Blogging for promotion: an immodest proposal

I ‘attended’ the AAA’s webinar on ‘the future of publishing, promotion and tenure,’ which required me to wake up at 4:00 am on Saturday.  I’ll admit, I didn’t even figure out how to get the Live Office slideshow until about 15 minutes before the session wrapped, but I do feel like I got the gyst of the whole thing and have listened again more carefully when not in a sleep-induced fog.  Although the webinar suggested many possible lines of discussion, here I want to focus on one possibility: can we combine online publication including anthro-blogging with something resembling peer review for the purpose of promotion and tenure?

I’ll tell you the punchline now: I’ve got a plan.

The webinar brought together three scholars I really admire: Don Brenneis (UC Santa Cruz), former President of the AAA, among other things; Brian Foster (U Missouri), currently the Provost at Mizzou, so also very familiar with the way that publishing fits into academics’ careers; and Richard Handler (U Virginia), who in addition to being terribly accomplished is also my former advisor and first anthropology teacher!

The webinar has been covered very well by Tobias Denskus at the weblog, Aidnography, in his post, ‘AAA Webinar on Promotion, Tenure & Publications so I’m not going to describe the whole webinar.  If you want to check it out, the audio and the slides are available at the AAA’s website: Webinar on Promotion & Tenure and Publications.  Moreover, there’s already a really lively discussion going at the AAA’s blog at The future of AAA publishing: Opening a conversation that has some pretty substantial comments on the key issues that accompany online publication, including citation metrics (see the wonderful discussion by John Hawks and response by Don Brenneis) and the danger of the ephemerality of online publication (Jason Baird Jackson helps to lay out the issues and possible remedies).

Look, again, I’m not going to rehash all that is discussed, but I think you’d be crazy not to check out at least Tobias’s summary and the discussion on the AAA weblog if you’re interested in the future of online publication, especially in what the AAA is doing.  The conversation is a great one to be having, and I hope that the AAA expands and refines its webinar format – this could be a fantastic forum for intradisciplinary discussion. I’m sorry I’m going to miss the session in Montreal on the subject and hope we get some concrete steps, but I’m not ready to sit back and just wait and hope.  I hope you’ll join me in an ‘immodest’ proposal to get thing strated.

Is online writing relevant for promotion?

One of the participants in the webinar sent in a question by text (it’s not preserved on the AAA website) about blog writing to the panel, but the time was really too short at the end of the session, so the question got answered only briefly.  It’s the last one on the audio recording, so you’re going to have to listen until the end, unless you trust my admittedly quick and dirty transcription.

Ed Liebow:  ‘We have one more question… Wondering if there have been conversations about peer review of blogs and other forms of digital publishing…’

Brian: ‘…I don’t know….’  [more words, but that’s the sense]

Richard: ‘…Promotion and tenure committees do make a distinction between what they consider to be non-scholarly blogging versus scholarly publication.  And in particular, some scholars are aligned with political organizations of the right or the left which provide them with these kinds of fora, and then the judgment gets made, “well, we’re not going to count that material because that’s being produced for another purpose,” which is political work.’

I suspect that Richard is right, even though I don’t like it.  For some of our senior colleagues, blogging is likely placed in the same overarching category with writing commentary or letters to the editor in local papers: at best, ‘non-scholarly’ or ‘outreach,’ at worst, well, something ‘being produced for another purpose’ and vaguely dodgy.

As Tobias describes, the issue seems to be ‘peer review’ (and ‘quality control’): ‘It’s all about peer-review. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but my guess is that it was the most used technical expression in all three presentations’ (Tobias Denskus).  Foster and the others point out that peer review is an essential function of journals and academic presses, validating the quality of research and scholarship.  But the longer they got me talking, the more I thought about how we could hack this particular part of the academic promotion process.

Post-publication peer review and the local dynamics of promotion

Two facts in particular get highlighted during the webinar that I think we need to bring together (and since all three participants weave in and about these topics, it’s hard to pin down credit to any one of them for brining them up).

