Saturday, April 17, 2010

Academic Blogospheres

I should be packing and purging. But I'm taking a wee break. Since reading this post yesterday, I've been mulling, and while I'm not going to respond to what inspired her post, I do want to write, and to think through, something that Anastasia brings up. Specifically, this:

Blogging is a powerful forum for graduate students because our voices aren't moderated. In this forum, I am freed to speak to other academic folk as an equal and a colleague.

Except I see an increasing polarization of faculty and grad students. The grad students are "listening in" on faculty conversations in the blogosphere. The faculty bloggers sneer at graduate students who are just so naive.

Is it the economy? The shitty market? Is it an invasion of people who are equally prickly in real life? Or has our discourse evolved in a direction that lends itself to the reification in writing of the same damn dynamics of power that characterize my offline life in academia?

I feel pretty squarely put in my place by the way some of ya'll choose to write.

It's a shame, really, given that when I started blogging I wasn't even sure all the time if the blogs I read were by graduate students or faculty. I read them because they were honest and fresh and because the people who wrote them treated me like a person first and a graduate student second. We all blended together. And I really did feel like a respected member of the community and a junior colleague.

I love many of you with a love that is pure and true, but I no longer see the academic blogsophere as that kind of haven. I think maybe we killed it. But it was nice while it lasted.


I think it's worth thinking, first of all, about how the "academic blogosphere" came into being. I think that many of us who started blogging 5 or so years ago (OMG! I think I actually began blogging as Dr. Crazy, though not in this space, in 2004! Nearly 6 full years ago! That is INSANE!), were inspired to start because we felt, for whatever reason, like we didn't have a voice in whatever our context was. Invisible Adjunct's now defunct blog was a model for how powerful a medium blogging could be for speaking about academic culture and for developing community across experiences within academia. It's easy to look back on that time (and blog years are sort of like dog years - 6 years is seriously like a generation when we're talking about blogging) as one in which blogging as a genre was this fresh new thing, and to see blogging as creating a forum that allowed for the free exchange of ideas across hierarchies where everything was sweetness and light, but as I look back, I don't actually remember it being like that, or at least not entirely.

Back in the olden times of aught-four, major kerfuffles arose between various factions, as we all tried to determine what it meant to blog as academic people. There was a lot of friction between people who saw using a pseudonym as a crime against verifiable academic discourse and those who saw using a pseudonym as essential to protecting their real-life progress in the profession. I remember a major hullabaloo that occurred during my first months of blogging between child-free academic bloggers and ones who had children. There were deep divisions between those who saw blogging as a medium that was an extension of their professional scholarly lives (more "cooked" blogs, like Michael Berube's), and those who saw blogging as a medium in which we could weave the personal and the professional more seamlessly together (more "raw" blogs like mine).* And yes, there were even conflicts between graduate students who felt like people on the tenure track were "talking down" to them, or were not treating them like proper colleagues.

There were, in other words, even in those early days, controversies about who had authority and who didn't, and about what communities could or should develop through the medium of blogging. There were people who felt left out, and there were people who felt invited in. And some of those same controversies that I recall from the early days come back around every year or two, as people's positions change, whether those changes in position have to do with personal-life things (having children, changes in marital status, changes in location) or professional (finishing graduate school, getting a tenure-track job, getting tenure, leaving academia).

I also think that people's blogging identities have evolved as they've blogged for longer and longer, or at least I know mine has. Whereas early on I was constantly negotiating issues of authority and voice on the blog, those things now feel habitual, and I feel a lot less concern about self-presentation on my blog. (I do think this also goes along with my greater comfort in all of the kinds of writing that I do, even off-blog writing.) Whereas early on I paid a lot of attention to who was reading my blog, who was linking to my blog, and how many hits I was getting and where those hits were from, I just don't pay much attention to that now. (Seriously: I haven't looked at my stats in at least 6 months, if not longer.) I used to feel a lot more insecurity about revealing my "real life" identity to readers, or about being "found out." Now, I count among my real friends some people whom I "met" through my blog. I guess, if I want to put it succinctly, I've relaxed into my blog as just one more part of my life, and I don't agonize over the "space" that I've created or what it all "means," which I used to spend a lot of time doing.

