collin brooke on blogging practices


I'm posting this as much for myself as for anyone reading the blog. Lately I keep coming across things that really force me to stop and think, and then they slip away and out of my attention radius. When they're here in the blog, they're less "out of sight, out of mind."

Collin Brooke posted a nice piece tonight on "Blogging Practices, and I found his criticisms of academia to be right on target:

I'm constantly struck by how little we seem to understand or even talk about what it takes to publish, what publishing our work accomplishes (and in some cases, how little it can accomplish), what the real costs and rewards for our work are, etc. As I was preparing that talk a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the height of obviousness to me to describe humanities scholarship as Long Tail work, and yet, I see indications all around me that we don't want to think of our work in that way: our aversion to collaboration, our inability to aggregate, our obsession with celebrity, etc. Hell, I have to fight every day to keep those things at bay--I love to imagine being paid lots of money to keynote conferences, to have my work read and discussed far and wide, to be semi-famous. But that's a Head reward system that disguises the more modest (but potentially longer lasting) rewards at the Tail end of things.

So, I'm in a strange place as an academic. I was recently paid money ("lots" is a relative term, I suppose) to keynote a conference. Unlike many academics, I have little aversion to collaboration or aggregation. But I am a tenured associate professor with a lab of my own, and I often feel like a stranger in a strange land no matter where I am.

Early on in my blogging, I wrote about aspects of synchronicity and collaboration in blogging, as well as my frustration with the fact that I seemed unable to produce original thoughts--that my skill was in synthesis rather than creation.

As time has passed (and I've gotten tenure, and some modicum of readership--though that's been dropping lately with my relative paucity of posts), I've started to be able to forgive myself for my lack of traditional scholarly output, and to be able to value my role as more of a human aggregator.

I wish academia did a better job of valuing the kinds of skills I've got--sifting and sorting, connecting the dots and seeing the big picture, intuiting and forecasting. It's not that traditional research isn't valuable--it's just that it's not the only way to put education and knowledge to work. RIT is better than most schools in recognizing a diversity of scholarship approaches (basing its recent scholarship policy on Boyer's reasonably broad definitions. But they're the exception rather than the rule.

To the extent that I'm part of the "head," the best thing I think I can do with that visibility is connect up more people in the tail. I don't want to get stuck in an incestuous echo chamber of digerati blogs and conferences--which is perhaps why I took such pleasure in being at Internet Librarian, where I was learning every bit as much as I was teaching.

(Collin tagged his post with academy2.0, which made me smile.)


Heya, Liz, thanks for the shout...

That frustration you describe is exactly what I'm talking about--I'm sitting here tonight working on revising a book manuscript, and with every paragraph, I'm fighting back the devil in my head that asks "Is this original enough?" I wish that I was better at exorcizing him, although I'd settle for a disciplinary culture that didn't make my head quite as comfortable for him to stay there...;-)


I think that's why I like my job so much. I serve primarily as an aggregator/synthesizer. That's what my "research" is. I read about things that are going on in education and technology and then I write about them. The only original thing I add is how something might apply directly to our specific environment.

I don't think you should really cut down on synthesis as per originality, some of the most significant minds in the humanities came to 'originality' through synthesis. They mastered other masters until they found their own direction to write, their work was still synthetic if you share their background. here I am thinking of mainly Frankfurt School and contemporary continental philosophy. Also, let's be realistic about the history of intellectual projects, we tend to mythologize these 'great original minds'. However, if you read histories of philosophy, you come to realize that great insights have contexts. My favorite story is Foucault, whose seems highly original if you come to him as an original, but if you start reading the people that he read, you come to see very quickly that his project is synthesis, it brings the insights of several major projects together and applies them to a series of new contexts. Books like 'Foucault's Critical Project' bring this to light pretty well, but so does exploring the people that he mentions as predecessors. In short, originality is like perfectionism, something that should be judged by others, not by the author.

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on October 29, 2005 11:32 PM.

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