Cathy Davidson has a provocative post up on the HASTAC blog that considers whether blogs should toward promotion and tenure. Her conclusion: blogs should count, but as a form of academic service rather than as a publication. In general, I agree with her, even while understanding the potential risks of broadening our definition of “service” well beyond its traditional boundaries.
As she acknowledges, peer-reviewed books and articles have already been “vetted” before they reach publication, whether through blind peer-review or through the crowdsourced approach used (experimentally) by Shakespeare Quarterly I mentioned yesterday. Davidson adds that blogs are not peer-reviewed, and as a result, they offer academic writers greater freedom to explore topics freely. This is certainly my experience: when I’ve been able to devote more time to the blog, it has provided space for me to develop and work through ideas. Or just to write for pleasure.
As one of my Facebook friends describes it, blogs offer room for mediated scholarly conversations. Many of the discussions that may have taken place at conferences may now take place online. And, of course, as blogging has evolved, new forms such as MediaCommons’ In Media Res posts (be sure to Check out Jennifer Holt’s recent post on net neutrality, Google, and Verizon). The ideas in these posts often circulate well beyond the blogosphere, of course. In my case, an exchange that started on IMR eventually led to a co-written, peer-reviewed journal article. So the activity of blogging has been valuable for me, whether that’s defined as sparking scholarly conversation or as something else.
I think that part of what’s fascinating about Davidson’s comments–and the debate they are likely to spark–is that we are still having many of the same debates about blogs nearly a decade after they have become a visible form. I referred to some of these issues back in 2004, when I was a relatively new blogger and there seems to be some of the same caution today, with many people arguing that we don’t know how to evaluate blogging or implying that blogs are a form of vanity publishing. These arguments, however, overlook the ways in which incoming links and citations function as a means of establishing credibility (a recent citation in The New Yorker’s Front Row blog is a testament to some of the very cool work being done by Anne Petersen on celebrity, to name one example).
Although I am happy to argue that we do (potentially) have mechanisms for judging blogs through incoming links citations and other criteria, not unlike the peer review system that might judge an article based on how often its cited, I think the more fascinating point is that blogs as a form of academic activity remain difficult to categorize. And perhaps that’s what makes blogging such an engaging activity for me (at least when I can find the time to write).