The Pros and Cons of Academic Weblogging

In response to the rough draft of my digital essay, wherein I draw from the work of Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture, Caitlin recommended that I link to his blog, which he updates regularly and where he clearly identifies himself as an “Aca-Fan” (an academic fan). After perusing the first few pages (which cover about two months’ worth of material), I came across a series of posts that I thought provided a useful example for exploring the affordances of weblogging. This series is titled “Why Do We Need to Understand Fans” A Conversation with Mark Duffett” and it includes four parts, from March 3-10, 2014. Upon reading the title, I thought to myself, “How convenient/awesome that a scholar I’m using for my digital essay is having a conversation with another scholar I’m using!” For the sake of this post, let’s focus on just the first part (although the rest are equally as riveting, especially for those of us interested in cultural studies *ahem, Michael*).

The post begins with a personal narrative, wherein Jenkins explains how he first met Duffett on a recent trip to England. Jenkins then moves into a critical summary of Duffett’s work that emphasizes new directions it’s leading us in as fan/media/cultural studies scholars, concluding with the statement that it is something “that we all need to engage with.” The rest of the post consists of a transcription of their conversation.

From an aesthetic point of view, the transcription isn’t all that exciting: it’s an intense amount of text that, while formatted in such a way to clearly delineate Jenkins’ words from Duffett’s, wouldn’t lose much if we were to print it out as a PDF:

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Duffett’s actual answer is anything but short (although it is enlightening).

As I was reading through the transcription, I couldn’t help but recall Kenneth Goldsmith’s discussion of the audio/video transcription assignment he created for his “Uncreative Writing” seminar and how difficult he says it was for students to capture the nuances of human speech in alphabetic text. Without using the clunky system of symbols to signify pauses and emphases, the transcription feels extremely dense and static; yet, if Jenkins had used that system, he would have rendered the transcription nearly, if not entirely, unreadable to unfamiliar audiences.

Digital writing offers a simple solution: embedded video. I felt like Jenkins’ does this series of posts a disservice by not including any audio or video because doing so would have allowed us to gain a better understanding of how he and Duffett interacted. Hearing or watching Duffett answer Jenkins’ inquiries would have been more in line with Jenkins’ interest in convergence/participatory culture, would have helped break up the textual monotony of reading such a text-heavy transcription. But as Jenkins’ other posts show, he clearly in no stranger to the use of embedded video, so I wonder why he chose not to include any to enhance this series of posts (the one in part four has little to do with the actual conversation at hand), especially since the linguistic accuracy of his transcription suggests that he recorded his conversation with Duffett in some capacity.

But what I appreciate about Jenkins’ blog as a whole, though, is how it utilizes digital media to escapes the confines of printed (read: hard copy) writing. By creating and maintaining this blog, Jenkins is able to extend his scholarship, to update his previously published work—to avoid what Janel called “the horribly static codex.” As we witness the shift toward Digital Humanities, perhaps Jenkins can provide us a model for how to reconceptualize scholarship and what it means to be a “published scholar.”

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2 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Academic Weblogging”

  1. Chris,

    This seems like such a perfect example of ignoring the affordances of digital writing. I’m not really familiar with Jenkins’s work, but scrolling through the post you called our attention to, I almost wonder if the reluctance to embed audio or video stems from a more deep-seated reluctance of academic writers to sound less polished.

    Reading the kind of prose used on both sides of this “interview,” it strikes me that there’s really no way this could have been an out-loud, in person conversation– or if it was, it has been heavily, heavily edited. This seems unfortunate in many ways, particularly for the field of fan studies, which presumably strives to connect the work of the academy with a very public phenomenon. Those long chunks of “interview trancript” text are pretty unappealing and intimidating to me, so I can’t imagine what would motivate a non-academic to read them. This would have been so much more engaging and accessible–both to scholars and to the public–as a real, unscripted interview.

    Thanks for calling our attention to this! It’s made me think about what kind of audience I would hope to engage by putting my scholarly work online, and how we might do more with digital academic spaces than to just reproduce the modes and styles of work that we already use in the academy.

    Kiley

  2. Chris,

    My short response is . . . well, this will actually be short. I think you’re being kind to Jenkins. He’s an important theorist and writer, but after having taken a quick look at his blog, my first impression is that it seems a missed opportunity to “reconceptualize scholarship” in a digital environment. It just seems like more of the same stuff, delivered differently. So my way-too-quick reading of his blog leads me to think of it as an example of the need not only to theorize a change in intellectual work, but to enact one.

    ~Joe

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