Friday, April 15, 2011

second not blogging about blogging archaeology

Brenna, I warn you now, tl;dr - tlll;drrr...

The end of the second question/paragraph (in Middle Savagery's public forum/carnival for blogging archaeology) was:
.... Blogging archaeology is often fraught with tensions that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging?

What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?

My name is associated with the blog (even if I normally use my online name - samarkeolog - to reduce Google pollution), and my research is presented through it (which is a statement of the obvious, but worth making when "conclusion blogging" is mixed with "work-in-progress blogging").

So I suppose I am at fairly well-placed to answer this.

Making myself available to the public

Understandably enough, I've had readers ask for both more and less blogging about life on fieldwork, and the process of gathering information. However, I don't really make myself available to the public in that way. I don't blog personal conversations, or irrelevant personal experiences.

I don't blog (or otherwise use) relevant professional conversations with friends. Partly, I don't want to blur the lines between being a friend and being a researcher; and partly, I don't want others to confuse my friends with my sources. (Indeed, I don't want my friends to mistake themselves for my sources.)

I might blog (or otherwise use) a professional conversation with a colleague, or with a friend-who-is-a-pro (if it was clearly an on-duty discussion); but then (like always), I would anonymise my sources. So, I risk my reputation, but not my friends' or colleagues'.

Exposing myself in public


I dread seeing the Sitemeter hits for this post. Again, I agree with Dig Girl: as I said in answer to the first question (about the benefits of blogging), I've been corrected - and it was painful when my most serious errors were corrected in humiliating fashion, but taking the pain preserved or even earned the (moderate) community's trust.

(Similarly, like Shawn Graham, I've used my blog to chronicle failure.)

The next two examples are connected with the general problems of being a 'public intellectual' but, in both examples, blogging made me a target; and in the second example, blogging was my only practical (though ineffectual) way of defending myself.

In the last bit, I - almost meaninglessly briefly - note one of my blogging's consequences for my work, then pussyfoot around the issue of self-censorship.


When I was visiting negative cultural heritage sites - places associated with traumatic histories - in south-eastern Turkey, I was spotted and picked up off the street by an illegal (supposedly counter-terrorism) intelligence unit. As far as I can tell, they knew who I was from my blogging (fn1).

They repeatedly detained me, searched me, my bags, hotel room and computer, and questioned me (tl;dr); destroyed my research permit (which was issued after they'd begun harassing me); then told me to get out. (And I did. I recently had an opportunity to teach English around there, but didn't even take that.)

(Johan Normark and Stuart Robbins have faced another online community's wrath.)


Last year, I presented a conference paper on archaeology in conflict, and antiquities rescue. A professional troublemaker, who I think knew about me from my blogging, slandered me; then one of his friends libelled me in newspapers from Britain to Turkey and started a(n unsuccessful) campaign against me; and all I could do was put up corrective blog posts.

Work; and self-censorship

It's a far longer story, which for immediately obvious reasons I cannot discuss here, but an academic cited something I'd said on my blog as the first reason they couldn't be the local contact for an international postdoctoral research funding application.

That was doubly negative, because not only was I unable to apply for that research funding, but also I was unable to publicly discuss (blog about) my inability to make the application (in any more detail than this uselessly generic statement).

(Also, Michael Smith observed that blogging could get archaeologists into trouble directly with 'agencies and governments that are responsible for funding and overseeing archaeological research'.)

Everybody self-censors to some extent for certain reasons and, as Terry Brock and Michigan State University archaeologists noted, for all archaeologists, those reasons should include avoiding making looting easier, and avoiding unnecessary offence to affected communities (though someone will always take offence at something).

I agree with Mick Morrison and Terry Brock that blogging should be 'professional', and with much of what the MSU archaeologists say.

I especially support Katy Meyers' demand for blogging 'that is both understandable and shows the construction of our arguments'; and I share Dig Girl's hope for blogging that 'promotes public outreach and transparency'.

I also support the first nine of Kristin Sewell's 'ten rules to blog by'. However, Sewell's tenth rule was,
Protect your future - Don't give future employers a reason to eliminate you from the hiring pool and don't give colleagues a reason to suspect lapses in your otherwise sound judgment'.
Others (there and elsewhere) gave similar advice, like Brock, who also self-censors to avoid potential employers 'find[ing] a reason to not hire [him]', or 'unsavory types' finding a reason to waste his time.

I don't want any of the people I've just quoted to sound bad. As I say, everyone self-censors to some extent. (I like to tell myself that my self-censorship enables me to gather information, and to be in a position to use it to benefit the affected communities in the future.)

I'm not even sure if I disagree with them at all - and if I do, it's only a matter of how much self-censorship is tolerable. Still, self-censorship does worry me.

I guess if an individual or an institution would've denied me a job for a politely-expressed, professionally-written blog post, I wouldn't've wanted to get the job, in which I would've had to continue to censor myself, and to endure working in such an intellectually-oppressive environment.

Then again, I've never actually lost a job for academic indiscretion - "only" the chance to apply for one - so maybe I would feel differently if, like Matthew Law, I or someone I knew had been dismissed.

fn1: My best guess is that they knew who I was (or at least cared who I was) because of my blog. I hadn't presented any papers on my research - indeed, while I'd visited northern Cyprus, I hadn't even started my research there; and I was living in Turkey as a language student.

I had bumped into (other, "normal") secret police elsewhere. However, I had blogged about the discovery of an Armenian Genocide mass grave, and the closing down of the Kurdish newspaper that reported it; I'd photoblogged my visits to "warred villages" of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict...

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