Which one are you?
Alex Marsh of the University of Bristol prefers to see himself as a “blogger who is an academic.” He asks a good question: “When does academic blogging begin and end?” At what point does “academic blogging” cease being academic blogging and become something else?
Here is a taste of Marsh’s insightful post at the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science:
I am an academic. In that world I am Professor and the head of one of the five Schools in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at one of Britain’s leading universities. And I am a blogger. In this world I write an individual blog on politics and policy-related issues. The blog is currently ranked in the top 100 UK politics blogs by ebuzzing. Many people arrive and depart my blog without knowing I’m an academic. I don’t hide the fact. It’s there on the About page. But I don’t give it any particular prominence. Similarly, I don’t mention it on my Twitter biog.
Of course, these two identities – academic and blogger – overlap considerably. But they aren’t entirely congruent. And that can set up tensions. My academic research career was largely built on researching and writing about housing markets, regulation and housing policy in England. That is a field in which there is currently plenty of debate, activity and inactivity. It is a policy area that requires rethinking. So there is plenty to write about.
But if I only blogged about housing then my posts would be relatively few and far between. And I rarely report directly on research – either my own or that of others. More frequently I write op-ed commentary. Is that “academic blogging”? And, if I’m honest, sticking to housing would rather defeat the object of setting up the blog in the first place. I wanted a place to talk about whatever was on my mind. So I also blog about closely related issues such as the welfare state and rights, social security and welfare reform, and land use planning. There is plenty to say about the substance of policy in these areas, the processes of its formulation, and the discourses that accompany it. This territory is entirely comfortable, given my research profile. It is congruent with my role in academia. But that probably doesn’t account for half of the posts on this blog.
Some academic bloggers leaven the mix by interspersing their ‘academic’ posts with more personal posts about family, biography or travel. I’m not at all averse to that approach, but it isn’t really my style. So I tend to look in other directions. After all, the blog monster needs regular feeding somehow. So I blog about a range of issues that interest me including macroeconomics, banking reform, industrial policy, transport, public sector restructuring, and the methodology of economics. Only on the last couple of these topics have I ever contributed anything relevant to the academic literature. I’d like to have written more, but c’est la vie.
I have been thinking a lot about this topic. On one hand, The Way of Improvement Leads Home has been successful because I have credentials as an academic historian. On the other hand, I write about a lot of things for which I do not have any specialized training. For example, my thoughts on politics are often tempered by a kind of caution and prudence that comes with being a historian (or at least I like to think they are), but in the end I am expressing my opinions just like everyone else. Sometimes, especially when it comes to my Springsteen-blogging, I probably sound like little more than a wild-eyed fanboy.
So help me sort this out. Is The Way of Improvement Leads Home an academic blog or a blog written by a blogger who happens to be an academic? What do you think?