Posted by: Johan Normark | May 4, 2011

Dealing with the public view of the Maya: pt. 2

The hierarchical structure of academic Mayanist research is ineffective when it deals with thoughts emerging within the 2012 phenomenon. Most Mayanist academics that attempt to confront this phenomenon do it through traditional media, such as peer-reviewed journals and books and conferences. They therefore inhabit another media environment than the ones they wish to confront although the 2012ers also publish books, their ideas primarily spread on blogs, forums and other websites.

What is the main contrast between the traditional media ecology that most academic Mayanists inhabit and that of the blogosphere? It is probably the sorting process that selects who gets an opportunity to express oneself. According to Levi Bryant internet and blogs work differently than traditional media. Traditional academic texts are found in academic journals, presses, and conferences such as the SAA’s and Nordic TAG and seldom are they read outside the academic sphere. Editors of journals, presses, and the organizers of conferences have a substantial amount of power in defining topics, discourse, legitimate thought, and content, etc. In this media environment one accesses other research through the journal and press. This hierarchical media environment therefore defines who gets to participate.

Blogging challenges this traditional academic mode of knowledge-distribution and reproduction. Topics, trends, and legitimate discourse no longer reside only with editors and organizers of conferences. Other topics and styles of thought emerge outside of these traditional mediums, even among academic bloggers, such as myself.

Journals are able to maintain strict disciplinary boundaries targeting specialists in a particular field. Academic blogging break up academic disciplinary boundaries, similar to what occurs within the 2012 phenomenon. My blog posts about 2012 have been commented by a musician, an ethnographer, a philosopher, a political activist, and some fellow archaeologists as well. Blogging therefore undermines academic hierarchy which I see as a positive effect (in most cases).

I often receive a differentiated set of opinions and therefore also a highly differentiated quality of comments compared to that of peer-reviews. Comments from 2012ers are often written to reject me, but that has also happened in at least one peer-review. At least I have an opportunity to respond to the critique on the blog.

I primarily see my blog as an important tool to post my thoughts much quicker and to a much broader audience than a fairly limited academic circle. As a medium I use my blog as:

1. An on-line notebook and research site where I can share and organize notes and ideas from my own reading or fieldwork and hopefully get some feedback to refine my ideas.

2. A didactic site where readers can learn something about archaeology, the Maya, etc.

3. Learning how to write better (in Swenglish though). Most of my readers are located in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

4. An open-ended project where some of the purposes emerge in the process of blogging other topics.

It is this last point that is in focus in this series of blog posts since my dealings with the 2012 phenomenon was an unintended outcome of my blogging activity. Most traffic to my blog comes from people searching for something related to this phenomenon. I am therefore also feeding on the phenomenon that I criticize and dislike but is my own research affected by my blogging about the 2012 phenomenon? It has perhaps made me a bit schizophrenic. In my posts on my own archaeological research I am often critical of Mayanist research whereas when I deal with 2012ers I have become somewhat conservative and a defender of ideas that I usually criticize. In a way I am unintentionally trying to maintain the academic hierarchy.

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Responses

  1. Undermining hierarchy is of course important, and I think this is necessary in order to keep our disciplines vital. To engage with the public in a serious way will have effect on how we work. We can’t then hit them in the head with a number of peer reviewed articles and hope that they will go away, my experience is that many of them are looking for a discussion, or maybe just to be heard but not patronized. One problem since we only have 24 h a day is who should I engage with? On one hand they are asking for an expert, so I still have to keep up with what is published traditionally but in order to understand the public I also have to keep up with what is written in other media. Don’t You think that this soon will lead to just another form of hierachy?

  2. I interact with all kinds of people on this blog. Most of them search for something related to the Maya calendar and I usually have to inform them that most information about the Maya on internet is false and distorted (and hence I take on a hierarchical position). If I do have the time I outline what the academic view(s) is/are and why this is so. I do take negative criticism from the public (most of the comments are negative since I try to be honest about what I think of people that distorts what can be known from archaeologyícal data). I think one has to be consistent in the relations so people know what you stand for (at least dealing with them on blogs and forums). If so I think the problem of hierarchy can disappear to some extent. If people know what I think they can take it or leave it, do not let my academic title determine what you should think.

  3. Hey Johan,

    I’ve been away for a while and haven’t even been able to work on my own blog for 2012. Has the traffic for your 2012 articles slowed down any? Have you had a chance to read David Stuarts book? I’m looking to pick it up soon.

    And of course, JMJ was offended that Stuart gave him only a few pages. Mr. Jenkins even wrote on of his pseudo-scholarly “reviews” of Stuarts book. http://update2012.com/review-stuartsbook.html

    Talk to you soon,

  4. Unfortunately not. I have to order it through Amazon and the package will not arrive before I leave for a while. I will order it later on. I am not in a hurry.


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