blogging, academics and the digerati
This page looks at blogging, the digerati, public intellectuals
and blogging from ivory towers.
It covers -
Elsewhere on this site we have have discussed the 'digerati'
- self-appointed spokespersons for the 'internet community'
or figures who have been chosen by the media as embodying
the net and new economy.
That selection is typically because the individual has
a mastery of the sound bite (pithy, pungent statements
without nuance and - alas - often without scruple), a
point of view, is colourful, is available and has a public
profile (eg is recurrently quoted on matters digital).
Blogging has offered new opportunities for current and
wannabe digerati to build/extend profiles. It has also
been hailed as providing unprecedented opportunities for
public intellectuals, who will supposedly reify civil
society as they bypass 'big media'.
Nicholas Lemann observed in 2004 that
reason that "the press" and "the media"
have become synonyms for journalism is that we've given
journalists what we think is a critical task: amassing,
digesting, and getting across important material that
isn't readily accessible to ordinary citizens. Journalists
have an invisible passe-partout that allows them to
roam the world and ask consequential people impertinent
us it is unclear whether 'consequential people' yet feel
under much pressure to answer the questions or even recognise
the existence of the blogosphere.
The traffic figures noted earlier in this profile indicate
that some bloggers receive significantly higher attention
than others, with power laws meaning that they are more
likely to be identified, read, linked to and quoted.
As noted in the following page that has led some observers
to ask whether governments, businesses and other entities
should make special efforts to cultivate those 'power
bloggers' - an extension of past efforts to stroke or
otherwise manage influential columnists and investigative
Other observers have more modestly suggested that there
is a need to monitor what is being blogged, so that organisations
or individuals can respond as appropriate through, for
example, a request for a blogger to issue a correction,
posting of a comment, release of a media statement or
even recourse to a defamation
One perspective is offered in Engaging the Blogosphere,
a 2005 survey
by Edelman Public Relations of 821 "influential bloggers"
from the Technorati list.
34% of those surveyed reported that they blogged to gain
responsibility in their field, with 32% characterising
themselves as "public diarists" or "part
of a community". 26% posted daily (18% posted several
times per day), with 38% posting every few days and 10%
posting weekly. Supposedly 50% post about companies and/or
products at least once a week: 9% daily, 16% more than
once a week and 22% about once a week.
digerati, public intellectuals and politics
Some enthusiasts have been quick to conflate blogging,
the digerati, public intellectuals and substantive political/cultural
Claude Levi-Strauss said that the role of public intellectuals
talk about everything … reply to the idlest queries,
compose messages, pontificate at random, guide their
fellow-creatures in directions maturely chosen in five
Eagleton suggested in 2004 that
spooky music of Mastermind says it all. Intellectuals
are weird, creepy creatures, akin to aliens in their
clinical detachment from the everyday human world. Yet
you can also see them as just the opposite. If they
are feared as sinisterly cerebral, they are also pitied
as bumbling figures who wear their underpants back to
front, harmless eccentrics who know the value of everything
and the price of nothing. Alternatively, you can reject
both viewpoints and see intellectuals as neither dispassionate
nor ineffectual, denouncing them instead as the kind
of dangerously partisan ideologues who were responsible
for the French and Bolshevik revolutions. Their problem
is fanaticism, not frigidity. Whichever way they turn,
the intelligentsia get it in the neck.
the public variety be rescued through blogging? Tim Dunlap's
2003 Evatt Foundation If you build it they will come:
Blogging and the new citizenship asked
"is blogging really the new public intellectual rock
For us that is an apt image, given that the best part
of many blogs - like many rock groups - is the funky name
rather than what you read, hear or smell.
Dunlap praised blogging as
home of a new type of public intellectual, a type that
breaks down the usual images of the detached wise person
or topical expert explaining things to an uninformed
public ... blogging brings public debate back within
coo-ee of those to whom it should belong anyway, the
ordinary citizens. Blogging, potentially on a large
scale, puts the public in public intellectual.
are not fans of Richard Posner's rather zany Public
Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Cambridge: Harvard
Uni Press 2002) - an idiosyncratic catalogue of the great
& good ... or merely windy & soundbite-wise -
that is less insightful than Stefan Collini's Absent
Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford: Oxford Uni
Press 2006). We are therefore inclined to say, with apologies
to Monty Python, that although the net makes a bully pulpit
the blogger as public intellectual isn't the Messiah,
"he's just a naughty boy".
Dunlap argues that
are necessarily sycophantic. Being run largely by people
without the resources of a media agency with which to
do original research, they are merely reactive to the
news of the day as published by major outlets. ...
As I say, the lone blogger's resources are limited,
but experience shows that they tend to make good use
of those they have. Chief amongst these is the search
engine Google which is to blogging what the Otis elevator
was to skyscrapers: not just a way of getting around
but the very thing that made the structure feasible
in the first place. ...
blogs are politically engaged, not artificially detached.
Few bloggers try for "objectivity" in the
traditional journalistic sense and most are happy to
declare openly their political allegiance. This is both
a strength and a weakness, as we will see, but ultimately
it is the nature of the beast and nothing to get upset
about. In fact, it goes to the heart of my understanding
of bloggers as the new public intellectuals.
history and works such as Mark Lilla's The Reckless
Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York: NY Review
Books 2001), Frank Furedi's Where Have All the Intellectuals
Gone? (London: Continuum 2004) and Russell Jacoby's
The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age
of Academe (New York: Basic 1987) suggest that public
intellectuals such as Sartre are perhaps best kept off
the streets, we wonder whether the energy going into writing
(and even reading) some political blogs might be more
usefully employed in civic engagement of a less virtual
As we have suggested in discussing online politics, it
is difficult to respect a commitment that does not extend
beyond a mouse-click. Has blogging become a substitute
rather than a means of engagement?