On the other hand, though, as a corollary to all of the above, I do think that this space is much less of a free-for-all than it once was, in ways both positive and negative. Positively, I think there's a lot less conflict generated by my blog, and that has a lot to do with me learning when I should just shut up. (Not that I don't still make some mistakes in this regard, but those mistakes are a lot fewer and farther apart.) Negatively, there are hundreds of people who read or have read this blog who've never commented here, and likely at least some of them haven't done so because they don't feel welcome or they don't feel like they're part of the clique of those who do comment. While I don't exert a heavy hand in moderating most comment threads, and I don't have a moderation policy - I mean, seriously, if people post a comment, nine times out of ten it goes through without any sort of intervention or push-back by me, and that's even if the person is very critical - I do have comment moderation enabled for old posts and I don't allow anonymous comments, mainly to stop people from grinding their own axes in my space, from attacking my other commenters, or from contributing in unproductive ways (and also to keep the spam to a minimum). While I like that people leave comments, I'm also not interested in having the sort of blog where people get in snits with one another in comments. Does that shut down certain kinds of conversations? I'm sure that it does. But it also makes my life more pleasant, and it's my party, and the pleasantness of my life is more important than letting people duke it out with each other in comments to my posts. Because, dude, that is stressful, and it makes me feel yucky and like I don't want to post. So while I'm sometimes jealous of the spirited and lengthy comment threads that are a regular feature of other blogs, I'd rather not deal with managing such spirited and lengthy comment threads.

Another thing that I think about a fair amount is how comfortable (and probably set-in-my-ways) I've become in terms of my blog reading. I don't really go seeking out new blogs to read very much anymore, nor do I go out of my way to link to a range of other blogs in my posts. At any given time, I probably am a daily reader of about 5 or 6 blogs (though I have many more on my reader that I keep less steady track of), and most of those are blogs by people with whom I'm now friendly in real life. That's kind of lame, and kind of lazy. But the thing is, it's just not that important to me anymore to get new readers by linking to unfamiliar blogs or by commenting on unfamiliar blogs, and I've really been too busy to devote much time to thinking about blogging over the past couple of years - and reading around to find new blogs - blogs that will most likely go belly-up in 6 months or less - is time-consuming. This means that I'm rarely in a position where I'm going to encounter a blog by a person who doesn't leave comments here, or to a person who's new to blogging - not unless somebody else I read links to that person. And, let's be real: even if I encounter a new blog, that doesn't mean that the blog, even if I like it, immediately makes it to my "must read" list. Anyway. All of this is a long way of saying that I know I'm guilty of not really expanding the academic community that I've fostered in this space or of inviting new voices into it. That's not to say that new folks aren't welcome - it's just to say that I'm kind of an asshole who puts it on the newbies to introduce themselves and to make their presence known.

Finally, there is this issue of personal and professional growth. I think that this space has perhaps become less open to contributions from grad students or adjuncts, just for example, because the things that I'm driven to post about, while grad students or adjuncts may find them interesting, are less directly linked to their experience or to their primary concerns. Especially over the past year, I think a lot of my posts have trended toward talking about things that are central to my experience now that I have tenure, but that before tenure were things that barely registered as interesting to me, or at the very least didn't register as significant things I had to think about. I don't post about those things to leave people out, but if I post about them, they are going to leave people out - because the fact of the matter is that with tenure comes a vast amount of privilege, and if readers don't have that privilege, they are likely going to feel silenced. I mean, I do get that. While I might bitch and moan in this space about committee work and mentoring junior faculty and all of that, and while I think those are completely legitimate topics for me to cover, I also do know that if readers are not in tenure-track positions that they aren't going to have a lot to contribute to those conversations, or they will feel disenfranchised and like they have no place in contributing. The fact is, I don't know of a way around that.

Also, though, just as I've grown and changed personally and professionally, so, too, have my readers. People who were my grad student readers or adjunct readers are now in positions on the tenure-track themselves. People who, like me, were junior faculty sorts of readers have either left the profession or are now tenured faculty. These changes have made this community look a whole lot more homogeneous, but I'm not sure that's because it is, or because anybody - whether me or my readers - intends to silence anybody else. I think it's just in a lot of ways the nature of how these communities develop.

So what I wonder is, are there other academic blogospheres emerging - a new generation of academic bloggers, if you will - of which I'm just unaware? Or is tweeting the new blogging for that next generation of academics? Is it just that this particular community of academics is not the One True Online Academic Community? I'm inclined to think that this must be the case. Because actually, this blogging community never was the OTOAC - long before the academic blogosphere there were the Chronicle Forums.

But so anyway. Are you a lurker who reads Reassigned Time but who never comments? Well maybe it's time for you to de-lurk and to say hello. Are you a reader who feels like you're being silenced or like you're an outsider to the conversation? Maybe leave a comment to this post and talk about why, or about what you'd like me to post about that you would feel compelled to comment on. Or do you blog but I've never heard of your blog, and you'd like me to check out what you're writing? Tell me where to go read, and I'll get on it. In other words, the point isn't that the people who read and comment over here are some sort of elite group and there are no open slots for new people. And I could not care less whether people are grad students or adjuncts or tenure-track or tenured. It's not like there's some credential people need for me to think that they've got something interesting to say. It's just that most of the time I'm too distracted by other stuff to remember that sometimes you need to roll out the welcome mat in order for people to feel welcome.


