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Academic blogging

November 26th, 2004

There’s been a fair bit of discussion among academic bloggers about whether blogs count for the purposes of vitas and publication lists) and if so how. The maximalist position (so far not put forward seriously by anyone as far as I know) is that each blog post is a separate publication. The minimal claim is that blogs are a form of community service, like talking to school groups and similar. A good place to start, with plenty of links to earlier contributions, is this post by Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber.

Rather than engaging directly with the arguments that have been put up so far, I want to claim that the question will ultimately be settled by the way in which blogs are used and referred to. In this context, I have a couple of observations.

First, I’ve had one reader tell me that he’s cited one of my posts in an academic work, and I think this is not unique. Clearly, the more this happens, the more conventions for referring to blog posts will be developed, and the more easily they can be incorporated in vitas and so on.

Second, I had an interesting recent communication from the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, which sets school examinations. They used this post in an exam paper for Year 12 politics. They wrote asking for copyright permission to print it in their set of past papers[1].

The blog post was a response to an opinion piece by Gerard Henderson, and I guess this is about where I see blogs fitting at present. Posts are like short versions of opinion pieces or contributions to magazines like The New Republic or, in Australia, Quadrant and Eureka Street. As was noted by some earlier commentators, blogs have pretty much captured the territory occupied by these magazines, to the extent that quite a few have responded by establishing their own blogs. I list all my opinion pieces in my CV (which is in moderate need of updating, I see), but I’ve not yet done the same with the blog.

fn.1 Interestingly, the board has the right to use material in exam papers without telling anyone, even the author, so as to preserve secrecy. It’s only when they want to reprint that they need copyright permission.

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  1. November 26th, 2004 at 20:40 | #1

    Did the board use the whole post including comments, or just the original posting provided by JQ? Does anyone know?

  2. John Quiggin
    November 26th, 2004 at 21:12 | #2

    They just used an extract from the post. I will make the details accessible when I get a moment.

  3. November 26th, 2004 at 21:13 | #3

    Serious opinion pieces would appear to be worthy additions to a cv, however if people inflate their cvs by listing flim flam then their value will diminish.

    Apart from the role of blogs in academic discourse, the really interesting thing for some of us who are not in academia is the opportunity to get some kind of hearing without having to get past referees and journal editors.

    And web sites have become the cheapest form of vanity publishing:)

  4. November 27th, 2004 at 00:16 | #4

    An academic’s working life these days has little enough real conversation in it. One’s utterances are rarely contested or honed in the moment, and one tries (for sound professional reasons, mind) to limit one’s work-a-day oratory to those areas in which one is considered qualified. That can make for a more-than-tolerable job, mind, but it’s no way to live a life. Neither’s blogging, of course, but it can offer much-needed doses of breadth, sociality and distraction. For people in need of such, the whole idea might be precisely to forget the CV, avoid the Designated Area of Expertise, and, well, just wax therapeutic. That’s just a guess, of course.

  5. November 27th, 2004 at 14:15 | #5

    I had a similar letter from the NSW Dept of Edu a few years back using something I’d written for Web Diary as part of an exam question. Is this another blog-twin thing?

  6. Don
    November 27th, 2004 at 19:34 | #6

    Rob, if you think academic life lacks productive conversation try being a public servant.

    Apart from some entertaining discussions about Australian Idol and house gossip there’s not a lot of opportunity for serious conversation.

    Occasionally I start spouting about the implications of some piece of research for policy making. A pained, disgusted look passes over my colleagues’ faces (the more successful they ar as public servants the more disgusted they look). Nothing is as unwelcome in bureaucracy as academic wanking.

    It’s far better to talk about Idol and get on with the filing and brief writing.

  7. Mark Bahnisch
    November 28th, 2004 at 10:51 | #7

    I’m inclined to agree with Rob. Blogging is great for the academic frustrated by the lack of real engagement/discussion.

    As to the publications issue, I suspect that it’s more akin to community service or the category some universities use in their own internal publication collections for practitioner/journalistic writing. Blog posts can be as well argued as conference papers, for instance, of a similar length, and are typically much better written. However, they tend to lack the sort of scholarly apparatus that would be common in any piece of academic work – with the exception probably of a book review.

