Blogging for scholars

Stephen T. Casper writes on “Why academics should blog”, with an interesting historical perspective. Once upon a time, faculty clubs, dining facilities and pubs provided venues for young scholars to find mentorship and advance within an institution.

Those informal activities reduced over time, as scholarship within fields (particularly in the sciences) became more professionalized, the job market was nationalized, and – most important – women entered the academy in large numbers. Informal lunch tables full of men were the standard 50 years ago, but are fundamentally outside my faculty experience. It’s not something I really have thought much about.

Increasingly, there were few facilities beyond the regular colloquium (cookies, tea, and coffee inclusive) where young faculty could engage with senior faculty within their university. The disciplines became bizarrely more disciplined. The reading groups within departments often found themselves short of faculty. Cross-disciplinary work became harder to maintain especially as the universities began to adopt corporate models of scholarly production that quantified output in teaching, research, and grants.

In other words, academia became less like a calling and more like a job. By analogy, does that mean that blogging is the new calling?

Strategically, young scholars and scientists saw that it was in there best interest to look outside of universities to likeminded partners who could carry on the business of collaboration (which was often intellectually fulfilling even as it was productive in research, grant success and citation). In other words, further social pressures pushed colleagues apart. It became harder and harder to ask colleagues: will you read this article or do you have time for lunch to discuss ideas. Not that the answer was invariably no it wasnt. But because it had become evident that what most academics required was a college of ones own yet the pressures of teaching, engagement and productivity within the university were headwinds against the formation of such a culture.

Signs point to yes.

Anyway, I think this is a perspective worth more thought. Aside from my graduate students, I spend vastly more time and effort mentoring friends and junior colleagues at other institutions than at my own. Anthropology is a national market, and my close academic friends are everywhere. Even my close friends outside anthropology are everywhere, many of them in the science blogging community, but others in more traditional academic roles. Online communication has given me a vastly richer network of academic interactions.