Two new projects I’m in the early stages of working on both necessitate engagement with phenomena that are developing rapidly. This poses an obvious question: how to identify relevant material and then archive it in a useful way? I’ve written a lot about the curation process before and I won’t rehash it here. Instead, I want to explain a new strategy I’m using. Every time I tweet with the hashtag #Distraction or #DigitalElites, the service IFTTT automatically saves the tweet to a text file in my DropBox. For those unfamiliar with it, there’s an explanation of how IFTTT works here.

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This lets me share the item I’ve found, as well as briefly reflect on it. It also facilitates conversation at each stage of the project, adding to my engagement with the item I’ve shared. In doing so, I hope it will help avoid the ‘graveyard of links’ problem, where a vast archive of once useful material becomes intractable when it lacks context and hasn’t been filtered through prior engagement.

The Last Seminar by Stan Cohen must surely merit consideration as the strangest paper ever to appear in a Sociology journal. It tells the story of a gradual invasion of the university campus by those who are neither expected nor welcome: research participants. Encountering  strangely familiar figures in their everyday working lives, befuddled sociologists suddenly begin to recognise that those who have been the objects of past research have gradually returned to confront the researchers who sought to repress them upon completion of the research:

Then Bridges, who I thought had been deliberately avoiding me, walked up to the desk at the end of a class in which he had participated with his usual intense stare.

‘You don’t know anything about it, do you? It’s all a game to you.’I asked him what he meant.

‘Prison’, he said, ‘You think because you’ve spoken to a few cons you understand it all. Well, you don’t, you just don’t.’

He was slowly shaking his head. The tone was polite, but condescending. I’d heard that tone before.

The ensuing confrontation is neither welcome nor pleasant. Those whose existence had been reduced to representational objects begin to subject the researchers to emotional torment, with their mere presence throwing the campus into disarray:

Those of us who had done any empirical research were being infiltrated by our subjects. (‘Infiltrated’, is that the right word? I’m still not sure how to describe what was being done to us. Penetrated? Visited? Invaded?) I could not explain how this had happened but they were certainly here, taking revenge against us for writing about them.

The story ends with Cohen’s narrator desperately bundling up his most treasured books before fleeing the burning campus as gun fire echoes in the distance. It’s a very strange story. But it asks an important question: what would involuntary confrontation with participants in past research look like? What would it feel like? How would a prior knowledge of such future rencountering (re)shape our practice? Certainly these are not new questions. But it would be difficult to find a text which considers them quite as dramatically as Cohen’s.

This is something I’ve thought a lot about in the context of researching the asexual community. I first encountered the notion of asexuality through two new friends who identified as asexual. As I got curious about asexuality – partly because I didn’t ‘get it’ and partly because of its conspicuous absence within the sexualities literature I’d encountered at that point – I started to search online. I very quickly found asexual discussion forums, blogs and youtube videos. I found a website that an asexual PhD student (who eventually switched topics to research the history of asexual identity) had setup in order to help encourage and facilitate what was, at that point, a fairly insubstantial amount of academic research on asexuality. In short: an awful lot was happening online.

It soon became obvious that the internet had been integral to the emergence of an asexual identity and the formation of something which, for lack of a better term, we might call an asexual ‘community’. However the internet was also crucial to the formation of an extremely loose but nonetheless identifiable asexual research community – e-mail, mailing lists, blogs, discussion forums allowed   geographically dispersed individuals with common interests to communicate. This has eventually led to some face-to-face meetings: a seminar at the University of Warwick, a conference panel at the Sexualisation of Culture conference, the formation of an interest group of the National Women’s Studies Association and numerous conference sessions which have emerged from this.

