Sunday, May 07, 2006

Thoughts on Blogging by a Poorly Masked Academic

Excerpt of an interview Craig Saper conducted with me for his upcoming essay on blogging:

1. How long have you had a blog? When did you start producing it?

My first blog was Dialogic which I started in January of 2004. It is my only personal blog. I have a blog for a film society and one I run for an activist group. I have approximately 10 blogs for various classes. Of course because Dialogic is political and I haven't received tenure yet, it is the only one I do not operate under my birth name--although it is very easy to figure out who I am and many of my students/colleagues know about the site.

2. How did you choose the title of your blog?

I'm frustrated by the monologic tendencies (across the political spectrum) of American culture and was feeling kind of isolated in my conservative environment (I'm in Kentucky, a red state, and was teaching then at the conservative University of Kentucky). I was reading a lot of Bakhtin, Foucault and Habermas when I started Dialogic and was wondering how I could encourage dialogic or polylogic communication/engagement (as opposed to monologic controlling tendencies or cacophonic disorder) in academia, and even more importantly, beyond its limited world. It was my anguished howl into the dark abyss... wondering whether there was anything/anyone who might startle me by looking/talking back from the stygian blackness. My anguish was over the second time I had lost faith in a religion, the first time when I was a teen I had lost my deeply held Christian faith as a result of being exposed to its hypocrisies and illusions, this time, in a similar way, it was the loss of faith in the myths of American democracy (as practiced in a corporate-capitalist state).

3. Do you know many academics who have blogs? Are there any that you read regularly? Any that are of particularly high quality, or provocatively insightful?

At this moment some of my regular stops are Jodi Dean, Ariadne's Labyrinth, Beppeblog, Bitch PHD, Bluegrass Roots (collective), Daimonic Reality, Elenamary, Feral Scholar, Habermasian Reflections, Impetus Green Room, Impetus Java House, Jeffrey Caldwell, Jill/TXT, Lawrence Lessig, Long Sunday (collective), Mahzood (for his links which provide me with amazing intellectual derives--he writes on the blog in a language I can't read--but we email from time to time), Majikthise, Mark Dery, Michael Berube, New Teacher (collective), Progressive Blog Alliance (collective which includes many academics), Pas-au-Dela, Prarie Mary, Prophet or Madman, Red Harvest, Thebewilderness, WhereProject

These are just the ones I "know" (or assume) are in academia ... I'm sure there are more that I have left out, there are also a huge number of former-academics blogging.

4. Do you think blogs represent a supplement to academia?

I'm kind of resistant to this form of classification, or the need for it, because if we do this then blogging will become much more formalized, regulated and restricted for academics. I'm skeptical whether the academy will ever accept "personal" blogging as a form of professional credit (and wonder whether they should?)

5. Do you think blogs have changed academic pursuits?

Yes, they can be very beneficial in extending the range of one's interests, but at the same time they can be distracting and destructive (of one's writing time in particular)

6. Reading some blogs by academics, including yours, I get the sense that blogs could serve something like the progress of knowledge or an alternative to traditional research. Do you think blogs have changed academia?

Very little so far because most academics do not blog--the list I provided is scattered (I don't think any of them are in the same city). What it is doing is making knowledge and learning more public. This is why academia has an anxiety in regards to blogging. They have had a monopoly over knowledge-production/dissemination and this is changing. At the same time I am very skeptical about online learning, my college, like most institutions of higher learning, are seizing upon the Internet as the wave of future-learning... my experience is that online forums, like blogs, are best at exposing people to knew ideas and making connections across spaces. What worries me about these forums is when people solely rely on the Internet for learning and communicating... a simple walk outdoors, a visit to a library, participating in a community/activist/artistic event, is much more powerful and progressive than all the blogging or sifting we do on the Internet. Once again, though, this in no way is a dismissive gesture on my part--we live in a social situation in which the Mainstream Media have been consolidated and censored to a point where we need open, independent voices... the most inexpensive and open place these days in which people can communicate across vast distances and peoples is the Internet.

7. Could one build a curriculum based on a group of blogs by cultural critics (associated with academia)?

Definitely... I use blogs and websites in my courses. Last year I experimented and taught a course that used websites/blogs (the students also created their own blogs). It is very helpful in thinking about "voice" and visual aspects of compositions--and, of course, there is the wonderful diversity of voices online, for instance, check out Global Voices

8. Your blog, in particular, suggests an alternative (at least in its title) to higher learning -- do certain blogs offer an alternative and/or parallel type of academia?

Yes, this is my hope. Increase access to knowledge/information... provide easy access to cultural capital for those outside the confines of academia... strengthen our public culture. Now I realize that it will not do any good to have countless voices shouting out into the cyber-wilderness, but we are seeing positive moves toward collective action and this is but the early days of blogging. This is a vital moment in the development of blogging (and the Internet) will we allow it to remain open to the free distribution of information/knowledge in the hopes that we will reverse the trends towards apathy/silence in our public culture(s) or, are we going to allow the corporate-industrial-academic-military industries to move in and claim these open spaces as private property to be regulated, classified and controlled?

