Corey Robin argues that academics aren’t abandoning a popular audience for the Ivory Tower. Rather, they’ve just taken to blogging instead:
Academics used to face a hard choice between writing for sequestered journals that few people read and newspapers and magazines that are hard to break into. Now we have a third option: the blogs and Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook accounts of the social media world.
In my first year out of graduate school, I wrote an article in The American Political Science Review about the politics of fear. I can count on my hand the number of people outside academia who have read it. Not because it’s abstruse or irrelevant but because it’s cloistered behind journal paywalls that only academics can easily scale.
Now I have a blog,[nb: for some reason Firefox is telling me not to click on this link] where I write about political theory, McCarthyism and bathroom breaks. As many as 20,000 people read my posts — in a single day. Thousands of my colleagues are doing the same thing, many with even bigger readerships. Group blogs such as Crooked Timber and Lawyers, Guns and Money offer platforms to political scientists, economists, sociologists, literary critics, historians and philosophers, and judging by the comments they attract, they are read by a great many nonacademics.
I think this is a pretty Good Thing, and not just because I’m a grad student with a blog (though a lot of what goes on here is tangential to the sort of things I write about: I mean, we could have nerdy discussions about the historical-critical method, the relations within the Godhead, Magisterial documents, etc., but the tone of this blog as it has developed doesn’t quite seem to invite it). Blogging, by dint of it being a medium of mostly self-published amateurs, escapes some of the vices that can creep into mainstream journalism and academia. It’s more free, more personal, and allows all sorts of characters to speak up.
The downside, as Robin points out, is that you don’t get paid for it. And we still have the problem that higher ed can be a realm of massive epistemic closure.