a blogging ‘identity’

I erased a post this morning, for the first time. I didn’t get rid of it altogether, because it’s OK. I just removed it from the schedule and saved it. I took it out of this blog because I realized it didn’t ‘fit. It probably wouldn’t, I guessed, interest many of the people who I think are patter readers. It answers back to a current policy and that’s not what I do here.

This gave me cause to think about the ‘I’ that writes this blog, and why. What’s the text work/identity work that’s accomplished here? [What and who is patter?]

The scholarly literatures on social media practice suggest public and private persona become blurred on-line. By private, they usually mean our ‘personal’ life and the things that we talk about in non-professional settings. By public, they generally mean an occupational association – academic, public intellectual, scientist, artist and so on. So it seems that people happily tweet about their cat and about the politics of academic life, about the weather and their research, about what they are eating for dinner and a new network they are setting up.

Of course, most of us have multiple private and multiple professional identities, it’s not a simple public/private binary. That’s where my decision to delete came from. Patter is a particular professional identity, and the deleted post came from another part of me – the academic concerned with what’s happening in English schools.

I do however have a strong sense that writing this blog brings some of my private professional work into a public arena.

First, it is a way of de-privatising the conversations I have in tutorials, in lecture rooms when teaching writing and research methods, in vivas and in corridors. This talk generally occurs behind closed doors out of sight of most other peers, and is always confined to who is physically present. So I try here to do a pedagogical kind of writing – but without some of the immediacy of comments and questions – although there are those, and lots more than on any other kinds of scholarly writing I do.

Second, it’s often about the kinds of things that I think ought to be more public than they are at present – this ranges from the hidden rules of getting a book proposal accepted, to the less-spoken-about conventions of academic writing.

But teaching is a big part of who I think I am. So the blog is also a way of recording and passing on some bits and pieces that I’ve developed as a teacher – because that’s what teachers do, develop bits and pieces, whether in schools or universities – to help doctoral researchers get on top of some of the tricky stuff.

Now these could go in a methods text. Indeed, some of them do. But the difference is that blogs can address mess and tensions and difficulties in a far more relaxed way than a book. The book writing ‘voice’ that I use when writing about writing or research methods is less friendly, more like a formal lecture than a chat in my office or at the supermarket.

The blog attempts to capture that level of informality. The blog feels much more a manifestation of the teacherly aspect of ‘me’ than any methods text I’ve been involved in.

Featured in The Guardian last weekend discussing creative writing courses, Rachel Cusk suggested

The desire to be a published author is perhaps no more than a desire to be “there” permanently, all the time. What the student gets out of a writing workshop is a feeling of being “there” for a couple of hours, the beginning of a process by which “there” – writing – can become a more concrete aspect of identity.

Her words are pretty relevant to my reasons for blogging. Teaching conversations are transitory, here one moment, gone the next. They are confined to an institutional setting, a set place/time. Patter blog is a way of making this fleeting talk into a ‘there’, congealing at least enough of the way I approach the pedagogies of scholarship to allow me to think that it is a fair representation of me – I hope it’s as a pedagogically inclined academic colleague, and one who is accessible all day/all night in ways that I physically can’t manage.

So that’s why I had to delete my rant to Michael Gove. It just wasn’t the ‘me’ of this blog.

But what about other bloggers – are there things you just wouldn’t write about, and if so, what and why?

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic blogging, identity, pedagogy, public/private, text work/identity work, there and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to a blogging ‘identity’

  1. Simon Bailey says:

    Sounds like someone needs a second blog 😉


  2. This is a fascinating post, Pat, and something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. We’re likely to have different voices in different contexts — with family, friends, peers, students, etc. Enacting our digital identities in open, online spaces, with an unknown audience, results in context collapse. An interesting aspect of this is the one you mention here — you write your blog with a particular audience in mind. Many of us do. So how does this affect our voice, or how we enact our digital identity? I’ve written about this recently on my own blog, as I’m interested in acknowledging these questions and tensions as we work with our students. It’s important to discuss these issues with our students if we are asking them to participate in online forums, whether LMS-bounded or in open contexts (e.g. Twitter, blogs, etc.). http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/enacting-digital-identity/
    My blog voice is about sharing both my work and my learning — or “working out loud” as described here: http://johnstepper.com/2012/05/26/working-out-loud-your-personal-content-strategy/. I sometimes blur the boundaries to more personal writing (for example, after seeing Mary Robinson speak last year) but my acid test for whether I would publish something in my blog is this: if I would discuss this with my peers and my students then I will blog about it. Like you, I think it is so important to move learning, and reflections on learning, into the open — opening the walls of the classroom.
    Thanks for this post and your blog. I always enjoy reading your posts! 🙂


  3. pat thomson says:

    I’d popped over to your blog before but will go more frequently.
    Part of my problem is that my research is divided into three areas and there’s not a lot of overlap. I tend to tweet more e electrically than I blog…
    Thanks for your comments 🙂


  4. I really like what you said about how a blog is more casual than a book, like a conversation at a supermarket as opposed to a lecture. I wouldn’t blog about things that are conversations with a good friend over a cup of tea – personal problems, finances, difficulties in relationships (especially with co-workers!), and really personal details of my life. And that’s not just because my blog is a work related one: there are some things that don’t belong on the internet, out of respect for others and to be mindful of my online identity.


