Monday, January 24, 2005

Informal Professionalization

Informal Training In Grad Schoolis a new blog mentioned in the last edition of Footnotes. It is promoting discussions on the ways in which we graduate students are supposed to be trained to behave in a professional environment.

I can't help but laugh about their chosen milieu for discussing this issue, because blogging so totally transgresses the professionalization rules and practices. Hence, many people (including myself often times - I can't tell you how many posts I've written and never posted) aren't always comfortable with the medium.

While I initially disliked the use of anonymous pseudonyms, I now see George Eliot's genius. There are so many things you can't get away with saying as someone on the lower portion of an extremely hierarchical institution (i.e. academia). C.Wright Mill's also, as a freshman at one of those TX school's (A & M?), wrote to the upper classmen as an anonymous freshman. He probably would have been literally beaten up otherwise.

In the blogging milieu, graduate students, anonymously or not, and professors anonymously or not, are in many ways transgressing the predetermined hierarchical relations between the conferred and the trainees. Granted, some departments are more hierarchical, and some professors for that matter, than others. But there is comparative equality (of access) in the blogosphere. No one here is a captive audience. You may read or leave. You may comment or not (mostly not). You may post or not (mostly not). But, more or less secretly, we can all watch the previously accepted practices of professionalization dismantling at certain points in a blog during certain conversations.

So I wonder, how does blogging fit into informal graduate student training? Has it affected some of the top down dynamics by giving some of those with less influence a forum? Has it created more of a community between the bloggers within an academic department? or academic disciplines?

It seems those on the lower tiers of academic hierarchies are less vested in the hierarchy themselves and therefore are more willing, or less professionalized, to discuss issues critically about the hierarchy itself than those already more professionalized. Additionally, it seems those less professionalized are also more willing to partake in the off-the-cuff, less serious and less professional milieu of blogging. So once again, how does academic blogging fit into this picture of informal professionalization?

[Update: I see this post needs editing as usual, but for the sake of keeping it off-the-cuff, I'll leave the errors alone (cringe).]


At 12:16 PM, Blogger Drek said...

Erin, I think there are at least two problems with what you're saying.

First, I think you dramatically overestimate the extent to which blogs have an affect on academia generally or the discipline in particular. Most sociologists who don't blog couldn't care less that others do. It isn't much of a transgression against boundaries if nobody cares- sort of like wearing your underwear inside out as a protest against fruit of the loom. A great deal of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing.

Second, while I agree that those lower in a hierarchy are more willing to kick over the apple cart, for obvious reasons, I'm not sure I see convincing evidence that bloggers are more likely to be drawn from the radical and/or marginalized branches of sociology. Brayden sure as shit isn't, nor are Jeremy Freese, Alan Schussman, Kieran Healy, or many other bloggers. Granted a number of us are grad students, but grad students are on the margins because we're in training, not because our careers have dead-ended. Many of us probably consider ourselves to be quite thoroughly professionalized.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Erin said...

I'm not suggesting that any serious changes are going to occur in Sociology or other disciplines because of blogging. I just am wondering out loud if this forum creates some different dynamics that the structure of classrooms can't, for example. Blogs seem to me more like working/reading groups, but perhaps on a larger scale if more people participate. I just thought it was particularly ironic that a blog would discuss issues of informal professionalization, since as I said, blogs aren't typically professional. They are more typically off-the-cuff, random thoughts, Public Service Announcements, and sometimes rants. This sometimes elicits debates in a different way than a classroom where the dynamics are set before anyone enters the room. So, in part, I'm trying to make a point about space, if inarticulately. (Sorry my desire for blogging has waned as of late and with it my quality of writing).

You are actually a great example of what I'm trying to get at though. You use a pseudonym. You say things I would/could never say with my name out there in a professional way. Not that I'm afraid to ask questions, this is what scholars do. And not that I wouldn't say things to people who know me - but they know me. They know that maybe I'm just trying to work through some ideas, which whether I really care or not if I see something ironic or contradictory I tend to chew it to death. But the thing that helps make blogs interesting is that people who don't know me sometimes (once in a while) read what gets written here. They can make assumptions about me, my research, the way I am in a professional environment, etc, which could be very wrong - because this is a blog - not a classroom, nor a journal, nor even a newspaper. It's just a blog.

And it seems like those in this space who are freer to say what they will have pseudonyms. This is something I initially resisted, because I naively thought we should be able to freely discuss issues with respect and honesty without having to resort to a fake name. But my tune has changed. I think your pseudonym is not a bad idea anymore.

I don't think I'm really bringing up anything new, actually. In the discussions of Public Sociology, there was discussion after discussion about sociologists turning to do more public sociology after they were tenured, and thus freer from the institutional rules of success, because they made it.

I'm not really trying to challenge professionalization or anything like that. I was just raising some questions, that are perhaps trivial. I thought the pairing of blogging and informal professionalization was a little funny.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Brayden said...

I think there's a line of thought among bloggers that what we're doing is unconventional, grass-rootsy, and generally resistant to mainstream ways of doing things. That may be true some of the time. In fact, it may be be that the blog ends up becoming a very powerful tool of social movements in the future, if it isn't already happening. Heaven knows a lot of news bloggers feel like they're tearing down the walls of traditional media.

But blogs don't necessarily have to work that way. Blogs are just a medium, and they can be used for any kind of purpose. Businesses, in fact, are trying to use blogs to improve their public image and market their products and brands to new customers. There's nothing more mainstream than that.

Similarly, I think blogs can be used to reinforce the professionalization of academics (as you see with a lot of the law school blogs) or they might be tools to resist professionalization or as tools for expression for the more marginalized. It's hard to tell now what the general trend in academia, let alone sociology, is because the blog is still a very new form of communication. As a blogger, I hope we see more heterogeneity in the future. Of course, given the tendency to cluster with those who are similar to us, we will probably be less likely to notice the blogs that don't fit into our strata of the profession as the number of sociology blogs increases. If enough sociology blogs are founded, you might even see little blog networks form that look a lot like the ASA sections. I hope not, but it's a strong possibility. One thing I really like about our little sociological blogging community right now is that it gives me the opportunity to cavort with sociologists who have very different theoretical and methodological perspectives than my own.

An alternative future would be that blogs never become very popular among sociologists, and so we maintain the same kind of diverse, yet small network that we currently have. If blogging offers few rewards (and let's face it - there are no financial incentives to blog although the emotional escapism is a plus) - the N may remain fairly small and stable.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

Assuming large numbers of people are actually reading Blogs, and given the multitude of them, passing interests vs critical analysis is difficult to distinguish when there is no participation/interaction. There may well be an over-kill of Blogs, and I think it is a mistake to assume that well written commentary is having a major impact on anyone. The exercise in creativity may bode well for the author, but not necessarily for the Public at large.

Site meters I think are misleading. I browse many titles at Barnes and Nobles but don't necessarily pick up the books and start reading.


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