Gender, Power, and Scholarly Blogging

Andrew Sullivan, of all people, forwarded along this article by Natalia Cecire that has encapsulated a lot of my personal thought processes as I embark on this quixotic mission to create a forum for information literacy and higher ed administration discussions that both scholars and practitioners could find useful, or at least coherent. While I suggest you go read this article in full, she essentially argues for the merits of academic blogging for both scholar and reader, while raising concerns about the power dynamics that can make this sort of public disclosure riskier for women. 

Perhaps a lot of the concerns Natalia describes echo back to the fear of being “found out”. Imposter Syndrome seems endemic in the profession, particularly among women and other groups who have been underrepresented in the academy or wider society. By taking the brave step of sharing your evolving intellectual life, you are baring your inevitable weaknesses to anyone who would care to attack. Whether or not those people actually exist, it’s still a scary proposition.

As I fall deeper down the rabbit hole of original scholarly thought, I begin to realize the key role that silence, or at least discretion, plays in the doctoral process. This is an issue that honestly hadn’t occurred to me when i started this blog, and if it had, I don’t know that I would have taken the risk. Natalia also makes a point in the comments about the special issues that women face, particularly the general assumption (whether accurate or not) that female personal disclosures are seen as unprofessional, whereas similar Male disclosures are seen as witty. While I think she may overstate her argument, I look at my professional strategies and honestly admit that there are many personal experiences and political opinions I do not share and will never share online, and struggle to share even in the context of work friendships.  

I admit I may have avoided a lot of this by selecting a traditionally feminine profession and a relatively apolitical workplace. I also enjoy a relatively secure position by doctoral student standards–I already have a great full-time job in the field in which I’m doing my doctoral work, my boss is a genuinely supportive mentor, and at least at this early stage, my faculty and colleagues all appear to be too busy to waste energy on political squabbling, even if they had the inclination to go there. These were all conscious choices made via life’s many learning experiences. I’ll never share the details of those experiences in this blog, but that’s not because I feel hemmed in by professional mores so much as it’s beside the point of this blog. At least, I think that’s why.

There are many issues that our cohort members disclose to each other, either in the confidential “sacred space” of seminar discussions or in one-on-one chats outside of class. I’m lucky in this regard. I have a supportive and intelligent husband, a literal and metaphorical suite of ‘rooms of my own’ in which to think and work, and a great group of fellow cohort members and academic librarians that I already consider friends as well as colleagues. However, being a pragmatist by training and inclination, I want my work, whatever it may become, to be useful to higher education and/or academic libraries. That requires that I work to build a professional identity, which in turn requires that I send my thoughts out into the world and respond to the thoughts of other scholars, embarrassing as these musings will likely be in a year or even a day. Finally, blogging under my own name is a way of asserting that my voice is worth hearing, and may even be interesting in a decade or two. It’s also a means to publicly assume both the rights and responsibilities that come with ‘real’ scholarship. Fortunately, I am in a position where I can do this with relatively low risk to anything aside from my pride.  

Taking a wider perspective, the process of scholarly inquiry and development is as important for the layperson or pracitioner to understand as the fruits of that labor, and it’s possible that the academy has been ill-served by our ivory tower reticence. The generally accepted transitory and provisional nature of blogs provides a platform for dialogue between Author and Reader, where new understandings can be constructed in the comments and published with the ease of an update. This dynamic suggests the usefulness of an academic blog as an informal (if no less rigorous)workshop, where prototypes of scholarly thoughts can be loosed onto an unsuspecting world, the tires can be kicked, and all parties can gain a more rigorous understanding of the phenomena being discussed. This kind of disclosure entails admitting at least some of our scholarly weaknesses and evolving thoughts to the world. However, the days where laypeople absorbed the proclamations of the academy as perfected and ultimate Truth are long gone, assuming they ever existed at all. I agree with Natalia that pulling back at least some of the veils and engaging in public conversation could be educational for all sides. Her insight that “revealing those connections [between personal and the scholarly thought] is part of the point of thinking in public” is very provocative, if challenging to both blogger and reader. It also suggests that scholarly blogging, if it can retain intellectual rigor while taking advantage of the form’s informality and intimacy, could provide a new and provocative lens for examining issues in the humanities and social sciences. 

And now, of course, I’m intrigued by the notion of researching faculty who blog and the relationships (if any) between their online work and their “real” scholarship. Time to add another potential research topic to the stack. :-)

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2 thoughts on “Gender, Power, and Scholarly Blogging

  1. Pingback: Social Media for the Academic: Professional image with a personal spin | The Infoliterate University
  2. Pingback: Monday Musings: Social Media for Academics « COIL Blog

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