I'll be taking about a month break in posting here. I just presented at a conference yesterday on integrating grammar into writing, but have two more conferences to prepare for in the upcoming 4 weeks.

How are/will/can blogs change academia? Weblogs in Higher EducationDennis Jerz, and Henry Falwell of Crooked Timber all have something to say about this. Fallwell, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Blogging sacrifices some depth of thought -- it's difficult to state a complex thesis in the average blogpost -- but provides in return a freedom and flexibility that normal academic publishing can't match. ...

blogs can improve the circulation of ideas in a field, by highlighting new, interesting papers and giving brief descriptions of their contents. ...

Most important, the scholarly blogosphere offers academics a place where they can reconnect with the public. ...

Both group blogs and the many hundreds of individual academic blogs that have been created in the last three years are pioneering something new and exciting. They're the seeds of a collective conversation, which draws together different disciplines (sometimes through vigorous argument, sometimes through friendly interaction), which doesn't reproduce traditional academic distinctions of privilege and rank, and which connects academic debates to a broader arena of public discussion. It's not entirely surprising that academic blogs have provoked some fear and hostility; they represent a serious challenge to well-established patterns of behavior in the academy. Some academics view them as an unbecoming occupation for junior (and senior) scholars; in the words of Alex Halavais of the State University of New York at Buffalo, they seem "threatening to those who are established in academia, to financial interests, and to ... well, decorum." Not exactly dignified; a little undisciplined; carnivalesque. Sometimes signal, sometimes noise. But exactly because of this, they provide a kind of space for the exuberant debate of ideas, for connecting scholarship to the outside world, which we haven't had for a long while. We should embrace them wholeheartedly.

The notion of a "collective conversation" is compelling, offering the promise of an egalitarian conversation, of a better conversation, of a better academic exchange. Yet, as Falwell notes, only "seeds" are present. Most bloggers, especially academic bloggers, write as in a closet with others opening the door but rarely. Moreover, the opening of doors over time will likely follow a power law, with a few being read by the many. In what ways is that "collective"?

So, why blog when we can just keep a private journal of our academic musings? This collective conversation, nascent as it may be, is obviously a social activity. Referring to Fiske's social relational models (communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing), several models appear to be interacting (depending on the individual, one may be more prominent than others). One is the desire to belong to the "conversation" of academia, which is rather difficult to do as a newcomer. Established names appear more frequently than newcomers, and not all have equal opportunities to participate: For example, compare teaching loads of research institutions to those of teaching institutions. A second may be the desire to increase one's authority by decreasing the control of established bottlenecks of conversation, such as journals. In a sense, one is also marketing oneself, attempting to get a better deal in terms of recognition and status. Perhaps over time as a network of conversants is established, equality matching becomes active.

Note that Fallwell's article speaks of a collective conversation that discusses and debates ideas and knowledge, an academic idealization. Fiske's theory suggests that social relational models are driving academic blogging, an implementation of an instinctual reality. To be continued.