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Friday, January 7, 2011

Some thoughts on the Legal Blogging debate: looking at the shooter, not the gun...

First of all, a happy new year to my faithful readers, who keep checking for updates despite my poor record in posting in recent months....

To start the year on a light note, I'd like to put forward some comments on Jean D'Aspremont's thoughful discussion of legal blogging over at EJIL Talk. It's a generally positive assesment of this practice, and I share most of his conclusions. I propose here some additional food for thought as a counter-point to Jean's argumentation.

For one, I find it difficult to make comments on legal blogging in general. Some of them have a purely informative ambitions (publications, call for papers, recent decisions...). Others tend to be more analytical. A blog is just a medium of communication that can be used for several purposes, and is not per se hazardous or not. In the same way, there is good quality and bad quality blogging out there and it is for the reader to decide on this. Arguably, given the volume of legal blogging (and I agree with Jean that keeping track is an extremely time-consuming activity), it is harder to sift the good from the bad, but the idea remains the same.

Which leads me to a second point. the analyse should invite a mirror analysis of traditional legal scholarship. Not to sound facetious (and probably proving Jean's point that blogging may lead to comments that "the author of the post may subsequently regret"...), but we've all come accross journal articles and books, even in established and reknowned publications and from esteemed publishers, which have "hasty treatment of the information" and disseminate "half-baked ideas". What we do daily, is exercise judgment, based on our previous experience of a Journal or a specific author, to decide whether to give credit to a particular piece.

The same is true of the blogosphere, which is a far more organised (or at least not any less so than the traditional legal scholarship world) than Jean seems to suggest. There is a handful of established legal blogs out there and I don't think it is that much harder for a jurist in the field to identify them, than to know what traditional journals have a certain reputation or not.

On the interaction between legal blogging and traditional legal scholarship, I do not share Jean's invitation to keep them entirely separate, both in terms of content, and career advancement. It all depends on what your evaluation standards are. Of course, I wouldn't expect a scholar's capacity for thorough research  to be assessed by his blog. In the same way, I wouldn't judge a person's capacity to write a book on a few paragraphs online.
However, legal blog writing is a skill and can show a certain capacity to express ideas succinctly and clearly, which can certainly be useful in a academic career, in terms of drafting short notes or abstracts, on which will often depend initial participation in a project or conference.
Moreover, in terms of content, I must admit that I do not share Xavier's humility over at the International Jurist, who says he's not trying to compete with some of the expert blogs. I don't see why a good idea expressed in a blog (and I've read quite a few on Xavier's blog, and hope that I've put forward a couple of my own here) should be less worthy of attention than a good idea developed in a lenghty article. Again, I've seen terrible ideas being developed over the course of entire books, and novel ideas be succinctly put forward in short blog posts.

In any case, I think that one shouldn't oppose legal blogging and traditional scholarship. The former never had the ambition to replace the latter. They are just different means of communication, and they follow similar recognition patterns, in terms of repuation and expertise, as I point out previously. They also have different purposes which are actually complementary. Indeed, a cursory review of the list of contributors of some of the major blogs, such as EJIL Talk, or IntLawGrrls, shows that most of them are regularly published in traditional academic publications.

The bottom line is that what is important, is the author, not the medium. A poor jurist will produce poor scholarship, whatever the means. As regards a good jurist, his capacity to convey his ideas adequately through blogs will depend on the structure of his thought process. Some people need (and want) to cover every aspect of a topic before starting to communicate, others function better in perpetual debate to construct their ideas. Ultimately, as Jean points out, Blogs are a healthy platform for expert's debate. At the end of the day, the quality of the debate will depend on what we, as active contributors, do with it. Any debate on this issue should therefore focus, as Jean does at the end of his contribution, at the shooter, not the gun.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dov,

    Thank you for the kind words, both here and in your comment on my blog.

    I think that the idea that blogging is a threat for peer-reviewed journals is absurd, and of the reactionary sort that had people claim that the radio was the death of the newspaper, or that television was the death of the radio. Journals and blogging are two different media that serve different purposes, and have each different strengths and weaknesses.

    Regarding the quality of the debates that can be found on blogs, I entirely agree with your points, and in particular that we should be looking at the blogger, not the concept of blogging.

    Blogging, as an emanation of the Internet, is far more 'democratic', or at least 'accessible' than classic journals. With that comes the risk that certain individuals try to pass off as "experts" in a certain domain and blog about it even though they are far from knowledgeable.

    But there is a form of "market force" that counters the negative aspects of blogging. Quality blogs, such as EJIL: Talk!, Opinio Juris, Lawfare or others, will have a following, whereas lower-standards blogs will not.

    After all, no one forces anyone to read all the legal blogs out there.

    Legal scholars can sleep soundly. And hopefully, start blogging.