*The "raw" and "cooked" terminology was Berube's, but what's funny is that I think as the years have rolled by that his blog has become more "raw" - especially when he writes about Jamie - and my blog has become more "cooked." In other words, it's not like these are fixed subject-positions in the blogging world.

Edited to add: In this post, I originally didn't link to the post over at Notorious Ph.D.'s or to its follow-up
. I made that choice because I didn't really think that the section of Anastasia's post to which I wanted to respond had much to do with that original post, or anything that happened in the comments. In fact, in that post itself, Notorious Ph.D. very clearly stated what the rules for commenting would be: "ONE POST PER PERSON, AND KEEP IT BRIEF. Otherwise, people will just skip over it." When I read that direction, it appeared to me that she was trying to make sure that the comments remained a conversation and that no one person dominated or whatever. Perhaps others read it differently, they skimmed over that part of the post, or they just didn't think that she really meant it? But so when she stepped in to moderate, reminding people of the rules that were clearly outlined in the post, I didn't think that it was pulling rank or being a jerk or anything of the kind: I thought it was running her blog as she clearly stated to her readers that she would be running it at the outset. No controversy there as far as I was concerned, and really that all had nothing, as far as I could tell, to do with what I wanted to post about. But now a people have directed me to the original post over at Notorious's, or have referred to it in comments. So I feel like in the interest of keeping all people who read over here who don't read over there fully informed and contextualized that I should add the links to the end of this post.

Let me just note, though, that I think that my post is about issues much broader than one person's blog post or choice of how to moderate a discussion on her blog, or one person's negative reaction to those things. I'm trying to think more broadly about the communities that develop between academics online, across stages of career and across disciplines. And further, I'm trying to think about how those communities grow and change over time, and what the implications of that growth and change are. So this addendum is not meant to put me on one side or another in any specific debate. It's just to give my take on the broader issues in play, but I figured after the fact that it made sense to provide more context than I did originally.

31 comments:

Flavia said...

Love this post, Crazy, in part because it expresses some of the things I myself have been feeling or wondering. I have a topic for a post rattling around in my head, and was thinking of pitching or framing the subject for grad students approaching the job market. . . and then wondered, "huh. do I actually have many grad student readers any more? I have no idea!"

I also feel like much of the personal-relationshippy, mentory stuff I used to get from other bloggers, as I was on the market and making my way onto the tenure track, has now migrated to Facebook, where I'm now friends with so many of the bloggers I read or used to read (in the case of those who have shut down or largely shut down their blogs).

I think this means that these days I tend to prefer blogs that are more "cooked"--or at least blogs with posts that need to be actual posts (rather than a couple of sentences, or a quick link, which Fb is better for).

I do still read new blogs, but many fewer of them, and they have to have a really distinctive voice/perspective for me to start reading them regularly. I think that's because, although I still feel really invested in grad student, adjunct, and very junior faculty's lives, when you've been around the academic blogosphere for five years, it can be hard to get excited about the latest incarnation of a debate that you feel you've participated in a billion times already.

PhysioProf said...

But I'm taking a wee break.

TMI!

Sapience said...

I'm a pseudo-lurker on your blog (I've posted a few comments here, I think), but hello anyway!

I just want to say that I've very rarely felt excluded or on the outside by the academic blogs I read. (Only once, actually, and it had nothing to do with being a grad student, and everything to do with the un-popular position I was holding.) Quite the contrary--I like getting the insider's look at what my career might entail in a few years, if I'm lucky, and I feel most of the bloggers have been particularly helpful and welcoming to grad students like me.

My own blogging has avoided most of the academic debates, especially the meta-academic debates. I'm either posting about my own research or personal items (though the latter have mostly migrated to facebook). I'm more interested, at this point, in watching how the debates proceed than entering into them myself. Most of the time, anyway.

And Flavia--you do have at least one grad student reader--me! =)

PMG said...

I'm part of the very small world of academic blogging by musicologists, and the transition I've noticed for us is that it is the senior voices have slowly dropped out over the years, and our little corner of academic blogging is now almost entirely graduate students, or recent-ish grads like myself. Back when people first discovered blogging there were official panels about it at our national meetings with senior scholars involved, and lots of excitement, but in the last year or so it's almost exclusively gone back to just being younger folk. Not sure what to make of that, and it seems different than the blogging-by-historians-and-english-professors blog world.

Dr. Crazy, I've been reading your blog for years now, and even though I'm not a commenter, this space and your bloggy voice more generally have been tremendously influential for me!

human said...

I am a grad student and I don't feel left out or silenced by your blog, Crazy. Speaking for myself, when I do feel left out or silenced elsewhere it's not a matter of what the post topic is. I don't have an expectation that every single post on a given blog is going to be of extreme interest to me. If it's not, I'll just skim over it and move on with my day. If it happens all the time I might stop reading that blog.

