Professional web presence

Another post from a train (with very poor connection and so actually uploaded from my office)…

Re-reading the responses by Clive Barnett and Jeremy Crampton  to my post about ‘being a sharing academic‘ reminded me, eventually, about the conversations held on the JiscMail list ‘Crit-Geog-Forum‘ about blogging in March 2011, the session ‘Between freedom and narcissism?‘ at the AAG in 2013, for which Scott Rodgers wrote a really useful blogpost (see below) and the useful publication by Wilson and Starkweather in the Professional Geographer on the ‘web presence of academic geographers‘.

Scott Rodgers reflected upon how he uses his blog, in 2013, and opened his thoughts out to consider how he has drifted away from ‘myopic blog-writing’ to engaging in discussion and sharing across several different kinds/platforms of media. Concluding his blogpost Scott argued, and I can only agree, that:

contemporary social media are becoming less and less tools that academics can opt out of. Rather, they increasingly comprise the basic environments of academic practice, and at a time of shifting priorities in higher education, these are environments academics need to claim.

The conclusions to the paper by Wilson and Starkweather are another useful way of framing some of the issues that arose between the blogposts written by Clive, Jeremy and myself and I think are worth quoting here:

The Web presence of academic geographers can no longer necessarily be described as a static online listing of the accomplishments of an individual scholar. Instead, the Web practices of academic geographers are increasingly marked by … a focus on online interaction and engagement, despite the lack of professionalization along these lines. Early-career geographers are likely not trained in this aspect of academic reproduction and might be flatly discouraged from “wasting their time” by producing online content. Given the continually shifting norms of online practices in society, and in academia itself, however, perhaps serious debate about strategies for using [social media] tools should enter into the training and professionalization of young scholars. The fact that academics would best avoid directing all of their writing energies into their Twitter account is all the more reason for explicit discussions about how to productively manage one’s Web presence.

We do not believe that it is wise to dismiss blogging, microblogging, and online social networking as nothing more than a distraction from the serious work of academic life. Not only are these new patterns of online engagement seemingly here to stay and are likely bound up in broader shifts in performance pressures but they also offer some notable potential scholarly benefits if used with intention.

First, pressures to publish and promote have spilled out into Web practices like blogging and microblogging. The blog can act as a way to claim intellectual territory, just as it can provide a space to share nascent ideas and work out scholarly thought in conversation with far-flung peers.

Second, and relatedly, online social networks and other informal venues for sharing scholarly productions have become important amidst the uncertainty of secure employment alongside the neoliberalization of the university. Junior academics, perhaps more than their senior colleagues, might rely on these Web practices to remain visible and viable among a growing body of recently minted PhDs.

Third, many junior scholars likely completed the bulk of their advanced degree post-Facebook. These online social networks provide the avenue for keeping informed of others’ engagements (scholarly and otherwise) and nurture the local and translocal collectives that are so important in the professional development of early-career academic geographers.


As institutions of higher education grapple with new pressures in a knowledge economy, academic geographers should incorporate everyday Web practices alongside the more observed and investigated techniques of a neoliberalizing academe.

(Wilson and Starkweather 2014, p. 79, additional emphasis)

I wonder, not least as a committee member of two RGS-IBG research groups, if the need for integrating the uses of various media into the training and professionalisation of early-career academics might be better-served by professional associations such as the AAG and the RGS-IBG. We could, for example, offer workshops as part of annual conferences and events. If nothing else, we could help one another by more-openly sharing things that have worked for us and  perhaps where we may have slipped-up and how that might be avoided. This is definitely something I think is worth consideration by those involved in our professional associations.

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