It's been pretty interesting (in a bit of a train-wreck kind of way) to watch the tense fall as a group of bloggers sought to get their blogging group, Bibliobloggers, associated formally with the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). The upshot of this was that their group did become affiliated with the SBL, but not before some serious ruffled feathers, tense comments, and at least one blogger quitting blogging entirely. I don't know any of the participants in this dispute and detect a certain amount of personal animosity among them. Putting aside the interpersonal tensions that are likely to be the part of any social network, it is interesting to see some of the standard issues of the blogging discourse emerge once again. I am not going to link to specific posts in my observations here -- out of only laziness and the fact that I read the various perspectives in an unsystematic way (or until I decided that most folks were making arguments that I had heard before in other contexts). For a general recap, check out this post on Daniel O. McClellan's blog (via Chuck Jones at the Ancient World Bloggers Group), and if you can only read one post be sure to read Chris Heard's "Blogging, SBL affiliation, and academic respectability", it's hilarious:
1. Bloggers like to think of themselves as voices calling out in the desert (or at least mildly subversive). I must admit that much of the initial appeal of blogging to me was to find a medium that allowed me to work around the traditional barriers of the academic world. That is to meld (such as I can) the intellectual with the academic. I can explore my interests here in a public forum, offer up working papers, comment on various academic and intellectual issues, and watch the world go by without the limitations imposed by peer review (and, of course, without the benefits of peer review either). The formal association with a group and then the formal association with a professional academic organization (like the SBL or the AIA or even for that matter a university) would certain undermine any subversive street cred that I imagine myself possessing, not to mention run the risk of imposing some standards or limits external to my blog. While this wouldn't be a bad thing (a copy editor would be great, in fact), it's not why I blog and would hate to have to worry about my ties with a professional body when I begin to compose a post.
2. Blogging and professional credit. Of course, there has long been a group of bloggers who have sought to make blogging a more recognized form of academic discourse and it is easy to see how earning an official professional association would not help Invariably this group is attacked by folks who seem to think that tenure credit should only be given for peer reviewed achievements. This is a silly position to hold, of course, since most of us earn tenure credit for a wide range of activities from community and university service to teaching that are not subjected to the standard strictures of peer review. Moreover, we all know that the notion of peer review varies greatly across a wide range of academic publications which, in all but the most research focused departments, earn something toward tenure (e.g. book reviews, encyclopedia articles, invited contributions, et c.). While I can completely understand how professional pressures can lead us to reading academic activity as a zero-sum enterprise (i.e. if I am blogging then I am not working on a peer reviewed article, a monograph, et c.), I also like to think that blogging evokes some of now-extinct forms of scholarly communication such as the learned communication or the academic correspondence (a public statement regarding a particular issue that would be circulated among a group or published in a journal). These forms of communication circulated in intellectual and academic communities and served to inform like-minded individuals and stimulate debate. The benefit to one's professional status, then, doesn't come from the overly bureaucratized tenure process, but from working to enrich the academic discourse more broadly. In other words, you are benefiting the field of which you are a part. (And for the record, I include my blog in my c.v. under the heading "other publications" where I include non-peer reviewed articles, multimedia projects, and the like).
3. Blogs and Incomplete Truths. There are still folks out there who worry that blogging is just another way to fill the internet with incomplete ideas, flights of fancy, and just plain rubbish. Typically, these people are concerned that the general public or students will struggle to separate the good, high-quality stuff, from the low quality trash. The interest in getting the SBL or any formal affiliation is that it will mark a blog out as a legitimate contributor to conversation and not just another source of dubious quality internet drivel. While I appreciate the concern that blogs have often become the medium for cranks or conduits for misinformation, there is no reason to confuse the medium with the message. I am tiring of folks who do not seems to expect our colleagues, students. and the general public to be able to read critically on the web.
4. Are we still talking about blogging? It's funny to think that blogging as a medium is almost 15 years old at this point. Let's shift the conversation the conversation to more dynamic places within the new media-sphere. How does YouTube, Twitter, and other highly social media outlets contribute or subvert the core missions of our professional organizations?
Oh, and do we need an AIA group dedicated to Archaeobloggers?