Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Inside the Blogging Studio with GayProf

Greetings, loyal readers and true believers. GayProf is having a week of living blogfully. My good fortune allowed me to finally meet (in RL) one of my favorite bloggers of all time: Dorian from Postmodern Barney. He and his friend John made a rest stop in Midwestern Funky Town on their cross-country journey.

When I first started this blog, Dorian was an early inspiration and a really generous reader. He was just as rockin' cool as I imagined (and pretty darn sweet). It was also a pleasure to meet John, one of the few other people I have ever encountered who played Starfleet Battles as a youngster (Yes, I was that type of nerd).

My week of living blogfully will include another blogger visiting Midwestern Funky Town later this week. Dare to guess the identity.

Today, the blogfully week continues with a the conversation that I recently had with HistoriAnn over blogging, academic priorities, and the solution to world hunger. Okay, maybe we didn’t quite tackle all of that. Still, read Part I of our conversation here today and then head over to her corral tomorrow for the conclusion.


Part I: Blogging the academic life

GayProf: It’s great that we are finally getting around to a joint post. Of course, my first choice would have been to debate the intricacies of the Wonder Woman episode where Formicida, Queen of the Insects, brings an environmental message to evil and polluting U.S. corporations. I suppose, though, discussing academia is good, too.

The relationship between blogs and academic life seems tricky. Some suggest that it should be construed as important as any other type of intellectual inquiry in tenure/promotion files.

I guess I am conflicted about what I think of that. For me, I liked my little bloggy because I could write about things that I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to write about in more narrow academic circles. Also, it gives a chance for academics to reach a much wider audience. Not many people outside of universities, for instance, would care to pick up a film journal. On a blog, though, they can read a quick post that contemplates the racial meanings of Ricardo Mont├ílban’s roles in film and television (I was sad that he died, but I take comfort in knowing that his casket was upholstered in the richest Corinthian leather possible). Alas, I think more people will have read CoG than will ultimately ever read NERPoD (even if NERPoD is a bit sounder and has fewer typos).

HistoriAnn: I agree with you GayProf: My instinct is that my blog is not something I want to submit as part of my annual report or for my salary exercise.

GayProf: At a talk by Benedict Anderson I once attended, he speculated that the moment that a text becomes something that college students can be tested over it more-or-less loses its revolutionary potential. Maybe the moment that a blog becomes part of merit metrics, they also lose their fun. Then it’s no longer a way to pass the time cracking jokes, but actual work.

HistoriAnn: I also enjoy blogging because of the new people I've met (well, most of them, anyway) and the large audience who will read my blog and engage my opinions who will in fact never, ever pick up my books and articles. A lot of people -- mostly historians or feminist academics outside of History -- have let me know, either on the blog or in person, that HistoriAnn has been really professionally or even personally useful to them, and I'm thrilled that so many people seem to appreciate the community that we've built there.

GayProf: It seems like community is the most important aspect of blogging. Certainly one of the reasons that I started my own blog was that I was feeling a lack of community in many aspects of life in the dreaded state of Texas. Blogging allowed me to connect with different groups of like-minded folk: The queer, other scholars, those obsessed with seventies pop icons. It turns out that those are some rather overlapping communities.

HistoriAnn: Yes. At least, for feminist bloggers and most academic bloggers I think community is the most important thing. There’s a similar interest in creating safe spaces in which we can have conversations across vast geographies, and pretty much in real time. Although friends of mine have commented recently that they think that the historical profession is just too ‘nice’ these days—in that no one really wants to attack anyone’s ideas, they just ignore them instead—I think ‘nice’ is just fine by me in terms of the space I have in the blogosphere.

GayProf: Too nice?(!) I am not sure what conferences they are attending, but I see lots of meanspirited folk become sharks at various panels. Geez – Are they hoping for an Alexis-and- Krystal-in-the-pool sort of moment?

