Friday, September 21, 2007

norms of engagement

A post on orgtheory about a seminar talk has led to a discussion thread about the appropriateness of blogging seminar talks. I offer my reaction there. I think a pithier statement of part of my stance is "If it's vitable, it's bloggable," meaning that any scholarly product that can be reported on somebody's CV is something that can be blogged about. "Invited presentation at xxx university" regularly goes on the CV, and thus is fair game, at least by default. The allowance I would give for a "research seminar" versus a "department colloquium" is that with the former one should--at least under most circumstances--respect some kind of statement like "Please do not engage in public commentary on this paper without the author’s permission." The default, though, is that it's bloggable.* A colloquium, on the other hand, is in my mind just like a conference presentation, where asking the audience to refrain from public commentary is an out-of-bounds request.

Northwestern sociology has a colloquium in which the department takes much pride. I assure you that if I feel like blogging about something that's presented there, I will.

Also, I just feel like I have to restate here: Public discussion about sociology ideas and about projects on the leading edge of the discipline is a good thing that should be encouraged as much as possible.

* At least if the presenter is a faculty member.


elizabeth said...

What an interesting thread (everyone should give a quick read to the start of it over at orgtheory, if you haven't already)! I immediately thought of Habermas' "The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere". Now I'm not a political sociologist or a Habermas scholar for that matter, but this whole conversation is interesting for what it says about the ongoing transformation of our own public sphere. It will be interesting to see how/where the boundaries between public/private in academia are redrawn given the blogging proclivities of many of our members.

A somewhat analogous situation (or at least interesting to me in that it also involves new technology and talk) involves the popularity of mobile phones and the resulting public discussion of appropriate places for what was previously considered private speech. "Public" mobile phone calls seem to have been settled in this way, it's ok to do it as long as you don't interfere in a service line or historicially quiet space (such as a health clinic/doctor's office, library) ... though even that is evolving.

Our particular situation, regarding the public recording/discussion of what is arguably private academic talk also brings to mind what Garfinkel has written about trust and also his note from long ago about the expectation that when we meet and talk, that I'm not audio-recording the conversation without your knowledge ... tends to do something to trust, in general (though, Wisconsin, like many states is one in which it is perfectly legal to audio-record a conversation if at least one party to the conversation is aware of the recording ... which is not to say you'd be especially happy to find out that I had been audio-recording our conversations and was now using them as data*, though it is quite legal ... as we know, there are rules and then there are practices in and through which members get their respective jobs done and maintain social solidarity/relationships/etc.).

A final not so random note ... feel free to blog about my upcoming** job talk BUT ONLY if it is to say things like "Outstanding!"; "Now THAT'S a job talk!!"; "Must hire!! Hee hee ...

*which, by the way, I have NOT done

**by upcoming I mean more like next spring when I'm officially on the job market

Ang said...

I never understood why it was okay to record a conversation where one party was unaware of the recording going on, but it's illegal to record, say, you and another person having sex without the other person knowing.

Obviously, I'm not saying I think it should be legal to tape someone having sex without their knowledge. But it strikes me as a similar-yet-less-severe thing to tape what was considered a private conversation and make it public, too.

jeremy said...

Ang: I looked at the statute on this when the Workman case came up. The nonconsensual recording that is illicit actually focuses on nudity, and it was a statute passed in the mid-1990s, if memory serves. I wondered if it was passed more with the idea of it being illegal to put a hidden camera in a locker room, etc..

elizabeth said...

I know Ang, it's so true, isn't it? Of course it wouldn't be the first time that the law so poorly reflected actual society members' practices.

I'd say we are nearly equally squeamish about audio-recording a conversation without the other person's knowledge (whether the law says we can do it or not), which is why we typically don't do it. And here, in this case of blogging certain academic talk and not others, is something else that makes us squeamish in that recording-without-consent kind of way, a perfect breaching exercise that reveals the background expectancies of doing "being an academic" Which, by the way, can't be completely removed from the expectancies and practices of being an ordinary society member. Which is to say that neither ordinary members or academics are very comfortable with too closely recording and replaying certain words and deeds. Though academics are steeped in the tradition of academic freedom and presumably used to having their work discussed in public forums, here we are still bristling at the notion of having our work discussed on someone's blog. Not because we don't like being discussed but because the information was gathered in a forum that is usually considered private (like our telephone conversations which are usually considered private but which many states don't consider "private" at least in terms of the law which, like rules, is a "feature" of everyday life rather than actually constitutive of it).

So, as regards the squeamishness about academic talk in some forums and blogging of said talk, it's not really surprising if you consider that we're actually quite squeamish in practice about recording all sorts of things even those that we might "legally" be able to record.

Which is not to say that the very squeamishness which we should respect at the risk of losing a sense of civil society or "polite community" or collegiality which I agree is very important to consider, ought not to be stomached while we consider that certain practices (e.g. no blogging allowed here without permission) might prevent us from achieving other goals such as speaking to larger publics and perhaps being more "revelant" to the larger society as we try out new ideas that might actually get us out of some of our staler ruts.

I say blog away, of course, be extra respectful and collegial, understanding that it's a new and potentially more sensitive forum. I think our discipline(s) will ultimately be better for the discussion and debate ocurring outside of journals and hallways and open to larger publics or even just larger groups of colleagues ... what's wrong with that?

This doesn't mean it won't be an uncontroversial or easy transition as we leave the protection of certain forums and add another layer of work onto already strained schedules ... great, now I have to defend (and correct!) my argument stated in some seminar that shows up on somebody's blog overnight instead of in the journal in due time, fully developed, where I have time for a thoughtful rejoinder at least ... ON SECOND THOUGHT, maybe this isn't such a great idea ... did we think this one through? Ugh, I'm gonna need a publicist. Great.