Monday, February 28, 2011

Blogger meet-up at the Zoo

Blogger meet-up at the Zoo??

Hello, all --

has anybody else started this conversation yet?

I suggest we go for the usual Friday meetup at Mug Shots at opening time...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Look! It's time to beat that horse again!

Look! It's time to beat that horse again!

Yeah, I know, I haven't been blogging much. Sue me. Actually, you should complain, and I should apologize. I need to blog more, if only because it really does keep me writing. And I need to write. I have two essays in the works at the moment, and in a way, the reason they aren't up yet has something to do with my response to this post at Dr Crazy's, from which I also stole the title.

Really, you should just go click the links in her post to get the background, especially the ones to Historiann here and here, Undine's response, and this post by Katrina Gulliver at Tenured Radical, which has pissed a lot of people off. There are plenty of other links, too, many worth reading. I'm adding my own $.02, as I get mentions! and I've been around the blogosphere a while, so it's my dead horse, too, in a way. I've been doing this since, what? 2002. 2002, people. That means this blog is in its ninth year. Dude, ADM is a brand name by now. Or something.

Seriously, it is my horse, and I am going to keep arguing my point (although Dr Crazy makes it far better than I do) as long as I need to. Which, given the attitudes of some people, may be forever. And now, a warning: if you are one of those people who thinks that pseudonyms are BAD!EVil!WAYS TO BE DISHONEST AND NASTY ON THE INTARWEBS! and nothing more,* there is nothing for you here. Honestly, if you can't look to a rich tradition of pseudonymous writing for purposes that are at least morally neutral and often clearly benign, then I am sorry your education has been so poor. If you are looking to re-state that point of view, this is not the blog you are looking for (this is not the blog we are looking for). Move along.

Now that that is out of the way, perhaps I should drag some old history into the brightness of the blogosphere: way back in 2002, almost all of the blogs I read were written by people using pseudonyms. A few weren't: Tim Burke's Easily Distracted was one, Crooked Timber was another. Cliopatria was a third. What did these blogs have in common? First, they were written primarily by established scholars and/or scholars whose blogs were public fora for the bloggers' own fields. The fields were also ones that were not all that far removed from the public sphere; blogging about economics, public policy, sociology, etc., was not all that different from having opinion columns on newspaper sites. So in many cases, the subjects were ones that have traditionally attracted public intellectuals and public discourse. Perhaps not coincidentally, the bloggers, like most public intellectuals then and now, were men. Some of the scholars were not too far along in their careers, but given that there was at least a clear indication that men with solid academic reputations could blog thoughtfully without threatening their careers too much, it's not too big a leap to see where junior (male) scholars might have felt a bit more confident in linking their blogging activities to their professional selves. I think it also says something about the way men and women see their work, and the type of blogging being done. These were, and are, largely blogs that focus on the scholar's field, and not on the scholar's life. The one might be seen as an extension of work, while the other merely a waste of time. Commenting on life, after all, even academic life, or even teaching, is analogous to spending time worrying about improving assignments and focusing on whether the students are learning: we're told it's important, but really, we all know the real measure of the professional academic is not how many lives we touch, how many students will go out and apply what we've taught them to their lives... it's how much we publish.** You may, if you like, insert here the cautionary tale of one Dan Drezner, whose blogging seems to have created difficulties for him when he went up for tenure, but whose celebrity may also have been connected to getting a better job where he did get tenure. I think both sides of the pseudonymity argument need to call that one a wash.

