Academy 2.0: February 2007 Archives

That's what I'm talking about...

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From Jeff's talk on the Networked Academic:

And my blog MAY be the site of personal anecdotes, professional work, rantings, misgivings, connections. It may be viewed as an individual identity. But I don’t view it that way nor experience it that way. The blog puts me into a network: with other bloggers (academic or non) with other ideas (academic or non) with other experiences.

And why does this matter? Because this network is a becoming process and it is a transformative process. I change. I change each time I am helping extend and shrink this network of social relationships. The relationships are not just personal, they are conceptual, material, ideological, and compositional.

Blogs are by no means the only places that this kind of net-work takes place--a big part of the point of a residential graduate program is precisely this kind of networking.

One of the big differences, though, is an important one. I am a part of various taxonomic networks: I teach at Syracuse, I received my PhD from Texas-Arlington, I do most of my work in computers and writing. In blogspace, the net is a lot more folksonomic--it's not based on a static place, but on an aggregation of connections, each one personal, but many of them overlapping. Jeff reads (I'm guessing) more Detroit bloggers than I do, and I'm sure that all the various design and comics blogs that I follow don't show up in his aggregator. We each define our network according to our interests, building them up and pruning them down over time. But we share work with each other, and with dozens of others as well, and cite each other, and read each other with interest. And it spills over into our physical and disciplinary spaces as well.

I don't think blogging's for everyone, but I would argue that it is for anyone. And it involves a lot more than simply typing on a daily basis, even if that's all that most people think they see.

Going out with a whimper

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Although I still use them from time to time, as their affordances are useful for a particular context, I don't spend much time anymore on listservs. And today, I unsubbed from my last holdout, a disciplinary listserv ostensibly devoted to my specialty. As with the blog, I go through phases of listserv fatigue, but over the last few years, the fatigue periods seem to grow longer and longer, punctuated more by silence than by activity.

My unsubscription was prompted by a message today which, under the auspices of continuing a discussion from earlier this week, launched into what, as best as I can tell, was a largely unprompted invective against blogging. I won't repeat it here, both because I'm not sure the list is public and because I'm not interested in dignifying it. Long and short, though: blogging, the message suggests, "atomizes, isolates, and individualizes knowledge." A few more sweeping generalizations, and a strange fascination with the idea that blogs are assholes, or like assholes, or bloggers are assholes. I don't know.

And honestly, I don't really care. My experience with blogging is so different--of course, it could matter that I actually maintain a blog--that the message could have been in another language for all the sense that it made to me. I was sitting in Panera today, reading Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now (Amazon), and in it, she has a chapter on ethos in the Foucault/Habermas debate. Anderson is accounting for a comment from Foucault that he is "a little more in agreement" with Habermas than Habermas is with him. By saying this, Anderson explains:

Foucault implies that there is no external perspective from which one might adjudicate their differences or agreements, precisely because one essential element of agreement stems from the attitude of the thinker towards the other's work.

This stuck with me, because it fits nicely into the network-y/visualization thinking I've been doing, particularly when it comes to thinking about ways to map conversations and/or disciplines, and to chart changes. One of the things that Anderson's doing in that chapter is shifting the relationship between Foucault and Habermas, undoing the knee-jerk binary through which that relationship is frequently viewed. The link between the two is still there, but its character is altered, assuming that Anderson's various interpretations are persuasive.

It sticks with me not because I can really disagree with the specific charges leveled against blogging in that message, because I'm sure that there are plenty of examples that anyone could trot out to validate them. What irked me most is the foreclosure of any sort of conversation; it was almost beside the point that it was initiated by someone with little to no direct experience of our community. Almost. Anderson explains that this comment from Foucault is consistent with his "dislike of polemic":

The polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue.

There's something to this for me, not the least reason for which is my own general avoidance of confrontation. And it's also not to say that I don't fall back into polemic myself. I do. But I've got a lot more interest in figuring out how my ideas connect to, diverge from, and/or relate to someone else's than I do in waging a polemic/war. Even though, I suppose, it could be argued that my entry is doing just that.

Or it would be, were I to do two things, both of which are equally tempting. I'm tempted to refute those claims, drawing on my own experiences, talking about all of the collaboration, networking, and working-with that maintaining a blog has prompted in my academic life for the past three years. I'm also tempted to critique the listserv post, and perhaps even the list itself.

But I think I'll refrain. Which isn't to say that my entry here is snark-free--that'd be some sort of record, I think. It is to say, rather, that a community where someone feels comfortable (much less justified) in making those sorts of comments is not the kind of community I have any interest in being a part of.

That's all.

Chains of love

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It's one of those weeks where my waking moments are filled with thoughts best left unblogged, for any number of reasons. But I've been meaning for the past couple of days to link to an entry over at Tim's joint. He's speaking mostly about the whole Edwards campaign kerfuffle, but for a paragraph, he references a conversation over at Laura's about whether or not she planned to continue blogging. It motivates some reflection on the double standard operating in some folks' conceptions of blogging. On the one hand, they want what happens in blogspace to matter in the larger world; on the other, they don't always seem to want to be held accountable by that larger world. But I was especially interested in the finally paragraph (gently pruned for your consumption):

This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow....When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.

