Monday, March 13, 2006

Is This a Blawg or a Blog?

So I've previously posited the question, "Is this an academic blog or the personal blog of an academic?" And I answered "the latter," immediately following up with certain caveats. In truth, this blog is decidedly less personal than is my wont as a classic over-sharer. Beyond certain oblique references to my strict Asian upbringing and how that has affected my conception of feminism, political liberalism, identity politics and personal agency, I didn't blog about the crazy stories I said I would. I did that for personal reasons, and also because interesting as they are, I don't think they fit the tone, purpose, and structure of this blog. It's hard for me to think of where such an anecdote would fit in my own internal organization of this mostly academic blog. Also, beyond mentioning my siblings or their children to flesh out my personal reflections on the glass ceilings at home and at work, I don't mention all the interesting stories there either. I think I have self-censored and resisted the impulse to tell these weird Oprah-esque stories out of a sense of privacy, which I am learning the value of. The more widely read this blog (particularly by the legal community), the less I am interested in making this the receptacle for all my personal demons. I think there's a time and space for everything, and I've realized that I don't want this to be a public diary. The more I am taken seriously for my ideas and writing, the less compulsion I feel to use myself as entertainment. Family anecdotes, particularly of the slightly tragic and grotesque variety, is morbid entertainment at the expense of yourself--and your loved ones. I don't think I'll use this decidedly public forum to tell such stories. Plus, I've been enjoying this blog as a way to write seriously about the law, politics, the media, feminism, and race. I think about these subjects all the time, and it's been nice to write seriously about them and have an audience interested in what I think. It's immensely gratifying considering almost no one else in my family cares.

I think I've kept up my commitment to post mostly serious, substantive posts almost every night (sorry about this weekend, the kids were sick and required greater care). I sometimes bemoan the lack of humor, because I can actually be pretty funny (I think)--but I read something like this and I think, ehhh, try again later. I think I've covered a range of law-related topics inspired by current events--I've blogged about offensive speech, neo-segregation, and many, many posts about feminism. Yet, this is not truly a "blawg", a term I and some others dislike anyway, and I am not yet a "prawf." The ridiculousness of this "insider" portmanteau word and all its crazy permutations "prawf," "blawg," "sawng," aside, I have to say I feel very much the regular "blogger."

When I think of my favorite law blogs, (I am not going to use "blawg" anymore!) I feel like what I do is so amateurish by comparison. Concurring Opinions, PrawfsBlawg, Balkinization, Legal Theory Blog--now these are proper general-interest, non-topical law blogs (let's not get into my favorite specialty topic law blogs). Every day, these group blogs (except for the remarkably prolific lone-blogger Larry Solum) post substantive, insightful analyses of legal issues. I mean, I can't compare. I feel qualified to give a few general thoughts and maybe cite a little precedent, but by no means am I performing legal analysis. I'm just not qualified to yet. I'm still in my "student" phase, with all the crippling student insecurity--I'm not going to say "this is why warrantless surveillance is unconstitutional" or "this is what textualism means"--I'll let someone like Marty Lederman or Larry Solum do it. One day, when I'm ready to, maybe I will. One day.

Why am I all of a sudden interested in how this blog/blawg/whatever might be categorized? Well, an industrious 3L named Ian Best is trying to make a taxonomy of legal blogs. So far, he's got a list of 610 legal blogs (over/under inclusive). Part of me feels a little left out at not being on the list, and part of me thinks I shouldn't be included (and indeed, I purposely did not submit my blog for consideration until tonight, more out of curiosity for how I would be classified than out of a desire to be considered a "blawgger"). I honestly don't know what to call this thing of mine. I mean, it has "law" in it, so is it a blawg? Here's Ian's general taxonomy:

1. I will be focusing on blogs by legal practitioners and law professors. I will not be including law student blogs, simply because there are too many and they are much more difficult to locate and categorize.
2. I will be focusing on American legal blogs. It would be too impractical for me to incorporate foreign legal blogs.
3. I will include the following categories in my taxonomy. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, nor will I definitely include each category.
Solo blogs.
Group blogs: small group (2-5 contributors), medium group (6-10), large group (11 and up).
Law firm blogs: size of firm, and number of contributors.
Professor blogs: tenured and untenured.
Jurisdictional scope: federal, circuit, state, city, county.
Legal specialty.

