Today I’ve been wondering about a field analysis, a la Bourdieu, of academic publishing. I dare say someone’s done this and it’s just one of the very many, many things that I haven’t caught up with.
I’ve been thinking about academic writing as a field. That’s because blogging is generally seen as a pretty low’ form of academic writing/publishing, certainly when compared to the ‘high’ status peer reviewed journal article and scholarly monograph. While both journals and books have different exchange value in different disciplines and policy contexts, they patently have much more status than blogs.
Some minority activities do of course have status in their fields – like the avant garde in art for instance. Well, I mean what used to be avant garde before we all became unshockable and it all became big business. But the vast majority of academic blogs are not avant-garde, certainly not in the way that some other scholarly digital publications are – collaborative platforms, non linear publications and so on, as produced by the digital just-add-name-of-discipline folk.
Blogging seems to have taken over from writing for newspapers as a suspect scholarly writing activity. Once upon a time, and certainly in my living memory, academics who wrote for the popular press were seen as somewhat egotistical. They were often assumed to be tainted by a need to expose themselves in public. It was all a bit unseemly, excessive and untoward, unnecessary hubris. These days, writing for newspapers, certainly in the UK, has less of the cheap and tawdry about it. It’s public engagement. It’s impact. It’s talking to the research user community. Writing for the press has come in from the margins of scholarly activity and is much more mainstream.
The outcast position on the nether regions of academic writing has transferred from writing for the media to writing the blog. The academic blog seems to have about the same kind of cultural cache as your average airport novel. It’s a low status time wasting activity. Of course, some blogs are more respectable than others. Any Bourdieusian analysis would have to do a bit of work on which kind of academic blogs were most on the nose and why. There are hierarchies even at the edges.
But if blogging is a ‘low’ scholarly practice, it’s also one where many of those/us who are involved have a bit of an attitude. We like blogging, we can see a point and we’re a bit tired of the assumption that it’s a kind of self indulgent distraction from the Real Work. At the same time there’s perhaps a certain pleasure in being part of a minority who are out there on the boundaries of respectable academic activity, dabbling in something that just may, in its turn, become mainstream at some point in the future. In fields, many things on the borders of respectability do eventually have their day.