There’s a risk of overstating the point but there is, nonetheless, a clear homology here and it’s a really interesting one. In a way it represents a reshaping of the field of research – the same trends are identifiable in the formation of groups of researchers as can be seen in groups of the researched. It might be the case that asexuality represents an outlier but, even if this is so, it’s helpful because it foregrounds a change which might be difficult to identify elsewhere if it is manifesting itself more gradually. The institutional and territorial gap between researchers and the groups they research – the concern of Cohen’s story – is being radically narrowed by the internet in general and social media in particular. There are some striking examples of this within asexuality studies, such as the formalisation of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network’s gatekeeping function and the Open Letter to Researchers written by the Asexuality Awareness Week committee, but I find it difficult to see how this could become anything other than a broader trend. Some elements of Cohen’s parable could seem anachronistic given the sensitivity and awareness which many social researchers, particularly insider researchers, exhibit in relation to this ‘gap’. My intention is simply to frame this recognised issue in terms of the many ways in which the technological innovations which are driving this process can be drawn upon to negotiate it proactively. By this I mean things like:

  • Single author or multi-author blogging
  • Tweeting about research
  • Setting up a tumblr blog about research
  • Podcasting (interviews, talks)
  • Facebook pages
  • Videocasting (interviews, talks, documentaries)
  • Live streaming events
  • Engaging with community blogs

These are possibilities which often come up in terms of ‘impact’ and ‘public engagement’. But I think these are often sterile concepts, redolent of top-down imperatives and an audit culture – it also risks subsuming the specific publics of the researched who have a stake in the content of that research under the general ‘public’ with whom we are ‘engaging’.

These are powerful tools which, increasingly, require little to no technical expertise to master. Martin Weller talks about these technologies as being ‘fast, cheap and out of control’:

Fast – technology that is easy to learn and quick to set up. The academic does not need to attend a training course to use it or submit a request to their central IT services to set it up. This means they can experiment quickly.

Cheap – tools that are usually free or at least have a freemium model so the individual can fund any extension themselves. This means that it is not necessary to gain authorisation to use them from a budget holder. It also means the user doesn’t need to be concerned about the size of audience or return on investment, which is liberating.

Out of control – these technologies are outside of formal institutional control structures, so they have a more personal element and are more flexible. They are also democratised tools, so the control of them is as much in the hands of students as it is that of the educator

In adopting fast, cheap and out of control tools we make the research process newly open and, in doing so, help ameliorate the methodological and ethical difficulties which can result from too wide a gap between researchers and the groups they are researching. Using these tools proactively helps ensure that changes in the broader field of research which are, by definition, unpredictable can be negotiated more actively than would otherwise be the case. Incorporating them into ongoing practice can also, somewhat paradoxically, lead to much greater impact than could ever be achieved by deliberately seeking ‘impact’ as a compartmentalised activity. The digital footprint which open research leaves manifests itself in a discoverability by activists, journalists, practitioners and policy makers which would be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate through other means. But this discoverability is also achallenge – ethically and methodologically – one which I think Stan Cohen would have found very interesting.

Thanks to Jacqueline Bartram who drew these great cartoons as I was talking at a Hull event last yearabout academic blogging. Why should academics blog about their research?

It provides a home for things you reluctantly cut from your publications:

4

It allows you to get early feedback on ideas and try them out for the first time in public:

3

It allows you to exchange early thoughts with others working on the issues that concern you:
2

It allows you to share your struggles with others who are going through the same thing:
1

From The New Prophets of Capital by Nicole Aschoff, loc 730-744:

At the same time, society’s greatest inventions and innovations of the past two hundred years— rockets to the moon, penicillin, computers, the internet— were not bestowed upon us by lone entrepreneurs and firms operating in free markets under conditions of healthy competition. They were the work of institutions: CERN and the Department of Defense created the internet, while Bell Labs— a subdivision of AT&T, freed from market competition by federally granted monopoly rights— generated transistors, radar, information theory, “quality control,” and dozens of other innovations central to our epoch. 25 Nearly every advance in science, technology, and mathematics emerged from people working together at universities supported by government funding. Creativity and innovation come from many places. Companies produce influential innovations, but so do other institutions that operate outside the confines of the profit motive, competitive markets, and the bottom line.

