Academic purity guilt and blogging

The Little Professor says:

Unlike some of the academics to whom Katherine Firth links in her post about the “Academic Purity Cult,” I’ve never received any professional pushback for blogging (well, aside from the people who don’t like something I’ve blogged, but that’s a different issue).

I have—a lot of it, in fact, at conferences and from professors. That may be in part because I’m a grad student or because of my department, but pretty much everyone in academia who has deigned to comment on the issue has disparaged blogging or any writing whatsoever that doesn’t entail peer-review. I find this bizarre because I see the primary activity of studying English being to read things, learn things through reading, write about things, and disseminate them—and the web is a very good medium for that, especially for anyone who wants to be read. Academic journals aren’t a good way to get people to read.

To me, the revealing comparison is to math, physics, CS and other fields: post to arXiv.org, say, and let the peer-review and publication catch up to the cutting-edge research. If a science-based academic learns something new, it’s imperative to get it out there as soon as possible! It’s important and treated as it’s important.

By contrast, most humanities profs appear at best indifferent and at worst hostile to those kinds of open processes, and they’re willing to endure months or years of delay between finishing a piece and seeing it published. Peer-reviewed journals won’t accept work previously published on blogs or other online forums. Evidently what we’re doing isn’t sufficiently important to others to be worth publishing in a timely manner. Instead we’re stuck in the mannerist world of journal publishing, and disdain for alternate modes of dissemination (like blogs) is part of that world. One word that keeps getting used by my professors about me is “journalistic” which they see as an insult (I by and large don’t write in deliberately obscured prose) but which I see as a quasi-compliment (I write in a way that other people can understand).

English literature doesn’t appear at all interested in “impact factors” or even readers, which I find strange given the accessibility of English, relative to, say, math proofs.

Popularity isn’t the only valuable metric for new work, but in contemporary academia it isn’t even considered. That should change.

EDIT: I’m not the only one to notice. This is from Gerald Graff’s 1979 book Literature Against Itself:

Where quantitative ‘production’ of scholarship and criticism is a chief measure of professional achievement, narrow canons of proof, evidence, logical consistency, and clarity of argument have to go. To insist on them imposes a drag upon progress. (97)

What matters is the quantity of work produced and where it is published, rather than whether it is right—or, as Graff says, “canons of proof, evidence, logical consistency, and clarity of argument.”

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