November 16, 2005

Blogging as an emerging genre

When I am talking to colleagues at a conference, conversations tend to focus on books and ideas, on teaching and writing. It's pretty common for me to jump into a discussion by saying something like, "Have you read what Bill McKibben says in the book Enough about germline genetic engineering?" It's a long-established standard that scholars talk about books. And when a group of us start talking about a book we've all read, it feels like some kind of common bond.

At the conference last week, I was talking to a colleague and he mentioned that he read political blogs. When I said that I read blogs every day as part of my normal routine, he asked which ones. I gave Bitch Ph.D. as an example. He nodded. "Oh, of course, I read Bitch." We talked about her blog for a few minutes and then moved onto something else, but that was the moment when it occurred to me: blog writers have begun to achieve the same legitimacy as other types of writers.

Talking about Bitch - her ideas, her opinions, her style of writing - was no different than talking about Adrienne Rich or bell hooks or any other person whose writing I admire.

I have been watching with interest the development of blogging as a genre. It seems to me that it's only been in the last few years that composition teachers and literature teachers have recognized blogging as a legitimate activity for their students. I think many resisted at first. But more and more, panels on blogging have crept into conferences. Often now, faculty will refer to their course blogs.

Yes, of course, blogs are different than books. The nature of blogging is interactive and instantaneous. When I write a poem for a literary journal, it gets published more than a year after I wrote it. Blog posts are published within seconds of when they are written. I like the way a blog written by one person can be a text with multiple voices - sometimes personal, sometimes academic, sometimes political. And of course, anyone can post to a blog. You don't have to wait to get noticed by a publisher. I wonder, as publishers increasingly get taken over and ruled by big corporate interests, as small independent presses go out of business just as many independent bookstores have, if blogging is replacing the free exchange of ideas that writers could once do in books.

During several conversations at this conference, it became apparent to me that scholars are beginning to accept blogging as a legitimate activity. But I can think of two last places where blogging is still kept secret, still a taboo subject: hiring committees and P&T committees. I don't yet know anyone who uses their blog as proof of scholarship. But surely that time is coming.

25 comments:

Dr.K said...

I had a discussion recently in a nature & culture class about what technology does to communication and to information, and we all agreed that it two effects: it broadens them and makes them more superficial. It's easy to see that face-to-face communication, where you have gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, volume, body language, the smell of a person's hair and breath, the sparkle in their eyes, etc., to communicate with, is richer than text messaging. Text messaging on the other hand is efficient and can reach lots of targets quickly--immediately. It's broader and it's trivial. There's a place for that. I think blogs do the same for written communication--it's instantaneous and ephemeral, and archived or not, we rarely go back to it. It can have an effect on us through memory, and that's something for sure. The Internet, in my opinion, has done the same thing to knowledge--it's astonishing what's out there, but the information gets trivialized and made superficial by its instant, easy access. Maybe it's like when I go backpacking, and that time once when I sweated, climbed and toiled all day long, and finally reached the summit of Thunderhead Mountain, the view that I had was not the same view the person who drove there had. We stood right next to each other, and were seeing the same thing, but my view was earned and his wasn't, and the effect it had on us was not the same. I will probably get roasted for this by some damn postmodernist out there, but I don't care. There's a difference.

bitchphd said...

Somehow I am pleased by this. Thanks :)

Laura said...

There are some people at my institution who are working on getting electronic projects counted toward tenure and promotion. The people putting this together actually spent quite a while talking to me about blogging. It also helps that we have a prominent and wonderful blogger at a neighboring institution, Tim Burke.

I agree with Dr. K that sometimes blogging can be superficial, but it doesn't have to be and that's one of the lessons we're trying to get across in our blogging course. We're saying, slow down, consider what you're saying. No, it's never going to be quite the same as writing a formal paper, but there's value to it.

moxiemomma said...

i love this entry. i agree with dr. k about the superficiality of blogging. i write for a living, but the blog is this kind of spastic release of energy for me. the profoundly trivial comedy of motherhood. i'm new to the blog thing and am sometimes annoyed by the tone of my own writing. i could do with a bit of slowing down myself.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Here's a freaky thing for you ... a few months back I had a conversation with someone about my own blog, sort of how you discussed bitchphd's blog, only I don't think the person who brought it up had any idea that it was me. It was, to say the least, an odd experience.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Yes, profgrrrrl's scenario is the one that worries me. Not that I'm liable to run into any random person who reads my blog, but I'm not sure I could enter into a general conversation about blogging without getting a guilty look on my face.

So what did you do, jo(e)? Mention casually that you have a blog? Or maintain your poker face?

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I wouldn't want the kind of blogging I do to count for tenure or hiring decisions. I don't want it to count against me in tenure or hiring, but I don't want it to count for me either. If it counted for me, I would have to work harder at making it good. Right now I just work through stuff that is on my mind. I don't even worry about audience too much. I just figure there is someone out there enough like me to be interested.

bridgett said...

Right now, I'm with Rob on this. I realized the other day that my blogging is that reflexive teaching journal that I always told myself I should be keeping, the kind that acknowledges the whole of the teaching self and not just one's walk-on as a classroom performer. Because I allow it to collapse the boundary between my compensated employment and the private experiences that sustain my scholarly life, I don't think I'd want it to be part of my tenure dossier. I want to be evaluated on my teaching, my service, and my peer-reviewed work -- as it says in my contract.

mc said...