The idea that a part 2 to yesterday’s post would be less rushed seems rather naive in retrospect. Feeling rushed in the morning is different to feeling rushed in the evening but it is nonetheless feeling rushed. Much of my motivation for the Accelerated Academy project comes from a desire to understand this aspect of my daily experience in a sociological way. It’s not quite linking ‘personal troubles’ to ‘public issues’ however because I’m aware that I like speed. Much like the experience of rushing reflects something more than my own psychology, so too do the pleasures which can be taken in acceleration. Here are some suggestions about what they are:

  1. Time-pressure can be a symbol of status and flaunting it can represent one of the few socially acceptable forms of conspicuous self-aggrandisement available.
  2. Time-pressure can reduce the time available for reflexivity, ‘blotting out’ difficult questions in a way analogous to drink and drugs.
  3. Time-pressure can facilitate a unique kind of focus in the face of a multiplicity of distractions. If we accept that priorities are invested with normative significance (i.e. they matter to us in direct and indirect ways) then prioritisation can be pleasurable. This can take the form of people who rely on deadlines to ensure things get done. More prosaically, it can undercut procrastination by leaving one with finite temporal resources to utilise for non-negotiable obligations.
  4. Time-pressure can leave us feeling that we are living life most fully. If the good life is now seen as the full life then living fast feels like living fully.

I think this conveys the feeling I’m trying to conceptualise more effectively than I can using the abstract words which are the only tools too many years of higher education have equipped me with:

It’s a feeling that provokes ambivalence but does so in a way that can be thrilling. C Wright Mills once wrote that “My plans have always exceeded my capacities and energies”. This is a sentiment that resonates with me in the sense that it describes my own experience. But I think there’s more to it than that. There’s some latent moral force to this resonance, as if part of me thinks that a life of which this was not true would be in some sense a life wasted. I’m not sure if I believe this reflectively but something in me endorses it nonetheless. Part of me believes that a failure of one’s plans to exceed one’s energies would point to a failure of imagination, an inability to keep pace with the possibilities for creative activity afforded by digital capitalism.

I find myself fantasising about working on one thing at a time. If I play the game, mark myself out in the right way then I could win funding and immerse myself in one project. But I’m not sure I really want this. I may think that I do but all the evidence I have suggests that at the first sign of frustration or boredom, I would seek out new distractions to which I could commit myself, justifying this as structured procrastination – perhaps we are veering into individual psychopathology after all… more to the point though, even if I did this and committed myself to it, would it be possible any longer? The schemes I’d be applying to demand impact strategies which presumably have to be put into practice. There is monitoring and assessment, consultation with mentors and demonstration of progress. The Rortyean image of unstructured immersion in creative work reveals itself once more to be a fantasy, at least under present circumstances.

The further problem is that, as Ana Canhoto pointed out in a comment on part one, Rorty’s image of slow academia is still the one held by many non-academics. Friends, family, partners fail to understand the relentless pressure to do more, ascribing situational demands to individual pathology (and perhaps this leads to a tendency for all three groups to be composed heavily of other academics). The three most desirable jobs in Britain are author, librarian and academic. It would be interesting to know how much respondents to this Yougov survey know about the conditions of working life faced by authors, librarians and academics. Perhaps authors are free – if social media is my most practical escape hatch then being a writer is my most desirable one – in the way that only the truly precarious can be, with it becoming effectively infeasible to live full time as a (non-superstar) author, all the more so if one has dependants. Is it a desirable freedom?

In many ways, I’m probably as free as I’m going to get right now. The problem is that embracing that would mean stasis. It would mean wanting to hold things in their current place. It would mean foregoing the pleasures of acceleration. It would mean, crucially, investing myself in circumstances that are by their nature transitory. This is the dilemma of acceleration: any resting place we find, any point of respite from speed, by its very nature cannot be assumed to be anything other than temporary. The stable career trajectories, as well as their associated life narratives, which Richard Sennett announced the end of in the early 90s involved a different temporality: a slow and steady movement through life (and the firm). Could acceleration be something that we seized upon as an alternative? Defining ourselves through perpetual motion, identifying with going somewhere even when the ‘somewhere’ perpetually shifted?

In part 3, I’ll talk about social media and craft, given that this is what my talk was originally intended to be about.

On December 4th 2014 The University of Birmingham will be hosting the second Mobile Apps in Research Summit. We are excited to announce that delegate registration is now open.

