Saturday, October 27, 2007

Revamped research project

Well, with only 6 weeks left in the semester, I'm finally getting down to some kind of research project I can take on with at least a modest level of interest. I've sort of given up on excitement. Maybe as I get better at coming up with ideas and translating them into doable projects, I'll be able to preserve some of the initial excitement, but for now, I just need to get started.

Of the 5 or so things that I noted in my last post that were interesting to me, blogs as scholarship was the one that simultaneously satisfied the requirements of rtf and drt (radio, television and film and doctoral research and theory), allowing me to do one research project that supplies the base for a paper on state of theory and research on the topic, and for actual field research after I finish my own experiment in blogging a research paper (The effects of mass digitization on copyright law and policy). So here's how it came down:

How are blogs affecting legal scholarship?

Legal scholars pursue different strategies to communicate with their peers and the public about their research during its various stages. Some methods of communicating are very informal; others, such as journal publication, are quite formal. Some are better adapted to early stages, for example, vetting ideas and finding collaboration partners; others are designed to facilitate the later stages of formal communication of the outcomes of research to the public or to other scholars. How do the unique qualities of a blog including, among others, its public, interactive nature, the typically short length of blog posts, the informality of blog communicative style, the ability to link to other documents on the Web (perhaps instead of providing full citations), and the ease with which blog posts may be published (constituting “instant” publishing) situate it among the various modes of communication already in use by legal scholars? How are legal scholars using blogs today, and in what ways might blogs expand opportunities to communicate more effectively or efficiently? How might blogs affect the forms of existing legal scholarship, such as the law review article, amicus brief, academic press monograph, or treatise?

Strategies to investigate the state of research and theory
regarding how blogs are affecting legal scholarship

1. Review class readings for theoretical perspectives most likely to aid the determination of the state of theory with respect to research on the effect of blogs on scholarship.

2. Conduct searches within the UT Libraries' databases most likely to contain the results of research on this subject (upon recommendation of Library bibliographer for information studies and my own experimentation): Emerald Insight; ERIC; Information Science and Technology Abstracts; Library Information Science and Technology Abstracts; Library and Information Science; Library Literature and Information Science Full Text; Primary Search; Communications of the ACM; Westlaw (law review articles).

3. Conduct searches on Google and Google Scholar; review Web pages I have bookmarked on the subject, including scholarly blogs and blogs whose authors are writing about blogs as scholarship (searches limited to blogs, on subject of blogs as scholarship).

4. Review the abstracts of papers prepared for the recent Association of Internet Researchers conference in Vancouver, CA that address blogs as scholarship, and write to the authors for copies of their papers, if any.

5. I have been reviewing this literature for about three weeks. Most of the papers I have found on the subject of blogs as scholarship do not appear to report the results of research. I would characterize them as thoughtful, personal observations and descriptions, even those presented within the context of scholarly symposiums devoted to the subject of blogs as scholarship. Some even explicitly state that they are not the result of "systematic study or theorizing" (Solum, 2006). There does not appear to be much, if any, research on the subject at this time. Perhaps I will be able to draw some conclusions about what questions could be researched based on what has been written so far, and what theories might be fruitful ones through which to think about the phenomenon (see below).

6. More general research on related subjects applies to how blogs are affecting legal scholarship. For example, there is a large body of research on the subject of how new technologies become integrated into practice; established and changing patterns of scholarly communication (including the concepts of the invisible and virtual colleges); the evolving business of scholarly publishing; investigations into the ways universities need to manage the research process and related information needs in light of technological change; and research into virtual communities, virtual teamwork and social software/social networking (Ginoni, Merrick, & Willson, 2005). Because these areas are much too broad as described here, I need advice about how to learn something about them without its taking the rest of my life, or indeed, whether I should be looking into these areas at all.

Schools of thought that may be helpful for thinking about the topic

1. Social constructivist approach to the study of how scholarly community deals with new forms of communication; the dialectical relationship between the individual blogger and the socio-cultural academic milieu (Talja, Tuominen, & Savolainen, 2005, p. 85); how the legal scholarly community constructs its information (documentary) universe (p. 86); studying legal information by thinking of knowledge domains as thought or discourse communities (p. 87)

2. Constructionist approach to scholarly discourse analysis (differences between or among forms such as the journal article, legal listserv, conference papers, blogs); focus on rhetoric, argumentation and language use (epistemological constructionism) (Talja et al., 2005, p. 91); or focus on language and the "scholarly organization, technical artifacts, economic and ecological structures" (ontological constructionism) (p. 91); analyze the discourse about “blogs as scholarship” itself; focus "on the institutional practices governing the production, interpretation, organization, circulation and availability of knowledge, interpretations and documents" (p. 92).

3. Pragmatist and neo-pragmatist + sociocultural approach -- what are the goals of scholarly communication and does blogging help to achieve them; blog as community, representing shared beliefs, as much as a means of acquiring/sharing information (Sundin & Johannisson, 2005, p. 37); who and what determines the value of a scholarly communication tool (p. 24); how does the legal system of creating knowledge, and a blog's role in it in particular, shape the way scholars act and think (Willinsky, 2006, p. 9)?

4. Documentalist approach -- the social life of blogs (the role of blogs in legal academic life); the practices that specify which kinds of statements can be used in which types of documents, and that can legitimate blogs as stable authorship (Frohmann, 2002, p. 6).

5. Blogs as boundary objects (Van House, 2004, p. 56): "plastic enough to adapt to local needs; have different specific identities in different communities; robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites and be a locus of shared work." Sounds like a blog to me.


Frohmann, B. (2002). Discourse and documentation: Some implications for pedagogy and research. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 42(1), 13-28.

Ginoni, P. W., Merrick, H., & Willson, M. A. (2005). Scholarly communities, e-research literacy and the academic librarian. Electronic Library, 24(6,2006), 734-746.

Solum, L. B. (2006). Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship. Paper presented at the Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship.

Sundin, O., & Johannisson, J. (2005). Pragmatism, neo-pragmatism and sociocultural theory: Communicative participation as a perspective in LIS. Journal of Documentation, 61(1), 23-43.

Talja, S., Tuominen, K., & Savolainen, R. (2005). “Isms” in information science: Constructivism, collectivism, and constructionism. Journal of Documentation, 61(1), 79-101.

Van House, N. (2004). Science and technology studies and information studies. In B. Cronin (Ed.), Annual review of information science and technology (Vol. 38, pp. 3-86). Medford, N.J.: Information Today.

Willinsky, J. (2006). The access principle. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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