Archive for July, 2008

Pseudonyms, sock puppets, and some nasty tribble trouble

I was extremely dissapointed to learn that academic journals will publish articles under pseudonyms. The article in question: “Bloggers Need Not Apply” (2005) by “Ivan Tribble” (a fake name). I find it irritating when people hide behind fake names, or organization titles, instead of speaking as human beings – but Tribble reveals some interesting realities surrounding academic identity – for one, academics are often terrified of being exposed:

“Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.”

and many academics have no interest in getting to know each other beyond the limited scope of their professional roles -

“Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know “the real them” — better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn’t want to know more.”

I think this points to the limited perspective fostered in many academic departments, that imposes a professional identity which conflicts with “the real them”.

Also the author really does not understand blogging:

“You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, “Oh, no one will see it anyway.””

I’m blogging because I want my writing to be interactive, part of a broader discussion. Otherwise I would take regular old field notes in a scrap book, live in an isolated tower, and call myself a wizard or perhaps a tribble.

But what about the positive aspects of blogging, of which Tribble ignores completely. He argues that bloggers tend to write rants that damage their own reputation. But what about the benefits of learning from this? A child learning to ride a bike will certainly fall and hurt themselves but in the end the benefit of learning how to ride a bike is worth the growing pains. I think it is important to learn to write for broader audiences, to learn how to moderate and construct a public identity. Academics need to start speaking beyond their own classrooms – and this is something that takes practice. Yes there is a risk of humiliating oneself, and cutting oneself off from future employment, but in the end the benefits of a more open discussion and public participation demand such risks be taken.

I have found the blogsphere to be very forgiving of such lapses in judgment. Sure, there are Tribbles out there itching to judge and condemn, but I find most bloggers want to engage discussion just as much as rant. Why so much ranting? Because we have been silent and repressed for most of our lives, never speaking or engaging ourselves politically or publicly. It’s no surprise to me that so many bloggers are emotional and intense, it takes that kind of energy to get beyond the institutional barriers that have made people private and withdrawn citizens.

Some great responses to Tribble’s article have been accumulating in the blogsphere – In front of me is a perfect example of symbolic violence imposed by the PA [pedagogic authority]. Traditional journal publishing, the peer review process, and academic hiring practices create a culture of privacy and control. Tribble’s journal published rant reveals how some people feel speaking freely is a threat and a problem. The result is that students and professors are scared to speak their minds in public – with many choosing to write anonymously.

See Bitch Ph.d’s post, arguing why she chose to write her blog anonymously (fear of being caught by a nasty Tribble).

Daniel Drezner responds to Tribble: “The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one’s own name.”

Robert Farley rips into Tribble: “This is just infuriating. First, a reasonable academic can, and does, understand that different media and different fora call for different kinds of message. Plenty of social scientists publish work in mainstream academic journals AND in policy or professional venues. Publication in the latter neither undermines nor detracts from the former. Sensible academics understand that blog posts, New York Times Op-Eds, and Foreign Affairs articles can and should be interpreted differently than vetted, reviewed work. What they don’t do is rage at a medium that allows unmediated access to the public.”

Scott Hagaman writes “I suppose the moral is that the silence of the academic is golden. “

Easily Distracted (couldn’t find authors name) comments “Tribble’s reasoning isn’t entirely about blogging: it reveals a larger and more typical kind of academic parochialism. Yes, there’s certainly a whiff of pure distaste for blogs. But it’s also not blogs as such, but the decomposition of guild controls over what is verified as legitimate scholarship that they potentially represent. It’s the same attitude that lets other scholars justify opposing electronic publication of journals: all in the name of defending the high standards of peer reviewed publication.”

Stephen Downes writes:

“It’s ironic to see this author warning about your blog making you look like an idiot without any warning about doing the same in a column for the Chronicle. That is probably why the article is published under a pseudonym.”

Collin Brooke writes:

“So anyway, Ivan the Tribble has taken the trouble to disabuse the millions of us who blog of the notion that applying for a job is about standing out, presenting one’s self as a human being, or representing one’s self outside of the highly conventionalized genres of the application dossier”

So is it meaningful to discuss this disciplinary control as a kind of symbolic violence?

Will the internet and new communication technologies “revolutionize” a somewhat stale academia? Or will our public voices be burried in tribbles?

Am I destroying my future job options? I don’t think so. I believe that where I stray, people will let me know, and I’ll be better off for it.

Tribble follows up on the discussion, and the outrage I’ve touched on in the quotes above, in his article “They Shoot Messengers Don’t They?”. “As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don’t “get it.” That’s right, I don’t. Many in the tenured generation don’t, and they’ll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.”

