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Why We Blog

Michael Berube hits the nail on the head with this insightful post about academia and the blogosphere:

What is true of “public intellectuals,” in [Laura] Kipnis’ sense, is true a fortiori of bloggers: the mediating skills that we knowledge-merchants have to learn, in order to write for magazines, newspapers, and general-audience journals, are on even more immediate display in blog format—and, of course, the response from readers is more immediate as well.

That’s certainly one of the reasons I’ve grown so fond of blogging, and I imagine that’s one reason why (so far) I haven’t lost too much academic prestige by indulging in this here medium, either. Most of the professors and graduate students who know about this humble blog have said very kind things about it, sometimes so emphatically as to threaten its status as a humble blog. But every so often someone says to me, with just a barely audible sneer, “I suppose you’ll be putting this on your blog” or “is this a real talk, or just something from your blog?” and I’ve even heard one professor playfully insult another (not me this time), “oh, go tell it to your blog . . . and both your readers.” Of course, most people who know me or my work know that I was pretty compromised on this score to begin with. “Well, no wonder Bérubé has a blog,” they say. “He was already writing for newspapers, it was only a matter of time before he sank even further into the ‘public’ muck.” The idea, clearly enough, is that blogs lie somewhere on the respectability-spectrum between personal diaries and obsessive basement hobbies, and that while it’s fine that you write about your life or build your model trains on your own time, you should at least be circumspect—if not positively sheepish—about doing it in public.

I think that five or ten years from now, that idea is going to look pretty silly. While it’s true that the blogosphere is home to any number of Comic Book Guys and Dennis Miller Wannabes and Assorted Cranks (and don’t worry, Blogging Jesus loves every one of you), my guess is that before too long, academics will be slapping their foreheads and saying, “what were we thinking? All these years we were waiting for the second reader’s report on the essay we submitted to the Journal of the Econometric Analysis of Advanced Eggplant Parmesan, we could have been using blogs for any number of intellectual and pedagogical purposes, from extramural class discussions in individual courses to wide-ranging debates about Constitutional law, the legacy of structuralism, and the impact of intercollegiate athletics on the labor market in professional sports!” At which point I fear I will not be able to refrain from saying yeah, well, told you so.

My sense is that blogging by legal academics suffers from less disciplinary skepticism than blogging by colleagues in other parts of the university, and Michael Berube may have put his finger on why: Most law professors already lead semi-“public” lives, with one foot necessarily in the world of policy and practice and the other foot in the academy. That tension resonates both in the legal profession and in the university both positively and negatively, and in all kinds of ways. In the blogosphere, it releases many of us from the fear that publicly exchanging knowledge with anyone other than our fellow academics compromises our scholarly integrity. What we’re learning, among other things, is that a commitment to thoughtful blogging may make us better scholars. And, perhaps, better lawyers, and citizens, as well.

Spotted via Sivacracy.

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