Blogging article in the Chronicle

by Henry Farrell on October 3, 2005

I’ve written an article on the academic promise of blogging which is up on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s website ( free, permanent link is “here”: It should be appearing in print in their Oct 7 edition. In addition to the people at the _Chronicle_, and those mentioned in the piece, I owe serious thanks to Scott McLemee (many of my arguments riff on ideas tossed back and forth in our lunchtime conversations), and to Tim Burke, Alex Halavais, John McGowan, Laura McKenna and my fellow CT-ites for comments that fed into various iterations on the piece. Further comments welcome below, as usual.

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RJT 10.03.05 at 7:21 pm

I read it, why it was well writen is was also pretentious, you honostly think being an academic is the only feild in which it is difficult to come out of the closet, try working contruction, luckily I’m not too worried about co workers finding my site, I write under my initials anyway, but if my boss found out it would be very uncomfortable, the same goes for my church. think about it, your not so special.


A. G. 10.03.05 at 8:47 pm

I like the way you extend the well known “leveling,” democratizing, rhizome generating structure and function of the Internet with metaphors of joy and spontaneity… the carnival, the topsy turvy, the exuberant. These words cascade throughout the piece, limning the vitality of the blogosphere and its practitioners.

You don’t develop this, except allusively: “Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars.” But I am mulling and thinking already about this generative thought. Thanks, Henry.


Scott Eric Kaufman 10.03.05 at 9:26 pm

He’s right Henry, your not so special. That said, I’ve already linked to it, and even considered discussing it before I realize how unflattering it would be to do so, what with you having participated in the recent Gene Wolfe-a-thon, and you and Holbo being friends–which, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with my contributor status at the Valve, but it does still cheapen the shout-out a bit for me, somewhere deep inside. That said, I thought the article excellent; it captures much of the optimism I initially expressed (both verbally and by constant participation in the comments section) for the Valve. I do believe what I blog constitutes an integral part of both my intellectual and academic development, and if it could also influence my future professional life, well then, all this blathering won’t have been for naught. I know I should pick nits with something you wrote, such being the Crooked Timber way and all, but I demure, and will instead point to the sidebar and ask who I have bribe to see my name on that illustrious sidebar…


Scott Eric Kaufman 10.03.05 at 9:39 pm

And having written that, I see that I come across as a complete and utter sycophant. Well then, I’m not, but if you wish for these words to represent the entirety of my intellectual output…so alright, I let out the little sycophant’s leash sometimes, but who doesn’t? And it’s not the entirety of my intellectual output anyway. Probably like, I don’t know, 15 or 95 percent of it or something. But the rest’s a positive integer, I tell you, a positive integer.


Neil 10.03.05 at 9:39 pm

Yeah, Henry, why didn’t you address the problem of being a blogger in areas outside higher education in your article in the Chronicle of Higher Education ?


RJT 10.03.05 at 9:52 pm

oh neil don’t give me that academics doesn’t HAVE to be so self-indulging, there isn’t a rule, but like I said I liked it.


Neil 10.03.05 at 10:12 pm

rjt, there’s no rule that academics have to be self-indulgent (it’s more a guideline). But there is a rule that articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education address questions of relevance, first and foremost, to the professional lives of academics. Practical Hamsterkeeping doesn’t have many articles on llamas, but that’s not a fault of that fine journal.


dp 10.03.05 at 11:09 pm

I’m not sure what to make of this article. Maybe it will come to me later. That aside, the piece is characterised by familiar use of blogger’s cant: terminology and stylistic devices familiar to blog-readers, and not-so-familiar to others. What’s more, the article itself creates a space consisting of conventions from both/neither online publishing (where links would likely get embedded in the text) and print publishing (still largely free of the aforementioned blogger’s cant). In short, the article employs conventions from both, but conforms fully to neither. This made reading it somewhat disconcerting.
I wonder what the reactions to the print version will be, what that audience will make of it.


laura 10.04.05 at 7:14 am

yeah well, the day before yesterday I’d have been shouting Yes Yes Yes, but yesterday a senior cultural studies academic with a national reputation (and a column in a major broadsheet) misrepresented, sneered at, and generally trashed my (grad student) blog in said newspaper.

I’m not loving academic blogging so much anymore.


