Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Anonymity and Pseudonymity

Update: Dean Dad does a great job delineating the difference between anonymity and pseudoyumity.

Apparently the Chronicle carried a piece that's getting a lot of response from anonymous academic bloggers. I just wanted to highlight something that definitely came up as a reason for me when I was using a pseudonym on this blog (just beware you have to filter some of the higher ed context - but the main point is there, I promise):

Finally, I know someone else has said this already - at least one of the respondents to the Chronicle article, probably Dr. Crazy and profgrrrrl, and I think at least one other person - but I'll close with what has become one of the things I most value about pseudonymity: it eliminates all the hierarchical trappings of professional rank, status, and affiliation. When I write for publication in my field, I'm writing from a very specific professional position - and as an adjunct, the one that I now hold is much less advantageous than ones I've held formerly. Yes, peer review is blind, yada yada yada. But cover letters with your identity go to journal editors. You're placed in an academic hierarchy by virtue of rank (assistant, associate, or full) and status (at an Ivy League or at Podunk East State, or somewhere in-between). When you yourself write as someone seeking tenure, it's different (I'd imagine) than writing as someone who has tenure. When you speak up in department and faculty meetings, your contributions are always assessed partially through your professional position (I don't mean this is a bad thing; assistant profs certainly get responses of the "what a bright young thing! so dedicated to the institution! what great ideas for the future!" kind. But their position is nonetheless different than that of a tenured prof).

When I write as New Kid, most of that falls away. I say "most" because it's clear from this blog that I was an assistant prof, am now a lecturer, and I've made pretty clear what kinds of institutions I've worked at. But even so, without the specifics, such distinctions lose a lot of meaning. There are a lot of small liberal arts colleges out there, and they place their employees in different positions. I'm still fairly generic.

Like Dr. Crazy, I've thought about "coming out" and attaching my legal name to this blog, and I still might. But one of the things that stops me is this feeling that if people had direct access to my professional identity/position, they'd start to use that to judge this blog in a way that pseudonymity makes impossible. If I started talking about writing an article (or more generally about the practice of writing articles), someone could look at my c.v. and say, "Why should I listen to what she has to say about writing articles? She sucks at writing articles!" Any comments about my students or my institution become not observations that (might, I hope) illuminate academe more broadly, but can be dismissed as specific to my particular institution, or a result of my academic background, and therefore ignored more easily. Conversely, if I attained some pinnacle of professional spiffiness, people might be influenced by that to give my words more weight than they deserve (and no, I don't mean that readers are stupid and can't tell good work from bad. But there's a reason that journals use blind peer review).


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