Unbloggable Thursday, Dec 21 2006 

I am aware that I haven’t been blogging as regularly as I intended, and the simple fact is that it’s because I don’t feel I can at the moment. I’ve also been incredibly busy trying to wrap things up (and no, not just presents) before TLU closes down for a week.

In recent weeks, my work situation has included:

  • Death (of a colleague)
  • Political intrigue (over teaching duties for next year)
  • A selection process for a high-level position, in which we can see the likely outcome and can do nothing to avert it
  • An ongoing stream of questions, ranging from the important to the trivial, from students (former, current, incoming, and potential)
  • Insufficient time spent with my family and insufficient planning for the upcoming holidays
  • Other forms of administedium that has kept me from getting on with my core work

Those first three are the ones that I feel uncomfortable blogging about. Maybe I’ll get to them later, if I can find an appropriate way to discuss the issues. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to feel guilty about neglecting to blog and will also wish that I could say more.

I win Monday, Dec 18 2006 

And so do you.

Identity and community Sunday, Nov 26 2006 

Oso Raro’s essay at Slaves of Academe develops an interesting perspective on the nature and functions of academic blogging, and it has brought me back to thinking about why I wantyed to start a blog in the first place and what this blog will do for me.

When I began to think about creating a blog, the decisions about the blog’s identity and my own identity had to be made together. The way I looked at it, I could blog under my own name and limit the blog’s content to the same things I’d be happy talking about in a lecture room. I would not discuss my family, problems with co-workers, religion, etc. I think I would have even felt a bit awkward about discussing things like TV shows and hobbies. In short, I think if I was blogging under my own name then my blog’s content and identity would be oriented purely around my professional identity.

On the other hand, adopting a pseudonym – or perhaps, having an anonymous blog (since I realise I haven’t adopted a decent pseudonym yet) allows me to write about things that I would never discuss in any other public forum. Part of this is about avoiding real risks that I can see – the reality is that my workplace has been a difficult one to navigate in recent years, and I could not openly speak about those issues as myself without putting my livelihood in danger. But there is also a level of comfort associated with the anonymity of this form of blogging that does not relate to direct consequences. Even if it did not risk direct consequences for my job or any other aspect of my life, I would still be less comfortable writing openly about many issues if I knew that I was identifiable.

I suspect part of my reason for feeling this way is the same social anxiety that affects my ordinary life. I don’t like to be the focus of attention. When I participate in a discussion, to some extent I always worry about how others are evaluating me based on what I say or don’t say. When I write on a blog, without my personal identity available to the reader, you can only evaluate the content and I feel safer.

Of course, given that I work in a career path where megalomania and self-promotion can be useful tools for success, I am aware that I need to overcome these issues in my everyday life. But I still think blogging, and in particular adopting a “blog identity”, is (and will continute to be) a useful way to develop and share ideas that could not be replaced by other types of communication.

Where are the boundaries? Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

In setting up this blog, one of the issues I have been grappling with is what I can comfortably talk about and what I can’t. For various reasons (some of them stemming from things I mentioned in the previous entry), I want to keep distance between this blog and my professional life. I want to be able to talk about issues here that I would have to navigate much more carefully in the real life.

This is not exactly a unique situation among academic bloggers – most of the blogs I read are pseudonymous, with the blogger using nicknames to identify colleagues, relatives, friends, institutions and locations. However, most of these blogs also tend to be American. Now my understanding of the United States is that it has an abundance of people and cities, and there are more than a few providers of higher education. In these circumstances, a blogger can indicate their geographical region, type of educational institution, discipline area, while remaining one of hundreds of people within all of those specific conditions.

On the other hand, my situation is a little different. Australia has around 40 universities. Given some basic information about the geographical and social conditions a person lives in, the set of universities they might work at could generally be reduced to no more than five. For instance, there are only a few cities with more than a million people (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide), each with a different physical climate and each with only a few universities. The smaller cities with universities (Canberra, Newcastle, Hobart, etc.) are spread around the country, each with their own unique geographical circumstances. Then there are the regional universities, of which there tend to be only a few in each state, and which are again likely to differ in terms of geography and climate.

So, the minute I provide information about the type of university I work at, my specialisation, talk about the weather a few times, and mention any trips I take and give details of how (and how long) I had to travel to get there, I’ll be fairly easily identifiable to anyone who happens to care. Now I could rely on the possible that few people will, but I’d prefer to feel comfortable that I can speak freely here without risk of it coming back to bite me. So, I plan to take some precautions regarding who I am and where I come from:

  • I don’t intend to indicate my area of specialisation and will (hopefully) not directly reveal my discipline of origin. I certainly will not be talking about topics in my area of research and professional interest on this blog.
  • I will give a general indication of my geographical location, but in a way that shouldn’t be sufficient to identify the specific institution I work for.
  • Pseudonyms will abound.

I’ll start giving some autobiographical details in entries to come.

Why the blog? Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

  • Because I want to have a place to talk about whatever’s happening in and around my life – work, family, recreation, news, etc.
  • Because it allows me to make disclosures, seek advice, put my opinions out into the public domain, while keeping boundaries (of my choosing) around my personal and professional space.
  • Because it gives me an identity that I can use to participate in online discussions and communities – an “online me” that overlaps with but can be distinct from “real world me”.
  • Because all the cool kids are, apparently, doing it.
  • Because I feel like it.