Skip to content

Look! It’s time to beat that horse again!

1 February, 2011

Look! It’s time to beat that horse again!

Yeah, I know, I haven’t been blogging much. Sue me. Actually, you should complain, and I should apologize. I need to blog more, if only because it really does keep me writing. And I need to write. I have two essays in the works at the moment, and in a way, the reason they aren’t up yet has something to do with my response to this post at Dr Crazy’s, from which I also stole the title.

Really, you should just go click the links in her post to get the background, especially the ones to Historiann here and here, Undine’s response, and this post by Katrina Gulliver at Tenured Radical, which has pissed a lot of people off. There are plenty of other links, too, many worth reading. I’m adding my own $.02, as I get mentions! and I’ve been around the blogosphere a while, so it’s my dead horse, too, in a way. I’ve been doing this since, what? 2002. 2002, people. That means this blog is in its ninth year. Dude, ADM is a brand name by now. Or something.

Seriously, it is my horse, and I am going to keep arguing my point (although Dr Crazy makes it far better than I do) as long as I need to. Which, given the attitudes of some people, may be forever. And now, a warning: if you are one of those people who thinks that pseudonyms are BAD!EVil!WAYS TO BE DISHONEST AND NASTY ON THE INTARWEBS! and nothing more,* there is nothing for you here. Honestly, if you can’t look to a rich tradition of pseudonymous writing for purposes that are at least morally neutral and often clearly benign, then I am sorry your education has been so poor. If you are looking to re-state that point of view, this is not the blog you are looking for (this is not the blog we are looking for). Move along.

Now that that is out of the way, perhaps I should drag some old history into the brightness of the blogosphere: way back in 2002, almost all of the blogs I read were written by people using pseudonyms. A few weren’t: Tim Burke’s Easily Distracted was one, Crooked Timber was another. Cliopatria was a third. What did these blogs have in common? First, they were written primarily by established scholars and/or scholars whose blogs were public fora for the bloggers’ own fields. The fields were also ones that were not all that far removed from the public sphere; blogging about economics, public policy, sociology, etc., was not all that different from having opinion columns on newspaper sites. So in many cases, the subjects were ones that have traditionally attracted public intellectuals and public discourse. Perhaps not coincidentally, the bloggers, like most public intellectuals then and now, were men. Some of the scholars were not too far along in their careers, but given that there was at least a clear indication that men with solid academic reputations could blog thoughtfully without threatening their careers too much, it’s not too big a leap to see where junior (male) scholars might have felt a bit more confident in linking their blogging activities to their professional selves. I think it also says something about the way men and women see their work, and the type of blogging being done. These were, and are, largely blogs that focus on the scholar’s field, and not on the scholar’s life. The one might be seen as an extension of work, while the other merely a waste of time. Commenting on life, after all, even academic life, or even teaching, is analogous to spending time worrying about improving assignments and focusing on whether the students are learning: we’re told it’s important, but really, we all know the real measure of the professional academic is not how many lives we touch, how many students will go out and apply what we’ve taught them to their lives… it’s how much we publish.** You may, if you like, insert here the cautionary tale of one Dan Drezner, whose blogging seems to have created difficulties for him when he went up for tenure, but whose celebrity may also have been connected to getting a better job where he did get tenure. I think both sides of the pseudonymity argument need to call that one a wash.

You might have gathered that I’m not a man (although early on, before ADM was better known, people frequently assumed I was a man, largely to my writing style and my willingness to argue with, like, logic! and facts!). I also wasn’t writing about medieval history. I was writing about being a medieval historian who had just re-joined the profession after a hiatus, who was working as an adjunct, and who wanted to connect to other people and talk about the system, education, and generally what it was like to be in my position, but in a somewhat objective manner. I didn’t want the blog to be the first thing people found when they googled my CV. I didn’t want my students, colleagues, or family to read it and think of me first (or at all). I wanted to engage with other junior scholars in a way that didn’t interfere with my daily life or put any of my colleagues in an uncomfortable position. And honestly, I wanted a job. Blogging under a pseudonym seemed a perfectly sensible way for me to join in and (although I didn’t realize it at the time, I will now admit it might be true) help create a community of colleagues where I really didn’t have any. Yes, once I had my first full-time, visiting assistant prof job, I did have colleagues — but I was teaching at a community college where few people really bothered or needed to publish, and NONE of them were damned medievalists. I needed that community of scholars more or less in my field, and in the sort of positions I aspired to, to mentor me.