But the question is, can I participate in a conversation and be treated as a person of equal value as the other commenters? Or are other commenters (or the blog owner) going to pull rank on me? That happens a lot. Are they going to let me participate, but respond to me in a patronizing, head-patty way? Are they going to inform me that I'm obviously not good enough to be in grad school? (Yes, that happened.) Are they going to make it clear that I, as a grad student, can participate, but that I'm intruding on faculty turf and they're just being nice in letting me stick around?

I guess it's a hard issue, because what if you, as a faculty person, DID want to have a blog for just faculty to talk to each other? Would that be evil or wrong? Not really. But logistically it's hard to accomplish because it's not like the internet is divided into the kinds of RL social spaces that make it clear who is supposed to be where (or not) at any given time. I don't just walk into my department's faculty meeting and start talking about my experiences or asking questions. But it's not at all clear that I shouldn't comment on your blog, when - for example! - you talk about metaphors for student-teacher interaction, and ask you if you ever discuss these issues with your students in class, because I'm still trying to figure out what to do about students who won't engage with me or the material or each other. Maybe you'd rather just have a conversation with people who've already figured that stuff out! Obviously I don't think so, or I wouldn't have asked the question, but I could have been wrong - my point is the lines aren't clear.

I can see how, if a faculty person did want a faculty-only space for their blog, and a bunch of grad students showed up and started expressing grad student concerns or asking random questions about teaching practices or whatever, that faculty person might be tempted to pull rank or belittle the grad students until they either go away or pipe down some. It would probably be easier all around if the faculty person just said "This is a blog for faculty. Please don't comment if you are not faculty." But that kind of approach often feels ruder to people than subtler approach of just discouraging certain kinds of participation - even though the subtler discouraging can quickly move into passive-aggressive territory.

JaneB said...

Like sapience, I'm a pseudo-lurker - mostly because I'm a UK-based science academic so I often don't have much to contribute productively to your topics (other than cute kitty! since I am also single and cat-owned). I learn a lot about different contexts for being an academic in blogs, and I mean that in the broad sense, not the 'being Faculty'/job title sense. I also like the fact that you can just slide away from an argument, or follow it with fascination, without being publically and obviously present.

Personally, the thing I regret most is the drift to facebook - because I find facebook a slow, clumsy and ugly platform for communication, and because I don't at all like the fact that I have to 'shape' what goes there to a form which I want to be seen by my family, people from high school I haven't seen for 20+ years, ex-students, colleagues, potential bosses, dearest friends and new friends, blog friends and real life acquaintances... and of course since people can see each other's linkages, I feel much less safe or welcome in a situation where people just chuck out randomness...

thefrogprincess said...

human has said much of what i wanted to say. There's a crucial distinction between active silencing and "not all posts are relevant to my life as a grad student." You haven't shut me out by writing about committee work; more often than not, I'll read a post like that as a reminder of things to come and move along.

The silencing that Anastasia and I, among others, are referring to frequently comes up around issues of graduate education. I'm going to exaggerate here but there's often an element of "grad school sucked for me too so why are you expecting anything different" in the comments of faculty. I don't know if it's intentional condescension or if its just that faculty members are reacting to how their similar graduate student concerns seem trivial now that they're tenured faculty (and hence more secure in their lives and careers than we are).

One thing that does concern me, though, is the underlying assumption that things probably aren't as bad as we say they are. I'm sure that's true in some cases. But in other cases, graduate students are having experiences in their programs that are blatantly unacceptable and they aren't being heard in their own departments because faculty members don't want to rock the boat. What's troubled me most is how I see that same dynamic of silencing happening on blogs (not necessarily yours) as well as in "real life." There's a blindness or an unwillingness to acknowledge that something's wrong (either at the individual or the systemic level) and it strikes me that that is how academia replicates itself with the same unequal power dynamics and space for abuse and exploitation.

Pika said...

Another lurker here. Like JaneB, I am in Europe, so I don't usually comment, not because I wouldn't feel welcome, but because your environment is very different from mine. Not only culturally, but also because I am in science.

However, I read and have been reading for a long time now - you and FSP (linked here, because I don't know if you know this blog, but she is probably one of the first and most well known science professor bloggers) were the first two academic blogs I read.

I am a few years behind you in my academic career, so I always find out something new from you and you often inspire me to find confidence in myself.

Janice said...

If our blogging is recreational and not vocational, then I hope we can be excused for not performing all the possible out-reach activities we could.

There aren't enough hours in the day to read all these blogs, old and new. There certainly aren't enough hours in the day to do that and keep up with the rest of my life. I know that holds true for anyone in the academic blogosphere: student, staff or faculty!

That said, the very act of blogging opens a door, even if it's only a tiny bit and the door opens onto a porch and not an entire house. This open door invites other scholars and would-be-scholars to come on in and make their own contributions if they wish.