The first is that not all ‘peer review’ is the type that happens prior to publication in journals or with academic presses.  Brenneis, for example, contrasts pre-publication peer review, what he calls ‘expert’ review on his slides (‘for want of a better word,’ he adds as a caveat), and ‘crowd’ review post-publication. Use of metrics to discuss scholarly impact, which is something we’re really seeing in Australia (as Brenneis really points out), is also a type of post-publication peer effect which we’re increasingly forced to deal with here, as all the presenters describe.

The second point is about promotion itself.  Handler offers a sustained discussion of the ‘local’ perspective on publication, focusing less on the publishing environment or the future of journals, and instead discussing the impact of communication technologies on individual scholars’ careers; or, as he puts it, how ‘new media and scholarly communication’ factor into hiring, tenure, and promotion.  Handler insists that new technologies will interact with existing social structures of tenure and promotion — ‘where the action is,’ as Goffman said (as does Handler).

Handler really emphasizes that local departments as representatives of national institutions (or international scholarly communities) exert enormous influence over universities’ hiring and promotion practices; universities have to depend on departmental assessment unless departments have proven themselves undependable, ambivalent or otherwise untrustworthy.  In his experience, administrators were ‘referees’ in the sports sense, but the departments really did the work of evaluating and making recommendations.

From Handler’s description, we can see that new communication technologies could very easily influence promotion and tenure far more in three ways: 1) as the panel suggests and Handler makes explicit, the AAA could come out with a clear statement of the state of our field, including support for online writing as a valuable contribution to anthropology; 2) departments themselves could make the argument for the value of new forms of publication, including blogging, when they put forward recommendations in hiring or promotion; or 3) outside letters of reference (and maybe even the candidates’ dossiers themselves) could make an effective case for the value of online writing.

What the AAA can do, according to Handler, is the first option:

AAA can perform a useful service by adopting a clear statement of its approach to scholarly publishing and assessment, and then developing a regular channel to communicate this to all colleges and universities which employ anthropologists on their faculty.

Will the AAA do this?  If they do, will they write a statement that sufficiently captures the vitality and changing importance of online writing, both as scholarly communication and outreach?  I don’t know.  Between you and me, I’d like to be optimistic, and the webinar itself is a good sign.  But I don’t want to just wait around and count on it.

Even institutions that are very responsive to new opportunities and changes in the publishing environment are struggling to keep pace with the way things are changing.  In a recent column, for example, Paul Krugman discusses how the way intellectual labour happens in economics has sidelined peer-reviewed journals, reducing them to a kind of intellectual ‘tombstone’ for new ideas.  This portrait would suggest economics, like so many fields, would also struggle with the straight-jacket of rigid metrics for assessing scholars’ work.

The second possibility is that departments could start to make the case strongly to university administrations that online publishing had value, either as outreach to the non-academic community or as scholarly work (at least in some cases) with its own merit.  I suspect that most departments are more likely to focus on online writing as outreach, classifying it with the non-academic services that academics render to the community and public relations of the university.  It’s not a great solution, as some online writing is, in fact, quite legitimate academic work, and in some areas of anthropological discussion, as in economics, the action has moved on line.

The third possibility is that we start intervening in the process ourselves through the outside letter of reference.  Handler describes the importance, but also the problems of letters of support in promotion and tenure during the webinar:

Outside letters of recommendation are absolutely central in the process of scholarly evaluation and tenure at promotion time….  These letters of recommendation are another part of scholarly communication.  We don’t think of them as such: they’re sort of informal, they’re sort of private, they’re sort of beneath the radar…  But they can be absolutely critical in these moments of tenure review.  …   So we’ve got this very funny situation where, at the moment of promotion and tenure, hastily written letters of recommendation weigh almost as much as peer reviewed publications. [Not a perfect transcription, but a long shot, but this isn’t peer reviewed — yet.]

Even with all their flaws, these letters are ‘at the heart of promotion and tenure,’ Handler makes clear. Moreover, committees and universities are ‘quite willing to adapt’ to the standards of the various disciplines and subdisciplines.