This year’s Summit includes some discussion-based workshop sessions, by popular demand, as well as presentations, panels and networking.

Programme

Welcome

Panel: Supporting apps in research – what UK universities need to do

Workshop Sessions: delegates may attend either A or B

–               Session A: When is an app the right thing for your research?

–               Session B: Designing data gathering apps

Workshop Sessions: delegates may attend either C or D

–               Session C: Can research apps be commercialised?

–               Session D: Make an impact – evaluating your app in the real world

Panel: The Future of Mobile Apps: Ubiquitous apps, appcessories, and the Internet of Things

Closing session: shaping the Mobile Apps in Research Summit 2015

There will also be a networking lunch with the chance to meet developers who have experience in creating mobile apps based in academic research. There’s an increased focus on outputs this year, including responses and solutions from the workshops, partnerships for collaboration, and consultation on the future of the Summit for 2015.

For the full programme and to register visit our website www.appsinresearchsummit.com. Tickets cost £15 including lunch. Follow us on Twitter for updates @appsinresearch.

I’ve just come back from two days talking, thinking and occasionally getting frustrated by the question of the relationship between art and social research. This is something I’ve been curious about for ages. Here are some reasons why:

  • I think the communicative repertoire exhibited by most sociologists is profoundly limited and I think of performance, in the broadest sense of the term, as something which deserves serious consideration to this end.
  • Dialogues with artists about their practice (as well as about art more abstractly) can be incredibly helpful in recognising non-linear creativity and incorporating this recognition into ongoing practice.
  • An engagement between art and sociology can help drive innovation in methods, particularly in relation to the sensory and the possibilities which ubiquitous digital devices afford for mobile social research.

These dialogues might involve an exploration and renegotiation of the boundary between sociology and art. However I find the possibility that some might deliberately or otherwise collapse the boundary rather worrying. Social research ≠ art. Artefacts of art practice ≠ data. Exploratory liminality ≠ research questions. Conflating these things precludes the creative exploration of the differences and commonalities between them. It does a disservice to both sociology and art. My concern is that what Andrew Abbott describes as sociology’s difficulty with excluding things – its lack of any intellectually effective means of expelling topics which have come to occupy sociological attention – might, in time, lead to a slide from considering the relationship between art and sociology to an enthusiastic attempt to conflate the two.

  • My getting started with social media bundle has pretty much every training resource I’ve ever produced in it.
  • Some collections of other people’s stuff about Twitter, blogging and podcasting.
  • All my Prezis from social media workshops.
  • The LSE Impact Blog’s Twitter list and Twitter guide. Go through the former list, follow anyone who seems interesting and Twitter will subsequently make a lot of sense.
  • For some more theoretical and exploratory perspectives on the role of social media within the academy, see my academia 2.0 bundle.
  • Lots of papers and articles about scholarly publishing and open access, which I’d argue is the context within which academic social media use needs to be understood.

Much of my thesis centers around the notion of internal conversation. Leaving aside broader theoretical issues (what it is, how it works and why it’s important etc) it also poses an obvious epistemic question: if you’re using interviews then how can you claim to gain knowledge of people’s internal conversations? I’ve never thought this was much of an issue but I have always recognised it as a legitimate question to be asked of any empirical research that operationalizes the concept.

However I find myself, currently knee deep in transcription while also writing my methodology chapter, wondering whether it’s actually a pseudo-problem. In my interviews my participants constantly report, unprompted, on their internal conversations. I’m not comfortable posting data on my blog but here are some examples of the kinds of constructions (i.e. as opposed to the actual internal conversations subjects refer to) I’m talking about:

  • So I’m like “why should I do this if that’s how she’s going to be with me?”
  • I’d do it for a few years, then I’d be “right, I know how this works, I can move onto something else now”
  • And I was like “ah, i see what’s really going on here”

There is obviously much more to the internal conversations of the people than these examples suggest. However I think it’s important to recognise that when you talk at length to person a about topic b, they will frequently report on internal conversation c when it is relevant, exists and they feel comfortable recounting it. This seems quite naturally really: if you are recounting past events to a present interlocutor, it would produce strange truncated accounts if inner speech was categorically expunged from the description as a whole.