It's hard to remember what it was like in early blogging, struggling to find someone who shared a tiny bit of commonality in the blogging world. It was months of searching before I ran across IA's blog and, from there, a whole world eventually opened up for me. I try to add a new blog to my RSS reader every month or so but I can't keep up with everything of possible interest, so I do the best I can. I suppose that "fail better" wouldn't be a bad motto, all things considered.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Just commenting to note that I read and enjoy your blog, rarely post, mostly for lack of time. I'm several years out of grad school, but a clinical asst. professor: what I sometimes call the super-adjunct: benefits and a three-year contract and more pay per class than the regular adjuncts and my own office and even a promotion ladder, all with no department admin responsibilities -- but much less pay than tenure-track faculty, a heavier teaching load, and no say in department policy, which can be deeply frustrating.

So I think when I read posts from tenured faculty, I don't feel excluded exactly, or not by them in particular, but a little left out / wistful from the whole tenure-track world. Even though I'm not sure it's actually a better deal for me (with two small children and a writing habit to support) than my current position.

Anyway, my blog is here if you'd like to read it -- but I only talk about academia part of the time. The rest is generally food, children, house renovation and fiction writing. Occasionally sex and sex politics.

http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/index.php

Bardiac said...

What a fascinating discussion. Thank you.

I think some of the most interesting blogs come through the blogger going through a change of some sort. So grad school blogs can be really interesting, as can blogs by newly employed folks, or blogs by people just discovering blogging.

I don't have much confidence that I have much of interest to say for grad students, not because (I hope) I'm trying to be exclusive, but because the sort of school I'm at, deep in flyover country, feels very parochial.

I wonder in some ways what tenured folks in schools like mine have to offer students in PhD programs. We have few jobs, (I) haven't been on the market for a while, and have a parochial sense of how terrible things are. I can't change the system; I can't seem to do much to change the systemic ways my own department abuses adjuncts, even. The more depth and breadth I get in understanding how my university works, the more I despair.

I do like to find new blogs, though, and am looking at some new names here and checking out their blogs.

Emily B said...

I'm also a lurker (and a grad student), and I've never felt alienated by your writing or the conversations here. (And of course, it's *your* blog!)

I actually find it really comforting to read about the things you encounter at this stage of your career from a distance :) That is, it's informative but not stressful, and I feel this way about a number of blogs I read from faculty and others farther along in their work lives.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. First things first: Clearly everyone is welcome - I let Comrade Physioprof in, after all, with his potty humor and his continual suggestions that I should drink heavily :)

I think that Facebook has caused a major transition in blogging - and definitely in the way that I blog. Just take at the drop in my number of posts from 2008 to 2009 (100+ fewer). While there were other things going on, too, the drop does correlate with my getting on Fb.

And yay that so many unfamiliar (or barely familiar) people are stopping by to comment in this thread! It's nice to hear from you all. (And by the way, human, I don't think I actually registered that you're a grad student! I mean, you might have mentioned it before at some point, but it wasn't immediately how I identified you. Same for Sapience.)

PMG writes: "Back when people first discovered blogging there were official panels about it at our national meetings with senior scholars involved, and lots of excitement, but in the last year or so it's almost exclusively gone back to just being younger folk. Not sure what to make of that, and it seems different than the blogging-by-historians-and-english-professors blog world. "

You know, I think a lot of that initial "buzz" about blogging - the panels at the major conferences and stuff - HAS actually slowed down in English, too, though obviously people who've been around since those days still continue to blog. I wonder if perhaps, at least in English, this has to do with the fluidity between blogging as a medium and the other sorts of writing that we do? Or maybe because it allows the English folks to talk about the "state of the humanities" and academic freedom and job market atrociousness stuff? Dunno.

human - I think you make good points about how the person who runs the blog responds to commenters who are less far along, and also about the fact that online spaces are - for better or worse - more "open" than other kinds of social spaces, so it's hard to know who the intended audience is. I'll say this for me: I feel like when I do a post about teaching, for example, it makes entirely good sense for other teachers to chime in with their experiences, and grad students are just as much teachers as I or people senior to me are. I don't know. I notice that my approach to comments is a lot looser than many other bloggers'. I tend not to keep discussions moving, or to respond to people's comments in a lot of threads, but I also keep my hands off and don't exercise a lot of authority in terms of moderation, unless people are really being jerks. I wonder if the fact that I let the discussion just go actually makes the space less fraught in terms of hierarchies (or at least it feels that way to me)? For whatever it's worth, that's kind of how I run class discussions, too (although I do a bit more hands-on keeping people on topic, but since y'all are highly educated people, that's not necessary in this space).

JaneB and Pika - thanks for stopping by! And how exciting that you guys read the blog and find it in any way interesting! I often wonder whether any of what I say means anything outside of the bubble of the humanities, and the bubble of US higher education, and it's nice to get a reminder that even if it doesn't reflect your own experiences that it does speak to you in some way. I actually do read FSP pretty regularly, and I don't comment over there for exactly the reasons you guys don't comment over here :)

Mary Anne - Thanks for the link to your blog!

