liberal politics and media criticism; but I ran some fun and somewhat immature features like photo-caption contests, and it didn't seem smart to attach my full, google-able name to my site just before heading out on the market.

What I find interesting are the people like you -- the first category of serious academic bloggers -- because I think that you're carrying the torch of blogging into academe. It's a very smart thing to do -- I have no doubt that this blog will help you when you go on the market. I have many doubts that adding my blog to my own CV would do the same.

None of this, of course, addresses the gender discrepancy you've noted. I hope that it is helpful nonetheless. Good luck with your essay, and keep up the good work.

Belle Lettre

Re: gender disparity. I touched on that on my own blog, but I confess I'm skirting the issue. I honestly can't say whether it's my "womanness" that makes me use my blog as an outlet, get personal, _share_, establish emotional intimacy with my readers. You're the one doing research on the concept of Darwinism, evolutionary psychology, et al. I can say that it was important to me to establish a not-purely-about-the-law blog though. No reason for it, other than I wanted it to reflect all of me, but I didn't want all of me to be Googable.

There's been an explosion of academic law blogs in the past year, individual and group, and there are over 200 law bloggers--and most of them are men. Christine Hurt at the Conglomerate (a business law blawg) puts it this way: there are fewer female law professors. Hence, fewer female law bloggers. End of story.

That makes sense, one gender disparity leads to another. But that still doesn't answer your question of why if women blog, they choose to remain anonymous. After all, blogging is a very nice way to build a community, make conferences more pleasant, network. But it's not always so welcoming. Is it that the pure academic blog somewhat an unsatisfying medium for female professors? Or is it just that blogging under one's name is dangerous enough activity, and for women professors they need as few "negatives" (to quote Tribble) as possible? For one thing, a lot of female academics like to bitch about students, balancing work and family, sexism in the academy. You share stories about the trenches, get feedback and support from fellow females and mothers--but it's not something you want your name attached to. is a great example of a group blog where the law professors comment on race, politics, and the academy--with the benefit of tenure. For the untenured who want to complain about institutional racism or how their Dean is demanding that they "represent" the diversity of the school by serving on too many committees, there's an anonymous "Ask Mom" function. Maybe anonymous academic blogging with its blogrolls and comments are just another giant sounding board where you can Ask Mom for sympathy and advice.


Well, I was blithely out for the first ten or so months, then lo and behold! the chair of the cultural studies dept at Australia's most pompous university wrote in a national broadsheet that my blog was the work of a loudmouthed, ignorant fool. Lesson: for each of the nice friendly commenters there are at least nine silent haters. You can't control how egregiously you may be misread. Masked blogging is better.

I must also say, Scott, that this post of yours is quite insulting about styles of blogging you believe are less scholarly, and thus I suppose worth while, than your own. I don't imagine you mean any harm, but there it is. I certainly don't wish you any. But one of the many people who practice this non-scholarly blogging you speak of may read this and feel slighted.

New Kid on the Hallway

Interesting definition of "serious" above - that "serious" blogging = "academic" blogging.

Anyway, you may well have found statements about this topic somewhere in my archives, but for the record: I blog anonymously because I'm more interested in exploring the life/culture of being an academic than producing more academic writing, and I feel most comfortable doing that in a medium that isn't immediately linked to my professional persona. That is, I blog to be part of a community of (largely) junior faculty (and various other cool people!) who are going through similar things to what I'm going through, and with whom I can whine and moan and express my fears/anxieties/frustrations about this life without having it affect my professional image. I comment a lot so I'm quite sure there are people out there who've figured out where/who I "really" am, but that doesn't bother me, because that knowledge doesn't show up on Google. (I frequently out myself to other bloggers in e-mail, too.) If I were to blog under my own name, I'd feel a much greater pressure to produce "impressive," scholarly/intellectual posts, which would turn the blog into work rather than fun. (For me, it's definitely recreation, not work. Strangely enough, commentary on teaching and academia in general fit the category of recreation, whereas my specific research interests do not.) And I'd feel obligated to suppress the anxieties, because to many people (tenure evaluators?) those look like confirmations of incompetence. If I were outed, I don't think it would be the end of the world (I try not to write anything that would torpedo me if it got attached to my name), and I'd probably continue for a while and see how it went, but I'd also possibly delete some stuff and stop blogging about some stuff.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Nice to meet you, Matt. You're more than welcome to de-lurk whenever you feel I'm in need of a stern word . . . or to merely say "Hi!"

