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Blog Diss: LTP Chapter Description (Chapter Four)

This is the final version (for draft one) of my chapter four description.

Revision history, thus far: Minor stylistic and mechanical changes; shifted focus slightly on discussion of Hook and Eye and Chronicle of Higher Ed to clarify questions about comment policies as affective labour.


In chapter four, I take up the practice of blogging. Like fandom, the range and diversity of blogs is such that it would be impossible for this chapter to function as a comprehensive overview or an argument about affective labour and blogs on a general level. Instead, this chapter will focus on a specific form or genre of blogging: that of academic blogging.

In recent years, academics have increasingly taken up blogging as part of their writing practice. Several factors seem to be influencing this trend: blogging has been positioned as a means of improving the quality of academic writing (Berlant 2014), a way of engaging with the public and practicing public intellectualism (Hager), as well as a method for challenging the conditions regulating academic publishing (Martin and Hughes) and capturing other personal and professional challenges in the academy (Walker).  Blogs, in other words, are understood both as a tool for making academics better at what they do as well as a method or process for challenging the terms under which ‘good’ academics and academic practices are determined to be so.

This chapter will attend to how the affective labour of blogging functions in relation to blog’s uneasy and contented relationship with academic professionalization. As in my other chapters, I am particularly interested in moments where the affective labour of blogging intersects with various forms of marginality. Danielle Lee, for example, is a Black female biologist working in the fields of “animal behavior, mammalogy and ecology” (Lee). Her work frequently appears on Scientific American’s blog, and in October 2013, Lee was invited to blog for another site. Upon learning that the only compensation the site offered to bloggers was the promise of exposure, however, Lee declined their offer, leading to a racist and misogynist attack in which she was asked “[a]re you an urban scientist or an urban whore?” (Lee). When Lee blogged about the encounter on Scientific American shortly thereafter, the post was removed. Initially, the editor-in-chief of the publication explained that the blog was “not appropriate” because it was not focused on “discovering science” (Beusman). After this explanation came under heavy criticism and prompted the Twitter hashtag #standingwithdnlee, Scientific American restored the post, adding that it was originally removed because editors could not immediately “verify the facts of the blog”, and thus were compelled due to “legal reasons” to remove it (Lee).

I will take up this case in depth because of the complexity of its affective dimensions. The original offer for unpaid blogging work, and the attacks directed at Lee based on her response are suggestive of an expectation that women (particularly women of colour) will labour out of love or desire for that work rather than payment. The specific use of the derogative ‘whore’, I argue, is certainly an instance of violent misogyny, but also a suggestion that Lee is inappropriately monetizing a relationship meant to be based on desire and pleasure (a charge commonly directed at sex workers as well). Scientific American’s initial intervention, meanwhile, illustrates an attempt to fashion a firm division between Lee’s affectively charged account and the professional aims of the site, even as the two are clearly interrelated.

While I will dwell on Lee’s case because of the overt ways in which affective labour, race, and gender intersect within it, I will also discuss how the form, content and circulation of other blogs also raise similar questions about the role of affective labour in academic blogs. Hook and Eye, a blog maintained by women in academia, relies on collaborative production as well as explicit discussions about the gendered nature of academic work. I am interested here in how forms of affective labour specific to collaborative writing are used to both represent and disrupt common affective conditions in academia such as anxiety and loneliness. I am also interested in how the site’s comment policy, and similar approaches on other explicitly oppositional (that is, feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, etc.) academic blogs are both sources of affective labour as well as attempts to limit that work for bloggers. In light of the latter concern, I may also turn to other high-traffic sites like The Chronicle of Higher Education, because of the important role that responding to high volumes of comments plays in determining the type and amount of affective labour required of bloggers.

This chapter will also be informed by my own experience as an academic blogger. I began blogging all of my academic-related writing in January 2014 on HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), and intend to continue this process throughout the production of my dissertation. While my ability to comment on the content of this section is obviously limited at this early stage, my hope is that I will be able reflect upon how my own blogging practice both participated in and challenged my own understandings of the profession and its associated practices and discourses.

After considering both my own work and the case studies noted above, I will conclude this chapter by addressing the work of Jodi Dean. Dean’s (2010) monograph Blog Theory is a theoretical treatment of blogs and their relationship to what she refers to as “communicative capitalism” (2). The text’s last chapter deals specifically with the role of affect in blogging, but I will argue that academic blogging complicates her account in several respects. First, Dean presents blogs[1] as divorced from material labour, which allows her to equate affect in blogging almost solely with pleasure, an “intensive circulation of enjoyment” (102)[2]. A second issue then follows directly from the first, whereby Dean argues that blogging represents a “displacement of content by contribution”, a form of “communication for its own sake” which amplifies affect while eradicating meaning (102). Dean’s ability to position blogging as the circulation of circulation (and affect as an effect of this process), I will argue, requires an understanding of the mutual constitution of blogs and affect as immaterial, rather than as processes of material production necessarily connected to both online and offline conditions. In light of the cases foregrounded in this chapter, I argue we can understand academic blogging as both a symptom of and a critical engagement with the precarious conditions of contemporary academic labour.

[1]Her argument is also not focused entirely on blogs. At several points in the chapter, what Dean is actually discussing is social media, which she equates with blogging without any attention to the distinctions between these forms (98).

[2]Dean also addresses other affective conditions, particularly anxiety (96), but argues that they influence those who find themselves left out of the production and circulation of blogs rather than those internal to such networks.


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