More in a moment....

Dr. Crazy said...

thefrogprincess writes: "The silencing that Anastasia and I, among others, are referring to frequently comes up around issues of graduate education. I'm going to exaggerate here but there's often an element of "grad school sucked for me too so why are you expecting anything different" in the comments of faculty. I don't know if it's intentional condescension or if its just that faculty members are reacting to how their similar graduate student concerns seem trivial now that they're tenured faculty (and hence more secure in their lives and careers than we are)."

I remember in my first year of blogging this very issue being something that came up as a problem between grad students and faculty, and I was definitely a target for grad students' anger. (This was when I was writing in my first blog space, and I still hadn't gotten a handle on voice or audience at all.) From that experience, I learned: 1) I was bringing a lot of my own grad school baggage to the table when I would post about graduate education, baggage that I've since dealt with, I hope. 2) I think there were times that I said things that were not intended as ignoring the very real problems that do exist or as excuses for them, but they were perceived that way by people who were in the middle of the grad school experience (so what I thought was just me writing frankly was perceived as me being totally insensitive to the big picture, to graduate students' concerns generally, etc.) In other words, when I, with my tenure-track job, would talk about grad school (and I was talking just about my own experiences - I didn't even teach grad students then), my grad student readers immediately saw me as speaking from a position of authority and they bristled at the conclusions to which I would come.

Looking back on all that, I believe that there was a real breakdown in communication, and it came from the fact that I didn't really realize at the time that I wasn't speaking AS a graduate student but as a person who, just one year later, had all of this (perceived) power. So were the reactions to what I wrote "fair"? Eh, kind of. I hadn't carefully considered how my audience would construe what I was writing, and that was my fault. On the other hand, though, did I intend to belittle, to denigrate, or to in some way minimize the struggle of graduate students? No, but once my grad student readers decided that I did intend those things, they wouldn't listen to anything I tried to say to explain myself, which really did suck. And all this power that they perceived me as having? Um, I was an untenured person at a no-name directional university where I didn't teach grad students (which I made very clear). What exactly was I supposed to do about ANYTHING that was a problem for graduate students, whether individually or collectively? So my position wasn't actually assuming that graduate students were exaggerating about how bad their situations were - it was, ultimately, one of powerlessness, if that makes sense.

None of this is to discount the power imbalance that you or Anastasia have noted, but rather to try to explain that I think the power dynamics are a lot more complicated than "grad students have no power" and "faculty have all the power."

But anyway, I didn't say any of the above to shut down your concerns or to stop this conversation. But I did want to respond to try to give a sense of maybe where the reactions on different sides of the debate come from.

Dr. Crazy said...

Janice wrote: "If our blogging is recreational and not vocational, then I hope we can be excused for not performing all the possible out-reach activities we could."

Yes. That of course isn't to say that we shouldn't be sensitive to our readers, but it does I think mean that context and type of blog matters. On the other hand, though, it also probably means that if we are writing blogs that are more recreational in nature, we shouldn't resort to pulling rank with our readers. In other words, I think both bloggers and readers have a responsibility when it comes to this, if that makes sense.

Bardiac writes: "I wonder in some ways what tenured folks in schools like mine have to offer students in PhD programs. We have few jobs, (I) haven't been on the market for a while, and have a parochial sense of how terrible things are. I can't change the system; I can't seem to do much to change the systemic ways my own department abuses adjuncts, even. The more depth and breadth I get in understanding how my university works, the more I despair."

Well, here's what I think. While it may be true that a grad student won't get a job at your specific institution, or at mine, I do think reading about institutions like ours is incredibly useful, mainly because most jobs out there are going to be at our kinds of institutions, or at similar slacs, and NOT at research universities or elite slacs, which is what most grad students have most familiarity with. I think the narratives that we provide of our experiences - even if those narratives are about powerlessness - are valuable. But then, I'm an idealist :)

Emily B - Thanks for stopping by!

thefrogprincess said...

Actually, Dr. Crazy, I think what you just said makes a lot of sense. I think we all do best when we try to unpack where it is we're coming from, as you just did, and why we're saying certain things. (For example, I know my recent downness on grad school is a direct reaction to what's happened recently.) That kind of openness and reflection makes for better blogging, I think, regardless of where we are in our careers.

PhysioProf said...

Clearly everyone is welcome - I let Comrade Physioprof in, after all

So I am the apotheosis of blogosphere riff-raff?

Dr. Crazy said...

Teehee. Isn't that what you're going for PhysioProf?

Bardiac said...

Dr. C, I agree that there are more jobs at our sorts of institutions than at R1s or elite SLACs, so maybe it's important that grad students hear our concerns.

I think you gave an excellent explanation of the difficulty you had communicating your experience and being read. (I'm putting that clumsily, but up there, up above, good job.)

