Friday, February 26, 2010

Blogs Don't Get No Respect

The journal American Anthropologist, flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association, just published a brief essay on anthropology blogs:

Price, David H.
2010 Blogging Anthropology: Savage Minds, Zero Anthropology, and AAA Blogs. American Anthropologist 112:140-142
. ((Available through Anthrosource, IF you subscribe; the AAA is quite regressive on Open Access))

My first reaction, when I heard about this on Savage Minds, was positive. Wow, a mainstream, academic peer-reviewed journal was giving attention to professional blogs. But most of the paper is a rather low-level discussion of internet discourse--things that any academic who has spent more than an hour online will know already. (blogs are current; writing can be sloppy; they can make academic work known to a wider audience; etc.; This goes in the "Wowie-zowie, leapin' lizards, Mr. Science" department).

Then there are three paragraphs on Savage Minds, which is a great blog, probably the blog I check most regularly. One paragraph is devoted to Zero Anthropology (very political and critical), and one paragraph to the American Anthropological Association's blog (yawn). In all, American Anthropologist has devoted five paragraphs to anthropology blogs. The discussion of Savage Minds is interesting and gives an idea of what is found there; for the others, it is hard to get much information from a single paragraph. But even for Savage Minds, the paper does not have space for any kind of critical analysis of its content, how it relates to intellectual production in other parts of the discipline, what its influence might be, etc. etc.

My conclusion is that American Anthropologist is not giving much respect to blogging. If this was considered a serious topic, they would have given more space for analysis, and they would have published a paper that focused on the blogs rather than devoting most of its space to a bunch of irrelevant tutoring for the internet-challenged.

I was going to post comments like this as a comment on Savage Minds this morning, but the comments on their original post (which used the AA piece to talk about "public anthropology") formed an extensive, vibrant, and exciting exchange on public anthropology (so comments like this would be off-topic). The discussion is a great example of the way an academic blog can be a true intellectual venue, a place for interesting and important exchanges of information and opinion. Just the comments on this one entry provide a better comment on the potentials of academic blogging than the whole AA paper.

I haven't seen anything remotely similar in archaeology. AWBG occasionally gets some interesting discussion going, and I've seen a few interesting discussions on other blogs here and there. I often post things on Publishing Archaeology that are deliberately provocative, hoping to generate discussion. But almost all of the interesting responses I've gotten have come in the form of emails to me, NOT comments on the blog. People want to respond, but evidently don't feel comfortable doing that in a public venue.

I don't have any grand conclusions, just a sense of disappointment that archaeology doesn't yet seem to have a vibrant and exciting intellectual venue on the internet. But anthropology sure does - check out Savage Minds, its great.


Jason Ur said...

Mike, I suspect that once a critical mass of academic blog readership reaches the point where it is largely tenured, or has left academia, you'll find posted comments increasing. On at least two occasions, I've started writing a comment on something on Publishing Archaeology and came to my senses. And I can't bring myself to write under a pseudonym.

Michael E. Smith said...

Well, the bloggers at Savage Minds are all young scholars. For various reasons, much of their blogging relates closely to their own research and publishing.

I still look at my participation in blogs as experimental, trying this out to see where it goes. I would rather have scholars doing scholarly work than have them doing semi-scholarly things like commenting on blogs all the time. If this started taking up lots of my time, I would definitely reconsider.

Chuck Jones said...

Bill Caraher reacts here

Shawn Graham reacts here

Colleen said...

I get a decent amount of comments on blogs, but I also get emails and comments on Facebook, where I post links to the blog. I'd probably get more comments if I was better at replying to them, but sometimes I have a hard enough time just getting posts up!

Sarah said...

I started blogging when I was getting ready to embark on my dissertation fieldwork last spring. The blog was mostly intended to keep friends and family back home updated on what we're up to down here, and it has served it's purpose. But I like blogging, and now that I'm approaching my return to the States, I'm looking for ways to transform my blog from a travelogue to a more animated venue.

To that end I've been searching out blogs such as this, and I think that sort of networking is what needs to happen so that our online selves know what's out there and who we're dealing with. A panel on archaeology blogging at the SAA (yawn), some sexy issue for everyone to rally around, or more cattle prodding of archaeologists in general (who, at least in my experience, hesitate to jump in to the debates of their cultural anthropology colleagues)? Who knows what it will take, but I look forward to archaeologists engaging in similar discussions/debates.

Marcia L. Neil said...

I hate to say this, and it is a discovery, but at least some archaeologists appear to have been directed into the discipline because they have certain surnames. Maybe that is the problem with archaeology weblogs at the present time. Also, what are thought to be "pseudonymns" can actually represent a specific interest within the field.