Thoughts on Publicizing Work-in-Progess

Before addressing some of our readings for this week, I just wanted to include a few thoughts about the digital elevator pitch. It seems apropos that we are doing these pitches (and making them more or less public as we choose) during the week we discuss sharing work at an undeveloped stage. In discussing the parameters of our pitches last week, the issue of presenting our nascent ideas in a coherent way came up. I think this points to one of the major worries that arises with sharing undeveloped, perhaps even slightly incoherent, ideas publicly: how will our ideas—and thereby ourselves—if exposed in all  their messiness, be assessed and judged by others? I also found it interesting that many of us (including myself) had some anxiety about using a digital medium to present the pitch. To the question of how comfortable we are, or should be, with presenting our work in incomplete states, we might want to add the question of the pros/cons of presenting our work (at whatever stage of development) in formats we are not entirely comfortable with.

Now, on to this week’s readings. Rather than a single motivation, I offer some disconnected (though hopefully thought-provoking) comments about each piece:

Thoughts on Fitzpatrick & conference tweeting/blogging:

Our guiding questions for this week all focus on making the choice to take your work public, which you obviously do whenever you present a paper at a conference; however, it seems to me that the issue of conference tweeting/blogging is more about how other people might be taking your work public, or at least mediating that work to the public. Fitzpatrick writes, “While I have a hard time imagining giving a talk that I didn’t wish more people could hear, I know there are other scholars who are less comfortable with the broadcast of in-process material.” For me conference tweeting/blogging is not just a matter of how comfortable I might be with broadcasting in-process work, but how comfortable I am with someone else broadcasting (and perhaps misrepresenting) my in-process work. I get Fitzpatrick’s point that we should want as wide an audience as possible for our work. But is there not a big difference in presenting your own work to an audience, then responding directly to inconsistencies they may see in it via question/answer versus having someone else represent your work via tweet/blog and then you respond to that representation after the fact? Or does this even matter, meaning is there a way to see the latter as being just as productive for our process?

Thoughts on Coates & blogging:

The reason that I don’t read blogs, have a Facebook page, tweet or receive tweets is because the returns don’t seem to be worth the time these activities consume. We are all incredibly busy as students and thus have to be smart about what we put our time into. In his post on Hobbes’s Leviathan entitled “Western Thought for Dun Linguists and Schoolmen Reformed,” Coates gets stuck on a passage and writes “This totally lost me and its my hope that some of you will be able to help decipher.” Plenty of people respond with extensive comments doing just that, which results in a lot of material to wade through. I am part of an informal student reading/working group in my field of study and this is the kind of thing we do when we engage with scholarship—but we do it together for the hour or so that our meeting convenes, have rousing discussions about the text, respond directly to each other’s comments and questions that come up in the moment, grapple with it for the hour and that’s that—we move on because none of us have a ton of time to take away from our own writing, research, teaching, etc. Perhaps I’m just a slow reader, but it takes me a huge amount of time to wade through the extensive comments that Coates received in response to his query, not to mention the time that would be spent engaging with these comments in order to have some kind of back-and-forth discussion. I get why one might use a virtual forum if he/she didn’t have a “live” setting in which to have these kind of discussions, it just seems so inefficient to me. Perhaps the difference is that Coates holds a position as a senior editor at The Atlantic, whereas I am a grad student being pulled in a bunch of different directions as I try to produce publishable work, pursue research for larger projects, pass program examinations, do departmental committee work, fulfill teaching obligations, etc. I have the advantage of being part of an academic community where I can engage directly in the kinds of discussions one might otherwise have in a virtual space, so I’m just not convinced that blogging is the best use of my time. I’m wondering if any of you might be able to convince me otherwise?