I also needed pseudonymity for reasons that I think Historiann mentions in her article, but that haven’t come up much in any of the conversations lately. To myself at the time, I had tossed my life away. I didn’t really want any of my friends from grad school, my advisor, my friends from when I was an undergrad… the people who had written me recs, kept me funded, got me extensions, and even worse, not berated me or told me I’d let them down when I put family first and taken a fairly well-paying job that was not only not at an R1, but not even academic. (Ok, I had gained a husband and kid and a great family and had demonstrated I could actually earn a living outside academia, but if you went to grad school, you know the feeling I mean, because you’ve ever felt it or you’ve looked at someone else in my position and heard/thought/said the same things — and worse when looking at a woman, because of the whole perpetration of the ‘why bother with women because they just drop everything for family’ thing). ADM was me, but it was also a me trying to re-establish my own voice as a member of a community I wasn’t sure would have me anymore.

The funny thing is, pseudonymity didn’t give me just a new voice; it helped me find my own, old voice, too. People didn’t know me, except through my words and the story I told them. It was a true story, as objective as possible, and one that I tried to make as honest as I could without revealing details that would have embarrassed the people in my life. It wasn’t the whole story, but that’s because of the format, subject matter, and audience. There are things I’m willing to share because they are things many people in my position might be going through. And frankly, I don’t want to share everything with potentially tens (ok, actually, hundreds) of people I don’t know. People got to know ADM, and they got to know me, and they got to know that both are me, and both are true. What’s more, I got to know a bunch of people who are also pseudonymous. When I’m with them in real life, I think of them as their real-life selves. But when we are working in the context of the professional relationships we have built online, I still often think of them as the constructs that their pseudonymity helped to create. It’s not that weird, if you think of it. We all have our professional selves and our private selves. Sometimes we never socialize with our colleagues, and they have much more to them than we might know. So how is this different?

It’s different because, as far as I can tell, the internet is a different sort of place. Perfectly reasonable people who know about the rather honorable tradition of pseudonymity seem to see this as different. Why? maybe because people can comment anonymously OR pseudonymously. Frankly, anonymous commenters piss me off, too. I think it’s chickenshit to comment without a name, because either they are committing drive-by insults or they frequently give the appearance of being the blogger’s own sock puppet. But bloggers can prevent anonymous commenting, and sometimes the would-by anonym takes on a pseudonym, pseudonymity ends up being lumped in with anonymity, with cowardice, with throwing words like bricks through windows.

Having said all that, it still never ceases to amaze me that otherwise discerning people get their knickers in a twist over something that is pretty easy to figure out. There are bloggers who write pseudonymously, and choose to continue to do so, even after people know who we are. It allows us the freedom to write in ways that we might not otherwise. We are, to some extent, our pseudonyms, and if people can’t recognize that the personae we have constructed are, in every way that matters for public communication,as real as we are, then perhaps they should stick to only reading the eponymous blogs of people they know in real life. I’m sure that they are entirely honest and uncensored. After all, people put their own names on them.

*and here I am looking at at least one blogger who has taken upon himself to try to out me at public meetings after being specifically asked not to, not to mention Kathryn Cramer, who has in the past outed anonymous/pseudonymous fan bloggers while deliberately ignoring the relative power and privilege her position in the sff community gives her…

**I will refrain from going off on a tangent about people who say this, shirk teaching and service duties, and still don’t publish as much as some of the great teachers I know, and even then only manage to publish fairly workmanlike stuff..

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 February, 2011 6:59 am

    I opened the comment window, Blogger asked me to "Choose an identity." Somehow that seemed to say it all.Not really. The comments at Dr. Crazy's post pretty well beat the horse dead again, but I did like your story. The early ambiguity on gender is something that seems common to a lot of pseudonymous bloggers, often intentionally, and it goes to the heart of what sets pseudonymous blogging apart: the lack of inherent authority from credential or identity means that discussions have to run on facts and logic. Sure, eventually pseudonyms develop identities and authority, but it's harder, and when push comes to shove, you have to rely on facts and logic. Since I think that's the way the world should work anyway….One of the downsides of the internet, and this goes way back before facebook, is the way in which it collapses your activities – personal, professional, political – into equally visible and interlocking things. Whereas our lives offline are segmented and our identities situational in ways that we rarely question until the boundaries of communities get collapsed somehow.

