Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Who Should Blog?

In the past week, there has been a heap of controversy over at the Duck of Minerva after a post that many folks found to be offensive.  In reaction, the blogger is ceasing to blog, others are discussing the challenges of blogging, and others still are drawing lessons, such as: "the vast majority of academic political scientists are just not cut out to be bloggers, and probably shouldn't do so." (anonymous facebook friend who is also known as Christopher Zorn)

My reaction to this is: blogger is a label that describes a whole lot of activity, so saying people should not blog might mean that they should not write on the internet.  Or it might mean that they should be far more limited in what they write.  What I mean by this is that bloggers vary in the scope of the stuff they address and in the style they write.  Some folks restrict themselves to a rather narrow area and write with little snark.  Some folks are willing to write about pretty much everything (that would be me, for instance) and either use heaps of satire or vary widely in the tone they use.  I would agree with my anonymous facebook friend that not everyone should try to address the profession or to engage in satire or be extremely snarky.  Not all of us are good at it.  I am not saying that I am, just that I think I am ok at blogging widely and varying my tone based on the issue.  I am willing to take the hits that come with having a wide array of interests and the risks that come with using humor.

To be clear, I do tend to be more careful in what I write about and the tone I use when I am writing in other places than the Semi-Spew.  I do not blog that often for Duck of Minerva, for instance, because I have always been concerned about whether my posts are up to snuff for that wider audience and to be associated with that label.  Same for Political Violence at a Glance and for my weekly columns at Canadian International Council.  I can pump out two or four posts a day here at the Spew because I am less concerned here about writing something that is too snarky or too far from my expertise, like my obsession with #voterfraudfraud.

But I do think that anyone who is an expert on an issue, and all publishing academics should feel that they are an expert on the stuff that they study, can and SHOULD write on the internet about the stuff that falls within their area of expertise.  Otherwise, we are just talking to ourselves and hoping that our students someday become policy-relevant or that some policy type explores an issue of the APSR or International Studies Quarterly.  Phil Arena, W. Winecoff, and Erica Chenoweth (most of her newer stuff is at Political Violence at a Glance) are good examples of young political scientists who focus almost entirely on the implications of their research for events going on in the world today.  Scholars like these folks are getting their ideas out so that peopleoutside of the academy can learn from their expertise.  Just as we have argued about doing media work, my stance here is the same--we have some obligations to disseminate our work both as part of the service component of our jobs (teaching/research/service) and as the responsibilities that come with grant money.

The funny thing is that this discussion started with the question of whether and how people should network, and the danger is that it might cripple one key means by which the less powerful, the less privileged can have a voice and engage in networking--via social media.  Indeed, people are asking why there are so few female bloggers and why so few non-white male bloggers out there.  I would hate to think that one of the consequences of the discourse over the past week or so would be to discourage new, less well represented voices.

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