Making the Case for a gnovis Blog

Let’s acknowledge something right from the start: gnovis has been a little slow out of the gates with this blogging thing. The Chronicle of Higher Education–hardly the hippest indicator of social trends–was publishing articles about blogging as early as 2003. The term “blog” has been in usage since mid-1999, the same year that The Matrix inspired countless coffee-shop debates about technological somnambulism and/or religious iconography among future film and cultural studies graduate students.Yet here I am, in mid-to-late 2007, writing the very first post on the gnovis blog. To the critics I say this: better late than never.Readers may be somewhat surprised to learn that a blog is actually a rather difficult project for a small organization to pull off. This seems strange, given the ease with which so many individuals have started and sustained personal blogs, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense. After all, a small organization is faced with a number of questions that the individual blogger never even considers:

  • Who should write our blog? Just our staff, or should we open it up to outside contributions?
  • If we have multiple writers, how should we moderate their work? How do we create a consistent voice, with life and personality, if our writing process is decentralized?
  • What incentives do we have to encourage people to write quality entries?
  • Should management of the blog be a group effort? Or would it be better to hire a blog specialist?

These concerns are not specific to gnovis in any way. Any organization, like gnovis, which is attempting to straddle the worlds of academic writing and new media, will face difficult organizational challenges if they choose to begin blogging on their website. And, of course, the fact remains that the most successful blogs today are almost all written by charismatic individuals.Our plan, to briefly address some of these concerns, is to cast a wide net in seeking contributions to our blog. The gnovis mission refers to “presenting works… pioneering interdisciplinary perspectives on issues in the arts, politics, media, and technology.” If this is one of our primary goals, then it’s quite clear that we need to draw on a variety of perspectives and cover a variety of topics, and the blog presents a fantastic way for us to broaden the gnovis community, both in terms of readers and writers. On the other hand, we also hope that the combination of frequent blogging by our staff and close moderation of contributed entries will foster a compelling editorial voice that will breathe life into our site.Finally, I’d like to make the case for academic blogging, in more general terms. For the sake of this post, I will define an academic blog as one in which the primary function, for both reader and writer, is to examine topics (of any nature) from a critical, interrogative position. These blogs, not surprisingly, make up only a small portion of the greater blogosphere, but there are still plenty of examples, ranging from high profile examples like the Freakonomics Blog on the New York Times website to the relatively obscure, personal blog of Erik W. Davis, a PhD candidate at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.Davis’ site, though it contains many personal posts, is at times the most academic blog I’ve encountered. One post, in particular, comes to mind, titled “The Gift – Mauss, Bataille, Hyde, and Derrida.” Clocking in at more than 3300 words, it’s essentially a rough draft of a paper (or, more likely, a chapter of his dissertation). Informal at times, but surprisingly verbose, the post also shows Davis experimenting with markup tags and hyperlinking as a way of complementing his text. This is nothing new for blogs, of course, but it is still quite rare in academia.What is most interesting about Davis’ blog, however, is that–as far as I can tell–he writes the academic pieces almost entirely for his own sake. That is, he doesn’t write them so they will be read. Rather, he uses the blogging process as a method through which to explore and define his own intellectual work.This brings me to my final point, that the usefulness of academic blogging should be examined from the perspectives of both the reader and the writer.For the writer, academic blogging is provocative and exciting. As the example of Erik Davis suggests, blogging can be a useful tool for refining your research, exploring questions, and testing out an argument. For masters students, in particular, blogging might be used to synthesize all of the coursework that goes flying by each semester, to revisit debates that were cut short during a seminar discussion, or to attempt to frame contemporary, real-world issues in more formal, theoretical terms.For the reader, academic blogging is equally provocative and exciting, because it narrows the gap between academia and the real world. Simpler language, conversational tone, informal structure… all of these factors help the reader overcome any sense of intellectual intimidation.It is also clear, on the other hand, that academic blogging fills only a small niche, and that making academia more accessible ought not to interfere with the academic work itself. This is why gnovis’ primary project continues to be our scholarly journal. However, it is with a great deal of excitement and curiosity, and a significant dose of trepidation, that I look forward to weekly gnovis blog entries throughout the ’07/’08 school year. I hope you’ll all continue to read and contribute.

Brad Weikel

Brad Weikel received his MA in Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) from Georgetown University in 2009. His thesis, "From Coding to Community: Iteration, Abstraction, and Open Source Software Development" argued that programming practices, particularly iterative workflows and abstraction models, can help explain both the success and struggles of open source software. His work was a technocentric complement to prior explanations from economists, lawyers, and political and cultural theorists. While writing his thesis, Brad blogged about his topic at OpenCulture.cc, where he has since continued blogging, more broudly, about collaborative production and the commons at large. Brad was Managing Editor of gnovis during the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 school years, and Creative Director in 2006/2007. He is currently the Web & Communications Coordinator for EarthRights International.