Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yet More on the SBL / Biblioblogging Affiliation

The number of posts on the SBL / Bibliobloggers affiliation has continued to proliferate since I last commented on Wednesday. For those who have not been following it, the narrative goes something like this. An affiliation between the SBL and "bibliobloggers" (i.e. those broadly blogging in Biblical Studies and related areas) was announced, there was scepticism about the new affiliation in some quarters, there were attempts to clarify what was involved in others, and there have been comments on both sides of the issue. Observatório Bíblico provides a list of the key contributions to the discussion (and now add If I were a bell, I'd ring; another post on Higgaion; and a post on Targuman; apologies if I have missed others; pleased add links in the comments thread below). [Update: complete list on Daniel O. Mclellan].

I have been commenting on other people's posts across the weekend, and have decided to gather together my thoughts here now. First, there is a perception around that the affiliation with the SBL means that we are taking things too seriously. Blogging should be informal, spontaneous and fun, and the new arrangement threatens that. I understand this point and agree with its premise, but disagree that the SBL affiliation is likely to cause problems. Lots of us have had relationships with the SBL in this and other areas and it has usually been greatly to the good. The accusation of taking things too seriously actually cuts both ways. The decision to opt out of any SBL / blogging discussions could turn out to be an unnecessarily forthright reaction to something that could be a productive and interesting venue. It could stimulate, it could come up with new ideas; there might be new collaborations and new voices. Perhaps there will not be, but we just don't know until we have given it a go. I suppose my feeling is that the spontaneous, risky, unpredictable side to blogging could generate some genuinely interesting and productive conversations at the SBL. That may not be the case, but we won't know until we give it a try.

I'd like to develop a point further that I made in comments on Biblia Hebraica, and to note that the SBL has lots of affiliations and relationships with different groups and these relationships are regularly profitable. Much of the time it is simply a question of providing a forum for the discussion of important and interesting questions. The fact that the SBL has a session on the status of women in the profession is not giving women in the profession some kind of official recognition that they would not otherwise have. Rather, it is a useful forum for women to come together and discuss key issues and take action on a major issue that affects us all. Individual scholars will choose to attend those sessions, and take action, or not, as they choose. And no woman scholar is given a hard time for not attending. To take a less politically significant association, one might point to something like the Computer Assisted Research Group, or Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies. These are venues where like minded people can opt in and participate should they choose to do so. No one is forcing them to be involved; no one is given a hard time for not being involved. This is the way I see blogging and the SBL -- it could be a really useful venue for coming together and discussing some issues of interest and relevance. But if it is not, then that is no problem.

One of the reasons that I agreed to serve on the new SBL / biblioblogging steering committee has been the recent discussions about women in the blogosphere, resurrecting discussions that were important when they were first raised in 2005, but which have never gone away, and now have a new urgency. I have always maintained that this is an important issue worthy of serious discussion, even if I don't get it right myself. When Jim proposed serving on a steering committee that included both April DeConick and Steph Fisher (as well as Bob Cargill and then also Chris Brady), I was immediately very enthusiastic. Consider this: only 7% of biblioblogs, it is said, are authored by women, but half of our steering committee is female. You can guarantee that one of the major issues in the new unit will be the discussion of the gender gap, and I am delighted that it will not be a bunch of middle-aged men getting anxious together about the issue. It is the proactive possibilities of the new affiliation that make me enthusiastic about it. Again, I may be wrong, but is it really worth risking losing the chance for some profitable discussion on areas of interest and importance?

I'd like to add that the number of people blogging on Biblical Studies and related areas is now so massive that the group is already characterized by diversity. That is exactly as it should be, and given this huge range of areas and perspectives covered, any affiliation between the SBL and bloggers is going to be about celebrating that diversity rather than attempting to enforce a dubious unity or orthodoxy. The great thing about facilitating discussion among ourselves is that it may well lead to a realization of the major differences between us. In fact, I hope that that is the case. I wouldn't enjoy being in a session when we are all in a room nodding our heads at everything that everyone is saying.

My overwhelming feeling is that we really don't have a lot to lose here. The problem is that a lot of bloggers actually imagine that the enterprise of blogging is more important than it is. Much as we enjoy ourselves doing this, we are a tiny minority of the guild, and most people don't have a clue what we are up to. Affiliating with the SBL will barely be a blip on the horizon of the vast majority of these people. Meanwhile, there is a lot that we can do by getting together and talking. In general, talking is a good thing. And although the geek in all of us might prefer talking by tapping away at a keyboard, in glorious isolatioin, with only our cats for company, real life interaction actually has something going for it.


Christopher Heard said...

You make some good points, Mark. But if we already expect a session to be "a tiny blip," why not try to make that blip larger by working within an existing and known structure like CARS, which you mentioned in your post, instead of inventing something new?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Chris. Good question. I think my feeling is that we can have our cake and eat it this way, and ask CARG about the possibility of a joint session. But with CARG it is only going to be once every four or five years that we have a session like the 2005 Philadelphia one, and I think the feeling is that with a slightly more regular meeting we can do a little more.