Laura, obviously I meant no ill-intent, which is why I remained value-neutral in my description: "academic blogs" vs. "personal blogs of academics." I also characterized the latter communitarian bloggers as belonging to a "vibrant community of shared professional and extra-curricular interests," and I'm not sure why someone would feel that characterization slights them. But if it does, I don't mean it to; I only mean to draw a distinction between the blogs which are primarly outlets and those which are primarily the personal outlets of scholars. It strikes me as an important one. That said, New Kid is certainly correct to deny the validity of the "serious blogging = academic blogging" distinction I intimated above. I think the communitarian group the more "serious bloggers," since what they do fulfills the "blog" quotient of "academic blog" more fully. (I've written up a bit on the number of medieval bloggers, which strikes me as a function of the scarcity of individual medievalists on any given campus working coupled with the bonding power that is Kalamazoo.)

BL: But it's not always so welcoming. Is it that the pure academic blog somewhat an unsatisfying medium for female professors? Or is it just that blogging under one's name is dangerous enough activity, and for women professors they need as few "negatives" (to quote Tribble) as possible?

I can't speak to the first question, only speculate. (One of the reasons I asked for feedback.) I also don't want to essentialize along gender lines, which is why I find your second question more to my point. I certainly think the structural inequalities factor into the decision to remain anonymous. But then there are bloggers like New Kid who, I think, falls under the category of "serious blogger" I outlined earlier in this comment. (I also find it interesting that NK thinks the majority of anonymous bloggers junior faculty. I know a number of the prominent ones are, but I suppose I thought, without crunching numbers I'm not certain to crunch, that the majority would've graduate students. I'm most certainly wrong about that.)

New Kid, thanks for reading, first, and second, thanks for dropping by and stating your reasons for blogging anonymously. I have been reading you for quite some time, so I've read some of this before, but I appreciate the codified version you produce here. One thing I haven't really considered is that there's a subterranean non-anonymity to the anonymous corners of Blogistan, even though when I blogged anonymously a number of people knew who I was (and even though I currently know who many anonymous bloggers and commenters are). The thought just hadn't occurred to me, I suppose, because I've been more focused on the "ben wolfsons," i.e. those who claim to not be who I initially thought they were, as if one day "Adam Kotsko" came out and said "Oh, by the way, I'm Stan!"


I think this is interesting but also find it puzzling and rather at odds with my own experience as an academic blogger who blogs under her own name. Blogging is an extension of my reading and thinking. It is a site for political work. And, I also blog about my everyday life. So, some of the distinctions that you invoke don't fit for me.


Hmmm...I blog under my own name on a mix of academic, political, and personal subjects. Sometimes I just blog nonsense too. I'm happy to tell you more if you want to know more...

Scott Eric Kaufman

Rebecca, I'd love to.

Jodi, I think one difference is that, as a political scientist, many of the topics informerly considered verboten by blogging scholars in other disciplines is fair game in yours. After all, you're expected to think about politics in fora of various publicities. As a future English professor, a full airing of my politics could be held against me, which is why I stick to those particular to my field (even if they don't seem so, like last week's New Left kerfuffle). Also, as I noted, um . . . somewhere, either in the original post or a response, I know these categories are permeable, but I'm thinking about them in terms of speciation, i.e. while there are no such things as species, just individual blips on a continuum, certain blips are more this while others are more that. Plus, your personal writing occupies very little space, percentage-wise, on your blog. You seem to post short updates of major events in your life, saving the longer posts for academic discussions. I think the obverse is true on many communitarian blogs: short indications of scholarly work, substantial posts about academic life. Again, I'm generalizing here, but I don't think I'm overgeneralizing, no?

N. Pepperell

I'm not sure whether you're more interested in why academics might blog anonymously, or why there is a gender disparity in those who do? Personally, even before including my name explicitly on my blog posts, I've always made it possible for someone to figure out who I am, if they're particularly curious. Not posting under my full name, though, is a deliberate decision not to make my gender immediately obvious (though it's easy for someone to poke a bit and look up, and I've always been aware that the simple act of obscuring my gender likely already implies that I am female...). For me, this is an issue of capitalising on some of the advantages of internet interaction, over face-to-face communication: when I'm speaking on academic subjects, I would prefer that people engage first and foremost with my arguments. When I have an ongoing discussion with someone (face-to-face or on the net), this generally isn't a problem. For one-off encounters, it sometimes can be.

My idiosyncratic motives aside, I wonder if the more general issue of gender inequity in anonymous academic blogging might relate to the perception that - for all bloggers - blogging represents a potential blurring of public and private spheres. Much of the anxiety about whether it is appropriate for academic to blog, and whether it is safe for any untenured academic to blog under their own name, seems to me to relate to this underlying fear. With this fear so explicit, I suppose it seems... culturally rational to me that many female academics, who may already be managing professional questions about their ability to separate public and private spheres (I assume I'm not the only female academic who has had to field questions, at a job interview, about whether she could balance her work and family responsibilities...), might be more likely to decide not to complicate this situation further by courting new public-private anxieties by blogging under their own names...


