Back to (Professional) Life

I’ve had a few conversations about this here website of late, conversations with folks who seem uncomfortable with the personal nature of some of what I’ve blogged here. Nobody’s upset with me about having been indiscreet, or about having said something about them that I shouldn’t have. Rather, they’re concerned (albeit in different ways, and for different reasons) about my level of self-disclosure, and particularly with the ways that such disclosure might interfere with my professional self-presentation.

I’ve spent the last few days of silence trying to figure out how I feel about their discomfort.

The part of me that’s held off on posting anything takes these concerns seriously, and has tried to think through the question of how much I want to reveal here, and why, where I cross the line, where the line lies, and what purposes, for that matter, the line serves. Much of the rest of me is having a hard time not finding this anxiety — both theirs and my own, as spawned by theirs — quite hysterically funny. Because, yeah, I often post here about things that one might find a bit “personal,” at least in the sense of not being about work.

I’m just not sure why anybody would be surprised by that.

Because, damnit, isn’t part of the point of the blog that the personal and the public (and thus the personal and the professional) are so mutually implicated as to be inseparable? That intellectual life is a profoundly personal experience, and that our lives outside the seminar room are as much in need of examination as anything inside it? That, as Dr. B has at moments been fond of saying, academics are more than brains on sticks? That our desire to distill the purely professional for public consumption, casting aside the personal, participates in the myth of the neutral, objective, disinterested scholar that we’ve done our best to reject on a theoretical level?

Isn’t part of the point of the blog — or at least this blog — the liberation of the personal from the slag-heap of academia, and an exploration of its co-implication with the professional?

I’m in the midst of a project that’s primarily about personal blogs, the ways that such blogs are dismissed as a kind of neurotic oversharing, and the reasons that such dismissals are a huge mistake. And the purposes such dismissals, whether meaning to or not, must serve. So I’m realizing that the main thing that all this concern about my dangerously unprofessional self-disclosure is making me want to do is theorize that writing, by bringing parts of the article I’m working on here for some early-stage discussion.

We’ve long since forgotten that the personal is political. I’m not sure why it surprises me to find resistance to the notion that the personal might be professional, as well.


  1. I’ve always thought that blogs were blogger-centered and not reader centered. We do enough in our lives as academics that are ‘other-centered’… I think your blog has been fine, it is one set of constructs that you put into the world, once readers realize that, they should be fine. of course, what do i know, i hardly get any traffic to mine at all… and most people are looking for …. ‘female super heros’… oh well…. 🙂 a

  2. Wow, deja vu all over again… you’re living a recent experience that I had, that revealing personal things at all was somehow unprofessional. And I had very much the same reaction that you describe here. Of course, I don’t have any good reasons like working on personal blogs to do what I do, but yeah, I completely agree about wanting to rethink the personal/professional relationship in academia, and to argue that one can be “professional” without being a brain on a stick. Funnily enough, when I tried to explain this, the person in question was surprised that I felt like academia still had these dichotomies – despite having expressed concern that by blogging, I was not presenting myself in the best light, professionally. Funny, that.

  3. Are most people really looking for female super heroes? Because if I could be, say, a 39-year-old academic Veronica Mars, that would totally rock.

    NK — I’ve wondered how much this has to do with the pseudonymity question. Obviously the person with whom you had this conversation knows both you IRL and you on the blog, to be able to draw the connection. And some part of the concern that was expressed to me in these various conversations clearly has to do with the fact that my name is all over this thing, and thus the sense that many folks have that the me on the blog is the same as the me IRL, or at least bears some intimate relationship thereto. Which of course it does, but perhaps not as literal a relationship as folks assume. (This takes me back to a conversation we had here a while ago, about how revealing any blog could actually be…) But even if it did — even if, by reading this blog, you could find out with an absolute certainty just who, at heart, I really am — why would that necessarily be a bad thing?

    I’m also wondering now how connected all of this anxiety is to the list of forbidden interview/campus visit questions. Of course the reason for the existence of that list is a good one: many attempts to elicit personal information from job candidates have historically operated in the service of discriminatory hiring practices. But the result is that we’re all terrified of revealing anything about our personal lives, as though any admission of having any self outside the classroom is grounds for rejection.

  4. Man, if y’all’s blogs present you in ways that some think of as professionally risky, I am totally screwed for what I’ve written on my current and previous blog.

    Then again, I’m in my second tenure-track job (which I landed three years after starting my first blog), so maybe the risks aren’t really that significant.

    I think, in the end, I’m pretty frustrated by reports of these kinds of conversations. It’s as if people are willing to give in to the worst kinds of uninformed stereotypes about blogs, in general, and then to apply those stereotypes to particular blogs whether or not those particular blogs confirm the stereotypes.

    Random thoughts: We live in a digital culture now. It’s not about Web 2.0. It’s not about “going onto the Internet.” It’s just what we do. We’re always on the Internet, in one way or another. Our photos on Flickr. Our bookmarks on Our academic profiles on University web servers. Our courses on Blackboard or on homegrown blogs. Our contributions to listservs. Information circulates about us anyway. Why shouldn’t we be the ones to provide most of the information that is circulating? Why should that information only be professional?

    I have a hard time putting myself into the mindset of the people who are expressing their concerns to their blogging colleagues.

  5. yes, most people that come to my blog this month were looking for female super heroes… the second largest number were looking for turtles and the groups do not overlap…

    for reference and perhaps to share the joy… this month looks like:

    140 female super heroes

    132 turtles

    127 swissminigun

    96 office weapons

    78 pink vespa

    72 female heroes

    68 female superheroes

    49 barking irons

    41 homemade air conditioner

    34 plants

    24 female super heros

    22 twiddlywiki

    17 interesting discussion topics

    16 female superheros


  6. Oh, I get it. People come to your blog looking for female superheroes. For whatever reason, I thought you meant that people in general were looking for female superheroes, and since you aren’t one (at least not that I know; but who am I to say?), you don’t get much traffic. This makes more sense, but my way is more fun, I think; allows me access to my kicking of total ass fantasies.

    I will confess, however, to being curious about the barking irons.

  7. I blog anonymously because, as a grad student, I fear for my chances on the job market in an often conservative field. But I am frustrated (for you and for those of us in academia at large) to hear that for those who do not blog anonymously, revealing the personal is more objectionable than revealing the professional. The myth of the objective academic, as you point it out, is a beast that contributes to a dangerous attitude that I often confront in the classroom. That attitude responds to any opinion that criticizes the status quo or powerful as “political” (ie born of personal bias not objective data) and discounts it. Teaching students how to think seriously and critically about challenging work involves insisting that all work has bias and perspective. It’s also essential at a moment in which academics are attacked for having a “liberal agenda.” All work has an agenda, and maintaining that the personal is somehow tainting contributes to the idea that there’s academic work free from personal bias and perspective. Revealing personal bias (which I try to do in the classroom with frequency), like revealing personal information, is not about giving someone ammunition to discount you, but instead about insisting that every academic has a perspective, no matter how hidden. Your blog contributes to that effort, and I appreciate that.

  8. I have exactly the same reticence. Do I filter my posts because of who I *know* is out there?

    They can stop clicking any time they wish, I’d say. But it’s a real concern, always.

    Funny how we as a professional society are so uncomfortable with people being … real. One of the great conundrums of our time.

    love your stuff, BTW. Keep it up. I’d hire you for anything! ;>

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