Does this ring true of other people’s experience conducting semi-structured interviews? I’m a bit shocked this point hadn’t occurred to me previously and now I’m wondering how far to pursue the line of argument.

I’m also cautious that there’s a risk of reducing actual interview conversations to their empirical recounting in the interview situation. Furthermore, the participants who seem to do what I’ve described above the most are also the most communicative more broadly. For instance they’re the ones who will tend to describe social interactions through recounting both sides of a dialogue (e.g. I was like “X”, then she was like “Y”, then he butted in and was “Z’) which is perhaps why I hadn’t picked up on this earlier. Do those who practice other forms of reflexivity naturally recount internal conversations in external speech? Do they do it more/less? Do they do it differently?

Sometimes I worry that Twitter is an echo chamber, reflecting my own prejudices back at me and shielding me from contrasting views. On other occasions though, I find this same characteristic immensely comforting. Such as when reading that the government has officially embraced the recommendations of the Finch report and finding that other PhD students and early career researchers were just as dismayed by this news as I was. Leaving aside the broader issues pertaining to gold open access, which in practice simply redistributes costs within a broken system without challenging the underlying commercial premise, there’s one particular question posed by this chain of events which is the cause of my current dread about the future of academic publishing: what about the authors who can’t pay?

I fear that academic publishing could come to resemble the perilous landscape that PhDs and ECRs are only too familiar with at present. The competition for post doctoral funding is ever increasing, leading to continual inflation of the things you need on your CV to stand a chance, yet without funding it’s very difficult to actually achieve these prerequisites. Or in other words: the best way to get post doctoral funding is to already have it. Could we see something similar happening with publications? If authors are dependent on their institutions and/or funding bodies to pay the substantial fees required under gold open access then those who already have a job and funding will find it easier to publish and thereby increase their chances of getting another job and more funding. Much as the post doctoral funding climate creates virtuous cycles, so too will the publishing climate, as a whole swathe of early career academics will find themselves untroubled by article processing charges. From their perspective, open access of this form will be great: it doesn’t pose problems and it means their research is freely available. On the other hand, what of those who find themselves excluded? If your funding is patchy or non-existent how can you compete? Is it even going to be possible to be an independent researcher in any meaningful sense?

In a climate where freelance, part-time and fixed term contracts are increasingly the norm within academia, the extent to which the government’s announcement is retrograde cannot be overstated. Such a radical increase in the dependence of researchers upon their institution has profound consequences for those who do ‘make it’, leaving aside the many who seem likely to be wholly or partially swept aside for the reasons discussed above. With funding bodies increasingly focused around narrow priority areas, often tied to short term political whims to a truly abominable degree, themselves falling into homology with priority areas within universities, naturally aiming to increase their success in winning funding from these bodies, what becomes of research that falls into a non-priority area? What becomes of independent research full stop? Will their be funding available to cover author fees? Will their be conditions attached to it? How will the inevitable rationing work? Even assuming the best will and highest managerial accumen in the world, these yet unanswered questions paint a picture of the future university which I find far from appealing. What of the willingness to dissent and speak up at a time when economic instability looks set to continue indefinitely? With academics even more reliant on universities, as one of the two potential sources of author fees, will they be willing to resist? Or will the disciplining of academic labour, already entrenched in multifaceted ways with many personal consequences, simply continue?

The recent Researchers of Tomorrow study highlights an interesting trend relating to current doctoral students using digital technology as part of their research. Though I haven’t read the full report yet – yes, I do recognise the irony in this given some of the other findings – I wanted to get some thoughts down while they’re fresh my mind. I’m fascinated by the disjuncture between the use made of digital technology by my generation of researchers in their private lives (“in 2009 the majority of Generation Y doctoral students self-identified as being in the category of ‘elite technology users’ in their personal lives”) and  a seeming reticence about using such technology in their public lives as researchers. This isn’t a new finding (though it’s an important empirical contribution to our understanding) and, though it may seem counter-intuitive if you are yourself of this generation and connected with many others online, it’s worth considering the role that confirmation bias might play in creating this impression i.e. it’s easier to notice all the people you know who use these tools as part of their research than the far greater numbers who don’t. This disjuncture demands explanation. If Generation Y researchers are en masse tech savvy and tech positive then how might we explain some of the findings in this report?

