Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Academia 2.0

Academic discourse does not happen only in books and journals. There have always been less formal, less stable sites of discourse that test and develop arguments that either have been or will be published in the more established forums. Today, of course, the web offers many opportunities to discuss results and propose new lines of research, and in this post I want to survey some of places I frequent.

First, there are the general organization theory blogs: orgtheory.net and Organizations and Markets. These are great way to see what sorts of issues are occupying researchers today. Both are group blogs, which is to say that they have several contributors, each of whom has his or her own particular focus and style. I read orgtheory more or less daily, and check O&M two or three times a month.

Lately, I've also been following two more focused blogs: Bob Sutton's Work Matters and Quinn, Quinn and Worline's LIFT blog. I found these blogs simply by googling things I was working on. It was good to discover that academic authors that I am interested in are creating opportunities to discuss their ideas online. I am sure that this is good not just for us, their readers, but for the quality and vitality of their own thinking.

Finally, I have been following some philosophy blogs. It Is Only Theory is about general philosophy of science, which is the field I got my early training in. Certain Doubts is devoted to "matters epistemic", i.e., topics in analytic epistemology, which was what I thought I would be doing when I grew up back when I was undergrad. It's a good way of touching base with my foundations—to see what's shakin' and what remains solid.

When following blogs, there is both the passive component of reading the posts, and the more active component of participating in the discussion in the comments.

Blogs are not the only way to participate in academic discourse beyond the journals. The journals themselves are starting to create spaces in which the work published in journals can be discussed. The Journal of Management Studies, for example, recently opened its "correspondence site", which will be interesting to see develop in the future. In combination with journal alerts (where you get your a database or journal publisher to send you an email when something that interests you is published), this will no doubt be an important part of how the institution of "peer review" evolves towards greater openness. Many journals are today thinking about putting the whole process openly online and allowing online comments even on first submissions. There will no doubt be a lot of discussion about that in the years to come.

Lastly, I think we might consider engagement with people who are interested in our areas of expertise by editing the relevant articles on Wikipedia. Articles like "Sensemaking" and "Organizational studies", for example, are interesting for me to follow changes in. My own experience with this new site of knowledge dissemination is somewhat mixed and I have decided not to contribute for the time being. The culture of discussion left much to be desired, in my opinion. But I don't want to dismiss the possibility that Wikipedia will be an important clearing house for research in the future. It's certainly a place we have to keep an eye on.

I'm sure there are both Facebook groups and Twitter feeds that might be of interest. I'm not hip to that scene, though, so I'll just leave that to others. Everyone has to find their own way to keep their finger on the pulse of their field. Spend an hour or so each day for a week or two trying to find interesting places on the internet that are updated regularly. Then go back to them on a regular basis and see which ones retain your interest. It will settle down to a manageable amount of reading and commenting.


Bent M. Sørensen said...

I just wonder if the academic journals frighten off academics that perhaps dont want to associate their 'scientificity' with the more free blogging discourse, at least not so closely connected to 'science' as a journal post is.

Thomas said...

I know of some academics who are uncomfortable with the blogosphere as a realm of discourse. But I think in the long run people will get as comfortable about blogging as they are about appearing in the media and, in fact, teaching.

cv harquail said...

Hi Thomas,

As a reader of your blog, I've been wondering how/when to apply your writing advice in general to the challenge of blogging in particular.

From my own experience as an academic and blogger, the genre(s) of blogging are much harder to adopt than you'd think. Blogging 'done right' has a voice and a perspective quite distinct from the objective distant tone of (American) management scholarship. Only the super best management scholars (people like Denny Gioia and Blake Ashforth, in my research area) are able to write with personality and scientific authority.

I have found it quite challenging to 'unlearn' what I was taught about academic writing in my efforts to become a better blogger. And, as I've taught other mgmt scholars about blogging and about social media, it has been striking to see how difficult it is for some to expand the reach of their writing.

I won't go on here about the array of other challenges for mgmt scholars wanting to use blogs for any number of goals, but I am glad to see you writing about blogging-- can't wait to see more!

CV Harquail

Thomas said...

Hi CV, thanks for the comment. Yes, there are great differences between writing a journal article and writing a blog post. But I always worry when people talk about "unlearning what I was taught about academic writing". Most people have serious misconceptions about academic writing; the most serious of these is that it is somehow the opposite of good, clear prose. In fact, most of what makes a journal article good is also what makes a blog post good. As Ezra Pound put it, "What is the simplest possible statement?"

I talked about this in a post last year, responding to a piece by Gail Hornstein in the CHE. Basically, my view is that if you had to unlearn something about "academic writing" to write better blog posts then you had reason to unlearn it to write better journal articles as well. There's lots of bad writing out there, both in the journals and on the blogs, and there's lots of good writing as well.

To invoke Pound again, beauty is simply "aptness to purpose". What you know about academic writing should not interfere with writing (should not have to be unlearned to write) a blog post. In both cases, the procedure is the same: what am I trying to say? to whom? what is the simplest possible statement? The academic genre does not frame the task differently. It just frames a different task.

You don't have to unlearn what you know about talking to your colleagues in order to talk to your children. You just have realize that you are having a different conversation.