I must confess to some frustration. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. I read Anastasia's comment about bloggers who are exclusionary, and I immediately wonder if I'm being unwittingly and unintentionally exclusionary. How would I know?

In a way, I'd prefer someone call me out and say, "B, this thing you said is exclusionary," because then I'd at least think about it more productively.

Which gets me back to the honesty part of Notorious PhD's findings (that grad students want more direct honesty from faculty). I recognize that grad student bloggers might feel that the power differential means that tt or tenured bloggers might punish them somohow, but as a tenured blogger, I can't begin to imagine how. At the same time, I know that faculty feel weirdly exposed when they critique student work, because students complain and can make life difficult or frustrating. It may not seem that one's dissertation director could feel at all vulnerable, but I think many do.

Great conversation here; thank you.

human said...

Crazy, I think you are absolutely right about the value of Bardiac's blog (which I also really like, even if it doesn't totally apply to my own life).

I also think that in other cases, too, the kinds of bloggy things that can wind up having grad students and faculty in each other's faces happen essentially, as you said, through a breakdown in communication. Going along with the lack of clear borders in online social spaces that I talked about, there is this assumption that in online social spaces, status distinctions don't exist or won't matter in the same way that they do in other social spaces. Of course that isn't possible! In the humanities, people live and die by status. So it can trip people up when they assume they are just talking as Some Random Person Online - but in reality they still do have their status, if they've identified their academic rank, and people will respond to them as such. And then, to complicate things even further, sometimes people will defend themselves based on their rank/status, when challenged, just as they would do in RL social spaces - without having realized that they would feel the need to do that, online.

I hope that all made sense. This is such an interesting conversation, and I appreciate being a part of it.

PhysioProf said...

I prefer to think of myself as a rakish bon vivant.

Dr. Crazy said...

You say tomayto, I say tomahto, CP :)

e said...

Compulsive lurker here (i may well account for the majority of the more Southerly blips on your tracker). I have never commented here, or elsewhere, not for sense of exclusion but because I don't feel that I need to participate to get something out of it. An excursion through academic blog archives, aside from being a wonderful way to hasten my hours of waged labour, is also a remarkably efficient way to get myself of writing slumps. Down here in the Antipodes, the higher education sector has been subject to a barrage of reforms intended to professionalise content and devalue those areas of study considered to be of 'low impact' or of no relevance to industry. So as a grad student I find this blog, and the others that I read regularly, satisfying not because they speak to my own experience, but because they can offer an honest, yet often celebratory representation of academic work.

Dr. Crazy said...

e - thanks for popping your head in! In the US, we're fighting the good fight against what you describe, but it is still a fight. Let's hope that those of us fighting against can win!

Bardiac - I understand your frustration/paranoia, and I a similar feeling in me was a lot of what inspired this post. Because I think there is a lot, in the dichotomy that's set up between grad students and profs, that relies on this idea that "profs know that they are wrong! they are ultimate and all-knowing and all-powerful authorities," and I'll just state right out that I don't feel that way ever.

Here's the thing: particularly in the blogosphere, profs who are writing *don't necessarily know* what they are doing that is wrong. This is not to put it all back on the grad students - in a sort of blaming the victim way - but it is to say that we can't have it both ways - we can't say that this is supposed to be this free and egalitarian space where we are all "academics without hierarchies" if those people lower on the real-life hierarchy don't communicate with their *peers* in the blogosphere to explain directly what they're upset about. And by explaining directly, I mean exactly what you wrote: "B, this thing you said is exclusionary," and, I'd add, "here is why I feel that way."

If we're all "academics without hierarchies" it's really reasonable to think that professors might make mistakes, or that they might judge wrongly, or that they might not be thinking about the bigger picture when they post something to their own personal blogs. *Especially* if in their blogging lives they're regarding those blogs as mainly personal, and not as professional documents. Because, at the end of the day, professors are people, too. They aren't necessarily aware, as people, that they are hurting other people's feelings, or how they're doing it. (I'm not saying here that professors have this same leeway in an institutional context - in an institutional context, I think professors have an obligation to be very aware of our status in relation to the students whom we advise, and to how that affects dynamics between us. I just don't think that in the blogosphere that this all works in as clear-cut a way.) I DO NOT think that it's grad students' responsibility to make faculty (of whatever stripe) feel comfortable or whatever. But if grad students expect to be treated as colleagues, I do think that they should also be treating people in other positions within academia as colleagues - not as authorities. And that means cutting them a tiny bit of slack. (Not giving them a free pass, but just not assuming without cause that they're out to get them.)

In other words, in my view, this all should be a two-way street. Yes, that means that people in tenure-track or tenured positions should be sensitive to grad students or non- t-t faculty. But it goes both ways. If people want a shiny happy haven of a blogosphere, we've all got to produce that. It's not only on the proffies, as Notorious called us.