  • Take-up of most institutionally-provided and open web technology tools and applications is low among doctoral students overall
  • Generation Y doctoral students are more likely than older doctoral students to use technology to assist them in their research
  • Generation Y doctoral students tend to use technology applications and social media in their research if they augment, and can be easily absorbed into, existing work practices
  • Levels of use of social media and other applications helpful in retrieving and managing research information are steadily rising among Generation Y doctoral students, but those applications most useful for collaboration and scholarly communications remain among the least used
  • Fellow students and peers are the major influence on whether or not Generation Y doctoral students decide to use a technology application and are their main source of hands-on help

I’m particularly interested in the third and the sixth point. The ubiquity of digital tools in personal lives easily gives rise to a pragmatism about their incorporation into working life – their appeal, or lack thereof, will stem from how apparent it is that they can be incorporated into existing practice and either enhance or transform that practice. In essence, the key question is: “what’s in it for me?”. In a world of tablet computers and smart phones – not to mention funding shortfalls, pressures to publish or perish and anxieties about exactly what comes after the PhD – immediate practical utility is central. As the Jisc research shows, vastly more respondents use citation or reference management tools. Although the relative longevity of these tools vis-a-vis others on the list likely plays a part, it’s also the case that this is undoubtedly down to the ease with which the utility of such tools can be immediately apprehended. Due to the opportunity costs (i.e. if I do x I can’t do y) involved in taking what training opportunities are provided, where they are provided (which is another issue), appealing to PhD students necessitates framing the session around clearly definable practical goals i.e. “how to blog about your research” or “how to produce an academic podcast” rather than “technical training for Platform X”. The other aspect which explains the popularity of reference management tools relates to point 6 i.e. there are network effects (which cross different groups within the university) that will condition an environment which is conducive to using the technology in question.

It’s an improvement when research technology is a concern of the library rather than the IT services department but there are still fundamental inadequacies with centralised provision of digital services and training within universities. Firstly, a distance from academic departments unavoidably translates into a distance from the day-to-day practices of people within those departments. Secondly, a distance from academic departments unavoidably translates into a distance from the professional networks within those departments. These are not insurmountable obstacles: it’s possible to frame training in terms of practice reasonably effectively by talking about what researchers in general within professional group X do. Likewise it’s possible to proactively offer assistance to people who are taking up these technologies, putting them to novel uses and support their practice in a way which leads, organically, to the innovation spreading. But nonetheless it seems blindingly obvious to me, as unfashionable as it is to say it in our interdisciplinary era, that the academic department is the natural unit for research technology. This is not to claim that the infrastructure should be organised at that level (the suggestion is patently absurd) or that people doing this work inside departments should be insulated from similar concerns elsewhere in the institution. It just seems increasingly obvious to me that if it’s a strategic priority to encourage adoption of digital tools by researchers, practical initiatives are going to struggle to succeed – for precisely the reasons I’ve discussed – unless resources are allocated to support developmental activity on the part of those already using such tools and embedded in existing networks within academic departments.

One of the most exciting things about the internet from a sociological perspective is the impact it has on the formation of communities – groups who might otherwise be too geographically dispersed are able to come together, often elaborating some degree of collective identity from the dialogues which ensue as they gather in this ‘virtual’ space. Furthermore the same process which enables the community to form also enables it to be studied. Online communities represent potent sites in which digital research methods can be used to study groups who, again, might previously have been too geographically dispersed to be studied and/or would not even be recognisable as a group prior to their coming together online. From the perspective of someone who has done this sort of study (in my case on the asexual community) it really can be quite exciting. However I’m increasingly aware of the risks inherent in such approaches which, as digital research methods solidifies as a distinct specialism, look set to grow.

