This is the sixth post about the literature review I am doing about academic blogging for a paper/project with Thesis Whisperer. I’m working to a short time frame, and using a three-stage approach – scoping, mapping and focusing in.
I started working with refereed journal articles but I’ve also read some blogs about blogging and located six pertinent books. I’m also developing a bit of a view about the field, using three focusing-in questions (see below). I have some tentative answers about what we ‘know’ about academic blogging – and I’m going to write about them here. However it’s important to note that these answers may change/will change as I keep reading and finding more texts. This particular set of answers to my questions is a first resting place if you like.
This post is divided into two sections – the first is my response to focusing-in questions, and the second is a commentary on my responses.
(1) Focusing in on blogging literatures
Question One: What is the history of research in the field? Where has it come from and why this route? What might be directions it could take in future?
Researching blogging is a relatively recent field, but it is one which is spread across multiple disciplines and approaches. There is comparatively little formal research on academic blogging, apart from its use for teaching purposes. (This is not surprising.) There is emerging theoretical work about blogging – and social media more generally – and a small methods literature. These are obviously areas which will develop further.
Academics blog about academic blogging, and this consists largely of arguments for, and reflections on, doing it. Some of these posts are ‘evidenced’, others are more personal reflections and opinions. The notion of blogs for online mentoring and researcher development already appears in blogs, but is almost absent from journal-based research.
And in the future? In reading blogs and tweets on academic blogging I’ve noticed that the UK is particularly interested in blogs as part of the impact agenda, that in the US there is a lot of blogging activity around MOOCs and pedagogies, and that in Australia there is concern about institutional corporatized approaches which might censor individual academic bloggers. I’m sure that these will be areas where researchers will want to work in future. Some kind of comparative research approach would probably be interesting as academic blogs become more embedded in particular policy and institutional contexts.
Question Two: What are the key debates in the field? What is at stake in their construction?
There is as yet no agreed categorisation of academic blogs per se ( if there ever could be), and that’s good because that’s the paper Inger and I are writing – although there are some categorisations used in some of the literatures which we will have to respond to.
It seems to me that the basis on which categorisations might be developed is vexed.
I can see from my scoping and mapping exercises that there is a range of ways to think about academic blogs – but this is not yet a debate across the field. However it is important for us to sort out whether we think about blogs as – a genre, a network, an actor, an information source, a contribution to a democratic sphere, an activity system or a practice – or a combination of the above . Each of these options sits within specific knowledge producing traditions. And there are some literatures about each of them, although not much, and we will need to consider the relative possibilities of each of these approaches in relation to the categorising task we have set ourselves.
I am interested in the idea of blogs as a genre – bearing in mind that a genre is not just about writing but about the social action that the writing accomplishes. There are elements of blogs – hyperlinks for example and the length of a post – that might be said to indicate a genre. Some people do want to suggest that blogs are personal, more casual, less well referenced, researched and argued than other academic genres. However not all blogs are like this – existing academic genres from the print world also seem to be imported into blogs, as Inger is finding in her analysis. This makes the genre question a bit tricky.
Inger is interested in actor network theory and the possibilities that this might bring to understanding academic blogs. And we are both interested in questions of identities and/or subjectivities and how this might play out in and through academic blogging. This seems to be pretty underplayed in the work that is out there.
Question Three: Who are the key figures in the field and why?
There don’t yet seem to be major key figures that we can talk about in relation to researching blogs per se and academic blogs in particular. There is an originary claim – Jill Walker (2006) suggests she and Torrill Mortensen were the first to write about academic blogging in 2002. And Jodi Dean might claim to have written the first specific theoretical approach to blogging in her 2012 text Blog theory. But Im sure there’s more than this that I just haven’t found yet.
So that’s my focusing in. But what exactly have I done here?
(2) What’s going on in focusing-in?
Focusing in relies on information gathered in scoping and mapping. This becomes the basis on which an evaluative analysis can be made. In focusing in, I am looking for patterns, knots, trends and spaces. I’m looking to see where our paper fits and what kind of contribution we might make.
Focusing in is the same kind of creative thinking we bring to any data analysis, whether it is setting up definitions against which we can count and measure things, or whether it is attributing meaning to other people’s words and actions. It is the subjective element of research which scares the pants off some people. However, I think it is nothing to be afraid of. I reckon we just have to make sure that we are basing our judgments on the most thorough and defensible work we can do in the time available, and that we don’t over-claim what we think we have found. So you ‘ll notice that I provided several hedges in this post – this is where I am now and it might change, this is based on a limited sample and might be different when I see more things, this seems to be the case but needs further exploration.
But you will also see that, in the end, even from a partial and particular literature review and reading, I have managed to identify several possible research agendas in this field. I have also identified a key problem – what is the academic blog – that Inger and I need to address, because it is is core to our task of categorizing.
I confess I am now also occasionally wondering why we decided that developing categories was an important thing to do. No, I don’t really mean that, but I can now see quite clearly that it is a very preliminary task leading to something else. And what the something else could be, according to my focusing in , is any number of things. And that’s an interesting, no, an exciting prospect.
Dean, J (2012) Blog theory. Feedback and capture in the circuits of drive. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Walker, J (2006) Blogging from inside the ivory tower. In Uses of blogs Eds. Bruns, A and Jacobs, J (pp 127-138) New York: Peter Lang