From my own experience in writing these sorts of outside letters, they are quite clearly a form of post-publication ‘peer review’; external referees for tenure and even members of our own home departments primarily read or review your published stuff, and then write evaluations.  Even when the reviewer knows the candidate, there’s a fair chance that writing the reference will require catching up, so a kind of ‘expert post-publication’ peer review is built into the promotion process.

An immodest proposal (not an indecent proposition)

This discussion suggests a plan of action; we don’t have to wait for the AAA to make blogging count in our professional lives.  Handler implies that we should form a body of virtual peers, participate actively in making the case for the value of online anthropology and for each other’s work. Why wait for the AAA to write the statement that folks at Savage Minds, Open Anthropology, Zero Anthropology, Anthropologi, Culture Matters, and a host of other places are likely positioned better to write?  Odds are they’re going to have to come to the most prominent online writers anyway because they know we’ll let ‘em know if they get it wrong.

But we can also act locally, serving as a body of peers for each other’s reviews.  As an online anthropology writer on Neuroanthropology, and commenter and participant in discussions in lots of online forums, you may very well be precisely the sort of person who is my ‘peer’ if you’re reading this.  So why not crowd source our letters of reference to make the case for the importance of our online publishing?

So my immodest proposal is this: we start helping each other put together our dossiers for job application, promotion, and tenure right now, that make clear the value of online writing. We need to start well in advance, because crowd sourcing for this likely needs a bit of lead time.  Instead of occasionally writing an ‘attaboy!’ or a ‘thanks, mate!’ on each other’s weblogs, we could take the time to write a paragraph about what each other’s writing online means to us, its significance, and our evaluations of each other, as peers in the community of online writers.  We stick up for each other, and ask openly if we need help to prove that our work has an audience.

Let’s call them ‘endorsements’ because they won’t be full letters.   Rather, we would be contributing a paragraph or a few choice lines to a statement that the candidate would have to pull together to describe the impact of their online writing.  I’ve seen these sort of amalgamated statements work extremely well in proof of teaching ability and applications for teaching awards; why not make it part of the proof of our publication output?

Handler points out that outside letters are sometimes ‘unreliable’; the ‘reference inflation’ in the US is really screwing up the global scene for reading references.  They are so extravagantly positive that even the slightest suggestion of balance can actually wind up being a case of damning someone with insufficiently lofty praise.  So, preferably, an endorsement would be concrete and fact based, such as, ‘Before I teach new research in my Human evolution class, I always consult John Hawks to see if he’s identified issues with the research,’ or ‘My department circulated and discussed Alex Golub’s post on X,’ or ‘I recommended one of our MAA students consult Krystal D’Costa’s posts, and she wound up citing four of them in her thesis because they were so clear and helpful analytically.’

I wouldn’t recommend, ‘she’s in the top three online bloggers,’ but try to describe how online writing gets used in the way that other traditional academic outputs do.  (That joke about top three bloggers will only be marginally funny if you’ve listened to the webinar.)

I can think of dozens of you out there right now for whom I would be honoured to write an endorsement. I’m sticking my hand up right now to volunteer to write on your behalf if you’re doing the good work of bringing anthropology to the intertubes, writing interesting stuff.  Not just the heavy hitters, like Chris Kelty, Alex Golub, John Hawks, Lisa Wynn, Jovan Maud, Krystal D’Costa, Dienekes Pontikos, ‘Pamthropologist,’ Dina Mehta, Ryan Anderson, Max Forte, Jason Antrosio, our own Daniel Lende, but also people who have made smaller but significant contributions, especially early career scholars who risk more by devoting time to sharing their thoughts freely.

What I’m suggesting is that we start to get networked and cooperative about helping each other get employed and promoted (if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are some part of the far flung community that reads, writes and discusses anthropology online).  —Sisters, we should be doing it for ourselves!—  And I’m raising my hand to volunteer to help and to test online support of my own case for promotion next year, when I seek promotion to Associate Professor.

