What is academic blogging?

Blogging has been on my mind recently. One reason for this is that I’m responsible for posting a series of blogs written by Oxford graduate students on the Great Writers Inspire blog, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in the WordPress interface. I’ve been impressed by the blogs that my peers have written – and I do think that the blog form still represents one of the best and most democratic ways of communicating literary and non-literary ideas.

Mark Carrigan, on his blog, recently asked ‘What is “academic blogging”?’, the same question I’ve asked here. He quotes Professor Martin Weller (who incidentally will deliver the keynote at an event on digital humanities I am organising in Oxford in June 2013). In his work The Digital Scholar, Weller suggests that ‘a well-respected digital scholar may well be someone who has no institutional affiliation. The democratisation of the online space opens up scholarship to a wider group, just as it opens up subjects that people can study beyond the curriculum defined by universities’. Given that a recent Guardian article suggested that more than a third of academics are now on short term contracts, it seems that unless institutions properly invest in people, they may in fact miss out on the benefits of digital scholarship as researchers become well known bloggers, rather than well known institutional academics.

Carrigan in his post comments that there are ambiguities which the term ‘academic blogging’. ‘I guess my fear is that that, unless this is more widely recognised, certain possibilities about what it could be taken to entail might be foreclosed i.e. “academic blogging” comes to be defined as only one of the many specific activities that are currently subsumed under this rather vague term’. I quite agree. What used to be a relatively individual activity is now entering the mainstream as institutions offer ‘how to’ workshops on academic blogs. Blogging is even, I hear, an assessed part of undergraduate courses at institutions at which some of my colleagues tutor.

While academia has for years been defined mainly by ‘traditional’ outputs – monographs, journals, students successfully getting degrees – as academic blogging develops as a discipline, many different outputs are now happening in that form. None of the blogs I read regularly are doing the same thing in the same way. Dr Nadine Muller from LJMU is combining advice for graduates and early career researchers in The New Academic with personal musings on being just one such new academic. Professor Elizabeth Eva Leach from Oxford blogs about her research into medieval musicology, but often also reflects on the ways in which the work of the contemporary scholar is informed by technologies and changing knowledge frameworks (including blogging). My digital friend Maeve O’Brien, like me, is reflective on the thesis writing process – although she occasionally posts about issues in Plath scholarship (including a recent post on The Bell Jar cover controversy). My PG CWWN colleague Emma Young from Salford is experimenting with the blog format in her new e-portfolio, a part of her PG Certificate in Academic Practice. The Great Writers Inspire blog has always been about using the form to introduce readers to the themes of the main project (enticing people to explore the thousands of literary resources). Politics in Spires, an Oxford and Cambridge OER project from the politics and IR departments, invites the critical exchange of ideas about politics between academics and the public as these things are happening. This blog, for what it is worth, started as a way to reflect on my MA dissertation, but now is ‘about writing a thesis’ – although increasingly I am finding that what that involves is more complex.

Wikipedia defines ‘blog’ more helpfully than the OED. Wiki claims it is ‘a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first)’. As a description, this is as open-ended as the description of ‘book’ as a ‘set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side’. What blogging means for academia is still in flux – there is no clear cut example of what an academic blog is. What there are, instead, are academics who are blogging in different and interesting ways. Just as academics are rightly reflective on their other practices, the self-reflective vein in many academic blogs is important. What is academic blogging? What are we doing?

6 thoughts on “What is academic blogging?

  1. To answer your question: what people like you and Nadine Muller are doing is trying to mask the fact that you have no literary sensibiliy or intellectual talent by turning academia away from the study of great literature and towards blogging about what it’s like to be an academic. Not only is it moronic, it is destructive. Why do you never blog about authors, ideas? You seem to be building a career out of talking about building a career. What on earth do you know about literature? Why do you so readily adopt newspeak jargon that makes you sound less like a literary scholar and more like a minor cog in a call centre management team? You are ignorant and shameless, I would mind if it wasn’t for the fact that you and your ilk are ruining the subject I love.

    • Hi ‘Tolstoy’s Parsnip’,

      This is a blog about the process of writing a thesis, not a showcase for my academic research. The bulk of my research is in my thesis, which, since it isn’t finished yet, I’m keeping a bit close to my chest for now. In terms of my abilities, I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone but my examiners at this stage.

      I spend my days thinking about authors and ideas – in my teaching and in my research. I’m aware that this is the nature and purpose of academic life, not blogging, but I’ve found blogging to be a fruitful outlet for some pedagogical thoughts which are more informal than my poetry research and which aren’t going to be in my thesis at any rate.

      I don’t think academia or literary scholarship is dead, or dying, or being ruined by the odd WordPress blog.


    • 1) “Why don’t you ever blog about authors and ideas?” You mean like on the blog which is linked to in this post? Where Hope Mirlees is discussed – someone who’d i’d never heard off until that blog post.
      2) “You seem to be building a career out of talking about building a career” – No, see point 1.
      3) “What on earth do you know about literature?” – See point 1
      4) “Why do you so readily adopt…” – Well if you had clicked the link in point 1
      5) “You are ignorant and shameless” – Well as ignorant as someone who calls someone ignorant without even trying to research them, but hey you’re just an academic. Try clicking the link in point 1

      So you can be rebutted with a one point argument, which is perhaps over doing it, given you are pretty much pointless.

      Best of luck with your misogyny in future.

    • What a bizarre response! This is a blog for goodness’ sake – not a journal.

      As an undergraduate student, I find it very helpful to learn how the academic scene functions, how research is done and what developments are taking place in the community of which I aspire to become a member, albeit in another field. Blogs such as these are a great new way to communicate and share ideas.

      It is attitudes such as YOURS that are very off-putting to new generations of scholars – old fashioned, snobbish, arrogant and ultimately terrified that your outmoded way of thinking will be replaced because you cannot keep up.

  2. What Alex and Nadine are doing is sharing support and advice with lots of early career academics and PhD students. Social media used in this way allows the sharing of previously restricted information and advice. It allows people to emerge from the potential isolation of academic research and share ideas in a cooperative and collaborative way. It allows PhD students and early career academics to learn from each other and to understand how to develop their careers. It allows them to ask and answer questions. This allows them more time to think about their research, not less. I got my PhD in 1994. I would have welcomed the sort of support that’s available via blogging and Twitter etc. So I think academic bloggers are to be encouraged. I like reading hints about their research as much as I like listening to conference papers. It allows me to bring research into my everyday life, while I’m marking, managing, teaching and so on. It’s also unfair to make personal attacks based on your own prejudices on social media, especially anonymously.

  3. I’ve read and shared a lot of the blogs mentioned above with my supervisees. They provide practical, and collective knowledge as to how to transfer the individual inward looking process of a thesis into the outward professional work of an employed academic. It is the absence of this knowledge which has left good Dphils unemployable, and atomised academics trying to defend their jobs and Higher Ed through the magic power of their incredible brains. If we really can only talk about one thing – none of us are going to get very far. I’m sure that Parsnip Tolstoy loves his or her research area – great, don’t we all? But that alone doesn’t leave us all equipped for the challenges of an academic career in the current climate.

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