Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Vervous Blogging

I have been preoccupied lately with wrapping my head around the question of "professional ethos" concerning graduate students who blog (e.g., me). Questions: Does the blogging graduate student assume risks that the non-blogging graduate student avoids? Are there greater risks or rewards in either choice? What, then, are the payoffs? And are they immediate and tangible, delayed and abstract?

The puzzler has been, "Why should a professional ethos for blogging graduate students be any different than it is for non-blogging graduate students?" This is a puzzler because every response I can come up with demands qualification: whether A.) it's no different or B.) it's the blog.

Take the first response: "It's not all that different." Professional ethos is, after all, performed. It is performed in the more long-lasting snapshot of the CV and in the fleeting here-now moments when we, say, utter something in a class we are teaching or taking (any venue, really, where we have a chance to say something insightful and smart or irrevocable and humiliating). Professional ethos for graduate students leaks into all of these activities; it is performed at nearly every turn. Graduate students who perform their professional ethos well in all its aspects will not be harmed by blogging; graduate students who perform their professional ethos egregiously (which is almost to say unethically or unawares in this regard) may find that blogging makes the quality all the more conspicuous, that it makes ethical recklessness, to say nothing of the lessons learned from mistakes, somewhat more transparent and lasting. Already I can see that this tentative response is beginning to buckle under the possibility that a blog may serve as a record of the messy lessons where professional decorum gets tested (see Tribble). Then again, that's what I'm trying to get at: testing professional decorum, whether blogger or not, bears consequences, and how we anticipate those consequences and work through them when we've messed up seems thickly entangled with the very idea of professional ethos, whatever the stage of the game.

At least that much is settled.

To reiterate and to put it more plainly, many aspects of professional ethos (as performance) pertain to blogging graduate students and to non-blogging graduate students alike. And yet, as a blogging graduate student (as one, that is, who has blogged through a near-complete program of study), my own practices rather tip my hand (a Euchre reference, not Go Fish) and give away my clear preference. Keeping mind that many aspects of professional ethos are shared by bloggers and non-bloggers, what about blogging makes it different? How does blogging add dimension to what it is we are trying to do while we are in graduate school? I'm not all that keen on the fast switch to personal, anecdotal experience as evidence, but maybe I can frame this as a series of professional-ethical convictions or principles (as performed ethics) that have loosely guided Earth Wide Moth since its first entry, just a few months before I moved from Kansas City to Syracuse in 2004.

1. An ethics of experimentation. Participating in the RSA panel last May on the ethics of amateuring greatly pushed my thinking in this area (I even read Booth's For The Love of It on Jenny's recommendation). The blog understood as an experimental space does not always need to explain itself in terms of "professional efficiency" or productivity drive. This does not make it unprofessional. Instead it (re)establishes the necessary and delicate orchestration of "for pay" and "for love": professional and amateur. Experimentation, like inquiry, favors the side of wonderment, mystery, and intrigue, the side of "I do not know, but I can't resist the delight in finding out, the delight in toying around with possibilities, with unknowns." Now, this commitment to experimentation does not always come off well. Often, it fails or rather is about failure, interruption, digression. Yet, in a blog, it plays out in the midst of others and in such a way that it lays a skein of re-discoverable pathways for the future. Re: professional ethos, this principle seems to underscore the vitality in networked experimentation.

2. A second principle involves an ethics of engagement, stale commonplace though it risks seeming. This is, rather, a point about the outward blog ethos as one that conveys investment, conviction, and panache for a professional trajectory, in a disciplinary orientation, in a research specialization, in a body of work: I am going to make my living doing this, and, thus, I am going to put my greatest possible effort into it. So: in the blog (as a collection) and in specific entries, I have sought all along to be genuinely engaged. It has not always worked this way, and this principle, perhaps like all principles, grows weaker as I describe it in more idealistic terms. Nevertheless, where professional ethos is concerned, blogging affords graduate students a venue for engagement appropriate (arguably) to the rhythms of graduate education.

3. An ethics of lifework harmony. When I started blogging, I was a professional, but I wasn't a graduate student. Thus, when I became a graduate student, I didn't experience any remarkable change in how I thought about myself as a professional or as a professional-in-becoming. Sure, I was leaving behind a livable salary, a private office, home ownership, and certain daytime schedule constraints to become a "student." But I had already trampled on the faux-dyad of work and home or personal and professional for seven years, and I find in blogging (granting that this is a privilege) a healthy and rewarding breach in the hemispheric division that would separate life from work.

More to come...

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 31, 2009 9:30 PM to On Weblogs

But the writer is only one half of the equation, and readers bring lots of baggage to the text. I found that readers had a tendency to read me as positioned on issues when I was not, usually because I used a word or two or cited a work they equated as endorsement. Let me give you an example: I had the phrase, "I like to write," in an "about me" page one time, and a friend of mine (no, really) criticized it: "That implies that the rest of us don't like to write!"
For some readers, the text is always half-full, and the deconstruction they can do to get them to something they disagree with is the kind you don't even need to know what "deconstruction" means to do.
Many readers either forget or don't believe that to praise one thing is not to damn another, and good luck if one of those readers is a member of a committee you, untenured or adjunct or in grad school, have to work on or answer to.
The power relations create the problem and the difference; tenure is meant to protect those whose research may not be popular.
Keep in touch! And keep writing, damn the torpedoes.

Posted by: deanya at April 11, 2009 8:46 AM

Re: "But the writer is only one half of the equation, and readers bring lots of baggage to the text. I found that readers had a tendency to read me as positioned on issues when I was not, usually because I used a word or two or cited a work they equated as endorsement."

Fair enough. I might even add, "Half, or more, or less," in case there is no generalizable equation. Some readers may fixate on one statement while others might not even notice the same detail. But my larger concern (or larger interest, maybe) is in getting at professional ethos via blogging as a graduate student without despairing over the many different ways we might be read. This is to say, in effect: be mindful and do your thing (if I can reduce it to a maxim). I mean that one strand of professionalization, as I have come to think of it, anyway, involves anticipating a multiplicity, proceeding anyway (even better if pursued humbly), and centering the blog and myself in the precarious, delightful collision of it all.

Posted by: Derek at April 11, 2009 9:05 AM