A big question we all should be concerned about...
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I'm very interested in hearing what others have to say in regards to these questions, or if you have other questions that you think are important... if you post your own answers (or new questions) please let me know...

Thanks,

Michael Benton

11 comments:

Susannity! (Susanne) said...

Really enjoyed this entry - thanks for posting it. I also really liked both the Q&A for #4.

Robert said...

while i know that they call it academia for a reason (no diss intended Thivai, honestly) and so am not so jazzed about the possibility of an alternative academia,


i HAFTA admit that the blogosphere has been an enriching source of alterntaive info for myself...it is through that sphere that i have discovered writers and thinkers (Blanchot, Deleuze, Duffy) that i wld not have otherwise because my university days ended 15 years ago

blogosphere=alternative university for the self-educated?

you bet, whether the blogs you read are by academic bloggers or not (whether you follow academic bloggers or not, although i obviously follow my share)


insurection of a billion minds




and THEY really dont like it, either

so keep it up, folks!

Toggle Switch said...

Thivia, I thoroughly enjoyed your responses. I find Dialogic to be thought provoking and a challenge to my corporate toiler mentality. I would like to see more of your personal insights and perspective included with you posts where you draw from other sources. I come to Dialogic for your two cents.

Thivai Abhor said...

Susanne,

Glad you liked it...

Robert,

I think of it as cacademia... a necessary function, but kind of messy and no wants to talk about it (sorry, bad pun, chalk it up to being broke and having to teach summer classes--when i so badly need a break!)

I don't want an "alternative academia"... more like an alternative "to" traditional educational institutions (as well as mainstream media)

The blogosphere has helped me in many ways--i first started getting active when I became involved with post-situationist list many years back and i was blown away by the depth and breadth of their discussions.

I would like to see an informal education site for activists/resistance groups--sort of a clearing house... although following some of your links i have ran into some good sites along those lines.

The person interviewing me was writing about academic blogging--that is why my response was tailored along those lines.

... and, yes, they definitely don't like it, probably one of the things that keeps me at it.

Toggle Switch,

Its summertime, I've moved past some personal issues (didn't want to mope online), so i should be starting to blog more personal-political statements/views.

Thanks for the kind words...

Also I'm in the process of moving into a smaller, cheaper place and have had my Internet turned off at home for awhile and so that slowed me to intermittent posting in-between cacademic responsibilities.

oso said...

Had my college professors kept weblogs, I know I would have gotten so much more out of the experience. It would have humanized what was otherwise very dry, tube-fed information.

Have you checked out Slaves of Academe?

Thivai Abhor said...

Oso,

Good to hear from you--thanks for the link.

The reason Dialogic has such an extensive blogroll is that I link stuff for the classes...

I'm coming to SD in July...

Ricia said...

i'll chime in with: I agree Oso!

also, i came across academic blogs prior to my entry into academics and it greatly assisted me in both research and selfguided informational pursuits. definately nothing to loose re: the existence of these blogs, and much more to gain.

well.. except for time (the bloggers time) of course!

brainwise said...

What an interesting post (and comment set).

And thanks for including my humble little blog in the list. I'm more of a wannabe academic ... but you never know when I might make the full plunge. :)

lapetrov said...

You ask the question if you think blogging should be entered into judgement or consideration by formal academic bodies. I think the answer to that is complex and can be both "yes" and "no" simultaneously.

I would say "no" to formal academic bodies "as they exist today" -because they've got too many hurdles to jump over to arrive at a place where they could judge a blog. They are still (mostly) unable to distinguish quality from quantity (hence publication requirements for tenure are by and large numerical). Or at least they can't do it with any more sophistication than differentiating between "peer reviewed" and not. And there's where the web poses interesting challenges to the term "peer."

But I would say "yes" to an academy that has a clear idea of what it wishes to be and can be that, fully.

...rather than be what it is now, a wanna-be business worried about winning races (best ranked, top liberal arts, best value, richest, etcetera.) without answering, what for?

Universities and colleges will have to each come to their own decisions with regards to online content by an author and any "credit" for it someone receives as a scholar &/or teacher. Places that are looking to break out of the mold of "higher education" as it has been institutionalized to now may be interested in allowing blogging to count for teaching. It would depend on how "new technology" (beyond hardware) the school is or wants to be, or how much students demand it.

If the students are all people out there teaching themselves and not paying tuition, well, they may start saying you can only blog for them ...and that would be bad. I think.

Interesting question.

Anonymous said...

I would say that blogging makes much of journal publishing redundant and pretentious. How many academic journals actually have a "good" reputation? Not too many. A small group of conservative academics continue to demand institutional authority, but for the most part I think academics want a faster, more open publishing medium. Blogging, and other more group-minded solutions are certainly replacing traditional journals.

I see two futures for journals: they alter themselves into community meeting points, or they disappear.

Thivai Abhor said...

Dear anonymous,

I would agree with most of your assessment, but we also have a third option which we have attempted to do at Reconstruction (where this intro comes from) and that is to develop an academic-style journal online and make it an open-ended collective.

Thanks for your comment