Saturday, November 26, 2005

Identity, Schmidentity @ Deinde

I am grateful to Paul Nikkel on Deinde for articulating some of his concerns in this post:

Identity Schmidentity: Questioning the biblioblogdom

I'd like to add a few comments on specific points:
I think the more important point to explore is the question of identity and whether the biblioblogging community has an interest in creating an identity that perpetuates the framework and power structures found in the "real" biblical studies community.
My thoughts here would be that I don't see any such interest. On the contrary, the bibliobloggers are largely rebels who do not conform to the norms of the "biblical studies community". The conversations are not limited to those with tenured academic appointments; the bulk of biblioblogdom is populated by independent scholars and graduate students and one of the joys of the scene is its fundamental democratic impulse. In this respect, it imitates the better e-lists, which have the same democratic ideal in which it is the academic quality of the post that is the guide. So I'd say that far from perpetuating the framework and power structures in the "real" biblical studies community, we are counter-cultural, risky and rebellious. Paul later writes:
In some ways I doubt that the creation of a group identity was avoidable, however I am cautious about institutionalizing the group as the voice of biblical studies...and certainly that is part of the purpose of naming and identity.
I don't think that anyone has in mind biblioblogs becoming "the voice of biblical studies". On the contrary, you'd get a pretty skewed impression of the field if you only read the biblioblogs. In fact, as mentioned above, the biblioblogs, like blogs in general, are very often voices from the margins rather than the mainstream.
As Yasmin wrote in her post referenced above, "The problem I found was not so much with their demographic per se, but I was concerned with the low self-awareness that they had towards their position of power. " There needs to be a sensitivity or at least openness in questioning what is occurring within this group identity, protesting that access to blogs is equally open to all ignores the question of why this is not reflected in biblioblogs by placing the blame on those who are not involved (after all if access is open to all it must be their fault that they are not in dialogue).
I would say here that the sensitivity is very much present among bibliobloggers. The very fact that we problematized the relative lack of female bibliobloggers indicates our awareness of and concern about the imbalance. If there were no sensitivity to key issues like this, I doubt you'd have seen such an interesting discussion in the biblioblogs over the last week or two. Instead of slapping one another on the back and congratulating each other on a job well done, many have in fact focused largely on the one major issue of "naming" that Paul brought up in the session. Paul also writes:
I would suggest that there is an interest in maintaining power structures and institutional influence found in the parallel "real world" biblical studies discipline which is reflected within the biblioblogs. The power of the blog is one that favours the marginalized and minority and it is these groups that have exploited the medium in most other areas. The power of this voice runs against a formal discipline interested in perpetuating power structures and ladders; and one way of de-stabilizing this threat is to co-opt it into functioning as a medium which supports the structure rather than undermines it.
I'm interested that Paul sees this at work in the biblioblogs because it runs so strongly counter to my own experience, on which see above.


Michael Pahl said...

Mark, I've been thinking over the last few days that the problem is not the "biblioblogging community" per se but the fact that now the biblioblogging community is "officially recognized" by the the premier professional biblical studies organization, the SBL, because there has now been an SBL session exclusively devoted to it. Bibliobloggers have now entered the "real" biblical studies community, the marginal community going mainstream. Once that happens, the questions of "in and out" and "boundaries" and "naming" have higher stakes and become associated with the power structures and politics of the "real" biblical studies community--it's not just a bunch of invisible, semi-anonymous, counter-cultural bloggers anymore.

Having said that, the biblioblogging session at SBL was still an important and helpful event. It was good informally to meet together, and it was good formally to publicize the value of blogging to the wider academic community. Bloggers are stuck between a rock and a hard place--wanting to have their blogging recognized as a legitimate academic enterprise by the establishment, but wanting to retain the counter-establishment ethos of blogging.

Michael Turton said...

-it's not just a bunch of invisible, semi-anonymous, counter-cultural bloggers anymore.

What "counter-cultural" biblioblogging community? I think that is a conceit of bibliobloggers. Viewed from the POV of this atheist and Jesus Mythicist and not credentialed - NT - scholar living in a non-Christian country, ya'll are hardly a very disparate group, and firmly located within mainstream historicist boundaries with nary a serious rebel in sight. Maybe I'll prod GA Wells to open a blog....


Michael Pahl said...

Michael, I'm responding late to this, but I meant "counter-cultural" in the sense of running counter to the "culture" of the academy--print-oriented, traditional peer-review focused, tenure- and title-oriented, etc.--not in the sense of running counter to the methods and general orientation of the discipline of biblical studies.