Not least to celebrate their first and very successful year of blogging, the crew of the German theorieblog invited fellow German research bloggers to a one-day workshop at Humboldt University Berlin on April 9, 2011. With the help of the online-tool Piratepad some of the participants including myself collaboratively crafted a short workshop report. Since the original report is available in German only, in what follows I present a shortened version in English and ask my fellow co-authors from Berliner Gazette, Blogmacherei, Mind at Work, Sicherheitskulturen, Theorieblog, and Verfassungsblog to forgive me any imperfect or crude translations.
How important are offline activities for blogs? The workshop organized by the team of the Theorieblog has given a clear answer to that question: in spite of all blog-euphoria, offline is indispensable. The workshop, attended by over 22 male and female bloggers, was meant to be structured alongside three major themes:
- What makes a good blog post?
- Blogs and their readers
- Blogs and the wider public
As the discussions soon showed, these issues were difficult to keep apart and debates circled around the following, overarching questions: How do (research) blogs position themselves in the context of research and the public and how and with what aims are we blogging?
Blogs between research and political feature
In positioning blogs between research and political features, different opinions were shared. Ulrike Spohn (Theorieblog), for example, argued for distinguishing between the roles of researcher and blogger. Research blogs are thus not platforms for publishing scientific texts online but rather present a chance for practicing ambitious writing beyond scientific standards. For her, bridging scientific rigor and essayistic creativity via bogs only works as long as those two worlds stay distinct.
Agreeing to the call for differentiation, Max Steinbeis (Verfassungsblog) further underlined the bridging function of blogs between research and a wider public. Greater freedom and creativity in writing may thereby directly contribute to scientific progress. He compared the relationship of blogs and research to that of talks given at conferences and related conversations in the evening at the hotel bar.
Another position was argued for by Leonhard Dobusch (governance across borders): Educating or even influencing the wider public is not a necessary goal of research blogs; probing ideas and staying within the scientific realm may also be enough for a research blog. As a consequence, he called for a variety of formats also within the genre of research blogs.
Cord Schmelzle and Daniel Voelsen (both Theorieblog) then presented a typology of research blogs, identifying three idealtypes:
- Scientific feuilleton (á la Crooked Timber)
- Service blogs (á la Pea Soup)
- Personal diary (á la The Philoosophy Smoker)
Blogs in scientific discourse
Following this general discussion, the issue of (lacking) recognition within the scientific sphere – particularly in German-speaking communities – was tackled. Mostly, blogs are not considered worth citing. While citability is not necessarily the intention of research blogs, this nevertheless raises questions of attribution and research ethics. Are blogged ideas of minor value?
To increase the credibility and reputation of research blogs, several suggestions such as a ‘seal of quality’ or even peer review were discussed. Specifically the latter suggestion was however considered to be problematic for both pragmatic (e.g. technical realization) and principled reasons (e.g. restriction of greater freedom in writing). Rather reading, linking, and commenting within a friendly and trustworthy network of research blogs was unequivocally considered to be a viable strategy for increasing reputation of research blogs within the respective scientific communities.
Blogs as an oppositional public sphere
With regard to the question, whether blogs were able to create an oppositional public sphere, many participants were quite optimistic. While Ulf Buermeyer (Ijure) emphasized the importance of the public for critique and opinion formation, Jens Olesen (Theorieblog) saw in blogs a possibility for reviving the philosophical essay as a free version of expressing thoughts and in contrast to the rigid corset of academic writing. Also appreciating the greater freedom of blogging, Elmar Diederichs (Mind at Work) nevertheless explicitly dismissed blogging styles close to Feuilleton writing (see also “Scientific or Research Blogging?“, German only).
Another example of both the potential and the difficulties of creating attention for relevant but underreported issues was given by Nikola Richter und Rery Maldonado, who presented their international blog project Los Superdemokraticos. This attempt to overcome cultural and language barriers between German and Latin-American readers has already led to the publication of a printed book with texts from the blog.
At the end of the workshop, two broad perspectives for research blogs had been developed. For one, blogging might improve or revive scientific writing and publishing. For another, blogging may reach beyond the borders of science and provide space for critical engagement. Both these perspectives are however still far from being reality.
Contributors to the extended German version of this blog post:
Eva, Maike, Jens, Thorsten (theorieblog.de)