Craig Saper’s "Blogademia" appears as part of a special issue of Reconstruction (thanks to Collin for pointing this out). It is useful to see the discussion of academic blogging within the space of journals. Saper addresses many of the key issues/concerns that are familiar to academic bloggers (e.g., the snarky-gossipy nature of many academic blogs, the potential dangers of blogging for junior faculty and others on the job market, the lack of rigor associated with blogs). He also points toward the potential value of academic blogging:
When bloggers discuss infrastructure (who in
your department is an idiot or a psychopath; how poorly the
administration of your University functions; or simply the trials and
travails of the tenure-track publish or perish mill), they also
discuss, unwittingly, the social processes of knowledge production,
what counts as scholarship, and discipline formation… The emerging discourse on networks has a more complicated and nuanced sense of the activity.
Saper’s focus then is on seeking to understand how the personal discourses of blogging might translate into a more valued mode of academic knowledge production. The bloggers Saper interviews, including Stephen Shaviro, Jeff Rice, and Catherine Liu, each remark in one way or another that their blogs allow for discursive practices that engage in productive relationships with their more "legitimate" academic work.
I really like what Saper says about seeing "the advantages of research that uses the blog, not as an object of
study, but as a vehicle to comprehend mood, atmosphere, personal
sensibility, and the possibilities of knowledge outside the ego’s
conscious thought." Indeed, one might say the same thing about writing, or at least one might say the same thing about writing that is not beaten down by the ideological requirements of academic discourse (or other professional discourses). Certainly there are many values associated with writing within a discourse community, but these are the types of things that are lost.
Perhaps what we are seeing here is not "blogging" but "new media composition" as an experimental zone. Blogging or its descendants may someday become a more reputable discourse, but it won’t be because of these advantages. It will be b/c blogging becomes codifiable, verifiable, and fungible.
For my own part, when I started out on this blogging business, I engaged in a few examples of venting. I still occasionally write about Cortland, but it is more in the context of considering larger issues (e.g. my discussion of Cortland’s recent efforts to re-brand itself). I write about academic subjects that interest me and are germane to my teaching but fall outside the area of my research (e.g. see the previous post). I write about my teaching practice as a form of reflection and/or planning. And I write about ideas that may become seeds of research. Part of my hope, I think, is that I will learn to see my research more in the context of other issues that matter to me–my teaching, my program, wider cultural concerns about education and technology, etc.
Perhaps this is a version of the personal/affective that Saper discusses–to situate research in the context of a life of other ideas.
In any case, I will say this about research and blogging. When I read scholarship I encounter ideas that I find interesting and thought-provoking. However, if I were going to think about what I teach in my courses, much of the valuable information I rely on comes from blogs, and not only from academic blogs. If I want to know what teachers in new media were doing a year. ago, I guess I could read a journal. If I want to know what people are doing now, what new developments are emerging, what is working and what isn’t, I would look at blogs. Wouldn’t you?
Take blogging as an example. Obviously I value blogging for myself. I’ve got my students blogging. I’ve got course blogs going. We can talk about it if you want, but it can only be a hot topic b/c academia moves at an intellectually glacial pace. By the time anyone is able to actually institute blogging as a common feature of academic writing, let alone an acceptable forum for scholarly work, blogging will be a distant memory.
But are we really going to talk about blog texts when we are awash in videos produced and consumed on cell phones?
Saper recognizes this with his reference to Jeff Rice who notes "the larger process of rhetorical invention going on now."
UPDATE: Read Suw Charman remarking on this same issue of glacial response, only in the context of business rather than academia.