By Marie-Pierre Renaud
When I created The Geek Anthropologist (TGA) in September 2012, I started to familiarize myself with the small world of anthropology blogs. I was surprised by how little online visibility our discipline enjoyed. And yet, perhaps one of the reasons why that was and still is the case can be underlined in the very first sentence I wrote above: indeed, before I started my own anthropology blog, I had never thought to read one.
During my first year of blogging, I tried to recruit friends and colleagues to contribute to TGA and turn it into a community blog. I knew several people who had written anthropological papers or a thesis about topics related to geek culture. I was enthusiastic about the idea of publishing posts in both English in French, the latter being my mother tongue and the language other students in my department at Laval University, Quebec, speak.
At the time, however, I was not able to convince a single colleague to contribute to the blog. Everyone was either too busy, not interested or lacked the confidence to share their work on the world wide web. But at some point, I started to suspect there was another reason why recruiting contributors and co-editors was proving to be difficult: the relevance of anthropology blogging was not obvious to everyone.
In 2005, Lorenz Khazaleh of anthropology.info interviewed several anthropology bloggers. They also found that there weren’t enough anthropologists who blog and use the Internet as a platform to share their work and interact. According to Thomas Hylland Eriksen: ”The symbolic capital associated with the Internet and Internet publishing is fairly low. It should be a political cause for academics to heighten it, both through using the Internet for one’s own publications and by increasing the prestige of the Internet by using it actively.”
Indeed, I frequently have to explain to people why blogging is relevant, not only in light of my personal interests, but also for professional reasons.
Creating The Geek Anthropologist has helped me develop my writing skills, improve my mastery of English, learn how to (almost) use social media efficiently, fine-tune my editorial skills, network, keep up with relevant news and ongoing debates within our discipline, etc. Sharing one’s work on a blog isn’t only good for the ego: it also increases one’s visibility within networks of peers, creates discussions and can lead to interesting opportunities.
For instance, Nick Mizer and I ”met” in the comments section on the Savage Minds blog in 2013. It was there that I learned he was planning to put together a panel about geek culture at the 2013 American Anthropology Association (AAA) meeting. A few months later, we co-chaired this panel, played Dungeons and Dragons and met with other geek anthropologists in Chicago.
Clearly, there are other anthropologists and social scientists who see the relevance and usefulness of blogging. The people behind Savage Minds, Ethnography.com, Pop Anth and the AAA blog, to name a few examples of great anthropology blogs, are among them.
Recently, Mark Carrignan wrote in The value of blogging for part-time PhD students, a post about the usefulness of blogging in relation with his professional identity as a sociologist, skills, habits and creativity:
The process of using the blog in this way has also led to an increasing awareness of the types of use I make of it, reflected in an initially inchoate working taxonomy which has emerged in my own psyche as to the various tasks which are involved in the development of ideas and the production of academic work. The process of sustaining the blog as an ‘open notebook’ has inculcated a sensitivity to workflow and craft which I had previously lacked. The claim here is a straightforward one: a change of tools can provoke a greater awareness of the uses to which such tools can be put.
As I found out myself, blogging is also a great way to increase your work’s visibility. For instance, Alex Golub posted on Savage Minds about his piece The History of Mana: How an Austronesian Concept Became a Video Game Mechanic ”in order to get people to read it”. Self-promotion was not Golub’s only objective, however. He also wanted to draw attention to The Appendix, the journal in which the piece was published, and share with his readers ”how this article happened, and what the production process says about public anthropology and scholarly workflow”. In his post, Golub argues that anthropologists can and should ”make a popular version of their publication a regular part of their scholarly process.” He states:
(…) Most academics know someone who knows someone who runs a journal, website, or podcast that would be willing to feature our work. If we take the time to reach out and make our anthropology public, then these forums will grow, and so will public anthropology.
In other words, blogging offers a medium to share the outcomes of our research with the public and to provide an anthropological perspective on current affairs. It can also help provide non-academics with a clearer understanding of what anthropology is actually about. Just imagine: we may yet create a world in which we won’t have to tell people that we don’t study insects or that our work has nothing to do with what one might see in the Indiana Jones movies.