HistoriAnn: Well, who isn’t, so long as it’s not you getting wet? (Just kidding.) But, to return to the question of blogging on the clock versus for fun: blogging is a choice that I think of like a hobby, although "hobby" seems like I'm selling myself short--should I say "avocation," as opposed to my "vocation?" I never dreamed that my avocation would be something that would attract more than a few hundred regular readers. If I put it on my annual report, it would become another obligation, and as a middle-class woman in the early twenty-first century, I've got plenty of obligations to work and to other people in my life. Maybe it's illusory, but keeping it off the books makes it feel more like fun than work.

Realistically, even if I included my blog in my annual report, I'd only get a fraction of credit for it anyway. In my department, our effort distribution is 50% teaching, 35% research, and 15% service. Since blogging is neither teaching nor research -- although it may serve to facilitate both of these aspects of my work -- it would doubtlessly fall into the catchall category we call "service" (as in service to the department/university/profession/community, etc.)

So, all things considered, I like the fact that Historiann is "space off," although it's clearly linked to who I am and what I do professionally. It has brought me into contact with scholars like you, with whom I have a lot in common but who otherwise don’t attend the same conferences, generally speaking, and it’s always good to have more friends and connections than fewer, right? I don’t mean that in a careerist sense, but rather in the sense that it makes me feel connected to a broader community of likeminded scholars. (This is something I think I value more now from my wifi connection in the Colorado Territory than I would if I still lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts or even in Oxford, Ohio.)

GayProf: Yeah, I think blogging could only fall under the “Service” category, which nobody really counts towards anything anyway (No matter how many nifty percentages or fractions that they attach to it. While I have occasionally heard people complain that so-and-so doesn’t do their fair share of service, I have never seen it actually impact their status or potential for raises).

HistoriAnn: Me either! Funny, that. I also don’t see people punished enough for being jerks, but I guess that means I can always reserve my right to be a flaming a-hole should I feel so inclined.

GayProf: Ah, the privileges of tenure. . .

Still, I do think that academics are going to have to engage with internet publishing, including blogs, in more serious ways. I think there is a potential for blogging to be akin to the very early writings of second-wave feminists or African-American and Latino activists in the sixties and seventies. In those instances, most trade and academic presses didn’t want to have anything to do with those works. The ideas, however, were so important that people published them anyway that they could: small independent presses (a thing of the past), self-publishing, or even just mimeographing them so that they could circulate. I think that blogging has allowed a comparable opportunity for people to articulate views that just don’t get traction in the mainstream.

HistoriAnn: This is a great analogy—or, maybe like feminist ‘zines from the 1980s and early 1990s?

GayProf: Blogging also gives academics a chance to have a sense of humor about things. Working in academia, maybe especially in ethnic/race studies, I find that everybody tends to be a little too earnest and serious. Given that ethnic studies professors stand a chance of being arrested in their own home, that lack of humor is probably understandable. Nonetheless, I like to think that we could be irreverent more often, even if we are talking about really serious issues.

HistoriAnn: Exactly. What would you do with your Wonder Woman memorabilia, and what would I do with my Barbies and cowgirl pinups, if we didn't have blogs?

GayProf: Well, I would probably still send my Mego Wonder Woman doll on adventures.

HistoriAnn: Our students get to know us (within limits, one hopes) and we can't help but share a little of our personalities with them in the way we dress, talk, move, organize a class, etc. But academic publications are not about "us" as people -- rightly I think. Blogs even permit us to create alter-egos like a superhero who disguises herself by day as a naval secretary, or like a cowgirl on the High Plains Desert with an amazing library of sexy pin-ups by Gil Elvgren. I think your fascination with Wonder Woman -- bespectacled naval attache by day, superhero of the Allied Powers by night -- captures the fun of blogging. We can develop playful alter-egos who probably have very little to do with our actual everyday professional lives. (And I hope I haven’t disillusioned too many readers for suggesting that I may not actually be a cowgirl who owns a ranch with horses to tend to, fences to ride, and stalls to muck out.)

