Thursday, August 23, 2007


Maggie May has had two great posts about her concerns about blogging as an academic under a pseudonym lately, and I thought I'd respond at more length here, even though I've left some comments over at her blog. To summarize briefly, Maggie May asks readers to weigh in because she's starting to feel a bit uncomfortable about her level of exposure in the blogosphere, wondering whether she should change the content of the blog, go password protected, or use some other strategy in order to limit potential or current feelings of paranoia about discovery. A primary issue for MM is the way that she writes about the personal as well as the professional on her blog.

Now, these issues are ones that are not foreign to Dr. Crazy. When I started blogging, I never really believed anybody would actually read my blog.

(Aside: what's funny about this is that at a conference recently I met up with a colleague whom I'd met a few years before. Over beers, the conversation somehow found its way to blogs, and I decided to reveal that I had one. What was hilarious, when I revealed that I was "Dr. Crazy" was that he'd been reading me for years, and he was all, "but your blog is really big! I can't believe that's you!" and he generally thought it was totally awesome. I'd actually known him pre-blog, and so it was weird, but also really cool. It was like he was caught up with all of my stuff even though we'd not talked in years. By the way, if you're out there Colleague-who-has-read-the-blog, has DC entered the world? If so, congratulations!!!!! If not, congratulations in advance!!!!)

But so anyway, "Dr. Crazy" blew up as a persona before I'd ever really thought about the possibility of such a thing happening. And that freaked me out, especially because I'd never really imagined a readership when I began. And it freaked me out because some evil person threatened to out me, and the voice that I had cultivated in my first space was pretty divorced from a voice that I'd intentionally cultivate for those who might know my identity. I was both too personal and not personal enough, if that makes sense. And it was much harsher than I am in life. There was this projected identity, but one over which I had little control.

So I thought about stopping blogging, but then I felt like that wasn't really the answer for me. And then I decided that the best option for me was to move spaces, to take down the archives at the old space, and to stay Dr. Crazy but in a new register. Why did I choose this? Well, part of it was that I didn't want to stop blogging. Blogging gave me a community that I didn't have in my new-ish job, in my new-ish city. Blogging also gave me the ability to write daily, in a way that wasn't entirely solipsistic. Blogging was something that ultimately added to my life rather than detracted from it, and I refused to stop something that felt so positive out of fear. Part of it, too, though, was that I felt very confined by the initial voice that I'd chosen, without having really considered what that choice of voice would mean to me (both personally and professionally). So, for me, moving to another space allowed me to construct the voice I wanted out there publicly much more consciously, and it allowed me to grow as a blogger, to move beyond my first initial attempt. That was entirely positive.

But so, the question may be, why blog? Why blog as an academic, if one wants to write about personal-ish things?

1. I blog because it keeps me writing regularly and it keeps me writing for an audience in ways that just keeping a journal doesn't.

2. I blog because I with that I had more insight into this profession when I was a graduate student, and even as an undergraduate considering graduate school. I want to make this profession less mystified and mystifying and more transparent.

3. I blog because I think that it's important that all "academic blogs" are not just about academic pursuits. I think it's important that we recognize that academics have lives outside their research. I think it's an important feminist project to talk about how women negotiate their jobs with personal life considerations, even when those personal life considerations don't have (yet?) to do with children and being mothers.

4. I blog because I love the people I've "met" through blogging, whether in person or just online, and I want to continue to have conversations with them.

5. I blog because it's worth talking about this profession in ways that are just not possible to do in traditional forms of publication.

One of the things I've thought a lot about is what I'll do when I get tenure, with the blog. Will I
"come out" and reveal my "real" identity? Will I stay "Dr. Crazy"? This is a harder question than it may seem. On the one hand, I hate that I can't think of a single female blogger who reveals her "true" identity that writes freely, that is "known" (for example, as Michael Berube did on his blog). On the other hand, were I to reveal my identity, I wouldn't want to just blog as "me" - I like being Dr. Crazy online, and I think it serves a valuable purpose. I don't like the ways in which I can anticipate my voice changing were I not "Dr. Crazy." For me, the question is not how to retain my pseudonymity or anonymity. It's more a question of how to "go public" without it changing the mission of what I'm doing here.

Ultimately, the great thing about blogging as a genre is that it allows one to create a voice over time. Because it's a relatively new genre, it is flexible, and it allows for modes of expression and representation that aren't available in more entrenched genres (fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, etc.). One defines one's own space (through the graphic design of the blog, through the blog's voice) in ways in which it is not possible to do in other media (like traditional publication). A pseudonymous blog can be particularly liberating, because one can write outside of one's "public" identity, in ways that can be really productive and useful, not only to oneself but to others. But ultimately, one does need to think about the potential repercussions of that mode of expression. One needs to think about what one's blog means in a larger context. Does one want as many readers as possible, or does one want only a select few? Does one feel comfortable thinking about one's blog as a professional document, or would one rather think of one's blog as something that is public-private? These are questions that individual bloggers can only answer for themselves. That said, I'm attracted by the idea of coming out after tenure. Of staying Dr. Crazy, but also of claiming "Dr. Crazy" as mine. Why? Because for me, ultimately, I think it would be great to claim what I've done here. I'm not saying that what I've done in this space is super-great or anything, but it would be nice to own it in a way that I can't (or don't feel I can) do now.


gwoertendyke said...

great post, all of this discussion has been really interesting and timely for me and i appreciate the wisdom of you and maggiemay who have been blogging for years. so thank you.

and i look forward to your outing:)

btw: tenured radical is one female academic who blogs as herself.

gwoertendyke said...

and in fact if you have the time, i'd love to hear your thoughts/answers to my post on this same topic, especially given that i'm going on the market this year.

