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I haven’t blogged for months. Why not? The usual excuses, certainly: too much “real” work, too little time. But more that that: it was a crisis of confidence. What exactly was my blog for?
This isn’t unconnected to the similar doubts I’ve been having about my research work more generally. Academia is an odd place. Everyone’s an expert. But that expertise is defined so narrowly, it’s easy to feel like you know nothing at all. It’s partly a question of ownership: at the moment, my new research project, studying refugees’ continued migration after their initial flight, is very much in the incubation phase, meaning I don’t yet have findings of my own. And then there’s the question of who’s actually interested in your arguments. Academic panels can often outnumber academic audiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the work’s not interesting, but did make me ask: what’s the point?
All this raised more questions relating to blogging. How does commentary fit in with research – and when is it justified? Who was I writing for – cautious scholars or the public? What makes my noise worth listening to, when compared to colleagues I know very little indeed about the Arab Spring, or migrants arriving at Lampedusa, even if I do know much more than any Daily Mail – or even Guardian – columnist? I also had a sense I was speaking into silence: academics are notoriously bad at communication, so academic blogs often tend to be extensions of internal monologues, rather than the opening lines in conversations. I only discovered three of my colleagues had blogs when I joined twitter.
So why have I come back? Maybe because I’ve returned to the idea that the point is not just to interpret the world, but to change it. I can’t be happy being a researcher outside the real world. At heart I’m an advocate, even if I’m also an accidental academic. Certainly, I think the most persuasive arguments will always be those that are supported by fact not assertion – but someone also needs to make those arguments. And it seems impossible to remain on the sidelines when so many important battles over migration and mobility are being fought right now. Changing minds about migration and mobility is going to take a long time, and it will need many blogs to be written by many self-doubting experts.
There. That’s my battle-cry. Though on the subject of getting academic-bloggers to pool their efforts, so that they can really start influencing public discourse, watch this space….