A recent feature on the London School of Economics (LSE) blog, asked a question which has been plaguing the academic community for over 10 years: “Why are so many academics against academic blogging?” There is much anecdotal evidence as to the reasons why academics refrain from blogging. They include concerns that academic blogging:
- Demeans or cheapens scholarly work
- Can become misconstrued, misunderstood, and misused to fit narrow political or social agendas as it enters the public realm. This may threaten the autonomy of academic work.
- Takes too much time and so, takes away from “more legitimate academic activities”.
- Leads to internalized self-censorship that comes with years of enforced academic perfectionism
- Can hurt the academic and professional prospects of a scholar
Looking at these concerns it’s clear that academics have to mediate between the discomforts and concerns that surround academic work and the public realm. Academic blogging is merely one of the common ways that academia life intersects with the publics. LSE argued in their article above, “Academic blogging exists somewhere in an ether space between academic research and broader community.” It is the space where academic research is made more accessible and so facilitates a more democratic relationship between academics and various publics.”
And who is most equipped and suited to overcome these challenges and provide further definition and insight into this ether space – than academics themselves! Many academics are trained in ethnographic and field work methods which prepare them to act as brokers and mediate between two worlds. These are the same skills that can be used in order to merge the academic with the public and lay the groundwork for channeling academic blogging towards activism and community engagement.
Last week was the launch of CUNY Graduate Center’s first participatory, open, online course “POOC”: Reassesing Inequality and Reimagining the 21st Century: East Harlem Focus. The speakers Dr. Michelle Fine and Dr. Maria Torres shared personal experiences conducting participatory action research (PAR) in regards to stop and frisk policy issues in NYC communities. Their talk described and emphasized the mutual reliance that academics and the communities they study have to foster and grow a shared learning process. Academics have learned though years of hard lessons out on the field; to juggle the ethical demands and principles of their scholarly community with those that arise when they embed themselves in the lives and communities they seek to study. Like in most types of field work research, as the mediation process is introduced, there are risks of misrepresentation, misinterpretation and exaggeration that may arise. However, in field work we have learned to persevere and overcome these challenges. Why can’t the same difficult, long, yet rewarding learning process take place, as it is now academics and their work, ideas, and thoughts which are placed under the microscope of public scrutiny and for public consumption? The basis of much of academia is to bring people together across these boundaries, ideas, and beliefs – and we should be committed to contributing to this shared learning process.
So, my hope is that by acknowledging the difficulty of “becoming public” we can set ourselves on a path to identifying lessons we have learned in our own research and work that can help us move on and “get over it.”
With that being said, embracing a culture of connectivity is not for every academic. However, there has never been a better time to be a public intellectual thanks to the abundance of technology and digital tools available. And as this article argues – academics are among the best equipped to help forge that path.