Didn't we just have this discussion? Apparently we're still worrying away at it. Blogging (and other social media) as scholarship--the topic that, once dead, rises from the grave and shambles dully down the road, looking for academics to eat. Look, most blog posts aren't finished. The blog post as a genre privileges relative spontaneity (especially if one writes about "topical" issues) and relative terseness (lest your readers start going on about TL; DR). For most bloggers, a week's work on a post is an extensive investment of time and effort. This post, meanwhile, took about ten minutes, and yet has achieved astonishing success as a kind of critical document. Investing time on a long blog post is, if anything, likely to lead to diminishing returns, as readers are far more likely to respond to, tweet, and otherwise disseminate something brief, pithy, and/or snarky than they are something Very Scholarly with Extensive Footnotes. (Most of my long blog posts are drafts for something else--I mean, I'd like people to read them, but they're essentially notes for something I want to do in the future.) Professor Y's "several well-researched, 1,000-word pieces each week" are almost certainly not going to attract "thousands of readers," because Professor Y a) will have difficulty writing posts of that length multiple times per week, especially if he's extensively researching each one, and b) will not have thousands of readers unless he's working on a relatively small set of hot topics (which poses its own set of problems). Blogs that do succeed in having lots of lengthy posts tend to be group blogs. Finally, despite the dream of online readerships somehow supplanting traditional peer review, the collapse of comments at all but a very few academic blogs should raise some questions about whether or not blogging continues to promote a more liberated form of conversation, intellectual or otherwise. A retweet is nice, but it's usually not discussion. (In fact, Twitter links can be pretty prohibitive when it comes to discussion, much like Facebook and some Livejournal links, as it's not always possible to discover where the link is from.)
The question has returned from the dead yet again. At this point, I am tempted to suggest that the answer is "blogging is scholarship whenever an academic reader decides that it is"; some of my blog posts have found their way into the footnotes of peer-reviewed publications, for example, and one of them was even the partial topic of a conference paper last summer (!), so...presumably they have "become" scholarly, despite their conspicuous lack of peer review? Or does online readership count as open source peer review? In any event, under the circumstances, it seemed silly to leave the blog entirely off my CV, so I stuck it under "Miscellaneous Writing." (It's not this thing, it's that thing, it's...some other thing.)
At most, I think of my scholarly posts as drafts-in-public--or, if you like, as performances of scholarly process. In that sense, they're "scholarship," but they aren't "scholarship" in the sense of "does my university 'count' this as scholarship when I apply for a merit bonus." (Which makes me wonder if by "scholarship" we mean "what my university counts as such on an annual report.") For example, I've done a couple of Bronte-related posts over the past few weeks, which relate directly to the article I'm working on (and, um, am supposed to be finished with by now). But the article doesn't simply repackage the blog posts--if anything, what once occupied an entire and reasonably substantial post now boils down to a few entirely-revised sentences. Similarly, Book Two draws on some material I posted on Scott, but the material in the book bears not much resemblance to the original blog post, aside from working from the same quotation. There's certainly an argument to be made that drafting in public serves a useful function beyond any feedback, but the results are still only the first stage of what I would consider a finished product.
Due to one of those unbloggable crises that departments have from time to time, I have been spending most of my time thinking about things other than this blog. (The crisis is of the "help, I'm chairing the relevant committee" variety, not the "help, an asteroid is coming directly at me" variety. Although, come to think of it...) Also, I have an slightly overdue article--or, at least, I'm prettysure it's overdue--which is staring at me with soulful eyes, even though it's Just. About. Finished! (Cue my father: "You've been saying this article is just about finished for several weeks now." But it is! Really!) Thanks to those soulful eyes ("Mommy, why don't you clean up my footnotes?"), I feel horribly guilty every time I even look at this blog. (You cannot imagine the guilt I feel at this very second. Trust me. Or don't.) And I have to apply for gen ed credit for a new course I'm teaching next year.
(Which is another way of saying: more regular posting to resume next week. Because I have to write other stuff.)
