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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kugelmas all but shuts down The Kugelmass Episodes with some tough talk for academic bloggers:

Criticism is alive and well; there is a burgeoning market for it, and it has been greatly bolstered by the blogging revolution, which is a source of publicity for any smart piece of analysis strong enough to spread virally. The humanities, on the other hand, are in tatters. Part of the reason for my new focus is that I don’t think there’s much value in continuing to write about teaching in the university until the situation generally improves, and I see even less value in trying to breathe life into theoretical discussions (led by people like Slavoj Zizek) that have mostly served to alienate the public, particularly since the ideas fueling these debates are not genuinely original breakthroughs.

I am also uncomfortable with the role that academic blogging seems to have assumed. As far as I can tell, academic blogging does far too much to turn the horrible realities of the job market into an amusing, academic version of Alice in Wonderland: Oh, dear me! Wherever shall I end up next? Academics unwittingly portray themselves (with the generous help of commenters) as eccentrics who are bound to suffer, rather than as knowledge workers who are being exploited. Another way of putting this might be that Marc Bousquet’s How The University Works is probably the only academic blog (mine included) that should earn our admiration rather than our contempt — and it’s already a book.

Furthermore, given the current situation, the democratic ideas behind academic blogging (of bringing conversations usually restricted to campuses to the wide world of the Internet) has perhaps only helped prop up the other, worser idea that what we in the humanities do ought to be done for free, since it’s just book hobbyism if it isn’t serious, bare-bones instruction in writing.
Since by and large I'm not an academic blogger—merely someone in academia who blogs—I come at this with two minds. I certainly disagree that How the University Works (a site I absolutely adore) is in any sense the last word on the academy; there are, surely, other things to talk about than our own bad decisions exploitation. And on the other, more important point about "book hobbyism," well, yes and no: at the same time that blogging has "helped prop up the other, worser idea that what we in the humanities do ought to be done for free" it has also opened new and extremely productive discourse communities and even in some cases actively professionalized (in the best sense) what used to be hobbies and private obsessions. On balance blogging's ledger is still very positive, for academics and for everyone else.

But Kugelmass is right that "academic blogging" is functioning as a loose community rather than as a collective, and that it isn't really driving anything other than itself. With the university famously in ruins™, that's a fairly serious failing, and a place to start.