So my advice to him is to do what anthropologists do, compliment your understanding with the experience of participation. Try it out first Mr Tribble!

A week in the field and some reflections

Some might imagine ones first week in the field as being a very social one – with lots of handshaking, eating, getting to know people, sharing in any festivities, etc… It would be that time where you make the big “first impression”, and where you would first meet those “key informants”.

I took a different strategy, and I’m not sure it was for the better. I spent the last week reading Bourdieu. You see, I had hopes that Bourdieu would provide magical theories that would instantly transform the way I saw what was going on around me. What I didn’t know, is that Bourdieu’s book “Reproduction in Society, Education and Culture” reads like a math text (with some math texts being easier to read). Also, his work is mostly a series of generalizations that make a lot more sense once you get to the end.

Maybe this is a strategy of academic rhetoric, by starting general and ending specific (or just staying general) it forces the mind to try out all the possibilities, to argue with the text, to fight it as much as possible, until at the end you are given the crumb of context your mind craved. In this way reading Bourdieu is work, since every word is carefully chosen not to make immediate sense, it is impossible to wander off, or to impose “common sense” meanings and interpretations.  It forces you to take time to think. (time does not fly when reading this book).

So I now agree very much with Julian Hopkins who recommended that one seperate oneself from academic essays during the fieldwork period. However, since I started on this path, I’ll finish it. Next book: “A theory of practice”. [the intro to the Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture book makes it clear that it should not be read alone.]

Other developments:

  • I picked up a “Zen Stone Plus” creative mp3 player which claimed to be able to record lectures – the mic however is complete garbage, and while it makes a great mp3 player, for interviews its not very good [it works, just not well].
  • I’m not using twitter much… I’ll keep toying with it though.
  • I may move the blog to a private host so I can build a geeky collaborative project management website (aka throw in some wiki’s, forums, surveys, etc).

Waking up in the field

Today I officially begin a four month fieldwork period where I will be investigating how the internet is fueling change in anthropology.  Of course I’ve been thinking about this topic, making observations, and involving myself online for the past year. But not all research projects take up such an accessible topic and hence they rely more on intense and limited data gathering periods.

Traditionally I would take fieldnotes for 4 months, then reflect on (err analyze) them for a few more months , and finally write them up.  But in researching something so close to me, a field I can enter from just about anywhere, I find this divide between gathering data and writing it up unnecessary. However many anthropologists I’ve spoken to have said that the time for reflection between the fieldwork, and the final writeup was extremely valuable. So I’m going to try a compromise – I’m going to try and write it up as I go, and revise it with time to reflect.

The first chapter/vignette I intend to write up is the online debate surrounding the Human Terrain System (anthropologists working for the U.S. military). Over the next 2 weeks I will be dedicating a few hours a day to thinking about how anthropologists used the blogsphere to debate in public, rather than behind closed walls. I’m not assuming all the debate was held in public, or even the most important aspects.  I will use these observations to form a set of questions for anthropologists based on my observations.

I will tie the HTS debate into discussions of the “social field” of anthropology, looking at the internet and blogsphere as an arena, and the HTS debate as a “social drama”. This will be an experiment with Bourdieu’s concepts advocated by John Postill.

The second chapter of my research will involve a more reflexive investigation into how I am using online communication technologies to do research, and to learn about anthropology. I will talk about community and network formations.  Speaking of which, yesterday some classmates and I decided we would start up a private blog to share and discuss our fieldnotes. I encouraged everyone to start a public blog as well, but we agreed that by making a private one we could share all our field notes as we go and give each other feedback on issues we weren’t comfortable writing about publicly.

And yes, dear anthropologists, my eyes and ears are on you! No, no, I’m not staring, “I’m observing”.

passion, blogging, and those nasty trolls

A quick run down of my morning -

wake up, flick on the espresso machine…

procrastinate on eating – [good for getting that low blood sugar feeling]

check email -

Finally get around to listening to hour long Michael Wesch video [love the lecture… feeling great about this topic of research and inspired with new possibilities]

move on to news sites – [and surprise things start to go sour]

watch the recently released Omar Khadr video, revealing some brutal behavior by Canadian representatives.

read more on Omar Khadr through the BBC, focusing on how they highlight the way Canada has supported the illegal process and never raised a hand to save a 15 year old kid from brutal torture. [time flies, fueled with an accelerated heart rate]

I drink another espresso. [and forget to eat]

stumble upon a self proclaimed “right wing” blog writing against just about everything I support. [heart rate really increasing now]

spew out stupid response attacking the blogger [positive effect on communication –> 0. But it certainly has a repulsive effect. ]

Realize I got trolled.

