In a tribute to the recently departed Marcel Marceau, I have gone silent lately. No, that’s not the reason. I had stuff to do. Lots of stuff. Stuff people were (and are) asking about and stuff only I care about.
Though I’ve clicked around a bit on others’ blogs, I missed the distressing news that yet more bloggers are thinking of quitting. Happily, it appears that some of my favorites have decided to keep at it. Others, however, are still mulling it over. I guess I have two verbose points to make.
I can see why departments might care about bloggers, for a couple of reasons. The first is that a blogger is spending time writing the blog that could be better spent doing research and publishing papers. It was even mentioned that one prominent researcher doesn’t read newspapers, because it’s a distraction. With all due respect to the prominent researcher, who is not reading this unless he/she is lying (lying!), I consider the research and writing to be only one part of my job as a sociologist. The other part involves active engagement with the social world, including the Internet, newspapers, people at the ethnic grocery store, the kid down the block, patrons at the bar, and the adolescent hockey team that pulled a Keith Moon and destroyed the hotel I stayed in last week while their parents sat idly by in the cheaply carpeted halls and drank watery beer.
This gets to the point of this blog. A lot of the time, it may read as though I am not doing sociology here. Sometimes I’m not, as when I offer up a Lene Lovich video. Most of the time, however, even when I’m talking about recycling bins and kids who shovel snow, I’m sharing the mundane ways that sociology rears its head in my day-to-day life. I dunno, this is kind of why I went into the field. There are plenty of great blogs where the denizens debate complex sociological arguments. I decided to proceed more modestly, as befits my background and general interests.
The idea that I should be producing more and ignoring newspapers or social life strikes me as preposterous, even if a very prolific scholar thinks I should. The Ivory Tower is an easy slam, but honestly, if you’re sitting in your office churning out the work, reading only other academic work in your subfield, even if (and especially if) your work has been a great contribution, you have shortchanged us; if you were able to contribute that much without distractions, think of what you could have contributed if you’d allowed the insights that accompany distractions into your life. Distractions, to my mind, are where the insights lie. My investment in remaining open to them means I work late into the night, binge write, and endure periods of deep misery where I bemoan how much more effort it takes for me to get something out than a less-distracted person. Yet, my conversations at conferences are engaging. I find that I move more comfortably among sociologists than tunnel-vision peers. I have more ideas for research than anyone I know. The time and effort I put into applying sociology to everyday life, even dealing with a repair person or a telemarketer, however dorky and waste-of-time-ish, has curiously socialized me to be a better sociologist.
Over time, I have learned how to be more efficient, to write papers faster, to get more quickly from the insight to the research to the written word. This will continue to improve, I hope. And then maybe I can say I made a contribution to my field, and that I did good sociology. Naive? Probably. But do not burst my bubble, as I am a delicate flower.
Longwindedly, I now arrive at the second reason departments may care if we blog. How a department appears to other departments could have real ramifications for future recruitment, the acceptance of department members’ ideas in the field more generally, and status. I’ve decided here to maintain some level of anonymity for two reasons. One, I’m a chicken. Two, if I slip and say something that could reflect poorly on my department (nothing comes to mind currently), I don’t want my department to have to bear the brunt of my decision to blog. I made this decision. They did not. I want to be a positive representative of my department to the exterior world. In exchange for the chance they’ve given me to do the work I really want to do, I agree to try not to act the fool at conferences, to hold my alcohol well (shut up), to refrain from troubling personal entanglements, and to keep my piehole shut outside the department if I disagree with decisions made.
That said, I do think that departments may overreact to comments made on non-anonymous blogs. I have yet to read a blog that would deter me from applying at a given department, or made me think less of its personnel. Most blogs, including the one where the issue was raised, actually increase the profile of their departments: If that department hired him/her, I would like to work there. S/he is an insightful, engaged sociologist who is so into this profession that s/he uses free time to write about it.
I’m still deciding how I feel about you lot at thesocshrine, but I really did not have enough Feargal Sharkey in my life.