Admittedly, I’m already effectively ‘tenured,’ so I’m not risking much, but I think we need to build precedents for writing on behalf of each other, even if we only know each other virtually.  But I’ll be applying for promotion by July or so of next year, and I will document the process, share this part of my portfolio as a sample, and, to the extent that it is possible, I’ll share the feedback I get and outcome of the effort so that it becomes part of the community’s knowledge of how to squeeze blogging into promotion and tenure.

I’m actually not the most e-savvy fella on the planet, so one caveat is that this might already be going on, and I’m just not clued in (don’t put that in a letter of reference for me if you’re just realizing that I’m not clued in, by the way).  But I suspect that it’s not widespread enough.

If you’ve said something nice about me in the past, I may come and shake you down for a brief endorsement (pretend you’re not in your office if you hear me knocking and don’t want to participate).  As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, I’m a former door-to-door salesman, so I have no shame.  And no inhibitions about being pushy, or about failing at this attempt.

If you want to help me out with an endorsement or comment on my writing, please feel free here.  Or wander over to my little-used personal site, to a page I’ve put up especially for this purpose. And don’t be afraid to ask me to come visit your site and do the same!

In addition, I think we need to be scrupulous about citing weblogs if an idea or inspiration comes from a post, both in our online writing and in formal publications. John Hawks has mentioned that this is an issue in Ryan Anderson’s Anthropologies project, and I think he’s write; no one else will take seriously these works as citable, academic works if we ourselves do not.


American Anthropological Association, Webinar on Promotion & Tenure and Publications.

Tobias Denskus, AAA Webinar on Promotion, Tenure & Publications, Aidnography.

Paul Krugman, Our Blogs, Ourselves, The New York Times.

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28 Responses to Blogging for promotion: an immodest proposal

  1. aidnography says:

    Thanks, Greg, for mentioning my post, but more importantly: Thanks for these really important and substantive points and additions to the idea of promoting blogging and ‘virtual anthropology’ for academic promotions. I tend to get a bit hopeless sometimes about the power of traditional publishing and I find your ideas very inspiring in the sense that there *are* things the episdemic community can do to promote new/alternative forms of writing! Thanks!

  2. I think this is a great idea! I think that academia needs this, and also it is a way to democratize the publication business so that more quality materials will appear on blogs (which are at least free if you have an Internet connection).

    I have never thought of it in such terms. Yet reading this, it reminded me how surprised I was to come to know that some of my blog posts are used today in some university courses and are also part of ‘suggested readings’.

    Notwithstanding, I also remember when (I will not mention the university) I was not offered an academic position exactly because of my blogging! The funny thing is that I had enough ‘real’ publications. Hence the reaction was more about an anthropologist speaking without that kind of ‘institutional’ control that at the end academic publications have.
    Blogging in certain sectors of academia is still seen as suspicious.
    Hence, I love Gregory’s idea and of course, I will be happy to be part of the experiment and help as I can (in particular within the area of Anthropology of Religion).

  3. Greg, thanks for this great post. I haven’t yet followed up all the interesting links, but I will because I want to know more about the AAA’s thoughts on the future of publishing.

    Like Gabriele, I’ve had a mixed reaction to my blogging. In one job interview, the reaction to my blog was that it was too personal, in spite of the fact that I blog almost exclusively about my research and my opinions on anthropology as a discipline. On the other hand, I’ve gotten wonderful emails from well-known researchers in my field who have used my blog and specific posts in their undergraduate courses. But then I’ve also had interviews where no one on the hiring committee has any idea that I blog – even though it’s listed on my CV.

    So I’m in. I’d be happy to be part of this experiment and write nice blurbs about people who are blogging cool stuff. And I’d love it if people who find my blog interesting or useful would drop me a note as well! I’d like to think that my blogging will be an asset this year on the job market, and I plan to highlight my attempt at outreach in my cover letters, teaching statement, and CV.

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  5. Greg- These are interesting and useful observations. But let’s face reality – blogging is not peer reviewed, its not going to be counted as peer reviewed, and peer reviewed publications are the most valuable component in promotion and tenure decisions. Blogging is a service activity, and that is where efforts should be placed. I think many traditional scholars will need to be convinced that it is a useful and relevant service activity. This is where letter-writing can make a difference. I’ve already written one such letter, which focused entirely on one person’s blogging as a service activity with value to the profession and to the relevant department and university.

