Thursday, May 31, 2007

Academipodcasting ... uh ... yeah... that's not a neologism

If you follow the blogs Acephalous and Bitch, Ph.D., you might be aware that there was recently a panel on academic blogging at UC Davis. The History Department now has a podcast of that panel up on their web, if you wanted to watch (be warned! It takes a long time to download, and then you have downloaded a bunch of scholars saying scholarly things! The entertainment payoff you get from downloading a pirated version of Spiderman 3 after the slowness of the internet might not be there. Uh, might be very different. Uh, I'm digging a hole here.)

(A screenshot in honor of the acephalous one himself, I thought this was appropriate, not least because someone sat forward, directly into the camera, for most of the time when Scott was talking. And can I add that these opening credits are a hoot? They really needed the Monty Python and the Holy Grail opening music to run with them.)

So I have some scattered thoughts but haven't really made up my mind about the panel, or even, actually, the notion of academic blogging (as opposed to academics who blog), but if I don't post right now, with the momentum of having watched this, I'll never come back to it ---- and probably won't ever get my scattered impressions down to a decision on one side or another, because there are always new developments in the blogosphere to respond to. So this is to say that yes, there are disadvantages to blogging, as a medium.

What I really want to do is ask the other panelists what their reaction was to the last dude, who was very energetic and funny, but in a rather cutting, mean way, tromping all over the utopian-access-to-the-public-sphere vibe of the other speakers (and he seemed to be trained as a speaker, whereas everyone else is renowned for their blogging, i.e. their writing style, which doesn't seem quite fair in a matchup. Why were they brought in live, instead of to blog things?). But if they were to respond to my questions about the final dude, on their blogs, how truthful would they be able to be? Wouldn't they feel an impulse to be polite, or at least strategic, in their responses about someone they had actually met in real life?

For me, however, no one has seen me in my secret superhero identity and no one gives a fuck about what one random cog of a grad student says on her blog with a total of 6 readers, so I can say whatever I really think about that dude and the panel as a whole. That's one of the good parts to academic blogging, anonymous blogging, and blogging in general. So with that said, I'm going to ignore most of the content of the podcast and focus on the presentation. Specifically, I'm going to think about power.

Structurally, whoever goes last or goes as a respondent on a panel has the last word --- particularly important in cases like these where the video closes, cuts off, before questions and discussion that might make the presentations more open-ended. And this dude, the anti-pajama guy, was able to counter the framework that the other panelists were setting up of a better academic community and more accessible public sphere by mocking it. (That would be another advantage to the academic blogosphere, and the blogosphere in general --- it is almost impossible to have a last word or shut a discussion down --- you kick someone off your comments, they take the party back to their own place to continue the conversation, or fight.) He brought up a series of counter-arguments against the usefulness of academic blogging, (familiar counter-arguments, I should add) from the "increased access" still being an incredibly privileged, white, and educated public sphere, to bloggers sitting around in their pajamas, to blogging being a massive time-suck that might actually make your prose worse rather than better (over at Ferule and Fescue, Hieronymo comments that there are so many ways of wasting time and avoiding doing research; why is blogging so singled out and not, say, watching porn on Youtube or playing Nintendo or reading the New York Times or learning gourmet cooking, all of which activities are obsessively, procrastinatorially practiced by various grad students I know. Why do special anxieties accrue to academic blogging?).

One point he made that I did agree with was his point that the sense of community and increased self-confidence that Scott associated with blogging might not translate to the academic world outside the blogging public sphere (and I would not go so far as to say feelings of self confidence and community are not useful.). Part of this is because, despite all the chatter about blogs, most academics seem to have very little idea of what they are and what it means to blog (At the conference I just came from, someone was introduced at one panel and the panel chair tacked on at the end, "... and she has a blog! And it hardly ever has pictures of her cat or what she ate for lunch, too, so you could ... go ... see it, or something." Which reminds me, I need to look up that person's name and poke around.) I might even go so far as to say the structures of power which blogs destabilize and subvert, allowing, for example, female grad students to attack and mischaracterize tenured male profs as anti-pajama dudes in order to make a point, are only so useful and attractive insofar as these power differences do still exist in the real world and the academy. Which is to say, I'm still not sure if blogs are like safety valves, following the cycles of subversion and containment of the carnivalesque, or something more wiley along the lines of De Certeau's tactics or la perruque. I keep thinking that, somehow, to take the absolute Machiavellian approach to blogs and power and the academy is actually the most utopian view of all. But to actually articulate this out, I think I'm going to need another drink. And possibly more pandas.


Horace said...

The reason that blogs can accrue these academic anxieties is that they leave a very public legible trace--while much of cyberculture (general surfing, porn, youtube) is anonymous in its consensuality (I'm cribbing William Gibson here), and passive, the writing leaves traces, that not only say "Academics were here" but also reveal that we do things non-academic.

Sisyphus said...

Well, we wouldn't want _that,_ now would we? Next thing you know those academics would be admitting they had bodies, and needs, and vulnerabilities.

brad said...

A moose once bit my sister...

Sisyphus said...

Hee! But what about the lamas?

Anonymous said...

"For me, however, no one has seen me in my secret superhero identity and no one gives a fuck about what one random cog of a grad student says on her blog with a total of 6 readers, so I can say whatever I really think about that dude and the panel as a whole."

Until they link to you on inside higher ed. which is how I got here. :)