Meet the Bloggers: Blogging and the Future of Academia

Organizer: Scott Eric Kaufman

In his June 6, 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education article on academic blogging, David Glenn waxed skeptical about its future, noting that many "academic bloggers worry that the medium smells faddish, ephemeral." Two years later, The Chronicle established a special section of "Careers" devoted to "Links to Academic Blogs." What happened in the intervening months was nothing short of an explosion in the number, the quality and public attention brought to bear on academic blogs. The 2005 MLA convention featured four panels which addressed this phenomenon. Each treated blogging as a stable genre with the potential to evolve into a professional or pedagogical asset, but they could only speculate as to what prominent bloggers would do. This proposed panel differs from those in that it will feature four of the most prominent academic bloggers discussing a future they possess the power and influence to shape. The bloggers in question, followed by their rank in "The Truth Laid Bear" ecosystem of all (not merely academic) blogs are: John Holbo (#36), Tedra S. Osell (#148), Michael Berube (#198), and Scott Eric Kaufman (#1502).

Michael Berube's "Instantaneous Citation Index" moves beyond current conversations about "online scholarly communities" to address the mechanisms of citation and influence-tracking among academic bloggers. His paper argues that insofar as services like Technorati and Google allow blogging scholars to determine the issues commanding the attention of their peers with increasing speed and accuracy, they constitute a new kind of apparatus for the charting the dissemination of ideas, an apparatus that is supplemental--in both senses--to "professional" devices of measurement such as the Arts and Humanities Citation Index.

Tedra S. Osell's "I'm Nobody! Who are You?" turns to the question of pseudonymous blogging and its place in the community Berube describes. Beginning with the oft-noted parallels between pseudonymous blogging, which has become a staple among academic blogs, and the tradition of the eighteenth-century periodical essay, in which pseudonymity was a generic convention, her paper discusses the possibilities of voice in blogging and the ways that pseudonymity, particularly among junior faculty, graduate students, and women, allows us to speak about "private" matters in a "public" forum. In the realm of print culture, blogging puts pressure on the relationship between the author function and the question of textual ownership. In academia, it raises the question of what the role of casual writing is with relationship to "publication" (or "service," or "teaching"). More importantly, however, this question--like that of textual ownership--presents an implicit challenge to a profession that, on the one hand, practices blind review and, on the other, has a well-established and powerful hierarchy.

John Holbo's "Follows the Function of the Little Magazine" argues that while the future of academic publication is digital, it is not foregone conclusion that the academic publishing culture will fully embrace the possibilities technology brings. Blogging is not the future of scholarship, but the rather unloveable little word will do as a placeholder as prominent scholars and bloggers explore these possibilities. Scholarship should want what blogging has: efficient, affordable distribution; healthy growth; large readerships; good conversations; interdisciplinary cross-pollination; public intellectualism. Last but not least, Holbo claims, blogs hold out the prospect for large conversations; that is, for a great mass of contributions to be mediated and sifted in a manner which is, if not ideal, yet impressively organic. It is hard to design a circulatory system capable of handling the output of the MLA's 30,000 members, one equal to the task of ensuring their ideas have a reasonable chance of finding ways to the readers they deserve, for better or worse. Building on what Berube will argue, Holbo notes how the sheer volume of the blogosphere gives hints about ways academic conversations can stay healthy, given the numbers of participants they should accommodate. In this paper he will suggest what changes are needed: in terms of forms, in terms of the "reputation economy" that rewards production, in terms of general publishing culture. His thesis will be that academic publishing must not only make itself over electronically, but make itself into a "gift culture." Academics live in a world of google book and Amazon "search inside," but also of copyright extension and, in general, excessive I.P. enclosures. The groves of academe are well suited to be exemplary Creative Commons. As there is no guarantee they will be, Holbo argues, all academics should work for that.

Scott Eric Kaufman's "The New Interdisciplinary" contends that the blogosphere offers new possibilities for both inter- and intradisciplinary work. Drawing from his own experience, Kaufman demonstrates how a blog chronicling an English graduate student's dissertation on evolutionary theory in fin de siecle American literature can be read and commented upon by historians, philosophers, historians and philosophers of science, evolutionary biologists, and sociologists. Such feedback encourages the growth and development of projects with a sound interdisciplinary foundation and functions as a check on the long-standing and oft-voiced concerns about interdisciplinary work: blog-savvy interdisciplinarians need not be, as W.B. Cameron called interdisciplinarians in 1965, "dilettantes" producing works of "dubious quality." Kaufman will argue that the blogosphere affords scholars the opportunity to easily and enthusiastically cross heretofore closely guarded disciplinary boundaries. Furthermore, it enables academics within increasingly balkanized disciplines to reconnect without necessitating a return of the generalist.