Why blogging still sucks, part II: a shande

I haven’t written about this previously because I haven’t wanted to give this predictable charade the attention Naomi Schaefer Riley so desperately craves, but here she is, boo-hoo-hooing all the way to the bank with her next book deal in the works, I am sure.  Fannie and Lance wrote perceptively about this embarassment for the Chronicle of Higher Education last week–read their links if you want more background.  So, to summarize:

  1. Nasty, lazy blogger with an axe to grind insults the ongoing dissertations of a few graduate students on a Chronicle-sponsored blog. 
  2. The mostly academic audience for the Chronicle blogs takes offense not only at the a) racist invective of the original post, but b) at the fact that the writer came to her opinions on the basis of reading just the titles and brief abstracts of the dissertation.
  3. The Chronicle dismisses the nasty, lazy blogger, after foolishly trying to portray the blogger’s post as an “invitation to debate.”  (Since when do we debate the existence of academic fields?  Do we debate the existence of the Philosophy or History departments?  Does the Chronicle publish blog posts arguing that all biology departments are driven by their political agenda of evolution, instead of producing research based on creationism and intelligent design too?)
  4. The nasty, lazy blogger writes a screed complaining of her unfair victimization by typical left-wing closed-minded academics.

Here’s something from the nasty, lazy blogger that’s unintentionally funny.  She complains that Black or African American Studies hasn’t advanced:  “[My post] could have been written 30 years ago. And perhaps that’s the most depressing part of all this.”  On that we agree!  Lance called his shot last week:

The ironic takeaway is that Schaefer Riley is likely to be better paid for not reading these dissertations. This dustup now becomes a part of her professional paratext. It ensures that when certain people are looking for someone who can speak “the truth” about black studies – and black people – they will turn to her, offering her a bigger speaker’s fee or a book contract. She will get applause for this. All because she didn’t – and would never – read the as-yet-unfinished work of a trio of young scholars who believed, at least up until three days ago, that what they wrote might make a difference.

Shame, again, on the Chronicle. First, you allow a blogger to opine about dissertations she hasn’t read; now, you give her to space to defiantly proclaim that she is proud of her ignorance. What is next?

I’ll tell you what, Lance:  as the nasty, lazy blogger points out today, she was a paid blogger, unlike the majority of bloggers at the Chronicle who have academic positions.  Now, don’t that beat all?  Is there any better argument for remaining in free blogistan after that choice morsel dropped?  I think the remaining Chronicle bloggers had better ask for paychecks now, if they aren’t getting them already.

16 thoughts on “Why blogging still sucks, part II: a shande

  1. Cannot skip an opportunity to react to a blog with an Yiddish word in its title.

    Among the freedoms of Blogistan as well as anywhere else is being a racist. Our president prevailed in his primary by using the racist card against his opponent. Racism seems to pay well in our society.

    Anyone who thinks that any human endeavor is void of brilliance, hard work, progress and humanity is a primitive moron. African American Studies is one such endeavor.


  2. On number 3 while the existence of history departments is not disputed a lot of history is disputed. For instance there was a time a few decades ago when African history was questioned. Oral history is still largely rejected for doing Soviet history. Using the framework of race to discuss Soviet nationality policies is still completely rejected by mainstream scholars. Only a few comparative historians have noted the fact that _natsional’nost_ in fact has often functioned in the same ways as what is called ‘race’ in other places. The big names in Soviet nationality studies like Francine Hirsch deny that race can ever be culturally constructed and claim that race can only be constructed along strict biological lines of inferiority identical to what existed in Nazi Germany. Which would of course mean that there was no racism in South Africa under apartheid as well as no racism in the USSR.


  3. Otto–thanks for that intel. I agree that other disciplinarians regularly police the boundaries of their own discipline, but that’s not what was going on with NSR’s original blog post. She wrote, “If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.”

    And that was just the first paragraph.


  4. I don’t think the NSR claim is too much different than the claims made that there was no such thing as African history made by Hugh Trevor-Roper and others a couple decades ago. On history itself Trevor-Roper was a good scholar. But, he seemed to believe that the only history that could be written about Africa was the history of Europeans in Africa and he used some pretty racist language to stress this point. If anything I think African history is a more fundamental area of study in its own right than Black or African American Studies which would seem to be more limited in scope.


  5. Appalling, unprofessional — to me the worst aspect was that she was attacking graduate students. Big guns in any field are fair game, but dissertations! To keep with the Soviet theme and paraphrase Stalin: Attacking [grad students] — how very revolutionary!* It does make one wonder if this wasn’t at root a ploy to get herself some notoriety and better employment.

