(In two earlier posts I discussed science communication as a field of governance (here) and the multitude of technoscience (here). Here’s the third post — about the blogging phenomenon and science communication)
Blog-savvy readers of this post hardly need to be reminded about the fact that the blog medium has grown explosively over the last ten years and is now rapidly transforming the global media ecology; in early February 2008, Technorati reported they were tracking 113 million blogs and that the number of daily posts was around 1,6 million.
The majority of these millions of blogs are pretty inactive and the majority of these in turn deal with everything but technoscience. Yet, in absolute numbers, blogs dealing with science, technology and medicine have an impressive presence on the internet.
The number of blogs dealing with science is probably somewhere between the ~28,000 blogs tagged ‘science’ on Technorati and the 1,000 or so ‘serious’ blogs that are written by, as Bora Zivkovic puts it “graduate students, postdocs and young faculty, a few by undergraduates and tenured faculty, several by science teachers, and just a few by professional journalists that deal with pressing issues or aim to engage other scientists in discussions about science practice, scientific publications or science policy”.
The number of blogs tagged ‘medicine’ is almost 6.700 (around 700 of these are ‘serious’) and the number of ‘technology’ blogs (mostly about computers and IT) is over 65,000 (all figures from 9 February 2008).
Number exercises aside, the rapid rise of blogging in these fields is important for understanding science communication today. “Because of their freewheeling nature, these blogs take scientific communication to a different level”, Laura Bonetta (‘Scientists enter the blogosphere’, Cell, 129: 443-45, 2007) points out. In my opinion, this “different level” has to do with the fact that blogging is currently more about communicatio than lectio (cf. my earlier post).
Not only is the blog medium easy to use, it also invites people to get their own voice in the global network; furthermore the functionalities of hyperlinking and comments emphasise the social nature of knowledge production and opinion making:
To define blogs as mere “personal diaries on the web” would certainly be miserly … This phenomenon should not be understood as yet another manifestation of an individualism nurtured by society in decay, but is on the contrary the result of a new technological articulation, made transparent by syndication, and taking place in between “intimateness” and “ex-timacy” – to borrow a concept of Laurence Allard. The ”blogosphere” represents not simply the juxtaposition of intimate diaries, but is a true media space which enables subjectivities to exist on a territory of their own, while at the same time “weaving threads” among each other, and which makes it possible for them to assemble around a political and aesthetic subjectivity that is at once their own and shared. It is never “me” who decides whether someone is going to “syndicate” with me. It is always for the other party to decide, and vice-versa (Olivier Blondeau, ‘Hacktivism Street protests, politics, and mobility: A study of activist uses of syndication’; originally published in Multitudes 21 (2005); read it here)
In my ‘multitudinarian’ interpretation, blogs can be seen as ‘singularities’ in the sense of Hardt and Negri: there are few group blogs, and even fewer corporate, organisational or national blogs. The large majority of blogs don’t represent any movements, parties, institutions or organisations; instead they function, in a Deleuzian sense, as “an escape from the dominant codes and majoritarian categories—including those of ‘identity politics’—that otherwise trap the singular in passive or static relations” (Simon Tormey, ‘‘Not in my Name’: Deleuze, Zapatismo and the Critique of Representation’, Parliamentary Affairs 59: 138–154, 206).
Yet blogs are not individualistic in a traditional way: many bloggers identify themselves by pseudonyms. Nor are they solipsistic: there is a high degree of cross-linking between blogs. The net of hyperlinks to other singularities stands for the network of all singularities.
The current dominant mode of thinking among bloggers is one of criticism and resistance. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Technoscience is not homogenous; in fact, the notion of an alleged ‘(techno)scientific community’ conceals the distribution of power and authority within technoscience. Younger scientists complain about their situation as a transnational ‘scientific proletariat’ who live on temporary soft money and have to move around world to get jobs. Even tenured faculty and other people with secure positions are judged largely by the amount of grant money they bring in and how many graduate students they can support. Competition for grants and publications is fierce, and the tactics used to secure them can be ugly, especially in high-profile sciences.
At the moment, as an open network of singularities, the blogosphere has a bias towards the ‘multitude’. But the blogosphere is a contested arena. More and more institutional (both national and transnational) blogs are entering the arena. There are also blogs that are run by organisations which are themselves divided between ‘Empire’ and ‘multitude’ (to continue to use Hardt and Negri’s sometimes contested binary categories; for a foucauldian critique, see here), for example, Nature.com blogs. It is an open question how biopower and biopolitical production will be distributed within the science communicating blogosphere.
(The commentator at the workshop ‘Science Communication as the Co-Production of Sciences and Their Publics’ last Friday, Sebastian Linke from the Section of STS at the University of Gothenburg, will has put his remarks to the whole paper (the last three posts) as a comment to this post)