Rather than trying to write some manifesto that regulates what I think blogs by academics should do, I'm going to do a sort of free-form speculation that talks mostly about my choices. I'm doing this not only out of laziness (though admittedly, that is a factor) but also out of one of my long and deeply held convictions about one of the most positive aspects about blogging: for me, blogging has been about having a space within which to develop a particular writing voice. If this is what blogging offers - and offers in ways that other kinds of academic writing can't match - I thoroughly resist the notion that we need to or should codify a set of rules that all teachers or students (or professors, who are interestingly for the most part left out of the conversation over at Dean Dad's) should follow. The point is to figure out one's online identity. Whether one writes under one's own name or whether one writes under a pseudonym (however thinly that pseudonym might veil one's real life identity), the point is to come to a voice with which one is comfortable and that allows one to explore ideas that one might not be able to explore in another mode of discourse. Moreover, the point is to some extent about community, and this is why blogging is not merely about keeping an online diary. Part of the point is that writing on blogs is public. People who choose to keep blogs know this.
But there is a period of adjustment to the public nature of blog discourse. At first, I'd suspect that most of us don't really believe that people will read our blogs. We feel as if we are sending off messages in bottles and we wonder whether any response will ever come back. During this period, each of us is prone to make mistakes in judgment. It's not that we don't know that this is a public mode of discourse, but rather that we think our voices in that discursive network are insignificant. But if that's the case, then why write?
Well, I chose to start blogging for a number of reasons, but chief among those was that I felt like my experience as a junior faculty member who was single, who came from an elite graduate program but who now works at a regional state school, who was trying to balance professional demands with a personal life that had been pretty much on hold throughout my 20s, did not have a place in the narratives that describe professorial life. I felt when I started a profound disconnect between what I'd thought my life would be like once I got that coveted tenure-track job and the life that I actually had. And I felt a profound sense of alienation from academic community, in spite of having that tenure-track job. In other words, I felt like the narratives available to me ultimately marginalized me. I felt insignificant, and so I wanted to construct an alternative narrative.
Now, when I started I didn't know what I was doing. And the voice that I started with ultimately could not be sustained by me with any level of comfort. So ultimately I moved house and modified the voice and the kinds of things that I chose to write about so that I would feel comfortable. But that was a valuable learning experience for me, and I'd be reluctant to change that experience and I'd be reluctant to say that some sort of code of conduct should have been policing my behavior, even though in my former guise I was much more likely to write in ways that were angry, frustrated, and identifyingly specific. But I moved through that phase, and I moved out of it. I think that people who keep blogging ultimately do.
I suppose that one of the things that concerns me about this discussion is that I resist the notion that complaint can only happen behind closed doors or that frustration expressed in one medium "counts" while it doesn't "count" if expressed in another. I don't believe that when people blog about their frustrations as students, teachers, professors that they are necessarily trying to effect change. I think it's more often a case of trying to figure out a problem or trying to get support when none is forthcoming in real life. In other words, the blogging is not meant as *action.* But it does not necessarily follow that the blogger is not actually taking action in his/her life related to that which he/she blogs about. The very same blogger who is "complaining" on his/her blog may well be going through the appropriate channels in one's real life to deal with the issue. I think that there can be a place for both ways of negotiating the terrain of academia.
Now, I tend on this blog not to write specifically about students (though I'm sure there are a couple of exceptions), or to write about the specifics of department or university politics. If I *do* write about things that are going on, my tendency is to abstract what I'm writing about, but this is mainly because I want my blog to be interesting to those who read it. It is not because I feel it's my duty to be positive or supportive or some other bullshit. If you read this blog, you don't read it because you're looking for some shiny happy take on academia. You're not reading it because you want to listen to some disgruntled asshole, either, but there really is a middle ground between those two options. And I'm sorry: sometimes students (and professors and administrators) deserve to be mocked. Sometimes ALL people deserve to be mocked. Because sometimes ALL people are idiots. Do I tend to want to use my blog for that? Nah. But I'm sure I've done it sometime or another, or I've written in such a way that others believe that I've done that, even if I don't see it that way.
There is no one way to participate in the community of academics who blog. Some people choose to write purely professional blogs; some people choose to write more personal blogs; some people choose to do a mix of the two. This is both exciting and potentially dangerous. But I suppose it's that element of danger that makes this mode of discourse interesting for me. It's like the difference between writing free verse (blogging) and writing a sonnet (a journal article). Each has its conventions, its defining rules, but in one there is more room for certain kinds of experimentation. If we try to stifle that experimentation, I think we risk valuing conformity in ways that are at rock bottom anti-intellectual.
So what would my advice be to people who choose to blog while academic? Whether these people are students or professors or somewhere in between? Am I even qualified to give advice? About that last question I'm not sure, but for the sake of argument, let's say I am. Here are my thoughts:
- A pseudonym will never shield you completely. People will always figure you out or you will inadvertently reveal who you are. That said, it is a particular projection of your identity, and you do have some control over it. Who do you want to be? It's good to figure that out and to figure out a way to be somewhat consistent in such a way that if somebody does connect the pseudonym to the "real" you that you're not embarrassed or angry with yourself for that identity that you projected.
- It's important to take this writing seriously, for it is public. That said, it's also important to feel some measure of freedom, or there is no point in keeping a blog.
- If all you're doing on your blog is bitching, it's probably not a terribly productive way to spend your time, and it's probably making you miserable. But if you sometimes bitch and you sometimes write about non-bitchy things, well, you're human. And I think that it's positive not to idealize what an academic life is like, and so give yourself a break if sometimes you're not so idealistic.
- Not all blogs need to deal with "issues" and not all blogs need to be professional documents. I mean, jesus, aren't we professionalized enough? And I don't necessarily follow the rule that I should be "professional" on my blog. Because guess what: I'm not getting professional credit for this blog and I don't want it. And I also think that some who think that they *are* professional on their blogs are deluding themselves.
- Ultimately, all of this is *really* not that big of a deal. Or it doesn't have to be. It only becomes a big deal when a few try to regulate the many. Ultimately, the fact that I blog doesn't mean squat in the broader scheme of my life. It's a hobby. And a pretty lame and nerdy hobby at that. It is not who I am as an academic or who I am as a person. And I wouldn't want it to be.