What do you do, under that distinction, with people who post one day about their children and the next day about Maria Edgeworth's educaational theories?

Scott Eric Kaufman

Laura, the distinction is, on the one hand, obvious, but the on the other, difficult to quantify. I've settle, for the moment, on an notion of primary audience as my discriminative principle. Does the blogger imagine his or her audience to be more interested in what is said about the personal life of an academic (with concomitant discussions of the professional as it impacts the personal) or academic matters filtered through a uniquely personal style. To use your example:

Does your hypothetical bloggers discuss their children the way other parents, even academic parents, do; or do they do the way, to take a current example, Berube discusses Jamie as an alternative, and yes, personal, inroad into a discussion of disability studies? The difference, I'm increasingly coming to believe, lies in the way bloggers orient themselves toward their audiences. The larger the audience, the less likely a blogger (shy of becoming a cult personality) is to write about their life unframed by scholarly issues. This isn't always the case, and introducing Dr. B. into the discussion complicates this; but then again, she's the exception, not the rule. Same thing with pre-CR, pre-Valve John & Belle . . . but you'll see the progression there, from the well-known communitarian blog to the establishment of groups blogs devoted to the issues which would've, earlier, oddly housed themselves between discussions of comic books and arcane kitchen experiments.

Now, on the one hand (I have fourteen or so hands in this comment, I think, but bear with me), that extreme informality was one of the charms of a blog: you never know what to expect, could be a chili with vanilla beans and mushroom stalks, could be a disquisition on Theory as a pufferfish, &c. It created an eclectic audience and fostered the creation of rich communities of random stumblers. But of late I've seen increasing ghettoization, such that academic circles are largely composed of academics, even if they're discussing their lives instead of their work. Memes accelerate the "getting-to-know-you" and people begin to write less frequently about the issues which surround their work and more like friends who don't talk about work, except to complain about it, when they're not on the job. You don't have many people like Holbo and Waring and Kotsko cropping up anymore, and I think it's because the field of possibilities has some paths worn into it now. That's normal. (As someone who has always been fascinated by the behavior of pedestrians, the seemingly innate need to carve a new path between the new paths previously carved, to create shortcuts from one shortcut to another, this metaphor appeals to me.) I seem to have lost my other hand, but let me continue:

I don't value one of these paths over the other; I only want to point to the fact of their difference, much like people here and on their own blogs have. (BL, for example, has another strong post on the matter up.) I think the reasons for remaining anonymous and fostering the sorts of (quasi-)anonymous relationships are fundamentally sound and intrinsically valuable; sure, it's not what I do, but to be frank, I often wish it was. When I sit there staring at the fits-and-starts I've written at odd hours, be they in the margins of an essay, a scrap of paper on my desk or an email I've sent to myself, when I stare at the blank screen before me I often wish I had the kind of comraderie that others seem to, if only because it would allow me post about what happened to me that day in a straightforward, please-commiserate-with-me way. (Not that that is what this group of bloggers does, mind you, but on the days I despair of posting, the days when nothing strikes me as worthwhile, I usually want commiseration.) In short, I don't want to place one model of blogging over another so much as describe their differences, both in form and function, in useful ways for academics who aren't familiar with blogs.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Oops, N. Pepperell, I missed your comment there. I've got to run now, but I don't want you to think I'm ignoring you. I'll respond when I return.

Rich Puchalsky

"But of late I've seen increasing ghettoization, such that academic circles are largely composed of academics, even if they're discussing their lives instead of their work."

Really? You undoubtedly read more widely than I do, but my intuition is that academics who can write clearly have large and growing non-academic audiences. Sure, if you define anything like Pharyngula as the product of a cult personality (I prefer culture hero) then you can exclude them in some way, but should you? They probably represent a large part of the total hits on academic blogs.

Sure, there are others that are almost wholly populated by academics, because they want it that way. Look at the Theory-heavy blogs, for instance.

