Monday, April 8, 2013

Blogging & the ISA Experience: Is This Professional? Personal? Somewhere In Between?

As my Facebook friends know, I have just returned from the annual International Studies Association conference. Following in the footsteps of my friend & colleague Steve Saideman (and when, really, have I ever not followed in Steve's footsteps?), some thoughts and reflections from the experience about the profession, blogging, and what I do (or think I do):

- After a two-year hiatus, I seem to still fit in OK. I'm not the only person in my circle/generation who is moving into administration, though I may have been a bit more aggressive about it than some. It was nice to be in an environment where we're all the same tribe, regardless of what our day jobs are.

- The level of work in the field continues to impress me, but no longer frightens me. I will never be a great or incredibly prolific scholar, but (when I can find the time) I can play as a journeyman in the big leagues. And given the people I get to have conversations with, that's pretty cool.

- My poker skills, which were never that great, at least haven't deteriorated over the last few years. It helps to play with people who have had far more to drink than I have (and it helps to get the lucky last card draw, as Steve will point out).

- Blogging has definitely Become A Thing. This is where it really did get intimidating, because a lot of really smart people in the discipline are writing really great blogs. The first annual IR Blogging Reception was far more crowded than I think people thought it would be. Watching Dan Drezner, who was smart enough to use zombies to explain international relations theory, cleverly skewer the idea of his own work was reason enough - there's a reason why he's as widely read as he is. This led me to wonder: if blogging has become a thing (and if we now give awards for it, even though the awards are little rubber ducks mounted on wood), will it too fall victim to the status obsession that sometimes haunts our profession? We have A-list, B-list, and C-list journals; will we now have A-, B-, and C-list blogs? Will young scholars and grad students sweat and claw and scratch to get onto Duck of Minerva, the way they now fret about getting publications in International Studies Quarterly?

- Watching the discipline embrace blogging was fun, but also pushed me to reflect on why I do it. I can't claim the same mantle of narcissism that my friend Steve does; yes, I like to be in visible places and positions, but a career in administration isn't driven as much by visibility in the discipline. On the other hand, the easy availability of blog analytics tempts me in that direction. I tend to get anywhere between 20 and 40 readers for a given blog post - most of them, likely, Facebook friends. Steve is read by hundreds (if not more), Drezner by thousands. Should I care? If I did, I would probably write about different stuff - I'd need to develop a focus, a niche that caters to a particular crowd (like ISA academics). But what I write tends to be eclectic - a little IR, a little politics, some stuff about higher education administration, the occasional bit about theology or religion or martial arts. It doesn't speak to any one crowd. Which, I realized thinking on the plane on the way back, is fine. As I've mentioned before, I primarily write this thing for me. I read Peter Drucker's Managing Oneself on the plane - Drucker talks about understanding how you learn. I learn by writing, so blogging is a great learning tool. I usually don't understand what I think until I've had a chance to write about it.

- I have some really great friends, including one willing to promote my blog to a room full of really smart people. He blogs some pretty good stuff, too - I sometimes suspect, for the same reasons I do.

- Lastly, I haven't been blogging as much as I would like lately. It's easy to understand why - since mid-February I have effectively been doing the work of two positions at my university, so my schedule is more crowded than it used to be. But I'll keep looking for the cracks in that schedule and finding time to ramble here - and if a few other people find it useful or entertaining, great!

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