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Sunday, 07 January 2007

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The Constructivist

How about that "speed of meme" thing you did (and which I'm refusing to participate in until I'm the farthest outlier on your chart)? Have you processed that yet?

I raised a question about the evolution/genealogy of evolutionary discourse over at CitizenSE. Hope it provides food for thought as you re-enter the finishing the damn dissertation phase of your writing. (You need to have that attitude to actally finish it, I've found.)

Mike S

Scott, I find it interesting that blogs are not to be mentioned on a CV. This, at least symbolically, seems to undermine or perhaps contradict some of what you've been saying the last couple weeks about blogging's important role in your "intellectual and professional development." Do you think the day could arrive when blogging indeed would warrant inclusion on one's CV? Or to put it differently, could the fact that you are not only promising young scholar Scott Kaufman but also blogging extraordinaire Acephalous entail any sort of advantage career-wise?

Flavia

I don't have any problem with making a distinction between "academic blogs" and "academics who blog" (and my own clearly falls into the latter category, as do those of most of the bloggers I read)--but surely there are some that blur that boundary. I don't blog about my research because I'm pseudonymous (and I rarely write about *other* Renaissance topics because I tend only to be thinking or reading about whatever it is that I'm researching), but I know bloggers who write sometimes about their kids, sometimes about their teaching, and sometimes about recent works in their field and theoretical questions they're encountering. I'm curious, then, how you define the difference between the two.

(It was great meeting you, BTW.)

Joseph Kugelmass

I think the curiously de-contextualized nature of responses to blog posts is part of what makes bloggers nicer. We see these bits of text floating our way, already compliments because they respond to our own thinking, and detached from any vision of a red face or a shaking fist. Thus, as cordial bloggers, we are increasingly trained to regard comments as things-in-themselves, and not as signs of a possible impending conflict between two people (I suppose this happens once we've resolved not to feed trolls or flame wars, which is the negative possibility of denatured text).

This, it seems to me, is why one finds so many comment threads leading to a productive or at least satisfying conclusion; the very qualities that make the medium so alienating also make it an object lesson in answering provocation with politeness.

N. Pepperell

I definitely seen the decontextualised thing go both ways... I've wondered a bit about the delicate balance required to maintain a consistent level of civil, productive discourse on an academic blog - the "host" can do a lot to set a tone, as can a community of regular commenters, but the public nature of the discussion still makes blog discussion an intrinsically delicate environment...

On the "hard" distinction between academics-who-blog and academic blogs: I've made this distinction often myself, and my blog certainly started as a purely academic blog, with no intention of using the medium more informally. But my writing habits have changed over time - in two contradictory directions: first, in that I now place much higher-level theoretical content on the blog than I originally intended, and second, in that I put a fair amount of frivolous and kvetchy material up, as well. These two trends are related, in that both reflect aspects of my intellectual "voice" that have no easy expression in my current workplace - and therefore have slowly found an outlet for expression in the blog.

The end result is something that hopefully doesn't present my intellectual work in too bad a light, but is no longer neutral in the ways most CV-style professional self-presentation would be. I'm in a stage where this doesn't bother me - but perhaps I'll live to regret that... ;-P I do consider it a risk, but also think that - on a personal level, and thinking of the blog as a tool and a sort of crucible in which I'm currently developing my own concepts - I'm not sure the blog would be as effective for me as an intellectual tool, if I couldn't also use it for less serious forms of expression...

George

I, too, would like more discussion of the distinction between "academics who blog" and "academic blogs."

Adam Kotsko

I actually started a new blog partly in the hopes of keeping it free of all meta-blogging.

Scott Eric Kaufman

How about that "speed of meme" thing you did (and which I'm refusing to participate in until I'm the farthest outlier on your chart)? Have you processed that yet?

Still working on bringing that to a satisfying conclusion. Couldn't in time for the MLA, but now that I'm only working on three projects concurrently -- we'll see.

This, at least symbolically, seems to undermine or perhaps contradict some of what you've been saying the last couple weeks about blogging's important role in your "intellectual and professional development."

I don't think it contravenes what I've written -- it merely points to the current status (and, perhaps, preferable) status of blogs on the academic hierarchy. Some departments may like the attention prominent bloggers bring -- others, like my current one, don't. Not because of anything I've said, only because of the particular management culture it's cultivating. For instance, I've avoided mentioning my home department after I was informed that Google searches for it were turning up Acephalous fourth or fifth. I've worked my way down to twenty-something, but that's still too high for some people's tastes.

This isn't to say I don't believe blogging's played a key role in my personal and professional development -- only that it's not one I feel comfortable acknowledging, except obliquely, via MLA presentations, the talks I've been asked to give through it, &c.

I'm curious, then, how you define the difference between the two.

First, it was great meeting you too, Flavia. I only wish we hadn't been sequestered on different ends of the table. One day I'll write about how John & Belle and your old site were my introductions into blogging.

As for the distinction, I think it's one that will, increasingly, have to be more rigorously enforced on the "academic blogging" side. My personal life appears on Acephalous sometimes, but never directly; it never appears on the Valve, though, unless I'm talking about seminars I've taken or papers I've delievered, both of which are, obviously, professional in the broad sense. But I do think this distinction needs to be thought about more in ways not designed to avoid the ire that sometimes accompanies such conversations. To this end, I think many of the players having met really helps, since we're less likely to think the worst of each other when we remember how personable we all are. (Such, at least, is my hope.)

I'll respond to Joe and N.P. shortly.

Anthony Paul Smith

If it makes you feel better I always assumed the nice guy thing was a ploy.

