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.