You might have gathered that I'm not a man (although early on, before ADM was better known, people frequently assumed I was a man, largely to my writing style and my willingness to argue with, like, logic! and facts!). I also wasn't writing about medieval history. I was writing about being a medieval historian who had just re-joined the profession after a hiatus, who was working as an adjunct, and who wanted to connect to other people and talk about the system, education, and generally what it was like to be in my position, but in a somewhat objective manner. I didn't want the blog to be the first thing people found when they googled my CV. I didn't want my students, colleagues, or family to read it and think of me first (or at all). I wanted to engage with other junior scholars in a way that didn't interfere with my daily life or put any of my colleagues in an uncomfortable position. And honestly, I wanted a job. Blogging under a pseudonym seemed a perfectly sensible way for me to join in and (although I didn't realize it at the time, I will now admit it might be true) help create a community of colleagues where I really didn't have any. Yes, once I had my first full-time, visiting assistant prof job, I did have colleagues -- but I was teaching at a community college where few people really bothered or needed to publish, and NONE of them were damned medievalists. I needed that community of scholars more or less in my field, and in the sort of positions I aspired to, to mentor me.

I also needed pseudonymity for reasons that I think Historiann mentions in her article, but that haven't come up much in any of the conversations lately. To myself at the time, I had tossed my life away. I didn't really want any of my friends from grad school, my advisor, my friends from when I was an undergrad... the people who had written me recs, kept me funded, got me extensions, and even worse, not berated me or told me I'd let them down when I put family first and taken a fairly well-paying job that was not only not at an R1, but not even academic. (Ok, I had gained a husband and kid and a great family and had demonstrated I could actually earn a living outside academia, but if you went to grad school, you know the feeling I mean, because you've ever felt it or you've looked at someone else in my position and heard/thought/said the same things -- and worse when looking at a woman, because of the whole perpetration of the 'why bother with women because they just drop everything for family' thing). ADM was me, but it was also a me trying to re-establish my own voice as a member of a community I wasn't sure would have me anymore.

The funny thing is, pseudonymity didn't give me just a new voice; it helped me find my own, old voice, too. People didn't know me, except through my words and the story I told them. It was a true story, as objective as possible, and one that I tried to make as honest as I could without revealing details that would have embarrassed the people in my life. It wasn't the whole story, but that's because of the format, subject matter, and audience. There are things I'm willing to share because they are things many people in my position might be going through. And frankly, I don't want to share everything with potentially tens (ok, actually, hundreds) of people I don't know. People got to know ADM, and they got to know me, and they got to know that both are me, and both are true. What's more, I got to know a bunch of people who are also pseudonymous. When I'm with them in real life, I think of them as their real-life selves. But when we are working in the context of the professional relationships we have built online, I still often think of them as the constructs that their pseudonymity helped to create. It's not that weird, if you think of it. We all have our professional selves and our private selves. Sometimes we never socialize with our colleagues, and they have much more to them than we might know. So how is this different?

It's different because, as far as I can tell, the internet is a different sort of place. Perfectly reasonable people who know about the rather honorable tradition of pseudonymity seem to see this as different. Why? maybe because people can comment anonymously OR pseudonymously. Frankly, anonymous commenters piss me off, too. I think it's chickenshit to comment without a name, because either they are committing drive-by insults or they frequently give the appearance of being the blogger's own sock puppet. But bloggers can prevent anonymous commenting, and sometimes the would-by anonym takes on a pseudonym, pseudonymity ends up being lumped in with anonymity, with cowardice, with throwing words like bricks through windows.

Having said all that, it still never ceases to amaze me that otherwise discerning people get their knickers in a twist over something that is pretty easy to figure out. There are bloggers who write pseudonymously, and choose to continue to do so, even after people know who we are. It allows us the freedom to write in ways that we might not otherwise. We are, to some extent, our pseudonyms, and if people can't recognize that the personae we have constructed are, in every way that matters for public communication,as real as we are, then perhaps they should stick to only reading the eponymous blogs of people they know in real life. I'm sure that they are entirely honest and uncensored. After all, people put their own names on them.

*and here I am looking at at least one blogger who has taken upon himself to try to out me at public meetings after being specifically asked not to, not to mention Kathryn Cramer, who has in the past outed anonymous/pseudonymous fan bloggers while deliberately ignoring the relative power and privilege her position in the sff community gives her...

**I will refrain from going off on a tangent about people who say this, shirk teaching and service duties, and still don't publish as much as some of the great teachers I know, and even then only manage to publish fairly workmanlike stuff..