    • gregdowney says:

      Michael, I think what I’m pushing on is the definition of ‘peer reviewed,’ in part because all the panelists in the webinar did the same thing. Many of the new publications appearing online are changing the model of peer review, to ‘post-publication.’

      I don’t agree that blogging is always ONLY a ‘service activity.’ Certainly, in some fields, intellectual labour gets accomplished on blogs (see Krugman’s column). I agree that some traditional scholars will need persuading even to perceive blogging as ‘service,’ but my sights are set higher. Yes, it’s service, but it can be — in some cases — academic work, and it can be evaluated, even if it’s not through peer review. For example, in Australia, peer review is important, but it seems that ‘impact factor,’ however that is defined or measured, is even MORE important in assessing departments and scholars.

      I’m really glad you’re writing letters, and I want to do more of the same, but I also want to think very seriously about how we might recognize when something more than JUST service is being done online. This critique isn’t to say service isn’t worthwhile and sufficient, but only to point out it’s not the only option, nor am I content to work only for new forms of publishing to be considered ‘service,’ ESPECIALLY given the way that service is often discounted in hiring, promotion and tenure. I don’t like that, but that’s the reality.

      • I guess it is possible that intellectual work might get done in blogs, but I sure haven’t seen much of that in archaeology! I sometimes rant and rave about theory and science and epistemology in Publishing Archaeology, but I don’t see that as very different from talking informally to students or colleagues. If someone wants a serious consideration of such issues, they can look at my peer reviewed journal articles.

        I have tried doing some intellectual work in my urban blog (Wide Urban World), but my posts there are notable for the lack of comments and feedback. I’ve also tried to raise intellectual issues on H-Urban, an urban history listserv with a quite large base of subscribers, but few members want to chew on issues there. I think disciplinary cultures account for some of the variation. I just happen to inhabit places (archaeology, urban studies) where people don’t do much intellectual activity online.

        Well, let me qualify that. Aztlan is a New World archaeology listserv. There is often much discussion there, but it is mostly amateurs with poorly informed views, or else specialists and amateurs interested in very esoteric topics (e.g., Maya calendrical correlation). So I find that discussion unsatisfying. Neuroanthropology is much meatier intellectually. Maybe it is a science thing. But the upshot is that I consider blogging as something I do for the heck of it. If I needed some academic credit, it would be under service.

        • I could agree with Michael that blogging be considered a service component, if and only if it occurs within a larger conversation about recasting academic service as administrative labor. I’m thinking here about an interview with Randy Martin and his book Under New Management (see my Everybody’s working through the weekend for more).

          During the ongoing Florida Governor episode, Daniel Lende became a hub for organizing response, saving and publicizing anthropology in Florida and elsewhere. I’m imagining there was a lot of sleep deprivation and things that had to be put on hold–and for that a checkmark in the “service” box? He should at least be getting paid at high-level academic administrator rates…

          • daniel.lende says:

            Great point, Jason. Service is certainly devalued within the academic realm, yet recasting it as administrative labor, with appropriate compensation provided, would change a lot of people’s minds about how to best contribute to the future of a discipline, an area of study, and/or a university or college.

            The odd thing is that I probably won’t even claim what I did as service. Because then the argument becomes I am dedicating too much time to service and not enough to research; as my prior comment indicated, I’m more interested in having the argument that what is done online counts as intellectual production. Getting it slotted automatically into service is a major dis-service, given how things are presently valued within academia. But I’d also love a revaluing of service and contribution!

  6. daniel.lende says:

    Greg, I like your specific proposal about blogging, as well as the broad consideration of how we can get new forms of intellectual work to get the necessary peer review to ensure quality and assess. I don’t think that many in academia understand how quickly these forms of communication and economy can transform entire industries, including the academic industry. I suppose anthropologists should intellectually get that, but it might be harder to grasp in the thick of things.

