Last week, my friend Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery began the web-based equivalent of a roundtable discussion on archaeological blogging in advance of her session on this topic at the upcoming SAA meetings. From my perspective, the response to her call for commentary was fantastic, and is well-summarised both by her and others (e.g., Brenna at Passim in Passing).
Her question for this week goes as follows:
…Blogging gives new scholars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 foolishness and to give a little bit back to the public that usually signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is generally embraced…public outreach can be incredibly difficult, tricky, and prone to hidden downsides. Blogging archaeology is often fraught with tensions that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging? What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?
There have already been a lot of meaningful responses to these questions by other bloggers (see Dirt, Where in the hell am I, Passim in Passing, Adventures in Archaeology, etc.), and I follow various excellent blogs where the implications of blogging (including the potential for commentators to propagate unfounded and deprecative arguments) have become very obvious (e.g., see here).
In the interests of brevity, I won’t add to these comments beyond saying that I think we have a responsibility to remember that blogging is simply one form of media, and whilst people (especially academics) like to pick on it as an especially dangerous and uncontrollable communicative device, I think this is misconstrued and blinding. Blogs and social media have advantages and disadvantages—like every other type of communicative tool. By focusing on them alone (as is common in academia), I’m concerned that we are all-too-conveniently avoiding discussion of the limitations and, indeed, prejudices of other modes of publication (e.g., the academic journal or text or edited volume). These modes are often exclusive, insular, and inaccessible (both physically, linguistically and intellectually). They offer limited opportunities to respond. They can become canonised and cemented as truth and, in so doing, serve to perpetuate the status quo.
What is critical, as I see it, is that ALL media are risky and unpredictable; ALL media need critical dissection and constant questioning as to their validity and impact; ALL media require that we hide some details and share others, and that we otherwise make potentially restrictive decisions about what information to make public and what to keep to ourselves.
Our concern for the limitations (& affordances) of blogging should not, I hope, eclipse attention to the problems (& possibilities) of other types of archaeological communication.