Anonymity in the Academic Blogosphere

BlogHer Original Post

Why do so many academics blog anonymously? And why are so many of the anonymous ones women? Scott Kaufman of Acephalous blogged recently about this phenomenon:

There are two distinct academic Blogistans. This blog represents the more scholarly and less communitarian of the two. The other Blogistan is largely populated by anonymous academics who are building a vibrant community of shared professional and extra-curricular interests. Now I've reached the minefield:

I've crunched the numbers-I'll "show my work" after the article's published-and it turns out that 74 percent of the anonymous academic bloggers of a certain linkage-gauged stature are women. I don't want to draw any conclusions from this.

He asked for responses and received plenty.

Of course, this issue isn't limited to academics; every blogger with a job (or looking for a job) has, I hope, considered the consequences of posting personal anecdotes on the web. Kaufman believes that for academics, the advantages of blogging naked outweigh the liabilities, careerwise.

My immediate response mirrored that of Laura, who noted,

this post of yours is quite insulting about styles of blogging you believe are less scholarly, and thus I suppose worth while, than your own. I don't imagine you mean any harm, but there it is. I certainly don't wish you any. But one of the many people who practice this non-scholarly blogging you speak of may read this and feel slighted.

Yeah, I was one of those. Yes, my blog is a diversion, an outlet for me to be more creative than I can be when writing my dissertation. (And I confess--frequently it's an aid to procrastination on said dissertation.) But as other academics have pointed out online and offline, the line between career and personal life in academia is very, very blurry, if such a line even exists. Thus my academic life constitutes a good part of my personal life and vice versa, in so much as I write about the things that interest me personally. (It's for this very reason that I get ticked off when my students talk about life "in the real world"--as if I don't work in a world that's very real.) And for reasons that are too many to delve into here, but which include women's traditional roles as nurturers, as keepers-of-order in the household, and as people whose labor again and again gets rendered invisible, I think this personal/professional blurring is more significant for women than it is for men.

Belle Lettre followed up on this academic-blog-versus-blog-of-an-academic distinction on her own blog, and asks her readers which kind of blog they'd prefer:

You want just another law blog by a lawyer or a legal academic? Or do you want one by a lawyer/legal academic who can tell you a story about how in her third year of law school she flew across the country for a vacation in Washington D.C. with her best friend without her Nazi, anti-fun, puritanical parents finding out? How when the plane shook with turbulence she thought that maybe the God that she didn't believe in was punishing her for filial inpiety for daring to have a vacation instead of studying 24/7?

(The latter, please! That's why most of my BlogHer round-up posts are drawn from the blogs of academics who write about their lives behind the scenes.)

In the comments section of Kaufman's post, many academics expressed their anxiety about publishing their thoughts in the age of Google. La Lecturess was one of them, adding,

I wonder whether part of my pseudonymity isn't also the result of being reluctant to speak as an AUTHORITY on questions of larger academic interest--I suspect that my insistant use of the first-person singular is a way of particularizing rather than universalizing my experience; I wouldn't say that that's a "female" trait, per se, but I imagine that it IS a trait typical of those who feel themselves to be in a subordinate or less powerful position, as I am, as both a non-tenure-track faculty member and as someone still feeling her way toward scholarly confidence in her own field of specialization.

Ancrene Wiseass responded on her own blog in a post filled with additional links on the subject. An excerpt:

I'll echo the several people who've said that female academics' hesitation to post openly may well be due to pre-existing structural inequalities. Given the reality of Tribble-esque anxieties about blogs, I'm guessing most women in academe aren't interested in adding that to the "what-if-she-runs-off-and-has-a-baby" anxiety still rather openly exhibited by many a search committee. I'll admit it's a real concern of mine. Academia, as an institution, does not easily tolerate crossings of the personal/professional line, and it tends to view women as the most likely trespassers.

She sees her anonymous blogging, and the honesty it facilitates, as a resource for others interested in the life academic. Specifically, she writes that anonymous academic blogs allow the public to see the largely invisible real work of the academic humanities, warn prospective grad students about the perils of pursuing a Ph.D., and serve "as a check on more senior scholars' and administrators' frequent wish to believe that life is much better for most of us than it is."

Right now, as a grad student who's on the job market but who has little chance of landing a job this year because I don't yet have my Ph.D. in hand and my academic journal publications are, er, nonexistent, I'm in a place where I can blog pseudo-pseudonymously because no search committees are going to be stumbling across my blog anytime soon. By this I mean that on Google, my full name, I think, is still two or three clicks away from my blog; you'd have to Google my name, click on the BlogHer link in the results, and then follow the link from my profile or my comments. But as I approach the completion of my dissertation and cast about for jobs of all kinds, I do fret a bit about what constraints my new work (whatever it may be) will place on my own blog, which blends the personal with thoughts on life as an academic (if the two can be separated completely, which I don't think they can). I'd hate to abandon my little corner of the blogosphere, however tentatively established it may be, in favor of a truly anonymous blog under a different pseudonym, mostly because I'm happy with my work at my blog and I like that I've begun to elbow my way into a particular community of bloggers.

ABDmom, who is finishing her degree and has landed an academic job, has been considering much the same dilemma:

I've been thinking a lot lately about the future of this blog.

This summer I will graduate, and "ABDmom" will be no more, for the very simple reason that the name will no longer apply. I will create a new identity that recognizes that change in status.

The question is, how will I do that?

In a recent post, she lists her options and asks for feedback.

How about you, gentle reader? How did you come to decide to blog anonymously or not, and do you see that changing in the future?

UPDATE: Silly me. I clipped the Acephalous piece in my Bloglines, and then neglected to check to see if Kaufman had made any follow-up posts. And of course he had written one. He wrote to me worried that he came across as inflexible in my post above, which I certainly don't think he is and didn't intend to make him out to be. So, without further ado, be sure to check out his latest post on the topic here.


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