I often write from a personal perspective when I blog, and my research also relates to questions I am interested in personally. I’m not a specialist kind of expert with a long list of formal publications. I’m what you might consider a “generalist” sociologist with a wide range of interests. I love to teach and do research. I worked as an editor for a short time. Yet I find that after finishing graduate school, I now approach writing with trepidation. Blogging has been a way for me to rediscover my voice, to write what matters to me, to overcome my fears. I associated with Feminist Reflections because when I write about personal experiences I already tend to think about them from feminist sociological perspectives.
As one of most junior scholars in this blogging group I’ve published the least, but I write a lot. I started my own blog,Ms Knowledge Speaks, a few years ago after I left a job in the business world where I felt silenced and needed an outlet. My blogging was sporadic for a while. Then after a major change in my life – landing a tenure track job and relocating my family from a liberal metropolitan area to a small town in the Deep South (what sometimes feels like a foreign country to me) – I felt compelled to blog again. This was in part for my own sanity but also to get back to the practice of writing. Still, I sometimes feel like I’m not getting it right.
On Facebook I am connected to colleagues all over the world who often share links to academics’ blogs in Sociology and related fields. It’s all great and interesting commentary on news and academic articles. When compared with these, I wonder if my personal reflections on my own blog appear to be just “naval gazing”? Is there a risk in exposing too much about myself, even though I do put limits on what I write? If I write about personal experiences within a more formalized sociological feminist framework, will this make me a legitimate feminist sociological blogger? Or am I an imposter?
I feel like an imposter when I blog because I do not always write about my research or offer a sociological analysis of current events, nor do I have my research cited in other’s blogs. I also feel like an imposter since I do not see myself as a “specialist” like many of the colleagues in my discipline. Gender is one of my areas of concentration, with a focus on reproduction issues, but I had to become a generalist when I worked as an adjunct instructor for many years and teaching any class available. After receiving my PhD in sociology, I continued to teach as an all-things-for-all-people adjunct. I worked as an analyst in market research, was a research manager and managing editor for a Center in a business school, and spent a summer working for the U.S. Census. Subsequently, and prior to my current academic position, I obtained a Master’s Degree in social work with a focus on clinical mental health, at the time intending work in mental health rather than academia.
Now that I’m back in the Academy, being a generalist is a plus for teaching because I’m using these experiences and education to teach sociology and social services courses. But it sometimes seems like sociologists who have general knowledge of the field or an ability to speak to other disciplines are not recognized for these skills. Someday I do hope to be seen as a specialist in an area that few sociologists study. I’ve already started a project on maternal mental health, specifically mental illness during pregnancy. But at times I feel like I know too much about the many subfields of sociology, feminist studies, and the related field of social work to be valued in a traditional way. So, to blog from this generalized, but well-informed perspective, scares me, especially when I talk about personal experiences. I’m afraid that I will be seen as a writer who lacks “expert legitimacy.”
Nate Palmer of Sociology Source, wrote a post titled, “I May Be an Impostor, but…” that also speaks to this self-doubt. He writes about how he felt like a fake because of his position in the hierarchy of academia and how the “imposter syndrome” held him back, resulting in missed opportunities. He also explains why sociologists, academics, applied sociologists, and activists do not blog more. First, we have a readily available platform to share our research and perspectives. Second, academics may have a harder time blogging because these writings are not published in a scholarly journal, which equates with polished work and prestige. Still, he believes we should take this risk and to share our research, teaching, and perspectives, to start a conversation.
To follow Nate’s advice, I need to get over my fears, overcome feeling inadequate or like an imposter, and write about what I find meaningful and relevant. A conversation could start. New ideas could be generated. Yet I still ask, is there room for my kind of blogging within these feminist and sociological spaces? To answer this, I refer to the first post on Feminist Reflections by Gayle Sulik, ” A Feminist Reflection on the Discipline of Sociology.”
Gayle begins with a story about speaking at a “woman’s” university and ties this back to the history of women in sociology. Many of the women sociological theorists analyzed social inequality because they wanted change it. They faced discrimination for this and for simply being women. This was also a time in sociology, where being “objective” was equated with being “academic.” Supposedly the discipline has moved on to become more inclusive of different perspectives and “more connected with the real world” as we do “public sociology” and applaud “public intellectuals.” However, as Gayle argues, and as I think most of us in Feminist Reflections would agree, we still need a feminist sociological place. In her words,
“We need a formal communal setting that is open to intellectual curiosity, the musings of everyday life and the emotions that set their tone…. We need to examine power, influence, and the construction of knowledge… We need to reflect, with a feminist perspective, on our lives as sociologists and human beings.”
In thinking about Gayle’s post on “needing a feminist room of our own,” Nate’s post on the “imposter syndrome,” and our rationale for starting Feminist Reflections, the notions of legitimacy, risk, and space come to mind. Even if other “academics” or “public intellectuals” blog about their specialty areas and their research, or have others blog about these and are therefore viewed as “legitimate,” those of us who teach, who are generalists, and/or who write from a personal perspective are also legitimate sociologists. We may be taking greater risks when writing about the personal, especially if we are not tenured or on a tenure track, but from a feminist perspective the personal matters. It is vital that we make more room for feminist sociologists of differing perspectives who write about different things. Feminist Reflections is a place to do this.