Help Me Write a Sabbatical Proposal!

Back at the end of July, I wrote a post about my mini-midlife academic conference, in which I outlined some of what I see as the various options I have for pursuing (or not) scholarly projects in the next year or two, and how I had pretty much decided to not bother working on anything too seriously this year while I am serving as both the writing program coordinator and the interim director of the first year writing program. And besides, while I had a vague sense of the book project idea about blogging and “writerly” actions and spaces, I didn’t really have enough of an idea to push forward too hard.

Well, then the strike happened and all this stuff with my blog happened. And that got me to thinking: maybe I ought to revisit that blog project. And then, just last week, I was reminded that proposals for sabbaticals next year are due this coming Friday.

There are two kinds of sabbaticals here at EMU: full-year ones, and one semester ones. I can’t afford the full-year one (I believe that would mean half of my pay), and the one semester/half-year ones (which are at full pay) are competitive. So I’m not sure what my chances are for getting this, and, as far as I can tell, no one can give me a good answer to that since it depends on how many people apply and how many they award. And, of course, how decent my proposal is.

This is (in theory, in hope) where you, loyal and dear reader, potentially come into play. I’d like your help– any help– you can give me. Let me sort of roughly sketch out what I’m thinking about here and invite folks to offer any ideas they want, either in the comments box or via email:

The tentative title that hangs in my head is “Blogs as Writerly Spaces,” or something like that. The basic question I have is what is it about blogs that compels writing and reading? What is it about the virtual space it creates, about the ways that it (potentially) problematizes the rhetorical situation? What is it about the tool– the literal technology that people use– that promotes/enables the kinds of writing that takes place in these spaces? And why is it that some blog writers either never get off the ground in the first place (I don’t know where this stat is, but I am sure that a huge percentage of the blogs that have been started on services like blogger have been abandoned), or why is that some bloggers just seem to stop?

I’m less interested personally in the question of blogs as different kinds of genres– diaries, as journalism (or not)– and I’m not that interested in trying to categorize/analyze the different genres and/or categories of blogs (these are what political blogs look like, these are blogs on cooking, these are blogs on movies, these are academic blogs, etc.). Rather, I think I’m more interested in what I guess I think of as more general questions about how blogging as an act “ticks.”

There’s a very cool book by a neurologist named Alice W. Flaherty called The Midnight Disease in which she discusses the neurosis/psychosis/disease/condition known as hypergraphia, which is an overwhelming desire to write. Flaherty’s book basically looks at the ways this might intersect with “art,” too. In any event, she mentions blogging in here a couple of times, noting that this is a technology that enables this sort of behavior, for better or worse (and It think that Flaherty would ultimately say for better, btw). Anyway, this is part of what I’m getting at, I think. But another part is about the nature of the tool itself, and the nature of the situation.

Beyond theorizing about all this vis-a-vis an examination of how theories of situation, audience, etc. might apply to blogging, I want to do some case study-styled interviews with some bloggers. And this is part of what the whole strike thing did for me: it planted in my head some of the ideas for questions that might be interesting to ask bloggers, about the relationship(s) between feedback from an audience and their desire (or not) to post, for example.

So, one chapter (part? section? I haven’t gotten that far yet) would involve me explaining and problematizing the whole concept of rhetorical situation as it applies to the sphere of blogging. This is really kind of a revisit of what I wrote about in my dissertation 10 years ago now. Back then, I attempted to coin the term “immediacy” to describe this phenomenon of rhetors, audiences, and messages all being mixed up in electronic spaces. Of course, some scholars a lot more famous than me used the same term as part of their book, so I suppose I’d need to come up with something else. Not to mention do an update on the work that’s been done on rhetorical situation lately. But you get the idea.

Then there’d certainly have to be a chapter on “identity” and the ways in which individuals portray themselves in their blogs. There’s so much stuff about pseudo-identity and anonymous blogs and stuff along those lines that it seems pretty important to me to at least point out that one of the reasons why a lot of writers write blogs is because they can “put on” these different identities, presumably in ways that they don’t feel they can in other writerly situation.