Flavia said...

Yes, there are a few (although only a few) female academic bloggers who blog under their own names--Miriam Burstein (a.k.a The Little Professor) is probably the best known. I believe she was pseudonymous until tenure, too, although I wasn't reading her back then. And Debra Hawhee, of Blogos.

I had a similar experience of someone I know in real life finding my blog (a college acquaintance, not a professional one), eventually figuring out that it was me, and saying to mutual friends, "did you know that she's, like, famous??"

Personally, I don't anticipate ever blogging under my own name, simply because I don't want to be Googled, but I definitely imagine that I'll be less and less discrete, and that my real identity will become even easier to figure out than it already is.

wwwmama said...

Yeah, this is a big issue for me right now, as I'm switching gears jobwise and feel that there's a chance in the small world of friends who know about the blog that it might get around to some of my new coworkers, which I don't want. There's no way to take it back once you've told someone about your blog. So I'm just forging ahead and vowing not to spread it further!

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

And don't forget Claire Potter, the Tenured Radical.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Bitch Ph.D. is kind of out now, although she doesn't have her real name on the Bitch Ph.D. site anywhere, I don't think - perhaps to maintain Bitch as a separate identity, the way that you talk about doing if you come out as Dr. Crazy (and the whole use of the closet metaphor applied to blogging is really weird or interesting or something). Anyway, I've come to accept that anyone who knows me and finds the blog will figure out that it's me, and anyone who reads the blog regularly can figure out who I am if they put any effort into it. And along those lines, I'd thought about going public once I had tenure, too (though it doesn't look like that will work now!), for the same reason - I'd like to claim the blog as mine. It's not like it's any great shakes, but it represents quite a bit of work; if you add up all the posts, it's a lot of pages!

(Oh, on people's responses to finding out you blog: I admitted the blog to a friend of mine from Former College, around Kzoo, and then JJ Cohen at In the Middle (who's a well-known medieval scholar who write about actual scholarly stuff) mentioned me on the blog, and my friend was so impressed! Hee.)

The Constructivist said...

To add to the Tenured Radical and Bitch PhD examples, A White Bear came out to whoever asked that she trusted, but she also just shut down Is there no sin in it? b/c it was getting too prominent....

Dr. Crazy said...

First of all, I don't want to dismiss Tenured Radical at all, but the reason that I don't think of her in that way is that she came out because she was found out, and I suppose I think that's a differnt thing than making the choice. As for Bitch, it's a different thing to come out once one's left one's job - the reason I cited Berube is that he wrote as himself - and not in a purely professional way, for my favorite posts by him were about Jamie, ultimately - without having been outed or without sticking to a more professional persona (The Little Professor). So it's not that I'm not aware of female bloggers who are in some fashion "out," but I think that, at least as far as I've come across, there's not a female blogger who fills that particular role, if that makes sense. (That's not to say there isn't somebody who's doing that, just that I've not found one who really does it.)

gwoertendyke said...

important distinctions, i think: wanting to be a personal & academic blogger and claim identity by choice. i agree with you and sympathize--it feels tricky.

Margaret said...

I think the main reason I write under a pseudonym is because I *knew* I wanted to be writing about questions of love n marriage-- and that's difficult to do honestly if you're "out."

Part of me is a bit sad about the fact that I can't claim this as part of my "body of work" though, especially now that it's reaching a number of people.

Hmmm, good post, Crazy.

Rebel Girl said...

Great discussion - yes, blogging allows folks to write about teaching and our work in different ways and get it out there, somewhere.

I don't often comment here but I always read.

We're "out" on our site - (partly as a result of a lawsuit) though we still embrace our pseudonyms.

amuffins said...

Well, I've been lurking around here for a long time, but always avoided starting a blog for the exact reasons that you list. So this post is really helpful as I'm just beginning to respond to the online world. For me, it isn't solely job considerations and concern about tenure, but just that I'm very private about my writing and thoughts, and in the past always shared these with only a select group of friends. But gradschool isolated me so much that I'm becoming more open to using the internet as a social outlet, just because I have to share my ideas with SOMEONE. I'm still very unsure about how I feel about blogging though, so I really appreciate this post. Anyway, regardless of whether you choose to remain anonymous or not, your readers have a pretty good conception of who you are in all the important ways and can appreciate your ideas without knowing your name. It might change things in your actual life, but it wouldn't change anything for your loyal lurkers (like me!) who enjoy your posts, where ever they're coming from!