  5. This is my first visit to your blog. I find the topics you raise fascinating. A blog can be “what the teacher is thinking…” (…some hints of what is beneath/within the persona). When I began blogging several years ago, I was drawn to writing reflective personal essays, or bits of essays. Not many responses, that’s for sure! I observe bloggers who attract different audiences; it’s like they have a “crew” that pulls for them.

    I journaled for years privately and still encourage students to do so and to explore different voices within and let them spill over onto the page. I recently began keeping paper near the computer. I might ask my students to try this too…what do you type out (for others) vs. what do you write by hand (for yourself)?

    I’ve been on listservs observing some very interesting behaviors, too…not unlike the cross-section of humanity in the classroom. Some people have few personal filters, particularly when that anonymous ranting begins….

    When I write humor, it’s like drifting into yet another language That’s fun, too.


  6. basedrones says:

    This is a fascinating post. For my part, I generally blog about law. That gives me a wide remit to veer widely from topic to topic, given how omnipresent the law is. Land law is a focus of mine, which is ever topical (perhaps especially in terms of the Scottish “land question”), but I certainly do not restrict posts to that narrow area. My blog has allowed me to critique issues to do with corporate governance, specifically in relation to Scottish football. It has given a platform for me to attempt to critique assertions about international law or freedom of information law, which have featured in the debate about Scottish independence. I have even blogged about music, which probably was a little self-indulgent. Of more interest to your blog’s readers are a few posts about pedagogy. I suspect those posts could fall into the “second blog” category your first commenter identified, but one blog seems quite enough for both me and I suspect the world at large. As such, maybe I should be a little more selective in what I put up. But then again, it is “my” blog.


  7. Thanks for this post. It’s a very interesting reflection on issues that we all wrestle with, with varying degrees of insight. In fact, I blogged on something similar a day or so ago, and arrived at almost the opposite conclusion! In your terms I’d be more likely to publish a rant about Michael Gove and less likely to discuss what happens in everyday academic life. My online identity is rather further away from my academic identity. The post is here in case you’re interested:

    http://www.alexsarchives.org/?p=5211 [The boundaries of academic blogging]


    • pat thomson says:

      Hi Alex, I’d read your post and I’m sure it added to my mental processing yesterday. I’m all for unpacking the homogenous view of academic and blogging. Bit tired of hearing what they are and could and should be. Vive la difference I say.


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  9. missmcinerney says:

    Pat – I have the opposite problem! My blogging has become so linked to ranting about education policy that when I have something I want to post about in terms of research methods, or teaching practice, I find myself deleting it or trying to find somewhere else to put it.

    Occasionally I go for it anyway, usually with some kind of explanatory paragraph at the beginning explaining why I felt it important to write regardless. And often those blogs have gone on to do very well, with large readerships, and brought me to the attention of a new readership. Then I have the panic that some of them will start to follow my blog and be disappointed that I am now writing about the intricacies of Education Select Committees and no longer passing on gems about managing detentions. But, I figure, if they really hate it then they can soon unfollow me, or simply not read the blog if it’s irrelevant. On the other hand maybe they will stick with and learn something new.


  10. Your blogging identity feels like the first person I met…
    I find refuge in reading new posts as I am reminded of a not so distant past when things just generally looked better for me. Of course, Patter is a great academic resource too!
    The Blog feels a little different from tutorials in that it is addressed to multiple audiences (not just doctoral students) / public. I certainly hear the pedagogically oriented voice that to runs through it. It doesn’t fail to be clear, accessible and engaging. I also find Patter to be rather ‘open’ – i.e. open to tentative ideas, open debate, uncertainties and suggestions – I don’t know if this is to be seen as the pedagogue and/or the researcher in you?


    • Oh and… I see Patter as belonging to a Pre-Twitter era (at least in its inception) and that could be another reason why I find refuge in it but I couldn’t say in what sense exactly… It was just the first thought that came to mind as I first read your blog on Monday.
      My apologies for the above addendum – As to your question on what to blog about: I’m not really qualified to answer since I do not run a blog but there once was some discussion around me about the possibility of running a blog on doctoral / supervision matters as seen from our (students’) point of view. For a range of reasons, this project seems impossible to realise. And yes, every supervisor was once a student and so knows all about that aspect of the doctoral experience. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to dispute that fact. Our concern was more that many of today’s supervisors seem to have been yesterday’s more successful doctoral candidates. It would make sense. Yet, rich insights might also be gained from examining the doctoral experiences of less successful candidates (I am a case in point…).
      Anyway, I am now considering the possibility of running a blog to display a few photos I take. I will not rush into it as I never dreamed of blogging if solely to the purpose of writing! (The blogosphere generally attracts people fond of writing… not necessarily those who would most benefit from it;) I am not there yet…!)


  11. I read this when you first posted it, and have been thinking since. For me, blogging identity is as much about curating as writing — I first started Music for Deckchairs, very anonymously, to sort out my thoughts about things that were unsayable at work. Almost immediately, once I’d figured out incoming RSS, it became more useful to me because of the voices it brings to me. This is what makes blogging distinctively different from other forms of academic writing: it’s not just me carrying on. When I check in, something new has happened, and I didn’t do it. So I feel much more like I’m wandering into a bar than stepping up to a podium. Your post has made me wonder about what part of my identity is linked to this practice of hosting a tiny, rolling conference of ideas. Thank you.


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  15. Really interesting and thanks for sharing your view on this. I am new to blogging and from what I have observed, some blogs have a purpose and others are more a collection of views from an individual. Having a more purposeful blog I imagine would help to find an audience. However, I can see that some of your posts link to something topical, this keeps interest and variety. A good mixture.


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