  1. The actors you find in online communities are, well, actors. The specificity of their personhood is not reducible to their participation in the community. The community might be hugely significant to them or, conversely, it might not be significant at all – more likely any given individual will occupy some point on this spectrum. Exactly what point this is remains, unavoidably, an empirical question. It is a mistake to infer past motivations and history on the basis of present participation in an online community. 
  2. Similarly participation of individuals in an online community is not reducible to their activity as actors. Someone might read a forum daily, never posting, yet define the contours of their identity in terms of what they read. Thanks to Jon Hickman for pointing this out to me: lurkers are participating too! It is a mistake to reduce participation in an online community to observable ongoing activity. 
  3. Online communities regularly have ‘offline’ out growths and the two spheres, which can seem distinct from the perspective of the researcher, might in reality interpenetrate in complex and messy ways. Granted it might be difficult to study the offline aspects of the community but be creative! It is a mistake to reduce online communities to the collective activity which takes place online. 
  4. The fact that online communities allow geographically dispersed individuals to congregate around a given shared characteristics often leads to the formulation of some apparently shared identity. Furthermore, given the nature of the online vehicles which host such communities, this shared identity often pervades the ‘online space’ itself. However just because people participate in a community doesn’t mean they partake in a shared identity. This seems an obvious point but, I fear, it is easy to ignore because it is often this apparently shared identity which motivates the research into a given group online. It is a mistake to infer a collective identity on the basis of prima facie empirical evidence: this is often an artifact of the research design and/or the process which allowed the community to form. 

I asked this question on Twitter a couple of days ago in preparation for a Blogging for Researchers workshop I’m running at the University of Warwick. I’ve included some of the answers I received below. I’ve also collated a collection of resources here. Part of the reason I asked this question was because I wanted to avoid inadvertently prioritising my own particular style of research blogging and increase my awareness of how other researchers use blogging. However I found it striking how similar the experience of others is to my own here, namely the role a blog can play as an ‘ideas garden’ helping to articulate and develop your thinking in a much more immediate way than other public forums allow.

William McGovern @will1mcgovern
its all about the networking and showing the willingness to be open to approaches whilst expressing an interest#intentional

Dr Karen McAulay @Karenmca
If blog read widely enough, get helpful comments in response. That apart, is useful marker to record progress.

Ian Milligan @ianmilligan1
Very welcome! Also, you can tell right away if a post worked or not, gives you good active/passive feedback to improve.

Terese @missing_words
blogging about a particular topic helps iron out my thoughts, which means i can articulate my ideas on topic better after

Elaine Aldred @EMAldred
I know what I say is going to be seen. Makes me think about how I use words. Making mental connections.

Dr Sarah Quinnell @sarahthesheepu
discipline for regular writing, public engagement I.e communicating beyond economy, thought forming, informal peer review

Eric Ritskes @eritskes
I find it helps break down my ideas/research into smaller, more accessible pieces & language for wider community engagement.

Christina Haralanova @ludost11
I like to use it as a journal — small findings, small peaces, to keep me updated on where I was, and where I am heading to.

Ian Milligan @ianmilligan1
Blogging distills my ideas down, leads me to accessible language- and my posts now grow into conference papers. V. positive!

Rachel R. Engler @rachelrengler
recently wrote up a magazine article/Writing style is VERY diff from academic wrk.Great lesson. Blogging could help w style.

Part 2 of this post. I had to stop writing because the battery on my phone was dying. Though the fact that I can write part 1 of the post (on my phone in a coffee shop in Manchester while waiting for a train) and write part 2 of the post (from a desktop computer in Coventry later that evening) and this constitutes my preparation for a talk the following day is a practical example of what I’m driving at with the continuous publishing notion.


