Thursday, December 06, 2007

Discussion: Blogs as scholarship

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research This is part 6 of a multi-part post on the subject of blogs as scholarship. It discusses how to extend the conversation, underlying assumptions and possible theoretical frameworks through which to view the phenomenon. The last post discussed themes that emerged from the scholarly literature. The next section will describe my self-study research on blogging.

Extending the conversation

With only a few exceptions (Herring, Scheidt, Wright, & Bonus, 2005; Saper, 2006), discussion of this topic reflects very preliminary, personal understandings of the status of blogs as scholarship, with little if any attention to definitions, concepts, theory, data or critique. This is normal for legal research. Typically, authors state their opinions about a subject, based on their observations of primary and secondary legal source materials, and analysis. I have always wondered why most legal scholarship seemed to have little effect on law or policy, but from a social science perspective, mystère résolu. The force of mere opinion, even logically drawn opinion, is not by itself very persuasive, compared to problem statement, theory, method, empirical data, analysis and conclusions (Czarnezki, Heise, Eisenberg, & Ford, 2007), and compared to clear, straightforward relevant explication (Berman, 2007; Liptak, 2007).

But this data-lite reportage also seems normal from the perspective of social science scholarship. The discussion is simply at its beginning. Authors provide personal observation and opinion from which others may easily identify the need for quantitative and qualitative documentation, tease out underlying assumptions and values, and speculate about fruitful theoretical constructs and questions for future study.

Clearly, this discourse gives us a starting point for asking questions. We can simply test the assertions.
• Where do blogs fit within existing forms of scholarly communication;
• how might they be synergistic with other academic duties;
• what are their qualities;
• do they build community and provide feedback for early-stage ideas;
• are they hurting scholarship;
• how is their authority established; and
• are they part of a wider move towards more open, disintermediated and shorter forms of scholarship?
Because the literature is descriptive, but not based on systematic observations (with exceptions noted above), content analysis would be helpful. The opinions expressed hint that even on the best academic blogs, perhaps only one in 100 posts meets the criteria of scholarship, however defined. Many authors situate blogs within an array of other types of scholarly communication. A comprehensive survey and description of scholarship venues now available, and what, if anything, blog posts might add, would aid our understanding of the roles blogs are playing or could play. The legal literature is already widely available openly on the Web. Only treatises remain locked up. In fact, most of the articles I reviewed for this paper were available on SSRN or otherwise freely over the Web. The Bloggership symposium papers were available a full 18 months before being published in a subscription-only law review. Also available online for free: "friend of the court" briefs in important cases, most news stories, op-eds, all federal cases, and most if not all federal and state regulations and statutes. So, what might blogs add? Perhaps Solum is correct that blogs are just a result, rather than a cause, of the changes described herein (2006).

Examining underlying assumptions

Exploration of certain assumptions that underlie the discussion could enrich it considerably as well. If we addressed the paucity of definitions, we would quickly find ourselves immersed in the beliefs and values embedded within the system of scholarly communication. For example,
• what is legal scholarship;
• what are the criteria for tenure and promotion;
• what does blogging lack, if anything, with respect to those criteria, and relative to a law review article (what are blogging’s disadvantages);
• what might the academy gain by blogging (what are its advantages);
• what is (are) the mechanism(s) for validating blogs; and
• what might be blogging’s role in addressing current problems in scholarly publishing?
Current forms of legal scholarship reflect assumptions about the nature of information that may not be compatible with assumptions underlying blogs. Interactive Internet applications, such as blogs, explicitly reflect an atomistic view of information, that it is separable, unattached to and unaffected by its various modes of transmission. Academic documentary practices, on the other hand, are deeply embedded in institutions that impose training and discipline on scholars to maintain them over time, and that give authority to the documents themselves (Frohmann, 2004, pp. 396-397).

As a result, the history and structure of an academic discipline’s scholarship will reflect a set of practices and a system of institutional relationships that shape its genres of writing (Agre, 1995, par. 5). The style of the text reveals a conceptual framework, an orientation towards the intended audience, the audience's cognitive situation, and the audience's uses of the information (pars. 20-22). “It is in function of the assumed abilities and expectations of the targeted readers that the author, publisher, or printer decide on the forms that texts will be given”(Chartier & Fagan, 2004, par. 44). Do blogs affect or reflect significant changes in practice, institutional relationships, conceptual frameworks and assumptions about readers?

Further, information exchange plays a role in maintaining social groups and representing shared beliefs (Sundin & Johannisson, 2005, p. 37). Sundin & Johannisson would suggest that people visit blogs to participate in a virtual community, as much as seek information. Rioux’s studies of information acquiring and sharing behaviors extend the scope of that suggestion to bloggers themselves (2005).