[Side note:] In my student group we also share our work with each other—often in very early stages—and provide each other with direct feedback, which I have found to be an indispensable part of my process. We build trust with each other and gain familiarity with each other’s work which is part of why I find my group members are able to give me such helpful feedback. When the group workshops a piece of my writing, I don’t come away with just a bunch of disparate comments to take into consideration, as one might get with a blog—yes, each person gives individual comments but then we address, build upon, and work through those comments together. I could blog my work and get commentary that way, but I’m not convinced that this forum (though wider—that is, if anyone actually read this hypothetical blog of mine) would be as helpful. Anyone have any actual experience with blogging work and getting virtual feedback? I have been in classes where we had to blog regularly throughout the semester and one of those posts included sharing our idea for the final research paper and providing each other with feedback. I found this virtual feedback to very helpful, but by that point we had also had a semester of face-to-face discussion time in class together to build familiarity with each other’s interests and approaches, and to recognize connections/overlaps between our interests and approaches. I think there would be something inherently different about going to the public at large with nascent work because, for me, familiarity is key—but is this the case? Is there a way that unfamiliarity might allow for more objective commentary? (And of course, I realize it is possible to build familiarity over time in a virtual community of bloggers and commenters, but I don’t see it happening readily, especially for someone like myself who would be entirely new to the public blogging scene.)

Thoughts on DeLong:

So this motivation has become a very long one (that perhaps does more to expose my personal anxieties than anything else) but I just wanted to point to a few of the things in the DeLong article that make me (even more) nervous:

1.) “Web logging is an excellent procrastination tool. Don’t feel like grading? Don’t feel like writing that ad hoc committee report or completing the revisions demanded by clueless referee X? Write on your Web log and get the warm glow of having accomplished something.” Yes, it is an excellent procrastination tool and no, I don’t have the luxury of pretending like I’m accomplishing something when I’m procrastinating, even if it’s in an intellectually fulfilling way. Maybe if I was a tenured professor at Berkeley I could…

2.) “Plus — and this is the biggest plus — it is a play in the intellectual influence game.” Perhaps everything we do as part of publicizing our own ideas makes us players of this sort, but I find it alarming to think of what we do as competing in a game of intellectual influence. For DeLong and his 20,000 page-views that may be a gratifying thought, but as a junior scholar, I find it incredibly exclusionary. The notion of an “invisible college” seems like it should be some kind of utopian intellectual community; the reality of an “intellectual influence game” sounds really distopian to me. And, in relation to the question of sharing work at an undeveloped stage, if we are all competing for intellectual influence, I for one would be less likely to publicize work before it’s “done,” in other words, before it’s ready for competition.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Publicizing Work-in-Progess

  1. Michelle A. McSweeney (Johnson)

    Thanks for a very thorough post, Julie! I echo much of your frustration about feeling too overextended to keep up with someone’s ideas who I don’t even know, and procrastination is just that, procrastination – those papers still have to get graded regardless if a blog entry got up! Personally I would rather have “refocus time” in the sun than sit at my computer & try to say something interesting on a blog, I don’t have the mental stamina anymore to focus 18 hours a day!

    I guess the post here is about when to publicize a work in progress. I am ready to tell the world about my ideas as soon as I think it is cohesive (which is still a messy idea). And I tweet about sub-parts of that idea/theory jokes that I’m sure no one gets without hesitation. Maybe it’s having a name that makes me nearly invisible, or maybe it’s having gone from Syntax (abstract & “smart”) to Pragmatics & Second Language Acquisition (tangible & perceived as not as smart (though it’s MUCH more difficult!!!)), but I can’t be that concerned. The people following me on twitter are largely people in the linguistics community anyhow & I WANT them to know I’m thinking about things academically… Kind of like getting credit for showing up to receptions & meet/greets, etc.

    Right now, I have on my blog my intended research direction. A few friends have read it and given me great feedback – linguists and non-lingusits. Then, I overhead someone in a meeting trying to piggy back on my idea. Fortunately, this professor already knew what I was doing, but it was awfully frustrating (infuriating). I still can’t decide if having written that before I’ve written my second exam or made a dissertation proposal was a good idea… This student knew it because she read it on my site, but the professor knew it for the same reason…

    1. Julie Fuller Post author

      “The people following me on twitter are largely people in the linguistics community anyhow & I WANT them to know I’m thinking about things academically… Kind of like getting credit for showing up to receptions & meet/greets, etc.”

      Michelle, this is a good point that I hadn’t considered. A recent Victorianist grad from my department (who landed a super sweet tenure-track job) told me that consistently showing up for talks and events, getting your face out there and being recognized as someone who is engaged with what’s going on in your field, is really important–and I think this is very true (especially in a small coterie of Victorianists!). Obviously with twitter it’s not your face, but your ideas, that get into circulation–which is even more advantageous…as long as you can attract the “right” audience!

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