The Power of We: Social Media as a Platform for Collegiality

Fragment of a working design by Rudolf Ammann for Networked Researcher
Fragment of a working design by Rudolf Ammann for Networked Researcher

I am writing this on Friday 12 October 2012. Next Monday 15 October is Blog Action Day 2012. The topic this year is “The Power of We”. I won’t have time to blog on Monday so I have scheduled this post in advance.

I don’t normally use this blog for proper blog posts (I have been using it mainly to promote and personally keep track of my activities) but I thought I would publish my Blog Action Day post here. Precisely because, in a way, this site is indeed “all about me”, I thought it was appropriate to write here about how I don’t see blogging and social media as either narcissistic (not interested in that discussion now, been there, done that) or as “an echo chamber”.

On the contrary, blogging and social media empower the individual to have a voice, and this voice only becomes meaningful because it is addressed to others and when it listens to and engages with others.

I like the word “collegiality”. As its Wikipedia entry suggests,

“Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. […] Thus, the word collegiality can connote respect for another’s commitment to the common purpose and ability to work towards it.”

I have blogged before about how Twitter, for example, was for me a unique tool to engage with others whilst I was doing my PhD. Other more recent examples, such as the #tweetyourhtesis tag on Twitter (I blogged about it here), can remind PhD students they are not alone in their often isolated scholarly life. On Networked Researcher, Julio Peironcely blogged recently about how blogging and social media can help PhD students fight loneliness.

For me, collegiality embodies “the Power of We”. Very often it is possible to feel,  as Sartre phrased it, that “hell is other people”, and indeed in academic life (and in other professional paths as well) doing work collectively can mean that things take longer or can be made more complicated than what one would personally wish.

In times in which there are more PhD graduates than existing paid jobs for those PhDs, and in a profession in which traditional notions of originality correlate to hierarchical authority or reputation, collaboration might seem counterintuitive, an obstacle to individual success. As technologies that enable collective and remote collaboration, blogging and social media often clash with such paradigms of individual success and privilege (by definition, privilege depends on the lack of privilege of others).

I believe blogging and social media in higher education and academic research already offer plenty of examples of successful, positive collective action. Projects of all types, say from Transcribe Bentham to HASTAC to 4Humanities to the University of Venus to Digital Humanities Now (and personally I’d include Networked Researcher and The Comics Grid) are evidence that scholars are happy to redefine paradigms of authority and originality.

Instead of seeing the other colleague as a potential professional competitor or threat (sometimes even an enemy), the Power of We in academia means seeing the other colleague as a potential collaborator and even friend.

The Power of We means believing, sometimes against discouraging evidence, that there’s strength in numbers, and that collective intelligence and collaboration are quickly becoming the default mode of 21st century research.