GayProf: Right, though my secret identity is the worst kept secret on the blogosphere. Diana Prince made it look so easy. Just toss on some glasses and wear a bun-of-steel and nobody second-guesses that you might be wearing a red-white-and-blue playboy bunny costume under that uniform. As there are only a dozen gay-Chicano-studies scholars in existence, you don’t have to be Angela Lansbury to figure my real identity out.

HistoriAnn: That’s another reason I decided to be “out” from the start. I was already tenured, but really—how many other people in the world are there whose research interests are exactly what I do? And how many of them live in Colorado? Anyone considering starting a blog should consider how likely it is you can remain anonymous or pseudonymous if you live in a small state or small metro area. If you live in L.A. or New York, you’ll probably hold onto your anonymity longer, but since most academic bloggers end up in small-town America and Canada, that’s probably unlikely.

GayProf: I never really thought anybody would actually read the blog. When I started, there were just things that I needed to express about my life that wasn’t possible in TexAss.

Setting aside my shaky decisions, and to harp on my previous analogy to the sixties writings (because I tend to like it today), I think that pseudonyms and alter-egos can reignite that previous generations’ notion that the ideas were more important than the individual. They believed that the identity of one particular author was less critical than getting a discussion going.

Still, blogging is simply not the same as other intellectual work. Blogging definitely rewards quantity over quality. The more one posts, the more readers one collects. Indeed, I have seen some really great blogs lose their sense of purpose because the authors wanted to increase their readership. In place of thoughtfully written pieces written every few days, they became a clearing house for news feeds posted dozens and dozens of times per day. It works, too. They have thousands of readers who are willing to comment on a post consisting of nothing more than a picture of a cup of coffee.

HistoriAnn: Yes -- even some academic blogs -- or rather, blogs by people who were once academics -- have fallen into this trap. I try to walk the line by posting pretty much every day, and levening the history geek posts with the political commentary, and the professional issues in academia posts with Barbies or other doll-related posts, just to lighten the mood. (Depressing blogs are to their readers as Kryptonite is to Superman! They will sap your superpowers.)

But there's no question: it's easier to just link to someone else and say simply "heh" or "interesting," than it is to analyze something and open up a question for your readers to reflect on. But then, that's in part why I linked my blog to my real life identity--I thought that people should know where I'm coming from, and that it might curb any temptation to become intellectually lazy.

GayProf: I agree – After all, I can read a newsfeed just as easily as anybody else. Why go to a blog for that?

And there are some topics I won’t do on my blog. People’s murders, beatings, or personal humiliations just don’t seem like appropriate content for a blog with campy comic book covers and jokes about having sex with a car.


Roger Owen Green said...

Most interesting discussion of the academics of blogging. I'm not a prof because I lack discipline, yet I've blogged every day for 4+ years. But it's my own self-imposed discipline, not an academic one.

susurro said...

I'm coming back to read this more closely (gotta meet the new TAs today) but just wanted to say, it seems we are all on the same wavelength again.

I worry about the policing of blogs by academics now & I know that if blogging becomes a formalized part of my job I'll stop b/c it has lost all meaning.

Tom said...

Long-time Historiann reader (and occasional commentor), 1st time CoG commentor: Having just come back from a week-long (Monday to Friday) academic conference, I'm interested to read you both on the topic of blog as a center of community, as opposed to academic writing (and conferencing) which is less community-centric? It's an interesting conundrum, I think: conferences (especially small, field-specific ones) seem to want to foster community, too, but there still seems to be a real kind of difference. Anyone care to take a crack at pinpointing the difference in communitas between blogs and the rest of the academic life?

I'm too busy enjoying a little much-needed solitude to think about it any more.

Susan said...

I read academic blogs because they do provide a sense of community. . . even for those of us who don't take responsibility for writing posts on a regular basis :)

However, just as a point of information: after I was denied tenure at SLAC, I became the person to go to for those denied tenure there for about 10 years... (seriously). The last person to call me was someone who was denied tenure because "he had not done enough service". Now, of course, he had been told not to do too much service.... I must confess that I started to laugh. It was unforgiveable, but irresistable. It made it so clear that it didn't matter what he did, they were not going to tenure him. (Since my only contact with him was this conversation, I have NO idea what else was going on -- gender identity, race, personality, or whatever.)
So: SOMEONE has been screwed for not doing enough service.