    I do think we need to react proactively to these changes, so we can better control our own destiny. Otherwise, other people will do that.

    I also want to stand up for the intellectual power and scholarship of work online. Work we’ve done here on Neuroanthropology is getting referenced in many different places, among them as citations in peer-reviewed journals. If that is happening, I do think we need to think about how to make that count more formally.

    The other comment is a more personal one. The work with you on and here has been incredibly enriching for me as a scholar, and along with conferences, has been substantive in creating a new intellectual approach that is started to get some broader traction. I wouldn’t want for younger scholars to think that the only way to build their ideas and to have an impact is through the “tombstone” approach to trying and trying to get something into a particular peer-reviewed journal. It’s not necessarily a good model for how to do scholarship and report data and ideas, and I certainly hope that it isn’t the only model going forward. In the end, I think it stifles a lot of creativity in what we can do, and also stifles figuring out how to relate what we do to interesting problems inside and outside academia. If the only thing that counts is the tombstone of a particular journal heading on a cv, then I think academia is going to be in for even more trouble going forward. Case in point, the governor in my state who doesn’t get how anthropology matters. We’ve tried to educate him, but we can also think about how to make what we do as intellectuals both rigorous and relevant through new forms of scholarship, communication, and peer review linked together in innovative ways.

  7. Greg, thank you for another great post, with specific and important proposals about anthropology blogging. And thanks for putting me in with the “heavy hitters,” although I have nothing like the long-run experience of the others. I would really encourage others to join the online conversation–it has been a quite welcoming group and still a lot of room for more anthropology online.

  8. Jovan Maud says:

    Greg, really important topic to be discussing and glad you are raising it. Like Jason I’m uncomfortable with being labeled a “heavy hitter”, especially as I haven’t been blogging at all of late. But thanks for the hat tip, however undeserved it feels to me.

    Here I just wanted to ask a question in response to Daniel’s point about his blog posts being cited in peer reviewed papers. Are there any metrics that quantify this? A blogging version of impact factors? Are statistics about blog posts already being scooped up into already existing systems for determining impact factors? If not, what could be done to change this? If something like that existed it would be a promising way of validating the quality of posts, which are in a sense already being peer reviewed, once removed. It is also the sort of thing that would help to make blogging legible to those deciding on academic promotions etc. Any thoughts?

    • daniel.lende says:

      Jovan, sorry for the long delay in responding to you. Greg and I got caught up in the trip out to LA, and then it was catch-up last week. I don’t know any metrics about this yet.

      I’ve been struck recently that in some psychology articles, they are simply citing the article author, title, journal name, and doi link. So there is this shift to the online identifiers. Webpages already have links, but I think if blogs can make the shift to digital object identifiers, we might be better situated. Here’s the link to DOI info:

      In terms of blogging metrics, there are all types – Google Analytics, Alexis, Technorati, and so forth. It would be good to push this forward, particularly as a way of validation. One idea off the top of my head – if scholarly blogs can shift to doi, it might be easier to keep track of the sort of scholarly referencing that counts. Some of the sheer popularity numbers are great, but it isn’t enough, as it is not an indication of academic/scholarly impact. So doi might be an option for us.

      • Jovan Maud says:

        Daniel, sorry in return for my overlong delay in replying to you. I think the idea of shifting to DOI for blogs could go some of the way toward establishing a better presence for blog posts, but I’m not sure that this alone would solve the problem of quality control. It seems to me that what is needed is something like an academic version of Technorati, which aggregates a number of academically-significant metrics related to blog posts — e.g. number of citations in peer reviewed journals — along with sheer bulk of hits. Clearly the DOI would be a necessary factor in establishing a permanent presence for blog posts, but some sort of aggregator would be needed to measure impact and therefore make the blogging legible to funding bodies and other bureaucratic structures. Clearly this would be far from perfect, and a potentially very one-eyed way of judging the worth of posts, but it would provide one mechanism for discerning contours in the landscape of academic blogging.

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  10. Alex Cooper says:

    Here’s some evidence to back up your intuitions.

