Sarah Pett

Early Career Researcher and Teacher (SOAS)

#BlogTank

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be participating in #BlogTank, a collaborative project designed to get academic bloggers to recommit. #BlogTank is the brainchild of the brilliant Amy Rubens, and you can read more about it on her blog The Ambulant Scholar.

This week, my role is to “curate” posts by other members of the group. First up is Allan Johnson’s “Business as Usual: A Response to Forbes and Mary Beard”. An Assistant Professor in English Literature at the City University of Hong Kong, Allan’s stylish post responds to a very hot topic: Susan Adams’s recent declaration in Forbes that university professor have “The least stressful job of 2013”. Picking up on his response in August to Professor Mary Beard’s comments on university PR and communications job postings, Allan tackles the “two cultures” conflict in the university: not in the traditional sense of the disciplinary divide between the sciences and the humanities, but in the more pressing sense of the conceptual divide between academics and those in administrative and other support positions in higher education. A provocative post that attests to the contribution PGRs and ECRs can make to HE culture and policy in this time of crisis.

Elizabeth Hopwood’s post combines a review of the “Becoming a Better Blogette” session at the recent THATcamp MLA with an invitation to other scholarly bloggers to discuss how and why they blog. To my knowledge, THATcamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) has no hold on the UK, and more’s the shame. An “open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot”, it embodies the potential for genuine knowledge transfer, innovation, and collaboration  — a potential that most academic get-togethers fail to realise. I’ve always intended to be a more consistent blogger, and Elizabeth’s post gets right to the heart of the issues that have thus far prevented me from doing so, as well as introducing me to a new project that had not yet crossed my radar. I’m really looking forward to how this conversation develops.

Now, I’m supposed to be curating Renee Barlow’s comments on the digital humanities, but in all honesty her following post is equally, if not even more, thought-provoking. In the first, Renee takes on the digital humanities, incisively cutting through its shiny veneer to expose its significant shortcomings. Her comments are far braver than the post’s low-key title would lead one to assume, and she tackles some very important issues with intelligence and insight. “Here we go again”, Renee’s subsequent post, is another hard-hitter, exposing as it does the very real challenges experienced as an Assistant Professor at an HCBU (historically black college/university). This account makes an excellent counterpart to Adams’s article, and contributes to the ongoing work of educating the public about what actually happens in a university, about what academics do on a day-to-day basis, and why the role of university professor is, without a doubt, not a low-stress job for many. The way in which it deals with very practical life issues is a refreshing antidote to more navel-gazing soliloquys on the trials and tribulations of academic life. Renee – I’m hoping something amazing happens for you this year.

In a similar vein, Richard Pickard’s post “On representation, and faculty salary discussions” takes a long look at the University of Victoria’s purse, challenging the tightening of its strings in recent years. The case he makes is evidence-based and compelling, and demonstrates a depth of research and analysis that his colleagues should be grateful for. I’ve been shocked by how little most PhD students know about the university and how it functions, although to cut them some slack I suppose if I hadn’t also worked part time for Careers and worked in administration for several different departments I might not know either. Richard’s post is a chilling example of why we need to know more about the institutions we work in.

Carol Azumah Dennis’s post, “Metaphors for Writing” is a response to an open invitation to analogise the writing process by Pat Thomson, whose blog patter I’ve been reading on and off for a while now. Using metaphors of combing hair and swimming, Carol reflects on the writing process in a way that I’m sure most academics can identify with. I’ve been pleased to discover in recent months a wealth of digital writing about writing, and have been both relieved and astounded that many academics struggle so much with it. I honestly did think that I was alone, or at least in a very small minority. Again, it’s great to see academics publicly speaking about the work they do, and particularly about the process rather than just the content. I’m sure most of you have heard the anecdote about a google image search for “research” yielding only hard science-related pictures, full of beakers and people in white coats. Raising awareness of research in non-scientific disciplines is crucial, and it’s good to see people taking it on.

So far, I’ve been impressed by the range of subject matter and writing styles in these posts, and am looking forward to see what the next two rounds of #BlogTank might bring. This opportunity to read several academic blog posts comparatively has, for me, given shape to Elizabeth’s question about why we blog. It’s also raised some further questions. For me, these revolve around issues of risk, and how these affect scholars particularly in the early stages of their careers. Dissent and confession are crucial if we’re going to change public perceptions of the university and its value, but it still feels exceptionally risky to admit to strong political views, or mixed feelings about the writing we’re expected to constantly produce. As someone who’s hoping to be on the job market within the year, I wonder whether, and how, this might affect my chances. I’d like to think that it would increase them, but I’m still not sure. It seems to me that so much of academia is about toeing the line, about maintaining a façade of effortlessness. But then I think of people like Eileen A Joy, who resigned from a tenure track position to start punctum books, an open-access and print-on-demand press for non-traditional scholarly books, or Robert Miller, who only publishes on his blog text2cloud; people with real integrity who approach academia on their own terms, who dissent and confess on a regular basis. Digitally. Perhaps real integrity only comes with risk.

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2013 by in #BlogTank, Uncategorized.

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