A. G. 10.04.05 at 7:49 am

One thing about the blogosphere, especially for academics comme moi et peut-etre vous, is I have read more and learned more about distant “colleagues” whom I have never met f2f, than those down the long hallway at work. It’s a lifeline for many of us, but I wonder if I should be spending more f2f time with colleagues who are within a few feet of me…some of whom I just communicate with online anyway!


A. G. 10.04.05 at 8:00 am

DP, I can’t find any blogger’s cant in Harry, but there are traces of blogger’s schelling peeping through.


A. G. 10.04.05 at 8:01 am

Henry, Henry, not Harry!


RJT 10.04.05 at 8:35 am

Henry, I’m sorry I called you pretentious, perhaps I was the one who was self absorbed, anyways it was just a passing thought and I didn’t realize it would stick here in internet land forever, wasn’t thinking, so your not pretentious, sorry


Doug 10.04.05 at 9:29 am

I for one welcome our new blogospheric overlords.


Doug 10.04.05 at 9:32 am

Also, shouldn’t the post also be categorized here, even if only to balance with the other side?


Doug 10.04.05 at 9:38 am

Our new blogospheric overlords will obviously be able to close their href tags properly. Ack.


ab 10.04.05 at 10:22 am

Nice article, but I was left thinking So what?

Only really stupid people would argue against the case that the blogosphere is a carnival of ideas, out of which some nice things emerge.

Blogs in this way are just a modern addition to op-ed articles, current affairs magazine piece and so on, which all have been considered (and still are) as somehow un-academic by many traditional academic gatekeepers.

So what’s new?


Amardeep 10.04.05 at 11:44 am

So what’s new?

It’s helpful to have a counterpoint to Ivan Tribble, and at least make the case for what academic blogging could be.


PZ Myers 10.04.05 at 11:45 am

What’s new is the opportunity for conversation. It’s not a static argument that we throw out there, that once reviewed and published is done. There’s ongoing commentary, and also a good back-and-forth between the webloggers.

That’s new. It might also be old — it’s rather like a salon, but fortunately I don’t have to live in Paris or some other major academic center to participate.


Jonathan 10.04.05 at 1:22 pm

Laura–I tried to look on your blog for more details about this horrifying incident, but it crashes the living hell out of Firefox on Windows XP. Don’t know if you’ve had similar complaints–seems to be related to the flash plug-in.


Harry 10.04.05 at 1:34 pm

a.g. are you suggesting that you can find bloggers cant in Harry?


Seth Finkelstein 10.04.05 at 2:26 pm

Regarding “It’s helpful to have a counterpoint to Ivan Tribble …”

From my perspective, blogging hype and PR is a veritable fount of marketing, which reaches the scammishness of a pyramid scheme. That is, a few people who get in early, and market the system to extremes, make out like bandits, and everyone else gets told to have a positive attitude and keep the faith.

So, just as a general comment, no personal implication, I suppose where you stand depends on where you sit.

On the particulars, any article about any activity can have a stock form: “Some people don’t like X, But X is like the old hallowed Y. X’ers are great people, who form a wonderful community – though, ha ha, it’s not always sweetness and light. However, X can be good for A and B …”. That’s not particularly wrong. But it’s not particularly helpful either.


Henry 10.04.05 at 2:45 pm

dp – would like to know where you’re seeing the cant. Not saying that it’s not there, but if it is, I’m not aware of it – and I did give the story to a couple of non-blogreading friends for proofing; they didn’t have any problem in reading it.

Seth – the academic blogosphere is rather different to the blogosphere as a whole in the relevant aspects. Less of a star system in the long run, I think, because of the pressures towards fragmentation into a variety of different academic blogospheres around more particular issues/disciplines. My sense is that CT has a less central place in the academic blogosphere than it did a year or so again, and that’s a very good thing (reflects the greater diversity of academics who blog today). Your last paragraph doesn’t seem very relevant or useful, without a specific argument as to why the comparison is wrongheaded or unhelpful. To say that x is like y if we want to understand it is a “stock form article” seems misconceived – it’s a standard form of reasoning, argument by analogy. If the analogy doesn’t work, and you have good arguments as to why it doesn’t work, good for you. Let’s hear them. But criticizing me for simply using an analogy without addressing the relevance of that analogy seems kinda weird to me.


gzombie 10.04.05 at 2:55 pm

Seth writes, From my perspective, blogging hype and PR is a veritable fount of marketing, which reaches the scammishness of a pyramid scheme. That is, a few people who get in early, and market the system to extremes, make out like bandits, and everyone else gets told to have a positive attitude and keep the faith.

