Blogs and academia again

by Henry Farrell on September 11, 2006

This short Jack Balkin “essay”: seems to me to be the best thing I’ve read on the relationship between blogging and scholarship.

Law professors now agonize over whether blogging constitutes legal scholarship and what this will do to the legal academy. They needn’t bother. The real threat to quality comes not from the medium of blogging itself but from using citation counts, links, page views, and downloads as measures of merit. People won’t just apply these criteria to judge blogs. They will also apply them to standard-form legal scholarship online. Blogging, in fact, is sui generis. It blurs the traditional boundaries between scholarship, teaching, and service because it transcends the normal audiences and expectations of legal scholarship. Over the years, legal scholarship has become an increasingly self-contained community where scholars write only for each other. Bloggers have burst out of that model: they talk to many different audiences, they teach the world about law, and they perform a public service by drawing attention to the legal and policy issues of the day. Blogging may give scholars publicity that gets their work a look. But it will not by itself generate a scholarly reputation or make a scholarly career—at least, that is, until social and technological change thoroughly reconstitute our standards of merit. … The wrong question to focus on is whether hiring committees should count blogging as legal scholarship. The right question is how we should re-imagine our vocation as professors of law in light of new online media. Should we continue to speak mostly to ourselves and our students, or should we spend more time trying to teach and influence the outside world?

I’m thinking about these questions because I’m deciding whether or not to list a very small part of my blogging – the seminars that I’ve organized and am organizing around academic books – on my cv as some form of academic activity – perhaps under the heading of “unconventional publishing.” Any thoughts?



"Q" the Enchanter 09.11.06 at 1:16 pm

How about “nontraditional” publishing (an extant category)?


Trane 09.11.06 at 1:19 pm

I don’t like the term ‘unconventional publishing’ because, as Jack Balkin notes, blogging is simply another way of fulfilling a public service which has always been part of the scholar’s vocation. It is therefore not, as a matter of terms, ‘unconventional’. Also, the term ‘unconventional’ might be used in a description of someone else’s work, but as a description of one’s own it seems a bit too much, even though it refers to the medium of publication rather than the content.

Anyway, I would put blogging under ‘Public Service’, ‘Miscellaneous’ or something like it, as you seem to do. The same place you put newspaper commentary. If it is specifically seminars you are focusing on, it could come after ‘Seminars and Workshops’ in the category ‘Web/Blog seminars’. You could add the number of participants under each heading.


kharris 09.11.06 at 2:06 pm

This is not a decision for the ages. Context counts. Is this a web CV, or in a drawer? Posted on a website? On a blog? Are you angling for contact from people with related research interests? Research grants? New job?

Can you identify a standard? Few things are more more rule-bound that CVs. If others in your line of work are mostly adhering to a particular standard, are you really doing anybody a favor by wandering far, far from the standard? If listing web-work is a growing trend, do you really have to ask whether you, a webby person, should join in?

Printed CVs may be a different matter, but are as easy to adapt as pulling up a file and typing. Just make sure the CV is appropriate.

Agree with Trane about “unconventional publishing.” Why use an ambiguous bit of buzz-speak when clarity is possible?


ingrid robeyns 09.11.06 at 2:17 pm

Would anyone judging your cv interpret “unconventional” as a pejorative term? (I know some professors who would). I agree though that it would be good to include this somehow.


Doug 09.11.06 at 2:19 pm

I’d avoid “unconventional,” too. What about “online seminars” as a category or sub-category? You could also see how the physics people or the medical people treat the online pre-pubs that they have in the big online depositories.


sfrefugee 09.11.06 at 2:32 pm

As a consumer of legal scholarship, I think that well annotated (i.e. hyperlinked) articles focused on academic topics should be included in your professional resume. An accessible document with hyperlinked footnotes is MORE valuable than a remote law review article only available on a fee-paid legal research site.

However, (see, I really am a lawyer)general thinking pieces or comments should not be included.

The cu-off should be the level of scholarship and attribution, not the medium


Seth Finkelstein 09.11.06 at 3:39 pm

“Blogging, in fact, is sui generis. It blurs the traditional boundaries between scholarship, teaching, and service because it transcends the normal audiences and expectations of legal scholarship.”

Bah, humbug. Blog triumphalism manifest.

It’s very similar to the e-mail newsletters that have existed for a long time.

Couldn’t you just see one of the law profs who are also big-time TV pundits saying something like “Appearing as a talking-head on TV is sui generis …”.

The more I think about it, the more I’d be inclined to argue that in fact, blogging *is not* scholarship. For the simple reason that there is a substantial incentive to play to the crowds of partisan hackery in order to get attention (which is not to say there’s no incentive to follow trends in publishing either – but the incentives there are the groupthink of peers, which is “acceptable”).

Disclaimer: I’m not an academic myself.


jacob 09.11.06 at 3:43 pm

I agree with Doug: “Online seminars” seems like a good choice.

I’m a grad student who used to blog (in the days when I was applying to graduate school; I gave it up a few months before starting). Were I still blogging (and I’ve considered taking it up but not mostly for personal time reasons), I wouldn’t list it on my c.v. In my mind, the status of blogging is just too unsettled for me to list it, given the state of the humanities job market. I don’t know if you, untenured(?) as you are, may be safer than we without even first jobs.

The current, just arrived issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine has a brief discussion over the Juan Cole bruhaha last year.


Siva 09.11.06 at 3:48 pm

“Online seminars” is the consensus. These are real scholarly work in a new environment. There is nothing really “bloggy” about them anyway. They are not spontaneous or organic. They are vetted and coordinated in a scholarly fashion.