Anastasia said...

I have never said that grad students have no power. nor have I said that faculty have all the power. Ever. And that is not what my post says. Just a point of clarification because I think it's important.

I also wanted to say, if we're going to reference notorious phd, that I skimmed past the "one post per person keep it brief" and the very first comment was so long it was two comments, so it didn't catch my attention. I don't really want to say a lot else about that because the issue was not the post or the moderation per se. It was more general.

I think frogprincess is right that recent conversations about graduate education are at the heart of this. I don't suppose they are different in kind from prior divisions and arguments I've experienced. I haven't honestly participated much. I just have this sense that people used to be more open to talking about it without dismissing.

Now, I think the shift does have to do with people's blogs evolving and former asst profs earning tenure and such. And I think my sense of the shift has to do with the fact that I've started reading a few blogs that honestly, I need to just take out of my feed reader because they do not contribute anything positive to my life at all.

Things do feel more stable now, though, and thus less new and exciting, less trangressive, even. And that makes everything feel, well, like everything else in my life.

I guess a simpler way to say is that in the midst of a kerfluffle, I feel like I see fewer posts that step back and consider, rather than defending what was said, the language chosen, or why the offended party shouldn't have been offended.

That's why I appreciated what Notorious PhD wrote and why I commented--I read but don't normally comment there--and that's why I felt so stung by the perceived need for what seemed like pretty heavy moderation. I didn't frame my post in direct reply with a link because I'm aware that my reaction wasn't exactly about her--this is common for me...the post was the trigger but I wasn't addressing a reply.

Anastasia said...

Okay, one more thing. I really have not participated in many recent conversations about graduate education but I have read. I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. I don't see anybody saying that profs are these all-knowing beings. But a post that responds to graduate student angst about the process and the market by saying something like, oh, "hey, grad students, own your own shit! Grad school is hard and if you can't hack it, regroup, retrain, and do something else!" I really don't know how to read that but as total dismissal and I have a hard time understanding why total dismissal isn't something most normal people would realize is insulting without being told it's insulting.

When you add that others have responded by saying that total dismissal is not a helpful response and, you know, maybe kind of upsetting and insulting, the correct response is to step back and take another listen and make a new try at a response. Which, honestly, is what Notorious did, which I thought was great, like I said.

Dr. Crazy said...

Anastasia, Thanks for coming by and for commenting at such length. I'm sorry if I mischaracterized your post or thoughts in any way - whether in my post or in any of my comments that followed. From what you describe, it sounds like there are a lot of jerky people writing about grad students who I just totally don't read. I think you're right: stop reading these people! Life's too short. Seriously.

Caracas said...

I'm a lurker, too - and I read you specifically because you're one of the only academic bloggers out there who has a job like me - comprehensive university, 4/4 teaching load, with research expectations. Our experience gets lost in all the R1 and SLAC hooha, so it's nice to hear about someone dealing with the same stuff as I do. You legitimize it, in a way.

squadratomagico said...

I think part of the issue is: how do you define the space that is your blog? Is it your "living room," in which you, as blog owner, are the host? If so, then I think you have the right to set certain rules for interaction, hopefully ones oriented towards making all the "guests" or commenters, feel comfortable. I read Notorious' one-comment rule as a means to this end: I assumed that since one of her explicitly stated goals was to encourage lurkers to write in and share their experiences, that the one-comment-per-person rule was intended to prevent the thread from becoming dominated by one or two people, thus making it apear too "clubby" to shy readers. Indeed, I though Notorious' open-comment post was an extremely generous impulse, and I find it nothing short of bizarre that she's gotten shit for it.
But, back to my main point: On the other hand, one can approach one's blog space as more of a "public sphere." In this model, the blog owner has the power to propose topics for discussion, but beyond that, the models of interaction and commenting are emergent and negotiated by all parties as the conversations progress. The roles are not those of "host" and "guests," but something more like a politician and hir constituents. (Best I could do, but I'm not totally happy with that metaphor.) Anyway, I suspect some of the rancor arises from a divergence of expectations about who has what rights in individual blog spaces. Is moderation censorship? Who has the rights to set the terms of interaction?

Anastasia said...

that's actually an issue I wasn't trying to address because I think each blog owner has every right to do that. What I wanted to talk about was how I felt about it and why, which really has nothing to do with rights or the right or wrong of moderation. And it was connected with some broader tendencies in the discourse. So actually, this places a finger on exactly what I was avoiding by not framing a direct response to notorious phd.

Doctor Pion said...

Ditto about Fb, which for me serves a different audience as well. It is not suited to thoughtful postings, something that must contribute to less than brilliant essays by your students!

I'm not new here, but I just want to add my compliments on your blog and this excellent article about the subject of academic blogging. I see that profgrrrrl wrote a similar one, and I will probably do the same once I get out from under this current semester.