Tuesday, February 12, 2008

C. Wright Mills on Blogging

Well no, not really, but the awesome Kieran Healy adapts Mills' Essay "On Intellectual Craftsmanship" over at OrgTheory. Idea that sparked the post by Shamus at Scatterplot.


Of course you can waste your time blogging. And you can do stupid stuff like badmouth your colleagues or peers. On the other hand, you can waste your time in the privacy of your own home, too. As a thing for academics to do, writing a blog can be an endless black hole of self-absorbed wittering — or, it can cultivate a capacity to stay interested in things and to write about them fluently in the course of everyday life. One model can be found at the back of The Sociological Imagination, where Mills has an essay called “On Intellectual Craftsmanship.” With apologies for the manly language, here’s an excerpt, slightly updated in one small respect.


It is best to begin, I think, by reminding you, the beginning student, that the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives. …

What this means is that you must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually to examine and interpret it. In this sense craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work. To say that you can “have experience,” means, for one thing, that your past plays into and affects your present, and that it defines your capacity for future experience. As a social scientist, you have to control this rather elaborate interplay, to capture what you experience and sort it out; only in this way can you hope to use it to guide and test your reflection, and in the process shape yourself as an intellectual craftsman. But how can you do this? One answer is: you must set up a file, which is, I suppose, a sociologist’s way of saying: - keep a blog. Many creative writers keep blogs; the sociologist’s need for systematic reflection demands it. In such a blog as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this blog, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress.

But how is this blog - which so far must seem to you more like a curious sort of “literary” journal - used in intellectual production? The maintenance of such a blog is intellectual production. It is a continually growing store of facts and ideas, from the most vague to the most finished. … I do not know the full social conditions of the best intellectual workmanship, but certainly surrounding oneself by a circle of people who will listen and talk - and at times they have to be imaginary characters - is one of them. At any rate I try to surround myself with all the relevant environment - social and intellectual - that I think might lead me into thinking well along the lines of my work. That is one meaning of my remarks above about the fusion of personal and intellectual life. …

More at OrgTheory. Go read! Go read other blogs! I still can't type much with a swollen right thumb and index finger. Help a brother out!


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