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Validity of the Blogs

September 18, 2009

As you may know, I have been busily working to complete my master’s thesis over the last several months. The paper, in general, is about graffiti and its practitioners who use street art to reclaim public space from corporate advertisers. Though the thesis is theoretically grounded in the works of Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard, much of my research concerns heretofore little-studied artists and techniques; as a result, many of my sources are flickr streams, blogs, and internet discussions. Having been taught for years that internet sources aren’t wholly kosher for research, I’ve had a difficult time justifying to myself that a large portion of my  research is, indeed, valid.  After convincing myself (because what else could I do?), I began questioning the validity of the internet.

Are blogs valid sources of research?

In recent years, notable scholars such as Stanley Fish and  Paul Krugman have been blogging actively and I can’t see why their thoughts on the blog are any less relevant than what is published in journals or the Yale UP.  It’s not as if their words, printed on the web, are less scrutinized than their academic publications.  If anything, their blogs have more fact checkers than any peer review panel.  Scholars today, for the most part,  cannot publish nonsense without being called on the carpet for it.

Less famously, though perhaps more importantly, many contemporary scholars are opening up their research and putting much of it on the internet through their blogs, rather than reserving all their thoughts for scholarly journals.  Mark Sample, professor at George Mason University, used his site Sample Reality, to discuss the literary hoax previously discussed here involving David Foster Wallace and Jay Murray Siskind.  Along with cracking scholarly codes and jokes, Sample champions opening up his research and consequently shares his Zotero library for the world to see.  It is his thought that the humanities can only benefit from a more open approach to research, and I agree.

All of that serves to say that I believe blogs and other writings published only online do, in fact, work for the purpose of academic research.  I would never advise a student to rely on the internet (e.g. Wikipedia) as a sole research tool and I cannot say enough about the value of the library–using actual books!–but our academic culture is moving more and more toward open sources and we cannot allow our research to suffer by excluding wonderful sources from consideration.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2009 6:49 pm

    For what you are doing, there is certainly clear precedent in academia, it’s just that the format is new. I find it highly doubtful that most researchers on, say, Babylonian contract law, or, say, cosmatesques, actually have a bunch of cuneiform tablets or mediaeval church floors in front of them when they’re writing their thesis. Rather, they have books of transcriptions and photographs and line drawings of those not-easily-transportable primary sources.

    Since graffiti is both non-transportable and ephemeral, the only way you’re ever going to be able to gather enough of these primary sources traditionally would either to buy a lot of plane tickets and take a lot of photographs and interviews, or use the few published works on the subject. Which are probably from the 1980s. In German.

    But, with the advent of the Internet, you can essentially farm out your source-gathering to anonymous photographers and to the artists themselves who are contributing to the system not based on direction on your part but based out of their own natural behaviors. I think in this way it’s an even better position to be the impartial observer as it is even more unlikely that your observations will change the behaviors of the observed — if somebody knew that their work was going to be featured in something that they thought was interesting, don’t you think that would maybe change their attitude or behavior going forward?

  2. September 22, 2009 11:30 am

    How do you cite a message board? :-p

    That sounds like a really cool topic for a thesis.

  3. September 24, 2009 4:24 pm

    That’s a good question Mr. Manes. I don’t think it would be going too far to cite is as a roundtable discussion, or conference. I’m interested to see how that will be treated in the next few years. The new MLA 7th edition has made some decently significant changes in regards to net-based citation so it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out.

  4. September 26, 2009 10:45 pm

    Blogs are okay if the information is properly cited. I am a big Stanley Fish person; I read his book On Fish not too long ago. He put Duke University on the map, not coach K.

  5. September 27, 2009 5:40 pm

    Though I’m somewhat a fan of Professor Fish, the postmodernist/quasi-marxist in me would be remiss if I didn’t defend Fredric Jameson as the map-putter of Duke University.

  6. September 27, 2009 8:25 pm

    I so very much agree with you on Jameson. Have you read his compilation of essays in his book The Cultural Turn? Wow!

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