Doing It In Public (and then doing it again)

August 15, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

“People say they don’t want to read about your cat,” said Jeremy Freese, “but in fact the posts about your cat are the ones that get the most response.” (Or words to that effect.)
Chris Uggen and Jeremy Freese

As Jeremy has pointed out, I got it all wrong. I’m starting over.

At the beginning of the Bloggers session, there was some light banter about blogging trivial, personal subjects – what you had for lunch, your cat, the sort of thing we don’t really want to be thought of as the core of our calling.

The ASA session was Blogs as a Forum for Public Sociology (in “the coveted 8:30 a.m. Tuesday slot” as Kieran Healy put it – or maybe Kieran was quoting someone else).

And that’s the catch: we want our blogs to be public sociology – the sort of thing MainStream Media people turn to when they need a spot analysis of some socially relevant topic. But the audience doesn’t seem to be MSM, at least not right now, and it does seem to have people who want our cat. Or as Jeremy says, “It turns out that, indeed, some people are interested in what you had for lunch, and might even be more interested in that than some serious post you spent a lot of time on.”

Kieran Healy, Eszter Hargittai, Laura Clawson, Kim Scheppele, Chris Uggen

Chris Uggen made a similar point. His own blog is sometimes personal (kids, music, marathons) and sometimes public – accessible reporting and data on prisoners and former prisoners. Excellent stuff. So Chris, along with Michelle Inderbitzin, created a separate blog, Public Criminology, for these more public issues. “And nobody reads it.”

Chris was exaggerating I’m sure. “Nobody” is relative. Relative to Daily Kos (represented on the panel by Laura Clawson), PubCrim’s audience looks like nobody. But that audience may be larger than the readership of, say, this blog. (Yes, reader, you are among a select few – I sometimes think of this website as the unheard tree that falls in the blogosphere – and I wish I could figure out a way to increase that to an audience that is still select, but far more numerous. Unfortunately, I don’t have a cat. I can say, however, that my lunch of Buffalo chicken salad at the Heartland Brewery on 51st St. was truly awful.)

Maybe the best route to a widely heard, public sociology is the collective blog, like Crooked Timber (Eszter and Kieran) or Balkinization, the law blog represented on the panel by Kim Scheppele. That, and a lot of work at linking it to other places so that potential readers might find it.


S.S.Stone said...

Jay, who does "mainstream media people" include?

I enjoy reading the sociology blogs not to hear about "cats", but rather hearing about topics I would not normally discuss...stirring the grey matter up a bit.

A "mix" of topics is healthy showing the "human" side of such brilliant I suppose that would include the occasional "cat" story. :)
Many people are probably reading the blogs and not commenting due in part of not knowing how to phrase their comment making it sound intelligible.

Andrew said...

Many of my classmates - I'm just a grad student - feel that blogging (a) isn't a legitimate use of one's time, and/or (b) exposes you (or more precisely, your thoughts and attitudes) recklessly in ways that may come back to haunt you later, in the job search, etc. I gathered from the forum that neither holds true, and I'm glad for opportunities like the ASA where bloggers can network and help to change the tide of opinion, albeit slowly, on both points.

That being said, I'm in the sociology of education and I'd like for there to be more blogging in that domain, since I find that so much of the public appreciation of sociology is filtered through issues surrounding schooling and education, which also brings in connections to law, race/gender, class and income stratification, and so on. Public discussion on education seems to have become shrill and attenuated and sociologists could be doing more on that count to bring to bear rational argument and insight into educational issues.

My own blog - I mix up the articles a bit, including the occasional movie review, snide social/political commentary, neighborhood observation - just because if I only wrote about sociology I'd be really really boring (and bored with myself).

trrish said...

I have a different take on blogging. I write a blog, and read blogs, primarily for expression and connection. It's solely for personal benefit, not professional. It naively never occurred to me that wide (or more) readership was something to shoot for. I can see why you might want to raise the awareness of sociology, though.

If I am interested in the blogger, I'll read the blog. Subject matter alone might not attract me, particularly (as is the case with a few special education blogs) when the point of view is so far from my own. ("there's no such thing as dyslexia.")

I wonder (hard to say this out loud) if calling sociology blogs "sociology blogs" is the right thing to do. It feels like it limits any potential readership to students of sociology, rather than people interested in whatever the topic du jour is.

I feel like 'connection' is the key. People respond to cat posts because they have something to say about cats. Or because they relate to what you say about your cat, etc.

I also think it takes a while for a blog to filter through the blogosphere. Overall, what's important is, if you impact just a few people, I think that's pretty cool.,,1564251,00.html

Jay Livingston said...

Andrew, I guess you heard what I heard, and I would have said the same thing: blogging certainly should not hurt you professionally and it probably does not hurt you. The people who would fault you for a blog are probably petty enough that if you didn't have a blog, they'd find something else to pick on. You're also right that the mixed bag blog is more fun -- more fun to write, and probably more fun to read.

Jay Livingston said...

Trish, your "expression and connection" orientation should be obvious to anyone who's looked at your blog. It also makes me think that there are big differences in our Venn diagrams of public, private, and whatever names we might come up with for those other shaded areas.

The ASA session was about "public sociology" -- the blog people would turn to for insight on issues, for instance the way I'll look at Intel Dump for a take on military matters, which I know nothing about.

trrish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trrish said...

I made another comment but deleted it.

But I think I get it. I really missed the fact that you and others view your blogs as an extension, or a promotion, even, of your profession and your self, and therefore differently than the more informal blogging world. Guess I've been out of academia too long (wait, I work at a university!).

Maybe the problem is that you are blogging in a world that contains, well, bloggers. Yeah, I think a lot of us *are* interested in your cat, or whether or not you liked "The Office". :-)

Eventually, either your blogs will enter the MSM, or the MSM will change and become more like the blogosphere.

I know you think my Venn diagram is skewed. I'm not sure what the opposite of shame is. Validation? Detachment? That is why my diagram looks the way it does. You might have had to grow up in a divorced family of uptight protestants to relate :-).

christopher uggen said...

thanks for the kind words, jay. on the session, it was strange how the questions emphasized rational/material reasons for blogging and the panelists kept volleying back with their own intellectual/expressive rationale. some of us just blog for the same reasons we enjoy running or playing music.