Building on the work of Lee Shulman, Mark Sample defines scholarship thus: "a creative or intellectual act becomes scholarship when it is public and
circulates in a community of peers that evaluates and builds upon it." Sample is trying to articulate the boundary between service and scholarship, specifically as it relates to the digital humanities (where, as in the immediate case of Sean Takats, scholarly work may well look like service to academics not in that line of endeavor). What intrigues me about this definition is that there is no intentionality about the "creative or intellectual act" in question--that is, an act not intended to function as "scholarship" may well become scholarship if Sample's criteria are met (although he is clearly discussing DH scholars who define their work as scholarship from the get-go). In effect, scholarship becomes such at the point of reception and circulation. Obviously, this definition separates scholarship from the various modes of its production and distribution, which is a key part of Sample's point. However, it also suggests that the academic community may creatively appropriate, as it were, certain "creative or intellectual" products, no matter what the medium or the intent, and then incorporate them into scholarly discourse--whether or not the original author/coder/whatever may have anticipated entering into such discussions.
Sample's definition speaks to blogging, I think, because academic bloggers have long been mumbling away at the problem of how to categorize their practice. Is it service (because you're engaging in a form of academic PR work?)? Is it scholarship (because you're actively discussing your work in a public forum?)? Is it teaching (because you may, in fact, be conducting curricular activities on the blog, analyzing pedagogical best practices, etc.)? But if we focus on "what does the academic community do with your work?" then the blogger's intentions no longer matter very much at all. This post, for example, was not intended to be a serious scholarly contribution, although it certainly articulates, in sardonic form, some serious observations about neo-Victorian fiction (in particular, its frequent faux progressivism--Rules #2-#4 especially). And yet...it has worked its way into books and articles on neo-Victorian fiction, which, using Sample's definition, would make it "scholarly."
I've finally managed to dispatch the scariest things hanging over my head and/or lurking in large file boxes, so I plan to return to regular blogging in due course. Look for a discussion of Maggie Power's neo-Victorian/neo-Gothic novel Lily fairly soon...
In recent weeks, my father has taken to pointing out that my posts have no comments. To which I generally respond that there are indeed no comments at the blog, but there are often comments elsewhere. I'm therefore receptive to this post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick (building from this), which notes that Facebook, in particular, often makes off with discussions that might originally have happened at their point of blog origin. Ironically, this makes the experience of blogging more like writing for print than for electronic media: there are conversations out there on Facebook, or friendslocked posts on LiveJournal, or Twitter (it's often hard to track back to Twitter), but most of them are inaccessible to me. It does make blogging a bit more lonely, as nobody appears to be there (even though the stat count says somebody must be reading).
Of course, it has generally been my experience that my "serious" blog posts--the ones that take, as Scott says, "five or six thoughtful hours" to write--have never garnered much in the way of comment. The squibs, which may take all of thirty seconds, are far more likely to accumulate responses. (By the same token, the most successful "scholarly" blog post in my repertoire is the satire of neo-Victorian novels, which has now been cited more than once in peer-reviewed venues.) The unfamiliarity of the material is an obvious culprit, but the seriousness itself also appears to be at issue: can the respondent be equally "serious" in a comment that will not take five or six hours to write? In any event, the silence tends to make the effort to blog into something of a blogging-for-blogging's sake type of endeavor.
Of the responses to a recent talk she delivered about blogging, Rohan Maitzen comments that "[m]aybe people were taking for granted that blogging could be beneficial in the ways I was describing and so didn’t need to ask about it, but the impression I got (perhaps unfairly) was that they couldn’t quite imagine those benefits trumping the low likelihood of professional rewards for the time spent." Concrete "rewards" from blogging tend to be, at best, random: the CoHE buys one of your blog posts; somebody invites you to a conference; you're asked to review books; somebody takes one of your posts and quotes it in a book1. "Communication," as Rohan suggests, seems to be a better way of thinking about what academic bloggers do when they write about their scholarly work and lives. Not simply the results of one's research, but also how that research interfaces with teaching, with family life--even, I suppose, with one's cat developing an aggravating taste for rare leatherbound Victorian periodicals. I don't want to trot out the word "relatable," if only because legions of students will consign me to the Eighth Circle for hypocrisy, but perhaps "demystifying" will do. Even if the demystification involves revealing that some academics spend an awful lot of time reading rather unreadable Victorian fiction, because sometimes, that's just what you have to do in order to responsibly achieve your scholarly goals...
