Blogging as Scholarship

by Brian on January 10, 2004

Brian Leiter has two interesting posts up (one two) on the question of whether academics should be able to claim scholarly credit for blogging. It is fairly clear that good blogging should count as service. Indeed in all my recent self-promoting activities I’ve been plugging my work on various blogs as a service both to the public and the profession. But whether this counts as scholarly work is a tougher question.

I’m mostly in agreement with Brian’s position that the standards in the blogosphere are too loose to justify calling our posts scholarship. One reason this is not likely to change anytime soon is that the posts reflect the lack of standards. Most of what I write for blogs barely deserves to be called a first draft. Others I know are more careful, but I suspect there are very few bloggers who take as much care over their blog posts as they would over passages in a journal article.

On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that scholarship is advanced by our efforts on blogs, especially when blogs are used to trial genuinely new ideas. And if anyone wants to give me a pay raise on the basis of blog work, I won’t let my principles get in the way! But it will be a long time before I start listing any especially good blogposts on my CV.



praktike 01.10.04 at 4:23 am

i have total blogarrhea, myself.

I take solace in the fact that nevertheless I am much more lucid and consistent than Andy, Glenn, et al.


Sebastian Holsclaw 01.10.04 at 8:15 am

A well researched essay should count as much on a blog as it does anywhere else.


Dick Thompson 01.10.04 at 3:32 pm

Would anyone like to comment on the academic or scientific status of the papers on the preprint archives? for example.


Timothy Burke 01.10.04 at 4:38 pm

I don’t think of it in the narrow sense as scholarship, for the most part. I do occasionally publish more scholarly work through my web pages, but my blog is not a journal article. It’s written quickly, often carelessly, by comparison to what I would put into the crafting of a scholarly work.

However, I would regard the blog as part of my larger sense of myself as a scholar, as part of what I think the ways that being a scholar ought to be or can be a form of being an intellectual in the broader sense. If someone wants to assess me overall as a scholar, whether it’s my institution or some other body, I’d insist that they ought to incorporate a reading of my blog and now my work at Cliopatria into that (as well as my syllabi and teaching). It’s not just service–it’s a form of connecting scholarship to the public sphere, which I think is also a part of scholarship itself, or ought to be.

In the end, the discussion is really about how academic institutions weight the different things that scholars do, and about the unwholesome weight that a particular kind of formal publication is given. If I were trying to assess someone as a scholar, I’d like to give equal weight to things like: presentations at conferences, the circulation of unpublished work, blogging, presentations to public groups, teaching as a form of scholarly inquiry, op-ed pieces in newspapers, peer review work, grant screening, and so on–all work that gets classed as “service”, but I think is integral to being a scholar in the best sense of the term.

There are scholarly blogs that I think even qualify as scholarship in the narrow sense, where most of the posts are actually small review essays with fairly specific disciplinary character. Those actually ought to sit on the part of the c.v. with journal articles and books, as publications.


James Joyner 01.10.04 at 6:25 pm

I’ve written about this a bit myself in response to some posts by Stephen Bainbridge. While I agree that the best blog posts are often scholarly in the broad sense, I agree with BW that they are more akin to “service” than to a journal article. While blogs are “peer reviewed” in the sense that they are met with swift and immediate scrutiny in the comments section and/or responses on other blogs, they’re not peer reviewed in the sense of having to withstand that scrutiny beforehand.

That said, I tend to think good blogs are more valuable than all but the most celebrated true scholarship. As I’ve noted before, Crooked Timber and similar sites are read by far more people than are most journal articles–and they’re not just consumed by a tiny group of people already expert in the subject matter.


Brian Weatherson 01.10.04 at 6:58 pm

I agree with a lot of the points Tim makes. The division of our work into “scholarship” and “service” is fairly artificial, and it was possibly wrong of me to buy into it without a few more qualifications.

On the point that some good blog entries really are of scholarly quality, there’s no law against turning your own blog entries into journal articles. Indeed, I’ve been living off that strategy for 18 months now. I’d like to hear more from people who work in the relevant areas, but I think that’s one way that ArXiv postings are judged – the good ones do eventually end up in traditional journals.


greg 01.10.04 at 10:37 pm

I see blogs as more of a training ground for writers of all types. Giving somebody credit for posting something on a blog is like giving a baseball team a free point because somebody hit a home run during practice.

Besides, if a blog post is that good, just send it to a more traditional outlet for proper credit. It’s not like you’re gonna get in trouble for plaigarizing yourself.


zizka 01.11.04 at 12:20 am

To me this is sort of a non-story. It comes down to two questions:

Q. Is blog writing good enough?
A. Usually not, maybe sometimes.

Q. Will the good blog writing be properly recognized?
A. Probably rather slowly, and there will be bitter-enders.

Of course, there’s question 3:

Q. How good is most writing in journal articles?


Conceivably blogs could end up being the place where new ideas are developed, since publication takes so long. I remember from reading about chaos theory, that a lot of the work had been done before anything was formally published. The chaos collective was a local face-to-face group, but blogs (as the internet frequently does) could make it possible for geographically-decentered groups to work together.

I think it’s quite possible that dead-tree publication might end up being some sort of ritualistic fossil. Of course, that’s electronic publication and not blogging.


Vinteuil 01.11.04 at 1:06 am

Did Socrates get “*scholarly* credit” for chattering away in the marketplace?

Or was his eye fixed on higher things?


Timothy Burke 01.11.04 at 1:19 am

I think that one of the great arguments in favor of blogs-as-scholarship is precisely the slow publication cycle of journals. It ought to be the premier place where meaningful conversations about new articles or ideas or arguments take place. Of course, I also think that digital publishing in general reveals how utterly idiotic the current situation with journals is–academics don’t publish to make money, they publish to make reputation capital, meaning that they have every reason in the world to want to move to a medium that allows the rapid and cheap circulation of their work. Peer review networks are utterly transportable to digital media given that they’re all volunteer to begin with. But even if all that were to happen, digital peer-reviewed publication and blogs would still be different. Blogs might be where we talk first about what’s happening in our fields; peer-reviewed outlets where we talk in a more considered, research-heavy manner about what our fields actually are and do.


Ophelia Benson 01.11.04 at 2:50 am

‘academics don’t publish to make money, they publish to make reputation capital, meaning that they have every reason in the world to want to move to a medium that allows the rapid and cheap circulation of their work.’

Yeah – that works well for Butterflies and Wheels, for example. People have published with us and been quite stunned (and delighted) at what a lot of readers they get. Their deans are happy, too.

Electronic publishing is good.

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