Blogging as method

by Nina Mollerup

 

In this blog post, I make an argument for the scholarly blog by thinking of blogging, not as a research output, but rather as method. And I should clarify that I mean method in a broad sense, not least including method of analysis. Despite scholarly blogs growing in popularity, it might still be frightening for some scholars to allow others a view inside the black box of analysis by using a blog in the way I propose (for me it is, at least). I believe we have much to gain from openly acknowledging that our knowledge is never final and that our process of getting to polished, peer-reviewed articles is messy, unpredictable, and at times takes us down paths we later depart from. And blogs can help us do so.

So instead of thinking of writing blog posts as something, which takes time away from writing peer-reviewed articles – which in the end, of course,  are the kind of output we are mainly judged by – I suggest we use blog posts in the process of writing articles. So how might we do so?

Playing with others

Speaking of remix methods, Annette Markham has suggested that the creative process of doing qualitative research often includes a lot of play and that ‘play can actually become a critical turning point for research design that resonates better with contexts of flow’. She is talking about how we experiment, imagine, put things together, take them apart, look at them in new ways, test different concepts and more. One way we have done so in the Nordic Transgressive Methods Movement is with paint and stamps, allowing a creative approach to our research to bring out new ideas and connections. Play, of course, is by no means restricted to colours and visual creativity. Rather, it is about easing up on rigidity without letting go of rigour, allowing creativity, fun and open-endedness to guide the research process at times.

What are the ways we can bring others into the process of playing with our research? Using a blog, allows us to do so in ways I believe can be fruitful. With a blog, we can share our work as it is in the making, without promises of it being final or polished. For instance, writing say 200 words, not as an argument, but as an idea that you are yet to know what to make of, which others can grab and take in completely different directions than you ever imagined. Or describing an experience from your fieldwork that sticks with you even though you cannot explain why this seems so important. Nothing more. Post it as a blog and enable others to play along, throwing ideas, concepts and more into your thought process. This is very similar to what we often do over lunch with colleagues, perhaps accompanied by a drawing on a napkin to develop an emerging idea. With a blog you can include colleagues who are having lunch in different places.

And the other brilliant thing about a blog is that the format is so open, so instead of trying to fit great ideas of others into your neat story, you can just throw them in as they are, like this comment I got from Katrin Tiidenberg on this section:

Since there are many different kinds of scholarly blogs, and varied types of blog posts, it might be important to be very clear – both to ourselves, and to our peers – about what a particular post is for, and what is expected of others. In a culture of politeness, that academics arguably inhabit, people may not start plying you with ideas, unless expressly told that their ideas are welcome. So I guess, if we want others to play, we need to state so clearly in the post, perhaps even ping colleagues directly? Some of us use Facebook for crowdtesting ideas, this is just an analogue. And clarity can help avoid situations, where someone inspired by this idea of collaboration and crowdsourcing through blogs, posts something and never gets any responses. Maybe, collaborative blogs (like ours) are particularly suitable for collaborative and dialogic content. Although, frankly, we really should be engaging with each other’s content much more. Maybe this is something we can discuss at Sandbjerg. If we don’t read each other’s stuff and comment on it, then why do we expect outsiders to?

Crowd-sourcing literature

A crucial (though perhaps often overlooked in this context) part of scholarly methods is finding relevant literature. When researching an unfamiliar topic, one of the challenges can be to find the key texts, which will guide you to other relevant texts. While it is a tedious task to search out literature in a new area, for those who are familiar with the area, rambling off the key texts only takes seconds. And often they won’t mind doing so, not least because it might include their own work and other work they are passionate about. I have found the EASA media anthropology emailing list and other networks extremely useful for crowd-sourcing literature, but a blog might also work like this, at times turning into important resources, when references are accumulated in a comments section or as a proper bibliography. An example of this is Mark Allen Peterson’s highly useful bibliography of the Egyptian uprising. While Professor Peterson has initiated the bibliography he encourages people to write him with additional references, which further adds to its relevance.

Crowd-sourcing literature through blogging can be particularly relevant for new study areas. I was recently looking for research about refugees’ use of smart phones and other technologies during their journeys. Very little scholarly work had been published on the topic. I came across a blog post that asked for research about this topic and a number of relevant scholars were mentioned or had written in the comments section. Few of these scholars had published academically on the topic as their research projects were still in the early phases. This of course points to how blogs can be useful entry points for collaboration, which I will get to in a second.

Engaging with the world outside the university

First, let me dwell a bit on the temporality of academia, because this is part of what makes blogs potentially significant for scholars. With the temporality of academia, we often don’t know what other scholars are working on until they are done with their research and start publishing – and perhaps move on to other research areas. And it is not only scholars who miss out on potential collaboration. If our work is not accessible as it is in progress, it is also difficult for others to find us. I would argue we have an obligation as scholars to make our work more public so people to whom our work might have relevance can find us and benefit from our knowledge, whether these be students, journalists, NGOs, public sector actors, or something else.

Entry points for collaboration

By opening up part of the research process and connecting with other scholars before publication, we might also create opportunities for collaboration – inside and outside the university. Since our well-polished, peer-reviewed articles usually tend to be published after we are finished working on a project, our ongoing work is rarely well-described to people not in our close circles. That’s a shame, because we lose out on many opportunities to collaborate with scholars and others. Blog posts can be published while we are still engaged with the issues in question and thus are much better entry points for collaboration. And then, of course, at times it is simply significant to be able to say something when things are still ongoing. This is not (just) a matter of research outputs, but also a matter of engaging in the world as a way of knowing. Descending from the ivory tower enables us to engage our knowledge in different ways, but it also significantly influences our knowledge. And I would say, it is likely to make our research more relevant.

In a network like The Nordic Transgressive Methods Movement, which meets annually and in which the members know each other well, a blog is a great way to increase collaboration as we can introduce thoughts to each other through the blog and build on them once we meet. And let me stress that: I am all for meetings that are not digitally facilitated. Nothing really beats the meetings over a napkin in the end, but other things might compliment it well.

Of course, these are just a few of the ways we might use blogging as method. I would be happy to hear about other ways scholars have found blogging useful as method.

Reference

Markham, Annette (2013). ‘Looking under methods: An experiment in play’. http://annettemarkham.com/2013/02/looking-below-methods-to-find-remix-practices-an-experiment-in-play/