  • At the level of the individual, continuous publishing doesn’t in principle represent any additional workload. One of the most frequent questions I’ve encountered when running social media workshop is “how do you find the time?”. Increasingly all my research related blogging and tweeting is part of the research process itself, rather than something external to it. I use blog posts in particular as a notebook within which to record and develop thoughts. I have a large collection of notebooks from the first half of my PhD filled with often illegible notes and an iPad filled with mindmaps. The only difference with how I now use my blog is that the entries are indexed, easier to read and available to the wider world.
  • Two important consequences flow from this. Firstly I take more care about articulating ideas because others can read them and, furthermore, it’s easier to do this because my typing keeps up with my thoughts whereas my handwriting often doesn’t (at least not if I’m trying to ensure their legibility later). Secondly categorising and tagging my posts inculcates reflexivity about the research process. It helps elaborate a sense of research agendas, as well their different sub strands, which is useful in a purely intellectual sense, as well as being helpful for forming practical publishing projects that can flow from them. It also inculcates reflexivity about your work flow: prior to consciously embracing continuous publishing, my experience of research involved a cycle between an (overly) chaotic process of putting together raw materials & threading them together and an (overly) structured process of fitting these into the formal requirements of journals, publishers, the PhD etc. Now it feels much more unified. I understand the different things I do more, the conditions amenable to them and how this all fits into a coherent sector of my life ‘research’ as distinct from other sectors. It helps put research in a box, though not in a way that feels restrictive. It also helps you work from anywhere and fit the fragments together in a unified way at a time that’s convenient for you.
  • I think there’s a general and often quite vague fear about sharing on the internet which I”ve encountered a lot when running workshops. I don’t share it. Perhaps I’m being hopelessly naive but, in my mind, if you share your work in some venues, why not share it in others? I don’t think the internet is filled with nefarious academic predators waiting to steal your ideas as soon as you let your guard down. I do however think it’s filled with an enormous range of academics, far more diverse than any network you can encounter in face-to-face settings, who are just as eager to find direct and indirect interlocutors as I assume you are. Even if there are risks I think they’re manifestly outweighed by the benefits which accrue from open research. I passionately believe sharing can and should be a default option. It’s an impulse implicit in the act of publishing and, in so far as we are hesitant about it, I’d suggest that’s a consequence of social structures relating to academic careers, auditing and scholarly publishing perverting the practice of intellectual craftsmanship: making cultural products and sharing them.
  • In technical terms I think all you need to do continuous publishing is a blog and a twitter account. Link the two together and you posses an incredibly potent publishing platform which is free and entirely within your own control. Use twitter to follow people whose work you find interesting and who, perhaps, will find your work interesting. Once you post twitter updates for your new blog posts and discuss them with others, an audience will quickly begin to develop.
  • In doing so I think you maximise your online footprint and impact flows quite naturally from this. People know what work you’re doing, will often refer others to you, it helps publicise your books & papers and you become known for working in your area. It also helps bridge the gap with the world outside the academy. The greater your social media footprint, the easier it is for journalists (and anyone else for that matter) to find your work and to make contact with you. In turn the greater your social media footprint is, the easier it is for those who encounter the ensuing media coverage to find you online by searching for your name and/or your research topic. It’s an incredibly potent form of disintermediation which, I suspect, has yet to really effect the academy in the work it is likely to with time.

In this video the Beardyman, UK beat boxer renowned for his use of live looping, collaborates with the visual artist mr_hopkinson to visually describe the practice. As someone who is fascinated by this kind of music but had never understood how it works, I was incredibly impressed by the articulacy of the visual message. The video communicates embodied practical knowledge through a metaphor which communicates the essence of the practice: using the technology at a given moment to assemble and coral an army of performance fragments (fragmented performers?) which can be arranged into a performance over time which is much more than the sum of its parts. While I’m obviously not suggesting that social theorists try and take up beatboxing (the image makes me shudder) I do think there’s a prodigious creativity in this video’s use of visual description which can, in an indirect way, be learned from.

Although vivid metaphorical language can be found in some areas of social theory, it is far from consistent and, in my experience, there’s little reflective dialogue about how such communicative techniques can and should be used effectively. Too often visual metaphors in social theory simply don’t work. Likewise, when they do the lack of deliberate reflection about the pedagogical dimensions to their use often means that their success in illuminating ideas to people already inhabiting that conceptual landscape goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of further barriers to people outside that approaching coming ot understand the ideas within it. Which I write having finally got my head around Deleuze after years of being scornful. Given the increasingly imperilled place of theory in the academy, there’s an important conversation to be had about rhetorical and pedagogical innovation.