Blogs and Us (@ the Table: “Feminism Online,” Part 3)
Academic and activist work meld in media, not the least of which in the blogosphere. As I participate in and observe the development of the FIR blog, I note four critical issues in this regard. My brief exploration of them is an invitation to colleagues to participate in the shaping of a medium whose limits and potential are are only beginning to emerge. Let the FIR blog be both an example of and a testing ground for feminist blog styles that work.
First, blogging requires the same careful preparation as writing an article, a book, or a chapter. There is so much to read—content has exploded exponentially with the Internet—that I am quite selective about what blogs I follow. A blog post tossed together, even on the most timely of topics, is not to my taste.
Blogs, in my view, are not an excuse to write quickly and superficially. I expect the blogger to be well informed, with a starting point, method, and argument easily accessible, just as in any written work. A Tweet is not a blog, but a blog that resembles a pumped up Tweet is not very helpful either.
I read blogs written by people who exhibit thoughtful, well-informed perspectives. The virtue of the medium is to get their perspectives into the mix as soon as possible for conversation. Blogs are no substitute for longer pieces, but if they are constructed with the same thorough research and considered judgments, I see every reason to take them seriously as scholarly work. It will take the academy some time to catch on to this reality but it is time to develop criteria for evaluation of blogs that parallel criteria for other scholarly work.
Second, blogging differs in quantity, not quality, from similar persuasive writing. As most writers note, it is much harder to say a little about a lot than a lot about a little. Economy of words, evocative images—metaphors and photos that save a thousand words—and plentiful hyperlinks to relevant sources all make a good blog post worth its weight in pixels.
It is hard to measure the quality of a blog against a book-length manuscript. In fact, it is not a very helpful exercise because the comparison suffers in that each one’s purpose is distinct. A book is meant to be a sustained argument about a topic. A blog is meant to be what my late colleague Kevin Gordon called (well before blogging existed) “an elegant intervention” into an ongoing conversation.
Third, the ideological concerns about feminism remain as vexed and fraught in blogging as elsewhere. I do not see these issues going away any time soon. Nor do I think they should. Add religion to the mix and you have a richly layered set of problems for which only multiple perspectives and conversations are sufficient to unpack.
The blog setting allows one to lay out a clear position. Some examples are: feminism is about gender studies; feminism is a multivalent analysis of social injustices that lead to intersectional strategizing; feminism is over. Clarity is possible in a few words and there is no excuse for short-circuiting relevant content.
Finally, religious focus or content, especially feminist religious content in blogs, deserves the same rigorous vetting as it gets elsewhere. Academic journals employ criteria to vet articles and to suggest revisions. So, too, with blog posts on institutionally sponsored blogs (what you put on your own blog, or on your Facebook page is another matter), we need some criteria. Minimal boundaries are needed to contain religious content lest such piece turn into sermons, creedal statements, or disrespectful treatment of a whole tradition. Feminists have found ways to avoid these pitfalls in other media so I have every confidence we can do so in the blogosphere.
Given these four concerns, I conclude that the administration of said blogs is as challenging as the administration of an academic journal. The same acquiring, editing, producing, distributing tasks have to be completed. And it is all done in a far faster turn-around window than the professional publication. This is new work in academia, indeed a new nexus of the academy with activism. I urge us to systematize the process, share it, and then expect that the work and the writers will garner the same standard of respect and remuneration that has always been accorded serious writing.
Next: Joseph Marchal’s “Commitments, Patterns, and Possibilities: Feminist Conversations about Religion Online” (Part 4)