Did y'all see the story on Slate this week on this exact topic? I don't know how to make pretty links, but the piece is here: http://www.slate.com/id/2130466/

Bad Alice said...

Hmm. I've never thought of blogs as trivial. People talk about some very deep and moving experiences, and interesting perspectives on current events. But then again, I like the trivia of people's lives, the small talk. People are just plain fascinating.

timna said...

I know I get that nervous look on my face when blogging comes up.

Last week at a bag lunch my WS dept head was recommending DeanDad's blog to my Dean and I just didn't say anything. I guess I don't have to really worry about it, but since I'm blogrolled at Dean Dad's, I wasn't promoting it. Almost felt like I was covering my tracks.

I also write much less about workplace characters than I used to.

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

I think your perspective on how superficial or deep blogs are depends on the blogs you read and how you approach your own.

I tend to frequent the deeper blogs myself.

Great post!

The weirdest thing I find is when people who I've told about the blog actually read it, and we have a conversation where they know the things I blogged about. Makes it real

Nels said...

My blog will be a part of my P&T files, under all categories: teaching, research, and service. People would be surprised if I didn't use it.

jo(e) said...

Nels, that's cool. So I guess I do know someone.

Phantom, at conferences I will mention that I have a blog. I just don't tell anyone in my hometown ... or my students. I do have a couple conference friends who read my blog, like Artist Friend, for instance.

halloweenlover said...

Very interesting, Jo(e). I am sometimes surprised at how casual some people are toward blogging. They don't spellcheck at all, don't proofread what they write. Maybe so many years of schooling have made me paranoid about those topics, and not to say that my writing is without flaw (I'm quite sure it isn't), but I do take it somewhat seriously.

Funny how different we view blogging, I guess.

seadragon said...

This is an interesting discussion. I just peeked over here after spending my daily chunk of job-seeking time on the Chronicle, where I found this:
http://chronicle.com/jobs/2005/11/2005111401c.htm
and which seems to reinforce your point.

I think it's nice, though, that one can have the option of having a fairly professional blog that discusses important issues in the field-- but it's also nice to have a random place to write down the STUFF that is cluttering one's head so the real work can start (and amuse/educate others in the process). I wonder how many sociology dissertations are being based on the impact of blogs right now?

peripateticpolarbear said...

I, too, do the guilty look thing. A group of students were discussing some blogs yesterday---and I read and comment on all of them. It's only a matter of time. I don't do anything outrageous on my blog, but I feel like it might take some of the fun out of it for me.

What Now? said...

Jo(e), What an interesting post; thanks for sharing it with us. I find my blog to be of enormous value in negotiating my professional career, but I'm glad that my blog is a secret from my colleagues. On the other hand, if I had a deliberately professional blog, I would want it to be included in my tenure application. Mostly, I like the blog world for its community; it's like having wonderful colleagues all around the world!

MommyProf said...

Blogs and tenure. I am so extremely paranoid that it would count against me that I rarely blog about colleagues, seldom about students and never about my field or school. To do so would mean I would have to be very careful and would have to have interesting things to say...

mindspin said...

I don't write for a living. There are no books in the offing - at least not in the foreseeable future. Maybe that's the reason that blogging, however limited the hours I can devote to it, is not an afterthought.

I was just rereading Milton's sonnet on his blindness. I was drawn to it at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning for a single line which today I think I suddenly understand at a level I had not understood before. Milton speaks of writing as "... that one Talent which is death to hide." I write blog posts because if I don't write (poems, posts - something) a part of me is not allowed to breathe, to live, to find voice. So I care a lot about what I write, even if I have time for only a few lines. I gravitate mostly toward the blogs of people who feel the same way; I can tell by the way they write.

I think of blogging not just as a new genre but as a new medium encompassing a variety of genres and purposes and audiences. This medium affords avenues to community and means to discover voices unmediated by those who would like to mediate everything.

BrightStar said...

This is so totally late, so I don't know if anyone will see it, but I feel like sharing...

At a conference last month, I met a woman and we talked for over and hour... and then she made a connection between me and my blog and put it all together and told me. I said something and then she gasped, saying, "I have to tell you... I think I read your blog." !!! It was a wonderful experience. She said how much the blogging community helped her transition into faculty life (she's second year, like me), as a reader of the blogs. We both cried, it was such a meaningful exchange. So, I no longer fear being found out. I was once found, and it was just fine. Of course, it felt odd, because this meant she already knew me way better than I knew her, but I can deal with that.

I could never count my blog for research. Therapy, maybe...

The Happy Feminist said...

I find the idea of anyone judging my writing or my analytical ability based on my blog a bit disconcerting. I try to produce a product that is coherent and readable but I don't edit or polish my blog-writing at all. To me, the pleasure of blogging is that I don't have to be a perfectionist. I love the slap dash nature of blogging, and I relish using colloquialisms and an informal style that I could never get away with in my legal writing.

academic coach said...

Well, better late than never (as a commenter)

This is a useful post to add to the burgeoning "should academics blog" debate.

Buy Generic Viagra said...

in fact I consider this as a new genre in the internet, all totally free and easy to do, anyone can have a blog or well a private opinion room.

viagra online said...

I think that this is really interesting,I WOULD LIKE OT HAVE THE CHANCE OF READ MORE ABOUT IT!