Sunday, April 6, 2003

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When worlds collide

For the past two days, I’ve been hobnobbing with other political scientists at the Midwestern Political Science Association’s annual meeting, which is always held in the gorgeous Palmer House in downtown Chicago. It hadn’t occurred to me until I showed up yesterday that this was the first big conference I attended since starting the blog last year. As it turns out, a fair number of them read it. Quite a few of my colleagues mentioned it to me in cocktail chatter.

My initial reaction was – surprisingly – discomfort. Part of this is the “worlds colliding” phenomenon of having my professional “scholar” persona overlap with my public “blogger” persona. This was the first time I had to reconcile those two parts of my life.

Another source of my discomfort was the “outing” of my political views, which are to the right of most of my colleagues (though not that far to the right – contrary to Blogosphere perceptions, most of my fellow political scientists do not yearn for a Marxist revival). It’s not that I keep my beliefs a secret – it’s just that, funny as it may sound, ideology rarely comes up in professional conversations with other political scientists.

The biggest part of it, however, was the fear that my colleagues would disapprove of the blog as a bastardization of our profession – and, by extension, a bad reflection on the scholarly side of my cv. As previously noted, some of my blog posts contain half-baked ideas – I certainly hope the same does not hold for my scholarly work.

There’s something else, though. Much of this blog consists of my application and translation of arguments made in the political science literature to real-world debates. Inevitably, these translations smooth over the caveats, complexities, and counterarguments that are inherent in any scholarly thesis. [Why not include all of those things in your posts?—ed. No self-respecting editor would ever ask that question. If I did that, each blog post would be 5,000 words long, no one would read it, and I wouldn’t have time to work on anything else.] Most lay readers cannot detect this smoothing process, but my colleagues can, and I fear their wrath.

Upon reflection, however, my discomfort is starting to wane, for three reasons. First, I respect everyone who complimented me on my blog; I must be doing something right [Who don't you respect in the profession?--ed. Insert sound of crickets chirping here]. Second, the people who raised the topic were all my generation or younger, which suggests that the Blogosphere has yet to permeate the tenured faculty. Since it’s these people who will determine whether I merit getting tenure myself, I still have some time to adjust. Third, one graduate student told me that blogs are increasingly popular among doctoral students, both as a diversion and as a research tool. It will be a pleasant surprise if it turns out that the blog not only serves as an outlet for the public intellectual in me, but also contributes in some small way to furthering scholarly debate.

posted by Dan on 04.06.03 at 12:23 AM