Ken Parish's 2003 Monitorial cyber-citizens? The new
fire alarms paper,
in noting the adversarial nature of much blogging, more
broadly questioned some assumptions about civic discourse,
leadership and the net. The 2004 The Power and Politics
of Blogs (PDF)
by Daniel Drezner & Henry Farrell offered other perspectives.
The US Chronicle of Higher Education quoted
University of Chicago academic Jacob Levy as commenting
I'm worried about public-intellectualitis - the well-known
tendency for professors with real expertise in one field
to pose as experts in many others, the pose of authority
that comes with academics' comments on issues of the
consoling the academy that there is little tendency to
fall into "the scholarly sound bite - the public
career built on offering quick juicy quotes to the press."
Bites - sound or otherwise - are explored in The Ideas
Market (Carlton: Melbourne Uni Press 2004) edited
by David Carter, an examination of Australian public intellectuals
and their reception.
Academic blogging has been characterised as metascholarship
and metadiscourse, with claims that scholarly blogging
by faculty and postgrads -
the cost of publishing almost to the vanishing point
... It really does help realize the promise of the Internet
as a place for wide-ranging public discussion"
an effective mechanism for peer review
scholars to engage with a wider community and with colleagues
as importantly, it also offers instant gratification,
with Eric Muller
blogging offers is immediacy ... Compared to what we're
all used to in academia, where you submit something
and then maybe when you have grandchildren you'll hear
whether it's going to be published, the immediacy is
something that we're all unaccustomed to. I think a
lot of people feel sort of like kids in a candy store.
Has blogging contributed to a serious advancement of scholarship,
replacing for example the Notes found in some journals?
The answer appears to be no. At its best it may, however,
be complementing and to some extent superseding the exchange
of correspondence in publications such as the London
Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement.
A 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education feature
their skeptical moments, academic bloggers worry that
the medium smells faddish, ephemeral. But they also
make a strong case for blogging's virtues, the foremost
of which is freedom of tone. Blog entries can range
from three-word bursts of sarcasm to carefully honed
5,000-word treatises. The sweet spot lies somewhere
in between, where scholars tackle serious questions
in a loose-limbed, vernacular mode.
Blogging also offers speed; the opportunity to interact
with diverse audiences both inside and outside academe;
and the freedom to adopt a persona more playful than
those generally available to people with Ph.D.'s.
No wonder, then, that scholarly blogs are sprouting
statistics are not available but we suspect that many
of the mushrooms are withering. Uptake of blogging among
the professoriat appears to reflect national academic
styles, with greater acceptance in US than in Australia,
New Zealand or the EU.
Assessments of the scholarly significance or personal
impact of scholarly blogs vary. Arguably many of the most
prominent bloggers have gained attention for mastery of
the online 'soundbite' (and as provocateurs) rather than
as leading scholars offline. Some had previously enjoyed
a newspaper or magazine soapbox.
says that he
among academic bloggers 'a talk-radioization' of the
discourse, which I'm not especially interested in participating
in. It's becoming very personality-driven, very combative,
very adversarial. There's a kind of ideological categorizing
that goes on ... It really does start to feel like the
Rush Limbaugh show.
among the professoriat appears to reflect national academic
styles, with greater acceptance in US than in Australia,
New Zealand or the EU and a greater preparedness to venture
utside areas of expertise. Most academic blogs have involved
law and the social sciences: there's little blogging in
the natural sciences or humanities.
Much of the undergrad and postgrad blogging has a confessional
flavour, with students reporting on the day's progress,
highlighting work presented at seminars or other venues
and seeking feedback from local/overseas peers.
blogging from the ivory tower
Blogging by academics has been defended as a sort of digital
braid from Rapunzel's ivory tower, whether to connect
with other scholars or to enable an escape as a talking
head (one of those unread pundits who are famous for being
famous - or merely for being unreadable).
Arguments for blogging, particularly by brave untenured
staff, include -
peer recognition - blogging can deliver an exposure
among peers and the general public that few scholars
achieve until late in their careers, if at all. It can
be a replacement for fervent networking at national/international
conferences. It can also damage a reputation, whether
because those peers consider that blogging is fundamentally
unprofessional or - as one enthusiast cautioned - "exposure
isn't good if there's nothing worth exposing".
beyond peers - blogging enables scholars to get exposure
outside of their fields, something with the potential
for interdisciplinary communication or merely to identify
the author as a target. One blogging pundit thus claimed
that "unless scholars are particularly well-known,
I won't be too familiar with them. But I may know about
them from the blogosphere", going on to argue that
"junior scholar bloggers are at an advantage"
when senior academics are huntring for symposium participants.
of a discipline or area of interest - blogging potentially
exposes a global audience to current issues in that
that blogging is not serious or legitimate are common.
One pundit primly acknowledged
can be a distraction from scholarship. Indeed, blogging
takes up a ton of time. As a junior scholar, scholarship
must come first. If blogging is distracting or inhibiting
scholarly productivity, then stop. But I believe that
there's a way to blog that doesn't overly inhibit scholarly
productivity - and that is to use blogging as a way
to develop one's scholarly ideas. I often blog about
cases and issues I intend to include in my casebook.
In this way, blogging is my way of keeping current with
my field. I blog about issues that I will be discussing
in articles and books. Blogging is thus my way of doing
some very preliminary work on larger scholarly projects.
are offered in the 2006 paper
Blogging While Untenured and Other Extreme Sports
by Christine Hurt & Tung Yin.
next page (brands