If you talk about individual identity, you certainly have to have a chapter/section/topic exploring “community” and/or “networks,” because individuals writing blogs ultimately want a body of readers, right? For me, what I noticed in my own blogging during the strike is the way this became a sort of feedback loop: I posted something about the strike and someone read it and posted a comment or gave me some other kind of encouragement. And the more I did that (posted things about the strike), the more readers I seemed to get, and the more I was compelled to post.

Of course, none of this sort of connection between individuals and communities of readers would have been able to happen without the technologies that allow for easy blogging/posting/publishing, and the tools that allow for readers to find things they’re interested in reading (e.g., Google). People read my blog during the strike first and foremost because if you did a Google search for the terms “EMU Faculty Strike,” you would get my blog in the top few sites. So to me, that technical capacity is far from trivial, and it’s something that ought to be explored.

I’d really like to have a chapter (or chapters, or sections, or whatever) on why it is that people don’t blog. There are the gazillions of Blogger blogs that people start and never write, sure, but I’m talking about at least two slightly different things here, too. First, there are plenty of people I know– granted, mostly academics, so I’d have to find a way to expand my potential pool of interviewees here– who are otherwise productive writers and good thinkers, and when they started blogging, they found the experience, well, boring. Or somehow not for them. Why is that? And second, there’s another group of bloggers– mostly people I don’t really know but who had blogs I used to read– who have stopped blogging. Why is that? How is it that these people have chosen a point to “end it,” as it were?

Then I suppose there also should/could be a part of this where I talk about what this all might mean in terms of teaching writing– and I don’t just mean teaching writing with blogs specifically. What I am wondering is what can we learn about what makes for a “successful” blog and/or a writer compelled to blog, and how might this apply to the teaching of writing at different levels? To what extent, for example, can we promote/foster a sense of immediate and interested audience in an environment as “artificial” as a college writing classroom?

And so forth.

Anyway, that’s some brainstorming from me this morning. I’m going to keep thinking about this, along with figuring out how to get the paperwork in and still do my job yet this week. But if anyone has any ideas to throw at me– citations, other works that are and/or have done what I’m doing, advice, discouragements, ideas for who to contact as subjects in my case studies, etc.– it’d be great if you could send them along.

4 thoughts on “Help Me Write a Sabbatical Proposal!”

  1. I think the following article does a good job describing some of the reasons for burnout. Although it’s more focused toward social networking sites, it applies well to blogs.

    This is an observation based on just a couple of friends, but I think the “burnouts” are often the ones who take blogging too seriously in the first place—who start off with high expectations, posting lengthy, carefully-written pieces fairly often, and thinking they’ll be able to sustain that. Bloggers seem to last longer when they allow themselves to post random, fragmentary stuff in between the thoughtful posts. Also, some posts just aren’t going to get a lot of comments, and it can be demoralizing when you spend a lot of time writing something and it doesn’t get much of a response. If it only took you two minutes to write, a lack of response doesn’t sting quite as much.

    (One of my friends at SIU-Edwardsville told me he quit blogging because he “didn’t have the time.” As someone who blogs frequently but doesn’t spend much time on it, I didn’t really understand that reason. I think the reasons above are more fully represent where he was coming from.)

    It might all come back around to whether or not a writer has been conditioned to see writing as play as well as work. A blog should be a little of both…

  2. Finally, you are listening to me! :) Didn’t we already flesh this project out in the car on the way home from C’s last year?

  3. I know this comes too late to help your proposal, but . . .

    In thinking about my own blogging and discussions with my students, the social-interactive/participatory nature of blogs is compelling. Within the classroom space, blogs allowed the students to learn more about each other and built, what seems to be a pretty tight community (they have total control over blog content), but they also get *outside* readers such as family and friends.

    And I’m one of those with an abandoned Blogger accounts. At the time I felt isolated as I blogged, since I didn’t know who was out there to interact with. Without that social-interaction I felt like I was journaling, and after several attempts at journaling I realized I’m simply not someone who can sustain a personal journal. But some of my students are, and while they like blogs, they also like the private space of a journal.

    For myself, it was a way to participate in a networked community of practice–to find, interact with, and learn from those who share my interests such as people who are members of fanfiction communities. I’m thinking about Henry Jenkins’ work on participatory culture. So, in using blogs in a writing class I’m trying to get students to find bloggers they share interests with.

    Good luck. I hope you get this!

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