Belle Lettre

This is such a rich and wonderful comment thread--

I'm particularly intrigued by New Kid's and N. Pepperell's comments. Blogging "seriously" turns fun into work, and whether or not you blog seriously or use your personal life as a way to illustrate academic themes, there will always be that public/private tension. For female academics, this is still a sensitive issue. I use my blog and personal experiences to frame Serious Academic Arguments about gender politics, cultural relativism, identity politics, racial discrimination and hate speech/crimes. And sometimes I just like to talk about how weird and funny my family is. David Sedaris ain't got nothin on me. But even if I didn't write purely personal posts (i.e., no tie-in to serious academic discussion), I doubt hiring committees would like the fact that I seem to have "baggage" or make no apparent distinction between my professional role and how that role impacts my personal life. Blah blah, the personal is the political. It's hard writing about gender/institutional politics in the abstract if you feel yourself caught in the middle of it or directly affected by it--and I don't think you should think of such things as "abstract" and "removed." Talking about my childcare demands helps me get through the day, and to me establishes one of my important academic memes of gender disparity in the ivory tower--which is, by they way, one of my areas of research. Work and life are hard to separate.


For what it's worth, and I've recently reflected briefly on the matter, I early on decided that Posthegemony should be a "research" blog. That was partly a matter of my own taste--the kinds of blogs I like to read.

But I also think that mixing the personal and the intellectual in a public forum is very tricky. Bérubé is very much an exception. And there are structural reasons for this.

The divide you outline: between personal blogs, often anonymous, and research blogs, usually not, is driven by the structure and expectations of the academy: the job market, tenure, etc. And it's also understandable that, at least in this transitional phase, this divide will be wider than it once was (when there were fewer blog readers) and perhaps also than it may be in the future (when blogs are more familiar and so acceptable within the academy).

At the same time, I appreciate the ways in which a blog allows a latitude that other fora don't. I often, for instance, write beyond my nominal disciplinary expertise. And I try at least to write in a format that is relatively accessible, if only perhaps to those who have a prior interest in the concepts I'm discussing.

NB I think both types of blogs foster camaraderie, if in different ways. And that both types of blogs are usually motivated by a desire to go beyond the forms of sociability and discourse usually encouraged by the institution.


I blog pseudonymously, but it wouldn’t be terribly hard to identify me. I don’t obscure much about my personal or academic life, both of which contain things that are, if not unique, then at least unusual. (Fucking cancer.) I can’t really say that I use a pseudonym to protect the inviolability of my name, in the hopes that prospective employers can only google “good” stuff I’ve said and done. (I research “bad” stuff--and there are pages and pages of proof to be googled--so my job hunt will be a challenge regardless.)

What I like about the pseudonym is that it allows me to create a writing persona outside my academic one. On my blog, I can write about anything: tales of motherhood and widowhood; insights on popular culture; reflections on teaching and scholarship; political rants; booze recipes. My thoughts needn’t be well-developed. My prose needn’t be well-formed. The informal writing of the blog has freed me from the rigorous expectations of academic writing. The latter is rigor I’ve excelled at, I suppose, but it’s nice to get away from nonetheless. The blog has allowed me to reconnect with the joy of writing, something graduate school and the dissertation have dampened. By blogging pseudonymously, I feel less pressure to maintain that academic persona, although I’d like to think that from time-to-time I still say smart “serious” things.

Ray Davis

I use my real name (insofar as it's real), but I'm often told that people have no idea about my real life (insofar as it's real), even though I think of myself as pretty grotesquely open. (As in the Eraserhead baby.) I don't know what to make of that, but I disagree with you that there are no new kids on the block -- in fact, you still seem like a new kid on the block to me, bubbalah.

Lots of sensible women online, academic or non-academic, stay pseudonymous. That was true even before the web. Too many mash notes, too many stalkers, too much monitoring, too many annoyances if their name and picture are available. It makes me sad, but I sure can't blame 'em.

La Lecturess

I'm late to this particular party (and I try NEVER to be late to a party!), but I might as well add my $0.02. I'm pseudonymous largely because I'm on the job market and still feel myself to be in a relatively vulnerable position. I would probably still be pseudonymous as a junior prof (I want the license, after all, to bitch about my students), but under those circumstances I'd be less scrupulous about disguising my identity.

As it is, I assume that any regular readers know more or less what my period is, and probably what city I live in, but I've been careful not to use any terms that would make those things immediately obvious (or Googleable). Until last month, I wasn't even listed on my department's website (and the school I teach at is, at any rate, in a different city from the one I live in), so I felt pretty confident in my unidentifiability.

Now that I think about it, however, I wonder whether part of my pseudonymity isn't also the result of being reluctant to speak as an AUTHORITY on questions of larger academic interest--I suspect that my insistant use of the first-person singular is a way of particularizing rather than universalizing my experience; I wouldn't say that that's a "female" trait, per se, but I imagine that it IS a trait typical of those who feel themselves to be in a subordinate or less powerful position, as I am, as both a non-tenure-track faculty member and as someone still feeling her way toward scholarly confidence in her own field of specialization.

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