Should postgraduate researchers blog?
At the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference last week, a panel reportedly concluded that postgraduate students shouldn’t blog. It is dangerous to your copyright, to your chances of a job, and to the time you have to spend on work, they apparently lectured.
There are three reasons why I’m annoyed by this ‘wisdom’ handed down from on high.
1. A Blogging Disabled Graduate Student
The irony is not lost on me, that I could never have been at the AAR conference in person. Travelling to conferences as a disabled student is getting more and more difficult, and I think I now I no longer have enough support or access to enough funding that I could safely and semi-accessibly go that far abroad for that long.
And so, I blog so that I can share my developing ideas in a forum that is actually accessible to me. Being a disabled postgraduate student in today’s academia is so much of a struggle (see below). Don’t limit my access to the one place where I can equitably present my thoughts, my theories, my reactions to my life in academia, my struggles with disablism and with the hegemony of normalcy in the academic world.
2. A Blogging Activist
Who is my research for?
Sometimes I wish more of us graduate students would actually think about this. Though I often wonder what more theoretically-focused graduate students would think about my slightly obsessive focus on the experience of my participants and the usefulness (or otherwise) of my research.
I’m in academia mostly because I have educational and economic privilege that somewhat compensates for the disability barriers I face here. Thousands of more talented students than me can’t enter this academic space. (Just look at the cuts to the Open University. Non-traditional ways into academia, where some disabled students found a way in, are being closed off.) I think I have a responsibility not to keep my research to myself. Shouldn’t I share my knowledge from that place of privilege, rather than hoarding it in my computer and my filing cabinet?
But many academic forums – like, say, the American Academy of Religion – don’t seem to be all that interested in who our research is for and what we do with it (or what is done with it.) The academy may talk about ‘impact’, but I don’t know how much it really wants our research to be used for the benefit of others. Especially not in activist frameworks.
I haven’t forgotten that I was turned down for funding for my PhD project on three separate occasions, twice from the university where I did my MA that knew me well (and where I had done very well). Partly, it was because my interdisciplinary work didn’t entirely fit with what the Disability Studies department did. But it wasn’t just that. I remember a conversation with someone I was hoping might supervise me, who warned me that emancipatory research doesn’t get funded. He was right. I had to go through odd non-academic channels to get any funding.
I am an activist first. My academic work is for other activists, and for disabled people. Specifically, with my current project, for disabled Christians. (They aren’t the only people or purpose it’s for, but they’re a big focus of what I do.) I work within a fantastic, little-known tradition in Disability Studies where academics and their work have always been a resource for activism. By blogging, I attempt to offer activists some of the knowledge and theory that I’m putting together, so that they can use it in meaningful ways.
Don’t stop me from offering my work back to the activist community that is a big part of the reason I went into academia in the first place.
3. A Blogging Fan of Knowledge
As I said above, my work may be primarily for disabled people, but that’s not the only people and purpose it’s for. The other reason I research, and blog, is because I really like knowledge. I like sociology. I like critical theory. I even sometimes like religious studies. I really don’t have much time to play with that knowledge – to discover things that, yes, might be useful for my research, but equally might not be, and might just be really interesting knowledge.
For example, I listen to podcasts. I’m a particular fan of weird fictional podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Limetown and Psuedopod. But I also listen to a good amount of informative podcasts on the strangest topics (because my obsessions are weird). I like tech podcasts and critical news podcasts and philosophy podcasts and BBC podcasts on podcasting. I’m dyslexic, so I learn things I could never get from books (because I don’t read fast enough) as a result of podcasts. I even had my own podcast on religion and society briefly, before I found it was far too much work to continue. Podcasts! Spreading the knowledge!
I think more knowledge should be disseminated (spread around) to more people in more situations, though more media. I think critical theory could really benefit people struggling with how to respond to Paris or the refugee situation in Europe. I know many LGBT people read a lot of gender theory, and I hope it’s available to those that need it at low cost. And of course I think policy people need to listen to research coming out of disability studies. Knowledge is brilliant, and it’s life-enhancing and society-improving.
Blogging is one of many ways that we can – and I think we should – share knowledge with people outside academia. It’s easy to sit in the ivory tower and say that graduate students shouldn’t blog. That we should focus solely on our (traditional academic) work. That we should keep our knowledge to ourselves, for copyright reasons. That we should be extra careful of what we say in case it might one day reflect badly on us in a job application situation. All of these things are probably true to some extent. But not to any extent that outweighs anything I’ve said above, for me.
Fortunately, the American Academy of Religion is about a decade behind the times here. The world has moved on and they’re stuck in the past. If you want to read some interesting reflections from academic bloggers, including some graduate students, try:
- Write Where It Hurts, by scholars doing work that has very personal impacts on them
- Conditionally Accepted – a group blog with posts by many marginalized scholars who are only conditionally accepted in academia, including disabled students
- The blog linked to The Still Point journal, which I contributed to – creative responses to the life-changing activity that is postgraduate research, including fieldwork
- This fascinating reflection on academia and activism by Kelly J. Baker, who has a PhD in Religion.