Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA
Today I received the first royalty check for my first book, Women, Civil Society and the Geopolitics of Democratization. It was an exciting moment–payment for my work! Knowing someone actually bought my book! A little extra cash when I wasn’t expecting it! It made my morning that a whopping 130 copies of my book were somewhere, out there, in the world. I am, I told myself, part of the academic conversation.
And then, of course, the inevitable self-defeating thoughts occurred to me. Libraries purchased a number of those copies–if not all. This could mean that no one had actually even read it, or ever would. Thus, all those years of work on the dissertation, then the grueling process of reworking the manuscript for publication seemed only directed at one end: to get tenure. But there is an excellent chance even my tenure committee won’t read it.
Of all the words I have written over my brief career, what I know is that people read what I have written in this blog. I know this because people respond to what I write. People refer to my words in other postings. People link to my posts. This forum is exciting because of the conversational nature of the blog form, and in that regard, it is more of a conversation than my academic work will ever be or can be. The irony of this situation however, is that this conversation, or those like it, has no place in the traditional measures of what is considered “work” in the academy. There is a line in my CV that proudly proclaims that I’ve written a (possibly forever unread) book. There is no such line for a blog for which I write that reaches a huge, immediate, and limitless audience. There is no way for this conversation to “count.”
I hope this will not be the case for long. I am beginning to see more academics create their own blogs as a means of working out the intricacies of unformed thoughts, for commenting on current events, or, like my posts, for reflecting on the state of the profession and our place in it. Many of us are young professors, but not all of us. The point is that more of us can see the value of reaching a larger audience and the immediacy of the response the internet allows. You don’t always get the most constructive responses, of course, but knowing that someone has read your work and considered your ideas can be satisfying.
What I most remember, when my book was released, was relief. But now it often feels as though I simply howled into the wind, because as of yet, no one has answered me. With the blog, at least I know there are people out there, reading, responding, loving it, hating it, but most of all, talking. It may not get me tenure–and won’t even be considered–but I think that we need to ask ourselves which conversations should count, and why.
By the way, I’m writing that second book now. And wondering if the silence will be the same.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.