Historiann said...

Thanks for all of your comments so far, Roger, Susurro, and Tom.

Tom raises a great question: small RL communities versus bloggy communities--what's the difference?

The main thing that comes to my mind is that in real life communities like the one you describe, you have more confidence about your other community members (that is, that people are pretty much who & what they say they are), and there's more integrity and accountability because of that. One of the learning curves for me as a blogger, which mirrors in many ways my learning curve of adulthood in real life, is that I've come to understand (unfortunately) that people aren't always who and what they say they are. And, unfortunately, I put up with some bad behavior I shouldn't have by some commenters last year and this year too, because it endangered the community. Whereas if those people had behaved in similar ways at your small conference, Tom, they likely wouldn't be invited to return (and would be rigorously shunned by the rest of the community for a good while, if not indefinitely.)

So by my estimation--although they're MUCH costlier in money and our carbon footprints--as much as I enjoy the academic blogosphere, it's not ultimately the same as, or as good as, those small subfield or regional meetings, or small conferences.

GayProf will probably have other ideas about this.

Historiann said...

Susan--I think we were both writing at the same moment. Great story, BTW. If they say they denied you tenure because you didn't do enough service, you KNOW they're lying. (But, you still don't get tenure. Dang!)

Your story about being the go-to person for other people who were denied tenure also makes the point that blogs can serve as important points for sharing information and gaining sustenance--services you provided on an as-needed basis for the people who contacted you. Some of the posts I wrote about tenure and my bad first job still get the occasional comment from people who write, "thanks so much, gee I wish I had found your blog sooner." I'm sure GP has had similar comments from readers who found some of his older posts, too.

susurro said...

finally hd a chance to come back & finishing reading, & I'm left w/a question I often am when this topic comes up. Who decides what is an academic blog? And if the content does not conform to the prevailing definition(s) is that a failing on the part of the blogger or a reflection that perhaps their audience and goals are different? put another way, isn't the best part of blogging the right to speak unfettered by the expectations of either profession or market rules?

GayProf said...

ROG: As you can see by my scanty posts of late, I have no discipline. **sigh**

Susurro1: Aren't we always on the same wavelength?

Tom: Well, no matter how great a conference might be, it is really a finite amount of time. We are talking, at most, a long weekend, no? If you become part of a blogging community, though, you can have contact on a daily (or more!) basis.

I would also say that the blogosphere is a much friendlier place than many conferences, particularly if one is a bit shy. One can read and comment at one's own pace.

But, ultimately, no matter the technology that we have created, nothing can replace the types of intellectual challenges and rewards of face-to-fact conversation. Being able to bounce ideas off of a real, live human being -- in real time -- is one of the best parts of conferences.

I guess that I would say that blogging wouldn't replace conferences. It might, though, help various people hit the ground running once they get to that conference.

Susan: I echo HisoriAnn. If they could only come up with "lack of service" as a reason to deny tenure, something was transparently awry. What type of service did they expect that he didn't do? Was he supposed to change the urinal cakes in the men's room?

Susurro2: Well, I am not going to be the one to come with a definition for "academic blogs." Rather, I would let it include those people who identify their own blogs as such.

One thing I forgot to mention in my conversation with HistoriAnn, though, is that I think that blogging also helps break apart the elite control of academics over certain debates. When I said that academics are going to have to take internet publishing more seriously, I also meant that they are going to have to take those who aren't in academia more seriously as well. I know I have had some great exchanges and had my own thinking really enhanced by many people who blog outside academic circles.

Frank said...

Very jealous that you and Dorian got to meet, and now someone else this week, too.

So tell us, GayProf, what we REALLY want to know: any blogger-on-blogger action with you and Dorian? *LOL*

Sisyphus said...

Great conversation ... is that a ... gigantic glass/plastic/invisible penis in that one picture? Sorry, I'm too boggled to comment any further...

