Sunday, October 3, 2010

Can a blog be used for serious academic writing?

I'm giving a paper at the SAA in 2011 on this topic. One reason I got into blogs, wikis, and, earlier, construction of my own website, was to explore the Internet as a medium for serious academic scholarship. But although our scholarly lives have been transformed by emails, by online journals, research websites, etc., it seemed to me that blogs had not yet led to serious advances in archaeological scholarship. So when I submitted my SAA abstract my intention was to explore reasons why this was so. I was pretty down on the scholarly potential of the blogosphere (I've wanted to use that word for some time now).

But now I have found a case where a blog has contributed to scholarship in a major way. This isn't in archaeology, but in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of history. Daniel Little is a philosopher of science who has written extensively on the structure of research and explanation in the social sciences. I found his work very helpful in my exploration of mechanism-based explanations in sociology (which provide a model for archaeology). Little has a website called "Understanding Society", and a blog of the same name.

I was reading Little's blog and learning a lot. I started thinking that I might want to cite some of this, but I generally wouldn't want to cite a blog in serious academic writing. I found some of Little's books and papers, and then I found the following description of his latest book, which was published a couple of weeks ago

(the book is: Little, Daniel  (2010)  New Contributions to the Philosophy of History. Springer, New York):

One aspect of New Contributions is especially novel: the effort I've made to combine an intellectual process of traditional academic research and writing with the work I've been doing for the past three years on this blog, UnderstandingSociety.  I announced in 2007 that "The blog is an experiment in thinking, one idea at a time," and New Contributions is my first effort to test out the viability of that idea.  Most of the chapters in the book began as conference presentations designed to contribute eventually to this new approach to the philosophy of history.  I had a book plan in mind as I wrote these papers and chapters over a ten-year period.  After the book was accepted by the excellent editors of the Springer Methodos series, Daniel Courgeau and Robert Franck, I undertook a major rewriting of the full manuscript; and I realized that I was also writing quite a few posts on various aspects of the philosophy of history in the blog.  So I undertook to integrate a lot of the new material into the manuscript.  In the end, roughly 40 postings have been integrated into New Contributions, which amounts to more than a third of the book. So this is a fairly extended test run to evaluate the notion that it is possible to make significant intellectual progress on a subject through a series of separate blog postings.
This quote is from a post on Little's blog

So it seems that in this case, serious scholarly blogging has fed into a serious academic book in a significant fashion. I urge you to check out Daniel Little's work, both because it is good scholarship (very relevant to archaeology), and because of his innovative approach to writing and publishing.


Merci said...

I enjoyed this entry. I think social networking, including blog entries are becoming more popular, but it is still hard to imagine, as you mentioned, the idea of citing someone's 'academic' blog. I wonder though, if like newspapers, magazines will be moving away from the printed format and more exclusively on the internet. Then, maybe citing academic blogs will begin to be more mainstream.

Davidviso said...

Have you visited these blogs?

They are two Spanish blogs, mainly about the fieldwork of both teams, but their reflections, about Public Archaeology are very interesting.

In general, blogs maybe weren't a stablished schoolar way of writing, but they can reach a good conexion with Society, and with colleagues (in an informal way).

Michael E. Smith said...


These are excellent blogs! Thank you. I think most archaeologists in the U.S. know very little about archaeology in Spain. I think I need to re-think the idea of how blogs can contribute to serious research. The line between public communication and scholarly production is not always clear. These blogs seem more substantial intellectually than many.

I recommend these to anyone. Even if you don't read Spanish (or Galician!), the graphics are fantastic.