Wait…are you talking about blogging or academic jobs?



Seth Finkelstein 10.05.05 at 2:33 pm

Henry, as you put it “it’s difficult to state a complex thesis in the average blogpost” – much less an average commentbox! It’s not my intent to be overly harsh. There were reasonable parts of your article. But still, there were aspects which struck me as very problematic. For two examples:

“Blogging democratizes the function of public intellectual. It’s no longer necessary for an academic to lobby the editors of The Washington Post’s op-ed page or The New York Review of Books in order to make his or her voice heard.”

What you miss is that it’s generally necessary to lobby the editors of big Net sites to make one’s voice heard to a significant public audience (as opposed to interested specialists).

“Both group blogs and the many hundreds of individual academic blogs that have been created in the last three years are pioneering something new and exciting. They’re the seeds of a collective conversation, which draws together different disciplines (sometimes through vigorous argument, sometimes through friendly interaction), which doesn’t reproduce traditional academic distinctions of privilege and rank, and which connects academic debates to a broader arena of public discussion.”

Here’s some extensive commentary I think is worthy about “collective conversation”, from the standpoint of critiquing another angle of blog commentary, but still relevant:

“A metaphor, especially if it’s a new one, can help to place a familiar subject in a new light, illuminating aspects of it that were previously hidden or unclear, and giving us a new way of relating to that subject. In this regard, “conversation” fails miserably. It illuminates nothing, and what it purports to show is actually a misrepresentation of what the subject really is.

“Here’s the thing, “markets are conversations,” makes them something approachable. It’s a typical marketing metaphor, it evokes a feeling of false intimacy, a personal connection that doesn’t really exist. Thinking that “markets are conversations” actually facilitates people devoting more attention and surrendering more authority to them, not less.”


Henry 10.06.05 at 9:05 am

Hi Seth

I certainly don’t deny that there are hierarchies and power relations in the blogosphere as elsewhere. But (a) I think that the academic blogosphere is likely to be less vulnerable to these hierarchies than elsewhere, and (b) I’m quite certain that blogs and similar forms of publication can have a substantial upsetting effect on hierarchies that already exist in the academy. In order – I think that academic specialists have an advantage over average bloggers – their specialist knowledge is less substitutable. After a certain point, one person’s political opinion (unless they have something really interesting to say) is substitutable for someone else’s – that isn’t true for academics who are talking to their specialty. There isn’t, as best as I can tell, a currently existing power structure in the academic blogosphere that resembles that of, say, the political blogosphere. Clearly some blogs are more influential than others – and CT is more influential than many. But it’s not as close to the center as it was a year ago, as best as I can tell, because there isn’t really an academic blogosphere in the same way that there was a year ago either. Instead of a center, it seems to me that there’s a lot more horizontal discussion going on. Now this may decay over time into traditional hierarchical relationships – but that doesn’t seem to me to be inevitable. This also has implications for the public intellectual role, I think. It _is_ possible, say for scientists to complain about the way that the media treats evolution – and have attention paid to them – in a way that wasn’t true before. Do I think that everyone is going to end up having as much clout as, say, Susan Sontag did? Nope – of course not. But if you want to influence the public debate on evolution, and you’re an academic biologist, blogging is a great way to do this.

Also – and this is what I wanted to stress in the essay – I think that blogging is shortcircuiting the traditional academic hierarchy in some important ways. Prominent academic bloggers that I read and enjoy come from a wide variety of institutions – and from no academic institution at all. That’s something new and important. It may be that in the long run this is just the replacement of one set of gatekeepers with another, which is what I take you to be arguing – but I don’t think that this is going to happen for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, I agree with the guy you are pointing to that conversations are a lousy metaphor for markets. But they are a pretty good analogy for blogging, no? After all, we’re engaged in a conversation at the moment. That doesn’t mean that power relations, self-interest etc can’t enter in – but they can enter into our everyday conversations too.

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