    A recent discussion paper by McKenzie and Ozler, presents empirical evidence that online scholarship in the blogosphere has immediate payoffs for academics. Even without self-promotion activities, blogging improves academic reputation and paper visibility.

    Yes, this study relates to economics blogs–and the economics profession seems to have shifted online in a more profound way–but it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t apply to other disciplines, too.


    There is a proliferation of economics blogs, with increasing numbers of economists attracting large numbers of readers, yet little is known about the impact of this new medium. Using a variety of experimental and non-experimental techniques, we try to quantify some of their effects. First, links from blogs cause a striking increase in the number of abstract views and downloads of economics papers. Second, blogging raises the profile of the blogger (and his institution) and boosts their reputation above economists with similar publication records. Finally, we find that a blog can transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers.

    • @Alex – “t’s hard to see how this wouldn’t apply to other disciplines, too.” My question is, why would one think that this IS applicable to anthropology? First, we don’t have people like Paul Krugman or Brad DeLong in our field. Second, few if any of the big-name people we DO have are active bloggers. Third, many people are interested in economics (the public, the media, politicians, policy people, other academics, etc.), but few are interested in anthropology. Given these and many other significant differences in the fields and in their relative online presence, I can’t imagine why one would think that findings about economics would have anything to do with anthropology.

      Don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing AGAINST an active and intellectual online life for anthropology. But it has been, and will continue to be, a major uphill struggle.

      • gregdowney says:

        Dear Michael —
        Normally, I think we see eye-to-eye on most things, but I’m concerned that some of the things you’re saying here, followed to their logical conclusion, are a recipe for — at best — nothing changes. Currently, many of us in anthropology would like to see some changes in our field including things like greater visibility, faster and more nimble publication, more open access, greater recognition for non-traditional publication, greater online presence, including for the leaders of our field and the organizations that represent us.

        You’re absolutely right that the current situation is that we do not have anthropologists as visible as Krugman. Personally, that’s something I’d like to change, and I see the attention being paid to David Graeber as a sign that a better PR profile for our field is possible.

        The findings from economics ARE interesting, not because we’re just like economics, but because — like cross-cultural research itself — the experience of other disciplines aids in our ability to imagine the current less-than-perfect situation might be changed.

        As for whether of any of our ‘big name’ people currently blog, well, we may not agree on the list of who’s got a ‘big name’ or how important their work will be in the coming decades. I don’t think the answer is to throw out the example of economics as irrelevant, but point our ‘big name’ people in this direction, and grow the names of our most successful, interesting, and engaging bloggers.

        Would Margaret Mead have written online if the tools were available to her? If she did, would those texts have been important for representing our field? ‘Uphill struggle,’ yes, but nothing will change if we assume at the start that nothing can change.

        • Greg- I tried to make a distinction between research about current practices in disciplines ,and ideas about what many of us would like to see happen in anthropology. Alex Cooper said that empirical findings about current practices the discipline of economics apply to anthropology. I disagree strongly. Show me the data. I think the two disciplines are very different in their current online structure.

          Maybe I am wrong about change in online anthropology being an “uphill struggle.” Maybe the AAA will reverse a bunch of policies and practices. Maybe our senior colleagues will suddenly start blogging, and then give credit for blogging in tenure/promotion cases. Maybe policy makers, reporters, and others will start beating an electronic path to the doors of anthropologists for our insights on the major issues of the day. Perhaps. But to me, it looks like an “uphill struggle.” I am not saying that nothing will change or that we shouldn’t make great effort to bring about change.

      • Alex Cooper says:

        @Michael — Does the level of external interest in the discipline really matter?

        An academic field is a knowledge network, and influence and authority (and thus academic career prospects) are determined by position and connectivity. Metrics like citation counts, the H-index and impact factors are essentially proxy measures for “embeddedness” in the network. In the past, the physical artifacts of this network were journal articles and books. But now the blogsphere adds another dimension with an entirely different characer. It’s faster moving, has lower barriers to entry and far more information-rich.

