C. Wright Mills on blogging

(I’ve been thinking lately about anthropology as sapiential text (more on this later) and recently revisited On Intellectual Craftmanship. I was amazed how clearly the reasons why scholars blog were laid out in the opening paragraphs. In what follows I have changed none of Mills’s original language except for replaced ‘journal’ and ‘file’ with ‘website’ and ‘blog’. Clearly Mills didn’t envision the files he advocates as public documents, but other than that the parallels are uncanny)

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. They seem to take both too seriously to allow such dissociation, and they want to use each for the enrichment of the other. Of course, such a split is the prevailing convention, deriving, I suppose, from the hollowness of the work which people in general now do. But you will have recognised that as a scholar you have the exceptional opportunity of designing a way of living which will encourage the habits of good workmanship. Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether aware of it or not, the intellectual worker forms his or her own self in working toward the perfection of craft; to realise personal potentialities, and any opportunities that come his or her way, such a person constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of the good workman.

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 web site, 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 website 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. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your blog also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture “fringe- thoughts”: various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience.

You will have often noticed how carefully accomplished thinkers treat their own minds, how closely they observe their development and organise their experience. The reason they treasure their smallest experiences is that, in the course of a lifetime, the modern individual has so very little personal experience and yet experience is so important as a source of original intellectual work. To be able to trust yet to be sceptical of your own experience, I have come to believe, is one mark of the mature worker. This ambiguous confidence is indispensable to originality in any intellectual pursuit, and the file is one way by which you can develop and justify such confidence.

By keeping an adequate blog and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake. Whenever you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them on your blog and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself either how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape. The blog also helps you build up the habit of writing. You cannot “keep your hand in” if you do not write something at least every week. In developing the file, you can experiment as a writer and thus, as they say, develop your powers of expression. To maintain a blog is to engage in the controlled experience.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

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