Are Bloggers the new Public Intellectuals?

“As long as we stay in our own spaces and write in a language which is arcane and inaccessible to the majority of society, we’re not going to make the social difference that has been part of the political agenda of Cultural Studies from Day One.”These words come from Henry Jenkins, co-director of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program, in a September 10th podcast titled “Public Intellectualism in the Web 2.0 Era. Jenkins was interviewed by Chronicle of Higher Ed reporter Jeffrey R. Young as part of a larger, multi-pronged examination of Jenkins work and life, including an article, in the Academic Life section of the Chronicle, on Jenkins’ quirky character, lifestyle, and mentoring style; a YouTube clip of Jenkins mud wrestling with his wife at an MIT party; and an interactive Flash video exploring Jenkins’ research. Finally, in typical Web 2.0 fashion, Jenkins posted on his own blog yesterday, about the Chronicle coverage and other topics.In the podcast, Jenkins — best known of late for his theory of Convergence Culture, and his book of the same name — was speaking about different views on interactions of the academy, particular cultural studies, with industry and society, and I couldn’t help but think about my first blog post on this site: Making the Case for a gnovis Blog. In that post, I argued for starting a gnovis blog, largely in terms of the micro-benefits for individual writers and readers. Jenkins, on the other hand, takes a more macro view, and speaks of the benefits of public intellectual work for both cultural studies as a field, and society at large:“The field needs both kinds of work. There’s a real value in strong criticism that takes a systemic approach, that deals with large theoretical abstractions, that gives us tools to conceptualize and analyze what we’re seeing on the ground. But I also think that it is very important that the academic world develop some meaningful dialogs with other aspects of society. Otherwise, we become irrelevant.”More significantly, Jenkins inadvertently did me the favor of speaking about blogs in particular. I know I’m a little quote-happy right now, but I can’t help it… the man speaks in highly quotable ways:“The blogosphere is that space which makes it very easy for us to get our ideas out into circulation. There are so many people out there, hungry for insights about media, that if you build a credible blog, if you regularly post your thoughts, they are going to be picked up and seen by a much larger audience than I think you ever would have anticipated. And that’s a way of beginning to become part of a larger conversation with the culture about the direction media change is taking.”The point I’m trying to make, in sampling all of these quotes from Jenkins, is that the gnovis blog isn’t just a gimmick to try to help out our journal by drawing more visitors to our site. Rather, by exploring academic questions–particularly concerning the rapidly changing technological and media landscapes–in a casual, accessible space, we’re actually serving a valuable social function. In a sense, and an admittedly provocative one, we are casting open the doors of the Ivory Tower. So come on in, and stay awhile… but please mind the tapestries.

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.