        Whatever the habits of their predecessors, tomorrow’s academics will spend substantially more of their time online, and their thinking processes will be increasingly guided by computerized information networks. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the papers found and cited by this new crop of thinkers will increasingly be those that are readily findable online; that is to say, those ideas which are most deeply embedded in the networks of blogs, search engines and web sites. In other words, online participation will increasingly lead to a greater offline influence, higher reference counts, and so on.

        It’s probably unlikely that anth will become the new econ because of a few blogs. As you say, expanding general interest online will probably be an uphill battle. But in the increasingly competitive career tournament for limited tenure positions, I think the smart money is on the researchers who publish online, too.

  11. Katy Meyers says:

    Greg, I am so glad that is issue is being discussed in a constructive manner and hope that your proposal comes to fruition. As a graduate student, I get reviewed every year by the entire department in order to determine my rank and funding. I am also a blogger for a number of websites. When it comes time for me to list my scholarly publications, every year I hesitate over whether the blog should be listed. It is scholarly- I’m using journals and am certified by, it is outreach, and its professional development- it keeps me up to date on mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology. Not only that, it is peer-reviewed. If in post-publication I have written something erroneous, there are a number of other scholars who will point out the mistake and give me information about correcting it.

    After reading this I will not hesitate in putting my blog down on my review. It is time for departments to recognize the value of non-traditional forms of publication.

    Again, thank you.
    -Katy Meyers

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  13. This is a bit of a random comment, but I noticed just this week that my Research Blogging posts are now showing up in Google Scholar. Is this just an aberration, or has anyone else noticed this? I’ll be curious to see if it shows up in my Scholar Author Profile…

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  15. 1. Full disclosure: I am not an Anthropologist, not a scientist with a “cultural” research program, and not involved in your Program of advocacy for the legitimization of academic blogging by mainstream Arts&Sciences departments. I have no “axes to grind” and consider myself to be a neutral, independent “outside observer” if not recorder.
    2. I am interested in your Program as it relates to non-tenured faculty at mainstream universities–particularly, for several reasons, non-tenured women. My interests are multi-factorial.
    3. For example, IMO, The Program has potential to become a major historical event for some disciplines and, more to the point, that, whatever its outcome(s), The Program is an authentic natural experiment, maybe a true example of a formulative, generative, and emerging property of the academic landscape…but, it is too soon to tell.
    4. The idea of generating a document de novo sounds like a lot of work and, perhaps, an organizational nightmare. Might an alternative approach be to advertise for relevant bloggers to submit blogposts on The Program’s topic(s) of interest to a manageably-sized editorial board, editing these submissions (with authors’ final approval, of course) for compilation as a serious, measured text? Obviously, topics might be subdivided, etc. Unless I am mistaken, this model already exists for the academic blogging community.
    5. With this comment, I do claim certain authority: I suggest that anthropologist-bloggers be very careful, indeed, comparing what they do to what faculty in quantitative-based, particularly, math-based disciplines (e.g., economics) do. My reasons for this assertion are beyond the scope of the present commentary.
    6. I am old, most of my career is behind me, many of you are young, very bright, & non-tenured with significant potential to make lasting contributions to your discipline. Several of the respected “elders” of Anthropology have attempted to provide highly constructive and supportive advice? criticism? e.g. Dr. Smith in this thread, John Hawkes on several occasions, others?. I am unclear about whether affiliates of The Program “hear” these professors.
    7. There are many reasons to think that the “elders” are not being heard, primarily, IMHO, because The Program incorporates many similarities to a (political) Movement. This opinion might be elaborated elsewhere.
    8. The Program as Political Movement might be a potentially positive construct based on rational rather than emotional foundations; however, it is my personal bias that one would like to see The Program manifested professionally by professionals, a posture consistent with the opportunities, privileges, and responsibilities afforded by your historically respected stations.
    9. I would be very interested to see The Program appoint a Historian…not only to document the events of your very important, and potentially educational, activities, but, also, to compare and contrast what you are doing with other contempary, oppositional faculty “programs” (of which there are many, particularly, internationally–Mexico, Italy, France, the Middle East come first to mind).

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