Friday, November 23, 2007

Blogs as scholarship presentation; due in one week

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchI have been working for about 6 weeks now on the research project, blogs as scholarship, for my doctoral research and theory and radio, television and film studies classes. I'm just about finished with the lit review and analysis of future research; I must get busier with drafting the observations from my experiment at Mass Digitization. This weekend I'll set aside time to get that into at least a reasonable first draft. But for now, I need to prepare for the presentation on the lit review. The image above shows the concept map I created using cMaps Tools to talk about the relationships between the questions raised in the reports by bloggers, underlying values and beliefs, and different theories through which one might investigate further. Very cool tool. But in the mean time, I thought I might go ahead and serialize the paper in maybe 3 or 4 parts, plus the bibliography. Here's the opening:


This survey of the discussion about whether legal blogs are a form of scholarly communication includes examples from the blogosphere (the term broadly applied to all blogs on the Internet), where discussion is quite informal, and traditional and new electronic-only forms of law review and journal literature. With few exceptions, the discussion reflects opinion and non-systematic observation. Nevertheless, seven themes emerge from discussion in both locations: 1) blogs and blogging enter existing arrays of types of communication media and academic duties and must find their utility in either replacing or extending existing forms; 2) blogging can be synergistic with other academic duties and forms of scholarship; 3) essential features of blogs include their short posts, timeliness, informal style and relatively broad audience; 4) blogs build communities of readers and can be used to solicit commentary for early-stage ideas; 5) blogs have disadvantages as well as advantages; 6) they are part of an emerging Web-based, computer mediated system for establishing scholarly authority; and 7) ultimately, they are not actually driving change, rather, they are one of many effects of a shift within academe towards shorter, more open forms of disintermediated communication.

The paper next suggests research questions based upon the emergent themes just described, the need to define the concepts and values embedded in the discussion of blogs as scholarship, such as the nature of information and the values traditional forms of literature evidence, and possible theoretical frameworks within which the phenomena might be examined, including a positivist approach, a material-semiotic approach (actor-network theory), neo-pragmatism and sociocultural theory, information behavior or practice, and boundary objects.


I started blogging when I semi- retired from the practice of law and took up life as an academic. I now host four blogs, soon to be five. Blogging is tailor-made for explaining aspects of my legal specialty, copyright, to a non-legal audience. But as I consider my future academic publishing responsibilities, I wonder whether this particular communication medium might be more than merely fun. Might it be part of the process of establishing credentials as a scholar? My new career affords the opportunity to explore just such questions, and because I work in two worlds today, the law and social science, I can begin my research career by joining both in the study of legal scholarship from a social science perspective. Luckily, legal bloggers discuss whether their blogs are scholarship, so they create a self-identified group of bloggers to query, a collection of blog entries to study, and traditional scholarly literature to review.

Orin Kerr, whose views I will discuss later, defines legal scholarship as “research into and writing about the legal system in an attempt to shed light in an important and lasting way on the function, purposes, meaning, and impact of the legal system and role of law in society"(2006). The question of whether blogs are (or ever will be) legal scholarship is not academic. On the contrary, it is vitally important whether an activity that engages many legal scholars for hours each week will further their careers. Scholars thus discuss this question on their blogs, at conferences and in the journal literature. But with few exceptions, which I will review below, they do not theorize, construct models, test hypotheses, systematically observe anything or critically analyze scholarly communication. One could conclude that the absence of such features is merely characteristic of much of legal research reporting generally; however, I observed the same phenomenon in discourse on blogs as scholarship in fields other than law (Canole, 2007; Dean, 2006), and in discourse about the future of writing on the Internet generally (Serius, 2007).

Why study blogs? They are rather niche, and my interests are actually broader – the future of libraries in a networked world – but I have, little by little, accepted that the library’s future depends on just this kind of little thing. What I learn about legal blogging and its relationship to legal scholarship may tell me something about academic scholarship more broadly. But more importantly, studying legal blogging could reveal in the context of a particular communication mechanism (blogs) potentially far reaching effects of the ease with which anyone may reach a wider audience today than was possible when academic authors depended on publishers to distribute their works. Blogs are instant publishing, and instant publishing will likely do more than just publish instantly. It likely contributes to changes already taking place in the academic publishing industry, the communities of scholarly authors, and the systems of authority they depend upon to validate their work. Instant publishing enables legal scholars to reach an audience beyond the numbers and types of readers to which they were only recently limited by the small subscription bases for the journals in which they typically published. Authors must write differently for a broader public than for an insular academic audience. Writing for a broader public will have an effect on what the author writes and how it is expressed. I want to know what that effect might be and what its implications are for libraries.

For example, if any part of even some blogs might constitute scholarship, and if scholars’ use of academic blogs increases, academic libraries will need to assess how and to what extent they should collect and archive blogs (Dempsey, 2007, par. 14). Blogs locate a discourse within social networks where it is sometimes difficult to discern the contours of what we used to call a document, or a discussion. If top bloggers spend half their blogging time commenting on others’ blogs (O'Keefe, 2007), preserving blogged scholarship will likely pose interesting challenges for libraries and librarians. More fundamentally, if blogs are scholarly communication, they will compete with closed forms that communicate the same types of information, adding to the pressure on traditional scholarly publishers to take better advantage of the Web’s potential to enhance the speed, reach and effectiveness of scholarly communication. And, of course, when publishing changes, libraries change too.


Canole, G. (2007). The nature of academic discourse [Blog post]. E-learning innovation: research, evaluation, practice and policy. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from

Dean, J. (2006). Blogs and scholarship [Blog post]. i cite. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from

Dempsey, L. (2007). Quotes of the day (and other days?): Persistent academic discourse [Blog post]. Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog on Libraries, Services and Networks, October 28, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from

Kerr, O. S. (2006). Blogs and the legal academy. Paper presented at the Bloggership: How blogs are transforming legal scholarship. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from

O'Keefe, K. (2007). Top bloggers spend half blogging time commenting on other blogs [Blog post]. Real Lawyers Have Blogs, November 17, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from

Serius, R. (2007). Is the net good for writers? [Blog post]. Ten Zen Monkeys, October 5, 2007. Retrieved November 3, 2007, from

1 comment:

Kevin OKeefe said...

This is really impressive project Georgia. Look forward to seeing completed project and sharing it with legal professionals across the blogopshere.