Realize its noon and I wasted a morning getting trolled.

Ponder ways of building more constructive responses, and ways to deal with political !@#!~. Ways to avoid trolls, or to respond to trolls.

Search for “free Omar Khadr t-shirts”

you’ve got mail! [a story about networking]

Except this time it was a real letter! Yes, a paper letter. No not a bill. A letter.

And I found the experience rather odd. Somewhat old fashioned even. But for most people, letter writing is probably still normal – at least it shouldn’t feel strange communicating through Canada Post. Should it?  This is something I can easily lose sight of when I look at online publishing – I need to be careful not to generalize my experience with others – I’ve spent way more time online than the average person.

Having sent out my mini ethnography to just about everyone I could, to rip up and critique, I received in this stamped letter,  a five page hand written response.  The friend who responded felt more comfortable writing privately. The response is an essay in itself, and it really shows how we can achieve similar goals through very different kinds of networks. It also shows how personal preference is involved – not everyone wants to be known publicly, or share their response. I’ll try and get permission to discuss the comments on here, because they are really very insightful and certainly interesting to other anthropology students.

—–

And today, I bumped into a friend on the street. She said “oh sorry I haven’t been in touch. I don’t have facebook”. I replied “no problem catch me on gmail”. [smooth…] But what she meant to say was she had no internet, as she had just moved.

She then pulled out her cell phone and said “hey give me your cell number… ” to which I replied “oh I don’t carry one. ” I developed a bad cellphone allergy working tech support at 3am … She looked at me wondering what bizarre world I lived in,  where I could live without such a device.

A matter of preference and expectation.

I like communication where you can pick a time to sit down and answer. Twitter is pretty cool, messenger can be annoying. But letter writing? I forgot all about it, and certainly did not expect it.  And people expect me to have a cell phone – it’s almost like not having an address – snail or e-mail. It’s interesting to think about how we choose these technologies – and how quickly they become seemingly essential means of communication.

Now to hand write a response! off to the cafe. [the office]

Kelty quotes, social drama, and a turf war!

Christopher Kelty discusses the online popularity and exposure a group of “experimental philosphers” have had using “2.0” communication strategies. It brings up how the division and distance between those who embrace “new kinds of scholarly communication” and “those who ignore such techniques” is increasing. The discussion also touches on the falling walls of academia – in that some philosophical research projects look a lot like anthropology projects [and vice verca]. He comments:

“I’m pointing to x-phi as an example of a new kind of scholarly communication, something that, regardless of its content, is conducted in a new way, and thus able to achieve attention (warranted or not) far beyond what professional philosophers who ignore such techniques (blogging, organizing, collaborating) would be able to achieve.” (savageminds.org)

The discussion that follows also includes wonderful disciplinary battle cries which have motivated a new chapter in my research. Inspired by recent discussions with Dr. Postill about “social fields” and online communities, I’m fascinated with the social drama that unfolds in “disciplinary turf wars” [thats going down as a chapter title].

[edit just found more!]

A turf war? social drama?  Fear not, Dr. Forte responds here!

dead blogs

Google’s magical algorithms turned up some interesting blogs today that left me pondering the “lifespan” of an academic blog. In discussions about blogging as a research tool on the Media Anthropology Network, one discussant argued blogging was a great tool for “apprentices”, meaning it might not be as valuable to full fledged “doctors”. Or so I interpreted the post.

As I surf the web I’ve found there really are a lot of “dead” blogs – and some really great ones too. What makes people stop blogging? Does the initial buzz wear off? Where does an academic blog go once a person leaves academia? It’s for this reason I love multi topic, free thinking blogs that move beyond academic formalities.

But give me a degree, send me out in the world, let the sun shine and perhaps offer me a beer [and throw in a few round the world plane tickets while your in a giving mood]. At that point – blogging becomes serious work. To investigate this I’ve decided to compile a list of dead academic blogs, to email their owners and ask them to allow me to interview them. [and the list isn’t growing very fast, I keep finding dead blogs that have been reborn on different blog platforms].  Is there some sort of “blog graveyard” one can retire a blog for archiving?

If any ex-bloggers come upon this page, please share your experiences. Why did you stop blogging? For you academic bloggers, how did your feelings about blogging change once you graduated? And to the current crop of academic blog enthusiasts, have you given any thought to your blogs “lifespan”?

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