Blogs, in general, are no more scholarly than phone conversations. Some can be. Most are not.


Donald A. Coffin 09.11.06 at 4:23 pm

Where I live and work, we might (emphasis on that) count it as “service to the profession” or “community service.” I think of it as something of both, myself.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 09.11.06 at 4:41 pm

Perhaps if we come up with a different term to distinguish more academic and intellectual-oriented blogging from other sorts. The blogging at Opinio Juris, Larry Solum’s Legal Theory, and Balkinization (and of course at CT!), for instance, are often of respectable if not high academic quality and, as noted above (with various publics, expanded pedagogic function, etc.), do indeed blur the boundaries between scholarship, teaching and service.

There’s just something about the word ‘blog’ that gets in the way: a bit of free word association calls to mind bogs, bags, blah, logs, clogs, block, Gog and Magog…well, you get the picture.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 09.11.06 at 4:44 pm

‘is often…’


Patrick S. O'Donnell 09.11.06 at 4:45 pm

oh my: ‘does indeed…’


Rob St. Amant 09.11.06 at 4:49 pm

I think that there’s no problem in principle in treating blogging as a medium for disseminating scholarly work, but the case has to be made that this is actually the way it works. For example, a skeptic might ask about peer-review aspects of blog entries. Gatekeeping, I think, is a reasonable issue that needs to be addressed. Otherwise a blogger only has, “But it would ruin my professional reputation if I published a bunch of crap!” and people will just shrug (or worse, nod their heads.)

If I were to add blogging to my CV, it would be under some sort of Outreach header rather than under Scholarly Activities. Something that would suggest that it’s a natural part of being a public intellectual today.


Eszter 09.11.06 at 5:06 pm

I don’t know if “publishing” is the right heading for this. Ultimately, it’s a mix of the big three: scholarship, teaching and service.. depending on any particular post and related activity. Overall, perhaps service describes it best on the aggregate, but service meant more broadly than just to the profession per se. If you have particular blog posts that you feel are more like scholarship than anything else than perhaps you could include those as individual items under “Other”.

Generally speaking, it seems to me something like this may be better if described in narrative instead of as a one-liner. That is, when you write your tenure statement or if you’re writing your brief bio for a proposal you can mention it there and explain it briefly especially regarding the specifics of the case.


Trane 09.11.06 at 5:09 pm

I concur: “Online Seminars” is very good, but then (as Henry seems to indicate) only for on-line activities that require some of the usual initiative, planning, coordination, feed-back and commentary as regular seminars. All those more spontaneous and individual posts, however scholarly and wise they may be, go together with newspaper articles, interviews and so on.

By the way, Ingrid: In the academe of my country, Denmark, ‘unconventional’ is generally a positive term, but most often it is unclear why being unconventional is particularly great. Therefore it is sometimes used to say something positive when you want to be nice to someone (in a review, for instance), but do not have a good reason that relates to the work of that person.


John Quiggin 09.11.06 at 6:36 pm

I report blogging, along with electronic media appearances under community services, but I list newspaper articles and articles in online magazines as publications (separate from refereed journal articles of course).

I’d regard online seminars as being something new enough for a category of their own, although there’s always the option (which we are pursuing at CT) of producing a print version of the results.


Hank Roberts 09.11.06 at 7:37 pm

How are these things rated? I recently came across this reference: “the Volokh Conspiracy, which I believe is the most popular group academic blog in any field…” and wondered what “popular” means in this context. Consensus?


Sarah Iannarone 09.11.06 at 8:41 pm

If you consider the blogs “participatory media” or “community media,” then you can consider your publishing accordingly as a dialogue similar to a panel disucssion or community service. I think it is important that scholarship extend beyond the ivory towers of the academy.


Katherine 09.11.06 at 9:26 pm

“Bah, humbug. Blog triumphalism manifest.
It’s very similar to the e-mail newsletters that have existed for a long time.

Couldn’t you just see one of the law profs who are also big-time TV pundits saying something like “Appearing as a talking-head on TV is sui generis …”

I’d normally agree with you, but Balkin and especially Lederman have really done really rigorous work and true public service on torture & exec. power issues.


Jim Johnson 09.11.06 at 9:43 pm

Henry, I think John Quiggin has it right. I would list the things you mention in a distinct category (with a non-self-effacing label of some sort – sorry no suggestion) and claim credit for a lot of labor.


Dave Roberts 09.12.06 at 5:24 pm

I’m a non-lawyer, daily consumer of several legal blogs including,, I take a great deal of pleasure in the lively discussions of current legal topics and their intersection with society. Much of it may be several steps down from legal scholarship, but I think it definitely qualifies for Donald Coffin’s community service niche. As a legal “innocent” I can also say that the farther law gets from the vulgar commons, the less relevant it seems. Blogs help bring the ivory tower a little closer to the ground. I think that’s a good thing.


Daniel Nexon 09.12.06 at 9:06 pm

It belongs under: “Other Activities.” Why invent some sort of neologism? If your goal is to call attention to your blog, the presence and description of the significance of CT (readership, press mentions, whatever) on your cv will send relevant people to it. If they haven’t already heard of CT. Or don’t read it regularly.

If your goal is to make blogging a respected form of academic output. Well, that’s another matter entirely. Why isn’t the fame, “fortune”, praise of your many fans, and small-but-not-insigificant influence on public discourse a sufficient reward for you?

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