After all, as Kristina Killgrove indicates in her post Is Blogging Really the Future of Public Anthropology?, academics are not the only ones who read anthropology blogs. On the contrary, she can tell from the comments and emails she receives that several of her posts are more popular with the general public. We have noticed the same thing here at TGA: our readers come in all shapes and sizes, and they walk different paths in life.
So Anthro Blogging is cool. But how does one go about Anthro Blogging?
Killgrove highlights some important questions anthropologists face in relation to blogging:
So one of the questions we need to reflect on as anthropologists interested in engaging the public is: Who is our audience, and how can we best reach them? Is blogging the key? If so, what platform, what format, what language do we use? Or should other social media avenues be explored?
Indeed, these are a few of the questions I asked myself as I started blogging, and I still occassionally dwell on them. In fact, the TGA editorial team has decided to conduct a reader survey this year in order to obtain some useful data which will help us improve this blog and increase dialogue and conversation within our community.
And while several posts about academic blogging are available on blogs such as Savage Minds and The Sociological Imagination, their authors generally take a more reflexive tone. They discuss the relevance of blogging for anthropologists and the importance of outreach and public anthropology, for instance.
The fact is, there is no how-to guide for anthropologists who wish to start blogging.
Well, there is Chris Lysy’s illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers. (Thanks to The Sociological Imagination for sharing that one!) This advice was offered by various researchers who blog and the author created cartoons out of it.
There is also, evidently, a myriad of general blogging advice available. When I started out, I was inspired by an eclectic combination of blogs such as Design Love Fest, A Beautiful Mess, Colossal and Savage Minds. I read posts about how their editors run their blogs or the tools they use. And of course, WordPress.com is newbie-blogger heaven: the support pages are just perfect, the interface is simple to use, and the team of The Daily Post does a great job at providing writing challenges to bloggers. It’s even possible to enroll in Blogger University classes. In addition, Wordcamp events are organized in several major cities around the world: if you can attend one of these events, I strongly recommend it!
Yet, I often wonder about how other anthropology bloggers go about blogging, how and why they do it, what tools they use, what problems they face, etc. So I figured, why not ask them?
Hence, the Anthro Blogging series! With this series of posts and interviews, the TGA team wishes to bring together some of the most experienced anthro bloggers in order to provide you, the aspiring anthro or academic blogger, with a few pointers and ideas to get you started. Hopefully, experienced bloggers will also enjoy this series as an opportunity to reflect on their own practices.
In other words, with this series, we hope to :
- Showcase anthropology blogs and the people who write them;
- Give you a better understanding of anthro blogging, its advantages and problems;
- Help you learn some of the basics of anthro blogging, discover useful tips, tactics and tools;
- Improve connectivity between anthro bloggers
Finally, perhaps this series can serve as a retrospective. In the previously mentioned interview with anthro bloggers published on anthropology.info in 2005, Kerim Friedman, co-founder of Savage Minds, proposed interesting avenues of investigation :
I think it would be interesting to study why anthropologists (especially cultural anthropologists) are so far behind other disciplines in embracing these technologies as well as Open Access and blogging. Is it because anthropologists are insecure about putting their writings out before a wider audience? Is it gendered? (So many anthropologists are women.) Is it that anthropologists are more likely to be technophobes? Or is it that anthropologists actually like the security of traditional academic structures? It may be that these differences will disappear with the next generation of scholars, but there may also be forces within anthropology that are inherently resistant to such changes…
As far as I know, there is still very little consistent data to help us address these questions. Maybe our series can help us find some new relevant information.
Additionally, in the anthropology.info interviews, bloggers answer a particularly interesting question : ”what role will the internet play in anthropology in 10 years? What do you think?”. Well, it’s almost been 10 years since the publication of the anthropology.info interviews; it seems to me like right now is the perfect time to examine the anthro blogging scene and the changes it has gone through in the last decade.
That’s a lot of objectives for one little blogging series, I know. But hey, here’s my first blogging advice for you: just hit the publish button!