A different question might be: is the communication heard or overheard, to borrow from John Stuart Mill? Much of my writing about Victorian religious fiction, for example, is primarily for my own benefit--in effect, I'm using the blog as a repository of notes to myself about particular texts, some of which I'll plunder later for more formal writing. I'm dubious about the use of a blog as an alternative site for peer review (see "random," above), unless one has publicity mechanisms in place to ensure that the most useful readers show up; there's a reason that this little article, for which I wanted peer review (and not in the "jump-through-hoops" way), started out as a deleted blog post. (Among other things, it's not at all in this blog's usual niche.) That being said, I've found that blogging has been most valuable in reshaping my academic prose--more relaxed, less Englishese (although I have to discipline my habit of indulging in parentheticals like, er, this one). I don't think that Book Two is about to rival Dan Brown or Stephen King in sales any time soon, assuming that its contract goes through (my apologies to the publisher...), but I also don't think you need to be a certified English professor in order to read it, either.
1 Which is why I finally broke down and listed TLP on my CV, under "other publications": there's no point in continuing to erase the existence of a blog that's being cited in scholarly works!
I've been writing some version of this blog for about a decade (it originated on Blogspot), and so Dr. Crazy's questions did strike a nerve. It was always my intention to write an academic blog, and not a political blog, a personal-life blog, a travel blog, or anything else of the sort. In my case, that meant de-anonymizing fairly early on: it's very difficult to anonymously write about your research when the research in question occupies the nichiest niche that ever niched. (Religion and literature: big business. Nineteenth-century non-canonical religious fiction, with occasional visits by poetry: let me introduce you to all ten of us. In the known world. Quite possibly the galaxy.) Moreover, when I started, I was a non-tenured sort of academic. Then I mutated into a tenured sort of academic. And now I'm at the point of thinking about applying for promotion to full professor. Does this affect blogging?
Yes and no. This school year has seen the blogging slow down considerably, thanks to the trials and travails of revising Book Two; I imagine it will pick up again once I can get my new project(s) under way. But more than that, going up the academic ladder means...I've accrued commitments that are not a weblog. Even though I hardly qualify as an academic "star"--more of an academic streetlight, maybe, or perhaps a nightlight--I'm at that point in my career where people ask me to do things, whether it be referreeing a manuscript, writing an article, or sitting on Committee #3921. (As I recall, a previous chair's congratulations on my tenure application included the line, "And now, I have a committee I need you to be on.") At the same time, there are also fewer subjects that I can write about, in large part because I'm not anonymous; some of the strangest/most frustrating/most aggravating experiences I've had as an instructor or graduate director just can't put in an appearance here, because there's no safe way to keep other parties nameless. Too, some things I might have once posted here are now over on Facebook or Twitter.
Still, Twitter is hardly a substitute for a long-form blog post when it comes to writing up the latest Victorian novel about baptism. Although it might be fun to live-tweet a religious novel, come to think of it...
Undine, noting the migration of various bloggers to the Chronicle and similar spaces, comments that "the integration of blogs/Twitter/Facebook that sites are aiming for makes that cloak of pseudonymity even thinner than before," and goes on to say that "when I tried blogging a little bit under my own name, I hedged so much about everything that the posts were worthless (and I took the blog down almost immediately)." By an ironic twist of fate, I similarly found myself "hedging" my posts (so much so that I think they may have developed sharp quills) during this blog's earlier incarnation on Blogspot many years ago...back, that is, when the blog was pseudonymous. References to furniture-hunting (hey, it's nineteenth century furniture) and cats (they have Victorian names!) aside, this has never been a blog primarily oriented to my personal life or political opinions (actually, it's never been oriented to my political opinions). My intention has always been to focus on a combination of academic life in general and my own scholarly adventures in particular. And there's the rub: I couldn't talk about my scholarship in any detail when the blog was pseudonymous, because there are five other people on the planet who do what I do! (That's not quite as hyperbolic as it sounds.)
In my own case, then, associating my blog with my name was more liberating than otherwise. Indeed, it has also proven professionally useful, in terms of establishing connections and, in some cases, creating opportunities (invitations to deliver papers or write articles/reviews, for example). Heck, people sometimes cite the blog in print publications--that little post on writing neo-Victorian novels has gained a surprising amount of traction. However, pseudonymity would no doubt look far more appealing if I were in a perilous position job-wise, or if I wanted to write about politics/my personal life/my hobby of collecting dragon-shaped bottle stoppers. (Before you ask: no, I do not collect dragon-shaped bottle stoppers.)