Here, for example, are just a few possible categories of legal blog posts: 1) case summaries; 2) legislative developments; 3) predictions about where the law is headed; 4) political opinions; 5) journal entries (a day in the life); 6) responses to criticism; 7) legal news reporting; and 8) suggestions for change in the law. This is not even close to an exhaustive list. Yet each one of these categories can be further divided into sub-categories. A case summary can be brief or long, simple or detailed, objective or subjective, exclusive or inclusive (of other cases), etc. Just as there are different categories of articles within a law journal, there are different categories of posts within a blog. But the latter have not yet been named. There has been little discussion about all the different forms that a blog post can take. Even within one blog (such as Volokh) there is tremendous variety of content.
To ask whether blogging is scholarship does not really do justice to the online world. Some blog posts are scholarship, and some posts are not; some blogs are scholarly, and some blogs are not. But this is on a surface level. Such a discussion does not go nearly far enough in exploring the variety and potential within the new medium.

So what am I? I graduated from law school and am technically a lawyer, but I'm going back to law school for my post-graduate law degree, so am I just a law student again? I'm not a law prof yet, but I'm not a practicing JD either. I'm a student/scholar, but this blog isn't purely scholarly. I have no trenches to report from, and nothing ever happens in them anyway. I don't have a legal specialty yet. So far, the closest I come to fitting into any of the categories is "political opinion" and once in a while, "a day in the life of." There's a lot more of the former and fewer of the latter simply because my life is so boring. Nothing happens. I'm in between schools, jobless but doing some personal research projects, and I have a lot of non-law related duties that are incredibly mundane. So if you want a "today I changed a diaper, read a book on civil rights, and watched Star Trek" kind of posting, well, you're weird.

Entire life-cycles for flies and gnats can expire as I sit there, reading. They watch me, and die from boredom. So if I wrote about what I did, instead of what I thought, I'd post probably once a week on the one day during the week something actually happened. Nothing significant, mind you, but enough to get a post out of it-- like a kid getting sick and requiring a lot of time that would have been spent studying, allowing me to reflect on gender and the academy. And that's a lucky week, most of the times the kids are all healthy and cute and they don't inspire any posts. I kind of think those "in the trenches" posts are only interesting if you have a truly unique job, like being a female taxi-cab driver in New York. Besides, how many law-related shows are there out there? Just watch those, they give a far more glamorous version. If this ever becomes "a day in the life" type blog, figuratively shoot me. Flies have died watching my life pass, slowly like molasseses dripping from the end of a spoon, before their many eyes. Don't let yourself be a victim too. Hopefully my life will become more interesting when I move to Liberal College Town and start school again. Then again, maybe it won't. I think it'll probably be a lot more of the same--eating sandwiches, reading, watching Star Trek, drinking tea. But classes will give me more to think about, so maybe the blogging will become more diverse and interesting in subject matter. Like welfare benefits law! Oooh!

So at any rate, I won't be posting many case summaries/commentaries, or predicting which direction the law is headed. Like I said, I don't feel very qualified yet. The heck if I know which direction the law is going! This is why I'm getting an LLM and JSD! I need some more disciplinary training! I need to write more scholarship! So far, I feel semi-qualified to write about race-conscious pedagogy and affirmative action, but as this is no longer my main research interest, I have let it drift to the side as I focus all of my attention on devolutionary federalism and ____ (topic TBD, since "civil rights" is overly broad, and now a book written by far smarter people, and I need to learn more about "distributive welfare programs" or "sentencing laws" before I develop a paper about that).

Another reason I don't blog on every case that comes out, or every legal issue that crops up is because I have an awareness of my audience. Besides the law profs who have swung by, most of my readers are non-lawyers. Most of them are in the academy, to be sure, but generally, not that many people interested in why the bankruptcy reform bill sucked. I can't not write about the law though, so generally my posting comes out as political opinion. Just works out that way. If you're not doing "scholarly blogging," you're doing punditry. Sucks to be in the same camp as Glenn Reynolds, Michele Malkin, and Tucker Carlson, but oh well.

I try to avoid punditry by anchoring my posts to some authority, be it legal precedent, personal experience, or scholarship. I also try to avoid writing about the same thing. If I had to classify this blog, I'd have to say that it's an "academic blog"--not a "blawg," just a "blog." It's a good deal legal, but a lot more academic--about the life of a student, what it means to be an "aspiring academic," and my scholarship projects. In this way, I've managed to keep a pretty diverse, mostly non-legal audience--and form a community of online academics, which I love. My real life alter-ego is trying to cultivate virtual relationships with real life legal academics (mostly "blawggers"), but my pseudonymous blogger self has made friends with and formed a very supportive community of academics from all fields in all parts of the country. How awesome is that? If I were a "blawgger," I wouldn't get to converse with medievalists, Americanists, and college profs in this wonderful online community we've formed in linking and commenting on each other's blogs. And that'd be a crying shame.

One day I'll be a prawf, and I'll probably join/form a purely scholarly law prawf blawg. But for now, this is my own, and it is whatever I want it to be. I like that.