Inching, inching

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It's easy to come off, and to want to come off, as someone who's already figured it all out--it's a particularly academic attitude that's all but hammered into us, that to "not know" is a sign of weakness. The unfortunately ironic part of it all is that not knowing is always an opportunity, for me at least, and yet I feel like I get caught up in papering over those times where I don't know.

All of which is to say that, as I was thinking more about last night's post, I was reflecting on how often I do the stuff that I was critical of. I've been thinking about doing the bulk of my reading and writing for my 2nd book online, for a variety of reasons. I want the early and immediate feedback on much of what I have to say. Blogging is a lot closer to my ideal writing rhythm. And the tools for managing knowledge available online are just better than anything I might cobble together on a desktop.

And yet, last week, as I was thinking about it, I found myself falling back into the terms that I advocate against. I was worried that people would think it derivative. I was worried about it being written out from under me, as people took up ideas and turned them around faster than I could. I was worried about presses being turned off by it appearing publicly. In short, and let's break out the arrogance checklist for this, I was making the following assumptions:

  • An idea is only good the first time, that is, if you're the one to "discover" it. (check)
  • My ideas are so good that people will steal them. (check)
  • It's better to be first than to write well. (check)
  • I should hoard my good ideas greedily and then spring them all at once, so that people will think my genius is pure, whole, and polished. (check)
  • "My genius" (snort) (check)

It's so unbelievably hard to get out of the habit of policing the borders of "my" ideas that there are times when I don't know where to start. You'd think I'd learn eventually, though. You'd think we'd learn eventually. In his post yesterday, Alex wrote:

So why do we produce scholarship?
  • To get tenure, promoted, a raise, a better job, and other monetary rewards
  • To improve our reputation/standing in the academic community
  • To lay claim to an idea
  • To promote an ideological/disciplinary position and/or to critique another

I'd say those are roughly in descending order and might be followed by more altruistic notions like "advancing knowledge" or some such. If that seems cynical then perhaps you are unaware of the pressures involved in tenure or the pathetic role reputation plays in academia (something Jeff's post addresses).

As I read this, I was saying to myself, "Oh, no, my motives are so much purer than this," and to a degree they are. I really enjoy reading and writing and teaching, and the degree to which they allow me to put togther ideas, and to make sense where perhaps less sense existed previously. And to a degree, they're not. When I think of how hard it seems to be for me sometimes to think outside of that list, even when I know there is epistemological space outside of it that I can occupy, then it seems unfair to me to critique others for what in the end are my own failings.

So at the same time that I try and even out any unfairness from yesterday by calling out my own proclivities, I'm hoping that writing through it here will stop me in my well-worn tracks on occasion from repeating the cycle. I think I'll learn eventually.

Update: Well, the beginnings of a site are there. It'll take a few entries for the layout to fully unfold, and I still have to go in and tweak a bunch of the backup pages, but much of the major style sheet wrasslin' is complete, I think. Take a look. The design was partly cribbed from my grad course site, along with some twists I've been thinking about. Oh, and the colors will be different, most likely. I futzed with stuff mainly so I could find it again, but still have some alterations to make...

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Colin Brooke's post today (his is one of my favorite academic blogs, btw) entitled, "Inching, Inching" is a wonderful reminder of the tightrope we walk... Read More


You know, just to riff a little on what you're saying here: there's a *generosity* to blogging (and other web 2.0 things, though I guess to the web in general) that just isn't the affect cultivated in academe. It's funny how non-bloggers often want to characterize bloggers as navel-gazing ego-maniacs. It isn't that there isn't some ego in the blogosphere, it's just that it takes an enormous forfeiting of the usually cultivated ego to risk putting work-in-progress on the web. Cause, yeah, what if someone steals "my" ideas? What if I don't get my .01 points of merit for this? There's a greediness--even paranoia--that's hard to sluff off. Actually, it doesn't really sluff off--like you say, it's a matter of getting into a different track, wearing a new groove.

A great post, Colin, and follow-up by Donna. We all suffer a bit from the tension between really wanting to shoot the ideas freely and creatively around with those who actually read our posts, and thinking that we're not supposed to let ideas loose, without some sort of protection--the safe sex of academia if you will.
And of course we all risk sounding like fools when we blog the first inklings rather than waiting until we're rather sure of ourselves. And we're supposed to be EXPERTS and not FOOLS. Ha--

And yet, at least in my case, it is precisely through the act of transparent in-process thinking--connected, reflective blogging--that I really come to know what I am beginning to understand; the responses and parallel posts by others grow and push those ideas into something much better than I could ever have come up with on my own. And I feel like a kid again: learning, creating, and messing around.

What you all said. The humility it takes to blog often seems harder to muster in more rigid forms, but when you think of the sheer revision power of the blogosphere you wonder why you wouldn't want to write through it in the developmental stages of a project. But, I think it's also fair to want to privately nurture some ideas, and you've hit on that tension, which I like. How this open writing plays out in concert with more familiar projects like books raises the right questions for thinking about both, hopefully.

I will no doubt be following your lead today or tomorrow. I'm a big fan of sharing scholarship in progress.

And since we are both interested in similar topics (networks), don't read it as stealing. Just like-minds working along...

I think it just all depends on what you're working on, frankly. In my past (perhaps future?) life as a fiction writer, one of the things I learned is that it is, for most people, not a good idea to share too much about works in progress. Though that has much to do with somehwat mysterious and superstitious reasons as much as anything else.

And then there is that pesky tenure thing for some people. You hear plenty of stories about folks who have had research "appropriated" by others before the "original" author had a chance to publish it.

On the other hand, if you don't have to/want to worry about tenure issues, then why not? And as I think about it more, it seems to me that when you blog about something, in a public space, whatever it is ultimately becomes "your" idea. I mean, if I started a project on the digital nature of Detroit and SE Michigan, people in this general community would say "hey, that's Rice's thing, isn't it?"

Collin! I'm happy that you found my blog, though I've been meaning to tell you about it for the whole three weeks it's been up.

Also, it's true...the whole reason that I, personally, haven't been publishing more is that I'm saving up my tidbits of genius to spring on the world all at once! Like a mountain lion, yes...

Jodie, I cower in anticipation!

And yeah, Steve, you're right that it's a little more sit-dependent than I'm letting on here. I do think, though, that we let our superstitions carry us away sometimes, esp in academia. They would say that "that's Rice's thing," but I'd also guess that the two of you would come at it from different directions.

That's part of why I'm less worried about this, I suppose. There's a bunch of us grooving on networks right now, but I feel like each of us does it differently, enough so that we can learn from each other, push each other in new directions, and end up with more than enough juice to go around...

"but I feel like each of us does it differently, enough so that we can learn from each other, push each other in new directions, and end up with more than enough juice to go around..."

Exactly. This is how we connect and learn from one another.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on August 23, 2006 4:21 PM.

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