I will participate in two sessions at Society for American Archaeology conference in Sacramento in less than a month from now. One of them is entitled “Blogging archaeology”. The session organizer, Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery, asks a series of questions regarding the topic of the session. I did not have time to answer Question 1 but here is Question 2:
In our last question, many emphasized the public access that blogging brings to archaeology, the option to “phone a friend,” as Kristin Sewell stated. Blogging gives new scholars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 foolishness and to give a little bit back to the public that usually signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is generally embraced (says she of the Berkeley bubble!), public outreach can be incredibly difficult, tricky, and prone to hidden downsides. Blogging archaeology is often fraught with tensions that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging? What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?
When it comes to the themes that I mainly blog about I choose to share my thoughts in similar ways. Originally I intended to blog about archaeological theory (which has received little coverage by bloggers) and Mayanist research. Soon afterwards I began to blog about the 2012 phenomenon as I became interested in how this sphere of new age, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, etc. transform and shape the public view of the Maya. Most traffic to my blog comes from people searching something related to this unimportant date.
It is not particularly difficult to debunk these theories from a scholarly view. Of course, this leads to different responses from the commentators. Most of the people commenting on the 2012 posts are people who get upset about the way I debunk these ideas. They feel that I am patronizing, that I think that I am better than them, that I am fooled by academia itself, etc. In one case I even received threats from an astrologer after a fellow blogger (Stuart Robbins) and I wrote about her “expertise” in astrology and the Maya. She wrote several abusing comments using different names, including my own name (but they all came from the same IP-address). I also received some truly bizarre emails as well. Stuart wrote a summary of the whole “affair”.
No other public 2012er (yes, it is a very homogenized classification of a great variety of foolishness) has reacted like that even if I share my thoughts about their various “theories”. However, “ordinary” people who do believe in the 2012 ideas frequently comment on my summaries and they tend to be somewhat negative to what I have to say. Usually a negative response may spark a new blog post in order to point out issues that these commentators may have overlooked.
As for my more serious part of the blog (that is, archaeological theory and Mayanist research), I have considerably less responses. This is probably the result of various reasons. Few archaeologists are acquainted with my theoretical standpoints (“neomaterialist” or “neorealist” archaeology) and I am not writing for a philosophical audience (I do not want to become an amateur philosopher). Mayanists are even less acquainted with these ideas, the number of blogging Mayanists is very low, and quite deliberately I am critical of mainstream Mayanist research. I choose to share my thoughts about the use of ethnographic analogies, cosmological models, the palaeoclimatological models about the Maya collapse, the expected Mayanist critique of Apocalypto, etc. Hence my ideas are probably not well received among professional Mayanists and the public that have become accustomed to the mainstream “Maya culture” narrative. However, in the long run even they cannot be immune to the neorealist onslaught that is on the way in academia.
In short: I try to be as brutally honest as I can with the way I share my ideas. I am never trying to hide my “real” thoughts behind obsequious phrasing. This can, of course, lead to negative comments on my blog but I prefer that response instead of no response at all.