Flavia

Actually, the designation I prefer for my particular blog-genre is "academic life" or "academic lives"; that's the label I've been given at the History News Network blogroll, and it seems to me an accurate description.

"Academics who blog" is a much broader and hence unhelpful category (blog about what? academia? fishing? politics? how adorable their cats are?)--unless its sole function is to distinguish such blogs from the real academic ones.

ben wolfson

You know, it's possible that, while you're an asshole, you blog even more asshole. Or that since your blog is resolutely "academic blog" and not "blog by academic", less determinate personality of any sort comes through, and then when you meet people, especially for the first time, you're on generally good behavior (not having been born in a barn), and they come to the erroneous conclusion that you're nice.

Rich Puchalsky

"Less determinate personality of any sort comes through". Inability to read is a tragedy. And the "when you meet people [...] you're on good behavior" theory -- well, Jackmormon gives a one-liner about a large number of people met, and only one of them is described with that horrible (in my opinion) word "nice". As for the first, yes, that is always a possibility; projection is also a possibility.

Scott mischaracterizes his blog with the "academic blogs" vs "academics who blog" binary. Look at the first two categories of posts in his self-selected "best of acephalous" list, or, for that matter, the tone of his Valve posts. Whether the narrator of his posts has anything like what Scott might think of as his real personality is undeterminable, but that narrator certainly does have a literary personality and a set of associated life events. It's blogging about academic subjects through a set of journalist / essayist techniques for injecting a version of oneself into the material in order to hold reader interest.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Flavia: I don't mean to distinguish between "real academic blogs" and those of "academics who blog" so much as between blogs-devoted-to-matters-academic and those in which academics' lives intrude. As Rich noted, Acephalous belongs to the "academics who blog" category, while the Valve -- his exceptions notwithstanding -- belongs to the "academic blog" category. Generally speaking, though, the former isn't meant to be pejorative, more along the lines of "intelligent commentary on life by academics." Sure, you have some bleed -- you should, actually -- but for professional reasons, life and work need not intertwine. I know the many objections to this, but I'm thinking practically here, not reasonably.

And, for the record, I don't consider "nice" an insult, not really. I'm a generally genial guy, so long as no one mentions Lacan.

Rich Puchalsky

I think that your blog posts at the Valve still fall into a hybrid category, Scott. Looking at your five most recent non-MLA (which might be assumed to bring up more personal chat) Valve posts:

How to Open an Academic Essay, Part VIII: Ekphrasis -- "Unaware of the cumulonimbus cabal overhead, Scott slips into an overlarge black leather chair and prepares to study."

Reverse-Engineering Other People’s Prompts: A Contest -- "Sadly, I’m one of the only people capable of answering those questions."

What You/They Expect of Me/Us; or, Unquaking in My Boots, for the Moment -- "Like yours, my graduate experience is singular, determined by the temperament of my advisor and committee."

Longer Than I Don’t Remember: Idiosyncratic Periodization for Fun and Profit -- "How else to account for the explosion of idiosyncratic periodization I’ve encountered this week?"

All in All, a Decent Close-Reading of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” -- "'Are you mocking the deaf?'"

If the criterion for academics who blog vs academic blogs is "your life intrudes", then you are always an academic who blogs. But I don't think that this is necessarily a useful distinction, which is why I'm still arguing with you about what you write.

In general, I think that the most successful blogs by academics are hybrids. I can only speculate from my own preferences, but the ones that don't talk about their work don't hold my interest; the ones that only talk about their work are nearly nonexistent in the literary fields (they are more common in science), but also fail to hold my interest. Mostly, this successful hybridity seems to me to be permitted by choice of technique or style; the best academic bloggers seem to me to be essayists, not memoirists, gossipers, or lecturers.

ben wolfson

Yer so nice, Rich.

Matt

Ben Wolfson..curing megalomaniacs one blog-comment at a time.

Jonathan Dresner

My cv has a whole page devoted to blogging, blog carnivals, HNN pieces, etc.

We're kind of past the point where putting my syllabi up on my faculty website was enough to distinguish me, in terms of technical expertise, from the "madding crowd," and I'm not really making that argument anyway. But the blogging is important to me professionally: it's part of my teaching, part of my faculty development, part of my service to the institution and profession, and is an aid to my research. It doesn't fit neatly into a tenure dossier checkbox, but it belongs on the cv nonetheless.

I think that it's still premature to codify how blogging will be truly professionalized, and I share Scott's concern that "standards" could stultify the genre, but I also find the inability of most faculty to even begin to consider the question deeply frustrating.

Gwynn Dujardin

Hi,

Thanks for your comment today at la Jardiniere: you and your perspective on blogging -- one which I favor, wholeheartedly (you'll see) -- are on my blog list. . .

One thing I will air here: I'm really quite taken by the passion with which people have responded to my lousy question. In the end, I'm glad I asked it lousily. For one thing, I got the chance for a "do-over" online. But it's shaking a lot out among us. . .

Anyhoo -- no time. More soon! Thanks again.

Best,

Gwynn

Joseph Kugelmass

I think there is an emerging distinction between personal and academic blogs, and it is one of great significance, because these are the only two types of blogs likely to be truly universal. Everyone has some purchase on the humanities, and everyone is interested in other people's lives.

Thinking about the distinction between these two types (a more general way of thinking about academic blogging versus "academics who blog") has led me to want to re-frame the binary. There are personal blogs, and there are critical blogs that deal with various cultural and political phenomena (including, often, personal experiences considered critically).

My full response is here.

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