John Gorenfeld said...

I just want to say there is no truth to rumors we played through the "Space Amoeba" scenario with Dorian in a customized Tholian corvette.

shaz said...

Just went to a U.S. Security Clearance interview, and one of the questions was: Do you have a blog?

Different take on the formalization/public-effect of blogging, academic or otherwise.

On the good side, they didn't ask about bigamy!

Historiann said...

Shaz--what a nightmare. Did they ask if you READ blogs, too?

Susurro, as to your question about what makes a blog an "academic blog:" what GP said. We didn't use the term in any proscriptive sense--I didn't even think about that. I use the term "academic blog" to refer to blogs written by academicians who identify themselves as such (whether they're pseudonymous or not.) As far as I'm concerned the content is up to the writer--GayProf and I just wanted to talk about the ways in which blogging may support academic work as well as compete or conflict with it.

As you suggest, the fun of blogging is getting to write what you want to write, however you want to write it.

GayProf said...

Frank: You should be jealous. I assure you, though, that we followed a strict blogging code of conduct.

Sisyphus: It's her invisible jet -- which happens to be powered by two giant glass penises.

John: Well, we would have played that scenario, but my power allocation chart wouldn't allow me to divert power to the science lab to collect knowledge points.

Shaz: Wow -- That seems like a no-win question. If you have a blog, and say "yes," then you will be disqualified for being too public. But if you say "no," then you will have lied on your security interview. Hmmm.

Frank said...

"I assure you, though, that we followed a strict blogging code of conduct."

What the hell is the fun of THAT, I ask!

Hope you come back to my neck of the woods some time so we can meet.

tornwordo said...

Interesting dialogue. Did you email this back and forth or something? I think I blog because old habits tend to die hard. It doesn't seem as fun as it used to, or maybe it's just me who isn't that fun anymore. Dunno. At least you guys get fired up about things, and you, you can go on (and on) about the politics inherent in a hollywood blockbuster. At least I feel somewhat edified when I come here.

Old Lurker said...

Don't worry, GayProf. I still don't know your secret identity. For all I know you really are an Amazon warrior masquerading as a mild-mannered history professor.

Dr. No said...

This is fascinating...hopping over to Part II now.

shaz said...

US Security has kept up with Web 2.0. Other questions include: What social networking sites are you on? If we googled you, would we come up with anything embarrassing? Has anyone ever written anything derogatory about you? [Do bad book reviews count?]

Of course, I immediately went home and googled myself. Nothing the least bit interesting came up.

In all fairness, I don't think saying "yes" to a blog disqualifies you -- but anything public will be investigated as a potential security leak... And it definitely reminds me about the public nature of blogging.

Dorian said...

Frank--I suspect you have a dirty mind. Besides, do you really think GayProf and I are the types to blog and tell?

GayProf--Aw, you make me blush. I think you're swell, too. Hope we can meet up again soon. Santa Barbara is lovely in the winter (hint).

The History Enthusiast said...

I am most definitely interested in how blogging has given me a community that I wouldn't have had access to normally. I started blogging three years ago (before I went ABD) and reading posts about academia and life after tenure have granted me so many insights into what kind of lifestyle can be expected. As a graduate student, it isn't always comfortable to ask some of these hard questions (even to a mentor you respect). This has been said numerous times in many, many places, but blogging does level the playing field.

Not sure if I've commented here before, GayProf, since I tend to be that reader that comments infrequently. In any case, hello!

Unknown said...

Didn't Nels Highberg post what he said about his blog in his tenure dossier? I thought he put it under scholarship or professional development or something like that. Nels, do you read this? Can you give us a link? I just remember loving how he talked about the role his blog played in his tenure dossier and thinking that I wanted to do the same thing if I'm ever lucky enough to be in that position. Of course, I apparently didn't keep track of the link...

Java said...

What a lovely photograph of the cup of coffee! I adore how the transparent nature of the glass coffee cup and saucer reveal the richness of the coffee.

(I couldn't resist)