This experiment in academic public writing began with a compliment.

In a Twitter conversation with @ProfessMoravec, I came across her Rationale for Academic Writing in Public in which she discusses how and why she has decided to draft her academic scholarship in public using Google Docs.

I was intrigued by the model and wanted to learn more about it, so naturally, I tweeted a compliment about it to @ProfessMoravec.

While my own approach has been public, I have not exposed my work in progress at the level of drafting as @ProfessMoravec and others like @wcaleb and @tremblebot have done:

So, since I am in the middle of working on an essay in honor of my former professor, Richard Bernstein, with the working title, The Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age, I thought I would further embody the habit of public writing by drafting the essay in public using a Google Doc accessible to the public for commenting. Drawing on Bernstein’s work on fallible pluralism and the practices of dialogue, the essay itself will focus on the practices of philosophy in a networked world. So in opening the drafting of the essay itself to a wider public network, I hope to continue to learn what it means to “do philosophy” in and with a networked public.

Hannah Arendt, I imagine, would not approve. She would likely see this as one more perversion brought on by the rise of mass society. For Arendt, the emergence of the social sphere erodes the distinction between the private and the public to such a degree that idle talk and behavior supplant genuine political speech and action. These latter are possible only when we are prepared and able to speak and act in public as the unique beings we are. 1

Although I have argued that Arendt herself cannot maintain a strict a dichotomy between the private and the public, 2 still, Arendt is right to worry about the reduction or even annihilation of a private space for thinking and reflection. The concerns of the social all too often overdetermine our relationships with one another, preventing us from speaking and acting in ways that disclose who we are to one another.

In my own practices of scholarship, private time and space for thinking and reflection are ever diminishing commodities. I reserve them for careful reading, focused note-taking and, of course, drafting and revising. By opening my drafting and writing processes to public view and feedback, that private time and space is made more porous, but not altogether destroyed. Already with this project, I have used Scrivener to take notes on a variety of texts and consolidated some thoughts for the essay. 3

So, despite Arendt’s concern about the rise of the social and the erosion of a public space of genuine speech and action, I open my work here in the hope that there is value not only in the developed articulation of the essay’s ideas, but also in the developing process by which the ideas find articulation. That process will, I hope, be enriched by the suggestions and insights of a wider public interested in the themes of the essay itself. My hope too is that the drafting process will be revealing in the sense Arendt associates with relevant public speech and action.

So, continuing the experiment with public research, I invite you to view and comment as I draft this paper on with a working title: The Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age.

  1. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958, 182
  2. See, “A Fissure in the Distinction: Arendt, the Family and the Public/Private Dichotomy
  3. I divide my note-taking tasks in two, using Scrivener to take reading notes directed toward a specific essay or article, and Zotero for more generic reading notes. For a broader discussion of my digital research process, take a look at this Prezi on my Digital Research Circle and my related posts on Digital Research practices.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Hi Christopher! I have been following your work in various forms for over a year now. Reading your reflection on the exploration of public writing seems like the perfect opportunity to “out” myself as a social learner. Like many graduate students, I struggle with independent academic writing. You raise important considerations for those of us looking for alternative methods for drafting work. I appreciate the transparency of your conversation with @ProfessMoravec, @wcaleb, and @tremblebot and your contemplation of the philosophical implications of such work through the lens of Arendt’s writing. While Arendt provides a cautionary view of this kind of writing, surely there are philosophers who would embrace such methods. Would you be willing to discuss philosophers writing in support of permeable boundaries between private and public space in regards to this kind of writing? Also, what advice would you offer to graduate students concerning public writing? Are there different guidelines you would offer students versus established professionals venturing into public writing? Thank you in advance for your response!

    • Christopher Long says:

      Thanks, Lillian, for following along and for posting a comment.

      The interesting thing about Arendt is that although I imagine she would have been critical of my experiment here, it is really undertaken in the spirit of her own philosophical commitment to the revelatory power of public words and action.

      Philosophers are increasingly starting to use social media, blogging, etc. to expose their work to a wider public prior to its being fully polished and finalized. We are trying to amplify and highlight some of that work through the Public Philosophy Journal as we develop that project. Here is a link to the blog roll on that site: http://publicphilosophyjournal.org/blog-roll/

      If you are interested, we really need graduate student engagement with the Public Philosophy Journal. We intend to crawl the web for content at the intersection of philosophy and the public. So the journal itself will ultimately depend on the willingness of philosophers, activists and others (including art educators!) working where philosophy and public concerns intersect to write, think and share with a networked public.

      That brings me to your last point: advice for graduate students concerning public writing. This is more difficult because we are living through a significant transformation of the practices of scholarly communication. My feeling is that scholars will increasingly embrace the affordances of public writing in various forms. This does not mean the death of the monograph or even of the print book, but it does mean that those genres will be infused with more dynamic digital content and opportunities for interaction. (Here too, I am trying to model one possibility with my Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy enhanced digital book.)

      So my advice would be to start slowly, create a domain of your own and a twitter account, if you don’t already have one, which I know you do: @lilliodillo). Then start experimenting with public writing about your work. You might start by writing about your research processes. The process narrative can be a great way to reflect upon what you are doing and the direction of your work without having to put yourself too fully out there. The advantage in this is that you will begin to cultivate a community of people interested in what you are doing, and they will be able to support your work and amplify it as it develops.

      The truth is that we need to pursue academic excellence in all the traditional ways even as we push practices of scholarship in new directions. And we need graduate students willing to take up that challenge and to bring their creativity and energy to both traditional modes of scholarship and new, more public and interactive modes.

      If you create a domain of your own, you can count on me to follow along, contribute and amplify where I can.

      Tweet me when you do, or if you already have one.

      • I really appreciate your response and the links! I have been deliberating with myself about setting up a website and committing to a regular public writing schedule. You make a compelling argument for taking the next step and linking my currently disconnected online endeavors through a domain of my own so that I have the opportunity to invite an online writing community to share ideas and conversation throughout the writing process. I am also excited to think about the possibilities that will arise through such a writing process for exploring the overlapping territories of theory in visual art, art education, public philosophy, and digital humanities. I’ll keep you posted regarding this process and I’d be happy to hear any feedback as I develop my domain. Thanks again, Christopher!

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