Barbara J. King
If you've yelled at me, corrected me, contested me, or what the heck, even offered a nice remark on something I've written this last year at 13.7 on human evolution or animal welfare, gender issues or vegetarian diets, thank you.
I recently expressed my gratitude for your engagement to a roomful of anthropologists, and so it's only right that you should hear it too.
In San Francisco last month, at the 2012 American Anthropological Association conference, I gave a paper called "Co-Constructing Knowledge Through Blogging Anthropology." Thanks to session organizers Matt Durington and Sam Collins, I had the chance to present my thoughts alongside those of other anthropologists concerned with "Sharing anthropology: theorizing anthropological research in the age of social media."
As a card-carrying academic, I injected a bit of jargon into the talk — it's a badge of my tribe, after all. So I spoke about how bloggers, editors and readers interact in a dynamic web of engagement, and to make that point invoked anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his theories of interconnected organisms. I gave shout-outs to other bloggers from whom I've learned so much—primarily my 13.7 colleagues, but also bloggers Jason Antrosio, Kate Clancy and Matt Shipman.
But the primary point was this: it's in the back-and-forth comments forum where my blogging comes alive.
One of my goals is to embrace the reality that no single blog post can be the final word, and to make that a positive rather than a negative dimension of my writing. I aim to be an unafraid blogger. As I said in San Francisco:
By unafraid, I mean this: Being a blogger who listens as well as informs, who can be corrected as well as correcting, who sees the potential for knowledge co-construction in the space between the blogger and the audience. The comments forum sits at the very heart of this paper, because it represents the public and wild edge of our engagement with our readers.
And it's there, I went on to say, where the good stuff happens.
Sure, trolls drop in sometimes, people who post only to inflame the discussion according to their own agenda, a situation that does require vigilance. But this is a small problem at 13.7. I don't want to expend too much energy on trolls, either week-by-week in the comments forum or today in this post.
Because the fact is that I learn from my readers — and equally important, it's evident that you learn from each other. In my conference paper, I offered evidence of these claims. Sometimes, the posts that don't go viral — the ones that don't shine in the numbers game of page-views or Facebook shares — become little worlds of fascinating discussion and thus succeed on an entirely different scale. Take my post from September about the science and ethics behind study of the bonobo and gorilla "language apes". Compared to, say, a big flashy post like the first one I wrote in February about Richard Dawkins, which netted over 800 comments, the "language apes" post was a quiet little thing. But check out the discussion! It led to this comment from a reader:
Just a quick thank you, not on the article, but more because of the responses. I have learned more about this from [the back-and-forth in the comments] than in the article itself. This subject raises a lot of complex and difficult questions, none of which can be answered in one article.
And there you have my theme articulated beautifully! The blogger-reader connection is where things happen. And I do thank you for it.
You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape