The Humanities Blog: The Rise of a New Research Genre?

Damon Young
July 12, 2010
Image of Berlant's blog website, Supervalent Thought.

Where does humanities “thought” take place? There are the familiar sites, or genres, of intellectual production: the classroom discussion, the conference presentation, the formal publication – each of which is determined by a specific set of formal parameters and generates particular kinds of scholarly activity.

The rise of digital technologies has brought with it the possibility of a generic expansion. Between a casual conversation with colleagues or students, and a formal presentation or publication, an increasing number of humanities scholars are experimenting with new forms of thinking and dialogue that take place in new, “virtual” sites.
Here at the Townsend Humanities Lab we have been following Lauren Berlant’s blog, Supervalent Thought, in which she tests out ideas for her ongoing research projects, engages with interlocutors who may not be in her normal circle, and gives expression to thoughts that otherwise would not seem “dramatically memorable” enough to warrant recording.

In a recent blog post, musing on the forms of sociability specific to Facebook, she writes:

“People are trying there to eventalize the mood, the inclination, the thing that just happened-- the episodic nature of existence. So and so is in a mood right now. So and so likes this kind of thing right now; and just went here and there. This is how they felt about it. It’s not in the idiom of the great encounter or the great passion, it’s the lightness and play of the poke. There’s always a potential but not a demand for more.”

The same might be said about the blog itself: the thoughts expressed therein lack the drama of an “event” (for example, a publishing event); they comprise – and make space for – thoughts not yet worked into the shape of a major idea or intervention, and constitute a kind of non-dramatic, sociable workspace for ideas that invites – but does not require – interaction and response. Let us know which humanities blogs you think are worthy of bookmarking!