Theoretical frames of reference

Only two authors set forth even a rudimentary framework for discussing the question of whether blogs are scholarship (Solum, 2006; Volokh, 2006). No one explicitly theorizes, thus the opportunity for enriching the conversation through theory development or application is obvious. One could, for example, propose a model for how the scholarly community validates writing as scholarship, identify possible relationships between the form scholarship takes and its acceptance, and formulate on that basis a testable prediction regarding acceptance of blogs.

We could also ask whether blogging may reflect a logical response by members of the academic community to publishers’ resistance to change. Academics have begun to put pressure on publishers to modify business models so that scholars may take better advantage of the digital environment (Chartier & Fagan, 2004, par. 35). One could hypothesize that the blog features described in the literature, such as instant, inexpensive, easy, world-wide publishing, address serious shortcomings of traditional publishing. Applying Pickering’s (1995) model of the mangle to scholarly practice, we might explore whether and how scholars’ responses to the publishing industry’s resistance will change the forms of scholarship and scholarly publishing, if, as Pickering suggests, all aspects of the system of scholarly communication are subject to change in the plane of practice. Similarly, actor-network theory could help to explain how a shift to shorter, more open and disintermediated forms of scholarship threaten to disintegrate and reform the various elements (scholars, universities, libraries, technologies and publishers) of the scholarly communication network.

Sundin & Johannisson emphasize the need to focus on questions of power that may be especially interesting in this context. For example, we might ask how the scholarly community will determine the relevance of blog posts to scholarship, or how publishers and authors will negotiate the move to open, disintermediated communication. Sundin & Johannisson also alert us to examine how blogs (all technologies) mediate certain perspectives and viewpoints, reminding us that scholarly communication cannot be studied in isolation from the tools scholars use to communicate (2005, p. 34).

Broadly conceived theories of information behavior or information practice (Savolainen, 2007), for example, the social practice approach that “sees a mutually shaping relationship between information and collaboration practices and the tools developed for purposes of communication and knowledge sharing” (p. 123), suggest interesting investigations. One might study to what extent blogs facilitate scholarly communication beyond the boundaries of the scholar’s primary practice group, where she is part of a larger community that is interested in the law but whose members do not read literature they view as too long, too dense and irrelevant (Liptak, 2007; Reed, 2007). Or, just as institutional practices define proper information seeking (Savolainen, p. 125), one might study how institutional practices formalize rules governing proper information development and dissemination, how such rules affect the forms of new scholarship and how new forms such as blogs may come to affect those rules.

One could explore the blog as a boundary object. As Van House observes (2004, p. 56), boundary objects must be "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." It may be that law professors themselves become a sort of boundary object when they blog to communicate beyond academic boundaries on a regular basis, especially to the public. Are they, in effect, translating between/among two or more communities?


Agre, P. E. (1995). Institutional circuitry: Thinking about the forms and uses of information. Information Technology and Libraries, 14 (4), 225(226).

Berman, D. (2007). More grist for the blog-scholarship debate [Blog post]. Sentencing Law and Policy, March 19, 2007. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from

Chartier, R., & Fagan, T. L. (2004). Languages, books, and reading from the printed word to the digital text. Critical Inquiry, 31(1), 133-152.

Czarnezki, J., Heise, M., Eisenberg, T., & Ford, W. (2007). Empirical legal studies: Bringing method to our madness. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Frohmann, B. (2004). Documenation redux: Prolegomenon to (another) philosophy of information. Library Trends, 52(3), 387-407.

Herring, S. C., Scheidt, L. A., Wright, E., & Bonus, S. (2005). Weblogs as a bridging genre. Information, Technology and People, 18(2), 142-171.

Liptak, A. (2007, March 19, 2007). When rendering decisions, judges are finding law reviews irrelevant. New York Times, from

Pickering, A. (1995). The mangle of practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reed, A. (2007). The future of reputation, part I [Blog post]. Deliberations, November 14, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Rioux, K. (2005). Information acquiring-and-sharing. In K. Fisher, S. Erdelez & L. E. F. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 169-173). Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

Saper, C. (2006). Blogademia. Reconstruction: Studies in contemporary culture Retrieved October 12, 2007, from

Savolainen, R. (2007). Information behavior and information practice: Reviewing the "umbrella concepts" of information-seeking studies. Library Quarterly, 77(2), 109-132.

Solum, L. B. (2006). Blogging and the transformation of legal scholarship. Paper presented at Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from

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.

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.

Volokh, E. (2006). Scholarship, blogging and trade-offs: On discovering, disseminating and doing. Paper presented at Bloggership: How blogs are transforming legal scholarship. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from

No comments: