More on Academic Publishing and Blogs

Academic publishing and blogging has a strange relationship as many readers of this blog know. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been participating in a dynamic blog carnival which culminated in a roundtable at the Society of American Archaeology meeting this past weekend.  (For more on this see the conversation that Colleen Morgan has curated over at Middle Savagery on Blogging Archaeology, then you really should.  Here’s Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4 and Week 5).

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the SAA meetings (but I look forward to reading the papers that came from them and I hope that they were recorded so those of us viewing from afar could participate passively!), but I’ve kept thinking about the relationship between blogging and traditional academic publishing.  I know that I’ve made most of my points here in the past; long-time readers know my position on these things, but now that I have the possibility of participating in a project that takes a series of blog posts and moves them to a different medium, I am thinking about how to put my ideas into action.

1. Peer Review and Blogging. Blogs are not peer reviewed, and they really should never be. It amazes me that archaeologists continue to get hung up on peer review as some kind of ultimate test of academic validity.  While I am not opposed to peer review and recognize its importance to our profession, I also know that archaeologists produce more un-peer-reviewed literature than almost any other field. Between the piles of grey literature (esp. field reports), field notebooks, conference papers and proceedings, and popular literature, few disciplines have embraced professionally unreviewed scholarly literature to the degree of archaeology. In fact, any archaeologist working from field notebooks, unreviewed field reports, un-reviewed artifact catalogues, auction catalogues, or museum publications has developed the skill set necessary to analyze knowledge produced without the luxury of peer review. Moreover, most self-aware scholars will recognize that the standard of peer review varies across publications and across academic traditions.

Publishing a series of blog posts with commentary is not some kind of radical step into an intellectual abyss. In fact, by acknowledging the absence of traditional peer review, we’re being more explicit about our editorial standards than many publications. The reader will have to read our work more critically (perhaps) and the tenure committee has to look at this work more warily, and, perhaps more importantly, any contributors will have to be more intellectually honest and personally rigorous in producing their text.

Of course, we could offer any volume for peer review as part of the translation from the medium of personal digital production to paper medium or we could offer the summary essays or synthetic aspects of the volume for peer review and preserve the integrity of the original blog posts (and, again, archaeology has suitable models for this in archaeological publication where the description of material enjoys less rigorous scrutiny than the analysis of the same material).  The tension, however, will exist and as academic publishing undergoes significant changes, we would be remiss not to take this as an opportunity to reflect critically (and honestly) about the role of formal peer review in the profession of academic archaeology.

2. Goals. Michael Smith asks about the goals of a publication that captures the content of the recent series of posts on Blogging Archaeology. I’ve already suggested that the act of moving blogs from a digital media (which many see as ephemeral) to the more traditional medium of paper is a valuable kind of intellectual exercise.  Of course, the intellectual value of the processes of publication is rarely sufficient justification for publication alone.

As much as the medium is the message, mediating between the digital world and the world of traditional paper publications is likely to expand the audience for the ideas present in blogging as well as blogging per se Moreover, this kind of work can demonstrate that blogging as a medium and the questions that bloggers are asking about the field of archaeology (and archaeological publishing) offer new perspectives on what constitutes academic texts in an era where traditional forms of textuality (and production) are under economic, ideological, and professional challenge. The fact that blogs are not necessarily well regarded as professional publications and yet continue to be produced by professionally responsible academic archaeologists offers an easy problematique for a broader discussion of archaeological publishing, professional responsibilities, and the changing nature of the academic text.

3. Opting in or opting out. One of the more intriguing issues confronting anyone writing on academic blogging is how to bound the conversation. Once blogs exist in on the web, they are part of the discourse and while there would be obvious issues to including the full text of a blog post in an academic publications (even one on blogging), it would seem that the initial move to participate in the debate would make one’s blog fair game for inclusion in the conversation.

In short, once someone has blogged, it will be very difficult for someone to opt out of the conversation, for their blogs to be critiqued, and for their voice to be embedded and memorialized within an academic conversation for which it may not have been intended.  This is an issue both of scholarly authority (how much authority does a blog post have?) and our ability as mediators to move from one medium (with its own rules, standards, and values) to another.


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