Sometimes signal, sometimes noise.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a history of writing things about blogs that seem to stick in the craw of scholarly bloggers. Luckily Henry Farrell managed to slip something in that not only makes sense, but is actually bordering on the manifesto. (And no, I don’t like it just because he managed to make me sound good, but that doesn’t hurt.) Tell me, after reading this, that you don’t want to start a blog:

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. It’s not entirely surprising that academic blogs have provoked some fear and hostility; they represent a serious challenge to well-established patterns of behavior in the academy. Some academics view them as an unbecoming occupation for junior (and senior) scholars; in the words of Alex Halavais of the State University of New York at Buffalo, they seem “threatening to those who are established in academia, to financial interests, and to … well, decorum.” Not exactly dignified; a little undisciplined; carnivalesque. Sometimes signal, sometimes noise. But exactly because of this, they provide a kind of space for the exuberant debate of ideas, for connecting scholarship to the outside world, which we haven’t had for a long while. We should embrace them wholeheartedly.

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  1. Joe Petrick
    Posted 10/14/2005 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    The headline read: “No confidence vote in president tabled at ASC: Slim margin prevents vote from going forward”

    It occurred to some of the faculty at the college at which I work that the president of the college had been demoting too many deans and vice-presidents. In the meantime untenured faculty were getting fired, and people were finding jobs elsewhere at a higher than normal rate. So someone “anonymously” set up a blog. It operated like samizdat publishing, in that people could say whatever they wanted, knowing that other people were going to be able to read it. The situation turned into something of a carnival, and there was such a lack of decorum that SUNY System Administration made a vague threat about legal action against the blogger. Thus the blog got switched to a discussion forum, but there is still a similar carnival atmosphere, and a general lack of decorum.

    The result of the blog was that a resolution of a vote of no confidence in the president was brought forward, and was only averted by the option of a visitation by SUNY system-wide Faculty Senate.

    It would be difficult to measure the importance of the local blog, but I think had there been no blog the faculty would have had no concrete means of communicating with each other, especially over the summer when few people were on campus. It certainly galvanized the faculty and staff in a way that could not have happened had there been no blog.

    A curious result of these events is that the college’s administration has gone blog crazy, creating blogs for every topic they want to bring to people’s attention. The only thing they seem to lack is an “anti-blog” which would support their position against the faculty blog.

    This is not the type of collective conversation across disciplines that is referred to in the Chronicle, but it a collective conversation nonetheless.

    The original blog is not particularly interesting if one is not concerned with the situation at the college, but it still resides at The most recent entry tells readers how to get to the discussion board.

  2. Posted 10/14/2005 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    As one who is all too familiar with the world of blogging and Internet communications in general, two things strike me about this:

    1. In general, I’ve found that people are willing to say things in email and even on blogs that they might not say in normal discourse, and certainly not publicly. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and leaves a lot to the judgment of the writer/poster. So far, I would have to say that the good of this (Joe Patrick’s example) seems to outweigh the bad (online forum flame wars of otherwise reasonable individuals).

    2. As one new to an academic environment where I actually have an opinion about things (there’s not much controversial I could think of from an academic perspective while an undergrad CS major ten years ago), I am enjoying academic blogging. While I’m not surprised that some, who are entrenched in traditional forms of academic discussion, find academic blogging threatening, it strikes me as an unstoppable wave of the future. As above, I think this will be mostly a good thing. Are individual statuses, first-to-press and private dirty laundry beneficial to society as a whole? I don’t think so. And these are the reasons I imagine academic blogging would be most threatening.

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