The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Post-Prefixed Meta-Blogging

July 8, 2005

The academic wing of the blogsphere has seen a fair amount of angst, anger, and hand-wringing over the article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, “Bloggers Need not Apply”. The anonymous rant, written under the pseudonym “Ivan Tribble” (ah, the irony!), is chock full of stupidiousness goodness. Dan Drezner, Robert Farley, the Bitch herself, and countless others who I might be aware of if I weren’t blogging without the benefit of easy internet access, have already done excellent jobs of mocking the writer.

Really, the article reads like precisely the kind of bad blog rant the author complains about.

The award for best snarky response so far goes to Dan Drezner:

But if you still truly believe your assertion that, “Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum,” then here’s my advice — do not hire anyone ever again. As you say, “We’ve all… expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we’re giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether potential future colleagues have a blog or not — all it takes is five minutes to set one up. The only foolproof way to “guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum” online is to have no colleagues.

David Foster’s comment on Dan Drezner’s post makes a really telling point, one that I urge any anti-blog academics to consider carefully: “Increasingly, academia comes across as a stereotypical small town ruled by Mr and Mrs Pecksniff and their friends. Why would anyone want to spend time there?”

The fact is, however, that a lot of academia doesn’t fit David’s description, and a lot of non-academic lines of work are filled with petty, vindictive people.

Nevertheless, the op-ed freaked out a great many bloggers. I’ve received a number of emails from graduate students and non-tenure track faculty indicating their own concerns about the impact keeping a weblog might have on their careers.

My gut reaction is: why the heck would anyone ever want to be in a department with colleagues like “Ivan Tribble’s”? What a bunch of uptight, insecure losers.

But is that really fair advice to graduate students and visiting professors? After all, I’ve got a job – and a very good one – in a “market” characterized by far more supply than demand.

Ultimately, people in any line of work have to make a choice: how much are they willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a job? For those who want to avoid doing anything that might hurt their chances of getting any job, then blogging probably isn’t such a good idea. But there are a lot of things you can do in academia that will alienate potential or current employers.

For example, I wrote a dissertation on an obscure topic (although religious contention and empires turned out, unfortunately, to be a bit more relevant than I expected back in 1998), publish dense theoretical articles, use somewhat off-beat methods (at least for a political scientist), and have maintained a steady stream of work on popular culture and world politics. I don’t doubt I would be better “positioned” if I made some different choices; but I also know that any place that won’t tolerate at least some of what makes me “me” isn’t going to be a place I’m happy.

One of the problems, of course, is that some academics have strange views on the fungibility of time. No one cares if a colleague spends an hour a day watching television, playing tennis, or riding a bike. But if that colleague is writing in some way that doesn’t advance her career – a novel, an op-ed, or a blog – then all of a sudden they’re wasting time that could be spent on an article or monograph. There’s truth to this, but no more so than to the extent that watching “24,” reading the latest P.D. James, or winning 6-3 on the court “wastes” time that could have been spent on work. Still, how much mileage that kind of argument gets you is likely to vary. I may know that if I weren’t writing a blog entry I’d probably be playing a video game, reading a work of fiction, or listening to jazz without multitasking, but it might be hard to convince my peers that this is the case.

The best advice I can give here is that if you’re not doing enough to get yourself a job or get tenure, you should probably be spending more time on your work. I know that if I’m having trouble getting my book manuscript done next year, then blogging will be one of many things that will have to be put aside for the time being. If I’m getting closer to the end of my tenure clock and my case doesn’t look as strong as it needs to be, you can bet that I won’t be blogging. I also won’t be watching much anime, going to many concerts, or otherwise having fun in my spare time.

Oh, and try to behave like a professional any time you write non-anonymous stuff for public consumption. Remember, blogs aren’t private and google is a powerful tool. We all forget the latter from time to time, but we shouldn’t. After all, how else would we catch many of the plagiarists in our classes?

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.