  2. 2 February, 2011 7:35 am

    Thanks for the mention. I agree that outing people is a dick move (it's not something I ever advocated). I guess I didn't get my (slightly) different point across very well in my original piece before some other people picked up this one element and ran with a misinterpretation. I'm interested in your experience with it. As I mentioned to someone else, Invisible Adjunct is an example of useful pseudonymous blogging. Hers was actually a wonderful use of the form, where she for obvious reasons could not reveal her real identity, and became rather a voice for a whole group of marginalised academics.

  3. 2 February, 2011 7:45 am

    Katrina, I've read your piece a couple of times now and I'm still not convinced: it assumes a simplicity to pseudonymity that doesn't reflect the reality of these choices, and a consistency to blogging historians' purposes that reflects your priorities, but not all priorities.

  4. 2 February, 2011 7:49 am

    That was the context in which I was writing it: specifically as a response to the papers in the round table (which I thought TR was going to mention in the intro, unfortunately she didn't which makes my piece look like a rant apropos nothing).

  5. 2 February, 2011 4:38 pm

    The "argument" of Katrina's poste at TR boils down to this:"I used to blogge pseudonymously, but now itte suits my own purposes better to blogge eponymously. Therefore, others who now blogge pseudonymously for reasons that I either don't understande or don't approve of are cowardly and anti-feministe."

  6. 2 February, 2011 7:49 pm

    I have only read Historiann's article, which came to me in draft form. I think I will need to read the roundtable before jumping to any judgements. Mostly, though, I would like us all to think a bit more broadly, and not just focus on Gulliver's comments/response. In fact, it might be useful to see several responses to the entire collection of articles.

  7. 2 February, 2011 10:00 pm

    "I opened the comment window, Blogger asked me to "Choose an identity." Somehow that seemed to say it all."Great point, Jonathan!Thanks for the link, ADM, and the further discussion here. Most commenters aren't like Jonathan, in that they don't comment under their own names, and we rarely see complaints about that. (Although I will cop to complaining about the low quality of comments on unmoderated websites. There the problem is the absence of moderation, not the absense of RL identities.) And since comments are what distinguish blogs from other forms of media, that absence is striking (to me, anyway.)

  8. 2 February, 2011 10:20 pm

    I think I've said all I have to say about this, from outside as it were, at Undine's, but I do just want to say to that last point: it appears to be configurable in Blogger whether it displays the name of people commenting through OpenID logins or not. So often I turn up as tenthmedieval, because this setting, which used to be universal, has not been disabled at that blog. Elsewhere I turn up as Jonathan Jarrett, which I've always been fine with displaying, where it has. Every time I comment under OpenID, Blogger (or whatever) polls WordPress for my name and screen name, but Blogger does not always display it. Of course, an OpenID is by its nature an identifer, for those that will follow it. But I just wanted to say, actually in some cases pseudonymity may be a purely technical impression…

  9. 2 February, 2011 11:38 pm

    I hear you, ADM. My blog, now dormant, is actually the third iteration of my blogging identity and, if you look back through my website history, probably the fifth of my regularly updated online serials.I see some bloggers creating professional, focused, disciplinary sites. Good for them. That's not what I want to do. I'm more interested in a blog that allows me to jump from technical interests back to pedagogy or university politics and then over to a range of personal or political issues.I used to blog pseudonymously but gave that up because it was being too closely associated with my professional, 'real-life' identity. Pseudonymous self wasn't happy with that!I tried blogging under my own name — that's been a learning experience (and a technical swamp at the moment) and definitely not as freeing for me as the pseudonymous blog felt.

  10. 3 February, 2011 5:15 pm

    One thing that hasn't been discussed much as far as I can see is that pseudonymous commenting is harder than it used to be. New comment systems like Disqus which track users – for their convenience, of course – make it impossible to maintain multiple identities without basically wiping cookies between every comment. Similarly, facebook integration apps can reveal your identity if you stay logged in to facebook, even if you intend to comment under the pseudonym. I can't comment on a lot of blogs anymore without revealing my multiple identities.

your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: