On Blogging

The political economy of blogs, as it were, seems to be a double-edged sword. There is an economy of the blog, as it stands or better, as it works; and an economy of blogging. In this post, I will say something about both of these, as they interact for/on/about/against/through me.

A lot, of course, could be said about a “digital imagination” breaking up antiquated university structures. Perhaps lectures are boring. Perhaps face-to-face discussions can leave those students behind whose personality (for lack of a better shorthand to describe all the intricate details and intertwined processes said to be “going on” in someone’s brain) makes them uncomfortable speaking in front of audiences, or in public, or both. Perhaps blogs – a blogosphere, a network of blogs, an interaction of blogs – enable ideas to float, statements to be uttered, creativity to flourish, revolt to be spread, progress to emerge, democracy to emanate. It is not the case that Paul Krugman will get to have the same status as my esteemed colleague Taulby Edmondson; (whose post I find well worth reading, hence this comparison); but it could be said that their statements, their posts, the serene tranquility of their utterances, are on equal footing in 'the blogosphere.'

Thus the political economy of blogs, as it presents itself when only the surface is seen: blogs interact; they challenge and circumscribe each other; they relate and renew ideas; they provide backgrounds and criticize assumptions; they spread words and circulate image(ination)s. They form a network, a web of inventions and ideas and imaginaries and comments and statements and human expression.

But networks require net work; inventions rely on a linear idea of progress – undoubtedly true for technological progress -; ideas, if they can be expressed in a blog format, have to make sure that they can be definitely related to their author, thus making sure the outdated idea of ‘intellectual property’ can live some more time; comments tend to be trite or insulting; and statements are, in this day and age, no longer unequivocally identifiable as human expressions. The ability to share and interact is certainly beneficial for specific types of intellectual labour – those types that fit into instrumental rationality’s general scope – but it cannot, by itself, engender meaningful insights or thoughtful critique. Blogs require blogging, a type of labour with the specific peculiarity of not being paid or counting towards academic progress (such as a tenure review); ideas do not spread and proliferate on their own – that, too, requires intellectual labour, with the same peculiar characteristics as blogging per se.

Whence the increasing pressure to blog, then? At the bottom line, it seems to me that “to blog” is the latest idea opportunity on the part of universities to reap further surplus labour from their academics: neither do I get paid for blogging, nor will blog posts (if they are not, like this one, assignments) be remunerated in any other way. For instance: when will blog posts count towards tenure review, as publications of their own? The type and amount of labour put into them is frequently the same as in an actual academic publication: but the university can reap the benefits of the blogs of its minions with as much precision as those from ‘actual’ publications; while, at the same time, not having to pay anything for it.

Certainly, then, the surface of blogging is bright and marvellous – like all surfaces are – and underneath it, we have yet another turn in the endless struggle between capital’s drive to accumulate (here: to valorize), and labour’s equally endless struggle to remain in charge of its own time and effort.

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