    *originally “Just think, removing church bells — how very revolutionary!” Stalin’s fatally sarcastic editorial “Dizzy from Success” of March 10, 1930, blaming the “excesses” of collectivization on low-level party workers in the field.


  6. Yes. Different blogs, but the same host.

    p.s. Check out Scott McLemee’s excellent commentary on this issue at IHE today.

    Some of you may also want to read the comments, but be warned: many of them evoke an imaginary world in which History, English, Anthropology, Sociology, Lanugages, etc. departments were all busily and happily pursuing research on black people and the black American experience in particular up through the 1960s and 1970s, when all of a sudden the Black Scholar Mafia “segregated itself” from other academic disciplines and created their own black studies programs.

    Yeah, that’s exactly how it happened. African Americans and their self-segregation, again!


  7. Well, I for one, can’t wait to read some research on black women’s experience of midwifery! And, far from being a waste of time, I think that this is quite a politically astute choice of dissertation topic (as well as intellectually valuable). History of Medicine has some really big funders, like Welcome, that will fund your work, and you can work in history, African-American Studies and also nursing depts who sometimes have a resident historian or two, so you have a larger field of employers.

    Although, I disagree that there isn’t a place to debate the existence of disciplines! I think we do all the time and should, especially in the UK, where the current management push is to amalgamate departments into faculties of humanities or social sciences. So you no longer work with a cohort of historians, but two historians, two Eng-lit peeps, 2 sociologists etc. This allows them to cut numbers of staff, by making degrees more generic or ‘interdisciplinary’. And the problem is ‘interdisciplinary’ is generally a good thing and there might be legitimate reasons why ‘departments’ or ‘subjects’ should be questioned as they constrain research by imposing certain artificial boundaries or standards around how we access the past. But this is a different type of conversation!


  8. Feminist Avatar makes an excellent point. Once I counted to ten (OK, twenty) and my blood pressure returned to normal, I realized that, at the least, NSR’s ridiculous post made me want to learn more about black women’s experiences with midwifery. I, for one, cannot wait until this graduate student publishes her work. Medical history is indeed well funded and God knows the field needs more intersectionality.


  9. ex-squeeze me?

    Does none of these clowns remember that one of the demands of protests in 1968 was *exactly* the development of Black Studies departments, precisely because so few authors were considered canon, for literature, history, economics, that some facility had to be developed where scholars themselves could develop, in the schools of their homes instead of segregating themselves into the historically black college system?

    It’s an achievement to be below a coat of paint in the use of intellect.


  10. What can I say? Conservatives have a very selective version of American political and intellectual history, one in which conservatives are always the good guys whose values comport with what they define as acceptable conservativism today. If a historical conservative does not hold views that modern conservatives hold now, then it’s quite simple: said historical conservative was not *really* a conservative.

    This is how conservatives define proslavery as not-conservative, anti-Civil Rights as not-conservative, etc. So I’m sure it’s only a short hop in their minds to imagine that very white and very conservative establishment of academia ca. 1950s-1980 were in fact all inclusive and open to the historical and intellectual study of black topics. The divisiveness was *caused* by all of those black radicals in their dashikis and afros, don’t you know.


  11. I think you posit a very narrow and American centered view of the term conservative in the comment above. Generally speaking a conservative is one who wishes to conserve and therefore looks back to tradition. Some of these traditions are bad such as slavery and segregation. But, to be honest Ghana is far, far, far more conservative in every sense of the word than any place I have lived in the US including Virginia, Arizona, and Orange County, CA. Some of this conservatism such as the homophobia here is bad. But, looking back to the era of Nkrumah and seeking restore his vision for things like education is a good thing. Indeed even looking back to the colonial era when the history department of the University of Ghana was ranked the best on the continent and was an integral part of the University of London system is a good thing. Conservatism, however, is definitely not a white thing. In terms of things like the role of religion in society, traditional gender roles, and attitudes towards sexuality Ghana is as I noted far more conservative than any place in the US and yet almost everybody is black.


  12. Yeah, and when did uncredentialed bloggers without academic positions qualify for academic freedom?

    I have liberty on my own damn blog, but that’s because I own the place. I’m sure NSR can inject whatever she wants into the bloodstream of the polis from the comforts of her own damn blog, but she’s not entitled to someone else’s real estate.

    (Besides, she was a paid blogger. That means it was contract work–and the Chronicle just decided not to renew her contract. Sucks to be an adjunct, doesn’t it, baby?)


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