I mentioned in the comments thread at Laura's that she'd articulated something that I've been experiencing lately as well. And I think that it's that notion of what I write here as a second self. When I'm feeling especially transparent, the blog doesn't feel all that separate from what I do. I don't feel like I have to police it for polysemy, worrying about whether or not what I say will be taken up in unintended ways. Which isn't to say that it's weightless--I hope that there is some weight to what I write, at least on occasion. But when it becomes a second or a third self--if my private and public meat/selves are the first two--it takes me that much more energy to tend to it. And that much self-maintenance can wear me out after a while. Right now, I'm feeling that fatigue. Part of it's the weather, part of it's the time of the year, and part of it's just the junk that happens.

What prompted this entry tonight was a conversation with D about last night's ep of Lost, which didn't jazz me quite as much as the week before. I'm worried that the writers of that show have decided not to "do the hard and complicated work of unlocking" their narrative, opting instead for more plot, more characters, and more distractions (assuming that Jack's tattoo was one of the "big mysteries" solved last night), and hoping that those of us who loved the show through the first two seasons will simply let it slide. Lost is no longer the must-see it was for me those first two seasons, and while I'm willing to ride it out a while longer, I'm beginning to feel a bit betrayed by the fact that I've watched regularly, closely, and with interest. I wonder how much the writers are longing to be free of the shadows of those first two seasons.

That's not to compare my humble blog to a show like Lost. But I had a much more concrete sense after that conversation of how even a labor of love can begin to feel like a unshakeable shadow. That's all.

And that's really all I have to say tonight.

Something old, something new

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As you know if you agg or visit Derek's blog, he passed his exams yesterday. So in part, you might read this entry as congratulations, which it most certainly is. Interestingly enough, three of the four members of his exam committee, myself included, are active bloggers.

Which is something of a segueway into what I want to point out. The examination process, while it has a fair number of virtues (time set aside for reading, self-definition, synthesis, etc.), is also a holdover from a much different time. At SU, we've tried to mitigate its Academy 0.5 qualities by offering different kinds of "exams" in place of making them all "sit down for 3 hours and type as fast as you can" sessions. And we've very intentionally streamlined the proposal process, which at one time was so problematic that we had students taking waaaay too much time and spending way too much energy on formal, article-length exam proposals.

But still. The process of taking exams is in many cases and at many programs (a) something that coursework in no way prepares you to do (although ideally it helps with the reading) and (b) something that in no way prepares you for any of the writing that you will do for the next 10, 20, or 40 years as a professional. The exam process, as I've told many people, is the apotheosis of the event model of writing, and in some ways, the single worst way to prepare a student for work on a dissertation. To read that much, you almost have to hide yourself away. My own experience of exams was highly antisocial, as no one else was reading what I was, as quickly as I was, or for similar purposes. The reading we do for coursework, both as students and as professors, is by contrast a pretty social reading, enough so that many people I know (myself included) don't feel like they've really read something until they've taught it.

But this is an Academy 2.0 post, and so I should turn to one of the things that Derek did in preparing for his exams. If you haven't visited his Exam Sitting site, you should do so. If you're faculty, and supervise students preparing for exams, or if you're someone who'll be taking exams sometime in the future, you should be thinking about adopting this model. Each entry simply records, categorizes, and tags the reading notes for a particular text--the entries themselves do little more than what our graduate students across the country do on a daily basis as they read for courses or prepare for exams. But the site itself, among other things, provided a measure of his progress, a way for me and other committee members to peek in on his progress, an opportunity to see the larger patterns among his readings, connections among the readings, and finally, a resource that is going to be useful for him for years after the exams are a distant memory.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Exam Sitting is the most important webtext to be published in our field last year. It's a great example of applying a personal database to the work that we do in graduate school and more productive and useful in the long term than a file box full of notebooks. For the last couple of years, I've been evangelizing just this kind of use for blogs to our students, using them as a place to store notes, making them searchable, and to tag notes, making possible the kinds of operations that happen on Derek's site. I'd love to see this kind of work made collaborative as well--notes like these are no substitute for the actual reading, but someone can go to ES and figure out pretty quickly whether something is worth reading or not. And they can trace a given reading out into a network of related texts. Multiply what Derek accomplished in six months of reading and writing by an entire program's worth of graduate students, and you'd have a resource more vital than anything that currently exists in our field.

Not to name names, but as the field marches on, certain resources have passed on to the Great 404 in the Sky, and others spring up to take their places. And over and over, I've seen electronic resources created to conform to a vision of the field that hearkens back to the time before such resources were possible. I'd love to see us instead start imagining the field according to the possibilities such resources present to us. And that's the gentlest way I know of putting it.

So join me in congratulating Derek for passing the Academy 0.5 step of comprehensive exams. But he deserves congratulations as well for putting an Academy 2.0 spin on that process, and making it his own. I know that it wasn't easy, but I have no doubt that it will pay off for him in the long run.

That is all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the Academy 2.0 category from February 2007.

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