    It may be useful, rather than citing posts as publications, to point to blogging on one’s cv to demonstrate a degree of engagement with conversations in a particular subject area or discipline. I don’t know if this would be helpful in practice to selection/promotion committees, but I hope it would be.

  8. John Quiggin
    November 28th, 2004 at 16:37 | #8

    “Is this another blog-twin thing?”

    I think it must be.

  9. Tom N.
    November 29th, 2004 at 11:24 | #9

    JOURNAL ARTICLES vs BLOG ENTRIES: REBALANCING THE INCENTIVES

    Whether or not blog entries warrant inclusion in an academic’s CV, I think the “community service/educational” aspect that Q mentioned may merit some formal recognition – perhaps when university salary reviews (they have them, don’t they?) occur. As a public servant, I find that dipping into this and other acadmic blogs is a low-cost way of keeping the neurons ticking over and sharpening my own thought processes. I certainly have learned a fair bit by surfing, and occasionally contributing, here.

    Of course, one presumes that the intrinsic rewards of blogging would be sufficient for many academics to wax lyrical into cyberspace. However, given that pointless articles in obscure academic journals that no-one reads attract (indirect) financial rewards, whereas blog entries do not, the incentives may need a bit of rebalancing.

  10. Mark Bahnisch
    November 29th, 2004 at 11:31 | #10

    Tom, at QUT, “community service” is part of an academic’s obligations and factors into performance reviews and promotion decisions. This needs a bit more refinement, though, as it currently includes things like editing journals or peer-reviewing, which might better be characterised as “service to the discipline” if the idea is to encourage outreach and interchange with the world outside academia.

  11. Brian Bahnisch
    November 29th, 2004 at 22:18 | #11

    Not being an academic this is not a problem I have. In general I’d agree with Mark that “It may be useful, rather than citing posts as publications, to point to blogging on one’s cv to demonstrate a degree of engagement with conversations in a particular subject area or discipline.”

    There are exceptions, though. For example Chris Sheil’s Truth & politics series would not be out of place in his cv I would think.

    Speaking of whom I’d wondered whether he intentionally used the cs moniker to distinguish his blog work from his academic work if one were googling him. So I did and cs produced 87,800,000 hits whereas his extended name produced only a modest 35,800 but with some relevant stuff up front.

    Don, I’d have to say that in my years in Ed Qld I had lots of interesting and meaningful conversations. OTOH for my sins I was on 18 committees and I can’t remember anything interesting being said at any of them – not ever!

  12. Mark Bahnisch
    November 30th, 2004 at 00:06 | #12

    Brian, google has a new search engine which is restricted to scholarly stuff – this is what you get if you do a search for “Christopher Sheil”. No blog stuff!

    It also proves the invariable rule that every academic working in the humanities and the social sciences who googles her/himself finds someone with a similar name working in the natural sciences!

  13. Brian Bahnisch
    November 30th, 2004 at 00:18 | #13

    Thanks, Mark. Does that invariable rule apply to you too?

    Our surname doesn’t seem to figure much around the world.

  14. Mark Bahnisch
    November 30th, 2004 at 00:41 | #14

    Yep, Brian, there’s a lot of citations for one L M Bahnisch, whom of course we know. There’s also quite a few publications by a J Bahnisch in the Department of Medicine at Adelaide Uni, whom I don’t know.

    You turn up as well!

    I think those of us on the humanities/social science side have better titles for our papers though – compare “Embodied Work, Divided Labour: Subjectivity and the Scientific Management of the Body in Frederick W. Taylor’s 1907 ‘Lecture on Management’” or “The Third Way: Intellectuals and the Future of Social Democratic Politics” with “Inhibition of chemotaxis of neutrophil leukocytes to interleukin-8 by endotoxins of various bacteria” and “Identification of causal relationships among traits related to drought resistance in Stylosanthes scabra using QTL analysis”!

  15. Brian Bahnisch
    November 30th, 2004 at 06:27 | #15

    I believe there are spelling variations, even in Oz, which is not surprising, but you’d think there might be some in the US or Germany.

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