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28 November 2007

Further to the scholarship of blogs

We recently noted the ongoing discussion regarding the impact of blogging on scholarship in a number of fields, and to be honest, it is a matter we had rarely had occasion to reflect upon. In our own experience, the continuing conversation of the blogsphere (in both public and other networks) is to a great degree the enabler of new ideas and further discussions across a wide range of environments – from the formal journals to the internal ephemera of countless working shops.

Thus it is with some puzzlement we have observed the response to the discussion of the intellectual merits of scholarly blogs by those who would claim to be enforcing some alleged degree of academic standard. We have quite a bit of recent correspondence on this issue, such that we believe it merits wider response in a more general form, if only perhaps to advance the conversation more widely among those with new perspectives.

In some ways, we see the intelligence studies blogsphere - nascent though it currently may be in comparison to other more established fields such as law) - as the modern day equivalent of the circulated letters that used to pass from hand to hand amongst the academy of old – only conducted on a far more rapid timeline to a far greater degree of visibility. It was not uncommon for such correspondence – particularly involving multiple thinkers over time – to be used as the basis for a range of other publications. We still frequently encounter writings from this era, in which the correspondence or private discussions are footnoted accordingly.

We see no great difficulty therefore in extending the same consideration to the correspondence of the blog. Indeed, given the volume of unique and primary source information that is now conveyed by the authors of many blogs – including many new forms of online journalism, research, and expert discussion – it is incredible to us that such material would be ignored in more traditional modes of the literature. To do so would be to dismiss important aspects of contributions by those on the ground in conflict across the globe, or otherwise engaged in the practical pursuits of the profession.

The sharpness of the recent discussion reminds us of the vitriol also displayed towards other forms of evolving academic practice, such as the online engagement of distance learning studies; or the disdain for wiki-based collaboration models. While the discussion of the academic uses of the ever controversial Wikipedia (and its counterparts of technology) is in our minds an entirely different matter – being a thing of more ephemeral nature than the recorded conversations of the blog – we see many of the same rice bowls threatened by these technologies. We also find ourselves distressed by the increasingly fine distinctions of supposed authority that too many in the intelligence studies field now are attempting to impose, in order to preserve those rice bowls – such as one recent assertion that the field’s longest standing publications such as Studies or the JMIC / (new) NDIC papers are not “real” academic works, and therefore could not “count” in the eternal publish or perish world of those seeking tenure.

These arguments are very much the opposite of academic, in our view. The encouragement of critical review and analysis of any source material is fundamental to the practice of intelligence scholarship – and even moreso to the practice of the profession such scholarship purports to study. Credibility is not established by institutions alone – a point reinforced recently by the scandals which have afflicted many otherwise respected establishments - but rather more importantly through the continuous evaluation of ideas and their expression.

This debate will likely seem very odd in only a few short years hence, as the pace of evolution overtakes the academy far more rapidly than those within its walls are prepared yet to grasp. And there will be yet those who evolve and master the currents and complexities of this new domain – where the words of a forward deployed officer carry more impact to the literature than a number of dry treatises recycled on dusty pages, or where a student’s work may offer more promise than that of a tenured professor. Those members of the academy which can adapt – as many within law schools clearly have – will find themselves in a far different future than they might have otherwise envisioned. It will still however be a future in which the intelligence studies academia has much to offer, if it is willing to join the conversation as it is actually happening in the larger world, rather than as they might wish it to remain in their hermetically cloisters.

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