Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Debate over Norms for Academic Blogging

If you haven't been following the debate over individual accountability regarding blogging the unpublished work of others, you should.* This is such an excellent example of individuals negotiating norms for governing behavior in a relatively new sphere of interaction. How often do we get to see such a process as it unfolds? And in a relatively permanent, public forum, no less?

The way we interact with one another as academics - nay, as humans - is changing. We now have tools at our fingertips which allow social networking to nudge the barriers of time and place, of status and rank. Conversely, much of this is now happening online: in public, written, stable, environments, open to anyone with inclination and access to Google. It's Web 2.o, and it's not really all that new (e.g., "blogs are so 2005"). But it requires changes in our definitions of privacy. And perhaps even of self.

Anyway, the following is my contribution to the discussion, which is cross-posted in the comments at

To what extent does this discussion change when we include the additional variable of blogger anonymity? I was inspired by Ezra to email the three journal editors who participated in an ASA forum on the publication process, in order to inform them I had blogged the event and to give them the relevant links.

I was looking at the scroll-down list of choices for which address to send the email from: my anonymous blogger email, or my institutional address? I chose the institutional one. I figured if I am talking about them, then it was courteous to let them know who I am.

One of the editors responded with an opinion worth considering; namely, I should put my name on my blog: “You have the right to say whatever you wish, but in turn you should announce who you are.” And as a preemptive qualification: this statement was made to apply to the context of polite academic discourse, not psycho blogger attacks.

In sum, should there be different norms for anonymous bloggers? Most of whom are lowly grad students afraid to “come out?” Perhaps we should all just come out, as suggested? Perhaps It would create more accountability. And perhaps it would inhibit the free exchange of ideas among those with lower status.

Contrary to Ezra, I think the blogosphere is a relative equalizer within academia (felt need to be anonymous notwithstanding). I can’t just whip off a response to a journal article or conference presentation and expect it to be published. But I can blog. And to me that means something.

The Blogger's Transformation of the Academic Sphere,
Norms of Engagement, Jeremy Freese's Weblog
Norms of Engagement 2, Jeremy Freese's Weblog
To Blog or Not to Blog?, Pragmatic Idealists
Norms of the Academic Blogosphere, Union Street


Andrew said...

I've been mulling over this question too. I have my first name printed on my blog, and anyone can figure out who I am if they are so inclined (I don't think anyone would be so inclined, but hey). Still, after thinking about this whole dispute, the editor's response seems reasonable and resonates with me. Write about what you wish, but make it clear who you are. And yet...

I think everyone in that Orgtheory debate agreed: no blogging about grad student presentations. What about grad students blogging about faculty presentations, journal articles, etc.? Dumb move? Should we avoid controversy - or at least naming names? Rely on anonymity? Hope that our offerings are taken in good faith as well-intended contributions to academic / rational discourse and the good of the field? Interesting things to ponder and chew over...

PS - thanks for linking to my post, but I had to repost the article due to a stupid mistake on my part. So a slightly different version of the post is now up.

Mike3550 said...

Anomie - same, thank you for the link to my post about the debate. After reading yours and Andrew's posts, I'm not sure I added much to the debate.

There are two things that I think that your post brings up. First, one point that I tried to make on my post but I think that you did much better was how it was interesting to watch this debate unfold as it happens. That is fascinating, along with the fact that sociologists themselves are the subjects (it's interesting how uncomfortable some of them are).

The other point is about anonymity. I think that there is a really important gender component involved in this debate as well. There have been some high-profile articles about female bloggers getting atrocious comments to their sites (enough to make professional bloggers quit). One thing that I find really fascinating about this debate is how certain norms are broken (i.e. there is no way that I could be in a conversation with all of the faculty members at Orgtheory, meet cool grad students and learn something about the profession like I have in this debate at someplace like ASA) and other norms are upheld (i.e. blogging as a medium still carries with it other forms of privilege, such as male privilege or a senior faculty member not risking one's reputation by non-anonymously blogging) and what implications that has for structural and organizational change within our discipline and academia in general.

Anomie said...

Andrew: I fixed the link :)

Mike: I remember all the hullabaloo when Kathy Sierra quit blogging because of all the death threats. I followed the debate over whether women were especially prone to online attacks and sexualizations, and I think those arguing the affirmative made a better case.

I actually hadn't even considered the whole gendered aspect of this. Jay pointed out on one of Jeremy's posts that I was one of the few women even weighing in on the entire matter of public space and blogging. Craziness.

Someone should do a study: "(How) Does Blogger Gender Influence Troll Discourse?"