Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 In what follows, then, I focus not just on the technological changes that many believe are necessary to allow academic publishing to flourish into the future, but on the social, intellectual, and institutional changes that are necessary to pave the way for such flourishing. In order for new modes of communication to become broadly accepted within the academy, scholars and their institutions must take a new look at the mission of the university, the goals of scholarly publishing, and the processes through which scholars conduct their work. We must collectively consider what new technologies have to offer not us, not just in terms of the cost of publishing or access to publications, but in the ways we research, the ways we write, and the ways we review.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 And it’s the structures of peer review that I argue in chapter 1 we need to begin with, not least because of the persistence of the problem that peer review presents for digital scholarship, and the degree to which our values (not to mention our value) as scholars are determined by it. Peer review is at the heart of everything we do – writing, applying for grants, seeking jobs, obtaining promotions; its presence is arguably that which makes the academy the academy. But I want to suggest that the current system of peer review is in fact part of what’s broken, part of what’s made a vibrant mode of scholarly communication undead. As I’ll explore in the next chapter, there’s a rather extraordinary literature available, mostly in the sciences and social sciences, on the problems with conventional peer review, including its biases and its flaws. It also requires an astonishing amount of labor, for which academics can’t currently receive any “credit.” And thus when Matt Kirschenbaum says that “what ought to count is peer review and scholarly merit, not the physical form in which the text is ultimately delivered,” I agree, but at the same time feel quite strongly that the system of peer review as we know it today is flawed, a backchannel conversation taking place between editor and reviewer that too often excludes the author from its benefits, and that too often impedes rather than assists in the circulation of ideas. For that reason, I want to force us to take a closer look at what we mean when we say peer review, what it is we expect peer review to do, in order to make sure that we’re not installing a broken part in a new machine.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 A dramatically changed peer review system such as the one that I propose, however, will inevitably require us to think about new structures of authorship as well; in chapter 2, I argue that a turn from pre-publication review to post-publication review will almost certainly necessitate a parallel turn from thinking about academic publishing as a system focused on the production and dissemination of individual products to imagining a system focused more broadly on facilitating the processes of scholarly work, as the time and effort required to maintain a community-oriented, gift-economy-driven system of peer-to-peer review will oblige scholars, much like the developers of large-scale open-source software projects, to place some portion of their emphasis not on their own individual achievements, but rather to find their self-interest served by the advancement of the community as a whole. This is a utopian ideal, of course, and to a significant degree, it goes against our training as scholars, particularly within the humanities; what we accomplish, we accomplish alone. (Or, as a commenter on Twitter put it after hearing a talk of mine, “being helpful is not really part of academic culture.”) As I reconsider authorship within digital networked publishing structures, I argue, using the example of blogs, that what we will need to let go of is not what we have come to understand as the individual voice, but instead the illusion that such a voice is ever fully alone. Roland Barthes, of course, claimed back in 1967 that no text is a single “line of words,” but that each instead is a “multi-dimensional space in which are married and contested several writings, none of which is original: the text is a fabric of quotations” (Barthes 52-53). We have long acknowledged the death of the author, in theory, at least – but have been loath to think about what such a proclamation might mean for our own status as authors, and have certainly been unwilling to part with the lines on the CV that are the result of the publishing.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Digital networks, as structures that facilitate interaction, communication, and interconnection, will require us to think differently about what it is we’re doing as we write. As the example of the blog might suggest, communities best engage with one another around writing that is open rather than closed, in process rather than concluded. If we were to shift our focus in the work we’re doing as authors from the moment of completion, from the self-contained product, to privilege instead the process of writing, discussion, and revision, we’d likely begin to “publish” work – in the sense of making it public in readable form – earlier in its development (at the conference paper stage, for instance) and to remain engaged with those texts much longer after they’ve been released to readers. Though this idea makes many scholars nervous – about getting “scooped,” about getting too much feedback too soon, about letting the messiness of our processes be seen, about the prospect of never being fully “done” with a project – it’s worth considering why we’re doing the work in the first place: to the degree that scholarship is about participating in an exchange of ideas with one’s peers, new networked publishing structures can facilitate that interaction, but will best do so if the discussion is ongoing, always in process.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 This foregrounding of conversation, however, may likely also require authors, who are in dialogue with their readers, who are of course themselves also authors, to relinquish a certain degree of control over their texts, letting go of the illusion that their work springs wholly from the individual intelligence and acknowledging the ways that scholarship, even in fields in which sole authorship is the norm, has always been collaborative. (We resist this, of course; as Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford have pointed out, no matter how much we claim to value the collective or collaborative, the proof of our profoundly individualistic sense of accomplishment rests in the literally unthinkable nature of the multi-author dissertation.) Sometimes the result of these new conversational publishing practices might be productive co-authoring relationships, but it need not always be so; we may instead need to develop new citational practices that acknowledge the participation of our peers in the development of our work. Along the way, though, we’ll also need to let go of some of our fixation on the notion of originality in scholarly production, recognizing that, in an environment in which more and more discourse is available, some of the most important work that we can do as scholars may more closely resemble contemporary editorial or curatorial practices, bringing together and highlighting and remixing significant ideas in existing texts rather than remaining solely focused on the production of more ostensibly original text. We must find ways for the new modes of authorship that digital networks will no doubt facilitate – process-focused, collaborative, remix-oriented – to “count” within our systems of valuation and priority.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In the later chapters of this project, I explore a number of other such changes that will be required throughout the entire academic community if such new publishing practices are to take root: publishers, for instance, will need to think differently about their business models (which may need to focus more on services and less on objects), about their editorial practices (which may require a greater role in developing and shepherding projects), about the structures of texts, about their ownership of copyright, and about their role in facilitating conversation; they’ll also need to think in concert with libraries about archival and preservation practices, ensuring that the texts produced today remain available and accessible tomorrow. And universities, in the broadest sense, will need to rethink the relationship between the library, the university press, the information technology center, and the academic units within the institution, reimagining the funding model under which publishing operates and the institutional purposes that such publishing serves – but also, and crucially, reimagining the relationship between the academic institution and the surrounding culture. As new systems of networked knowledge production become increasingly prevalent and influential online, the university, and the scholars who comprise it, need to find ways to adapt those systems to our needs, or we will run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to the ways that contemporary culture produces and communicates authority.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 3 In the end, what I am arguing is that we in the humanities today face what is less a material obsolescence than an institutional one; we are caught in entrenched systems that no longer serve our needs. But because we are, by and large, our institutions, or rather, because they are us, the greatest challenge we face is not that obsolescence, but our response to it. Like the novelists I studied in my first book, who may feel their cultural centrality threatened by the rise of newer media forms, we can shore up the boundaries between ourselves and the open spaces of intellectual exchange on the internet; we can extol the virtues of the ways things have always been done; we can bemoan our marginalization in a culture that continues marching forward into the digital future – and in so doing, we can further undermine our influence on the main threads of intellectual discussion in contemporary public life. We can build supports for an undead system, and we can watch the profession itself become undead. Or we can work to change the ways we communicate and the systems through which we attribute value to such communication, opening ourselves to the possibility that new modes of publishing might enable not just more texts but better texts, not just an evasion of obsolescence but a new life for scholarship. The point, finally, is not whether any one particular technology can provide a viable future for scholarly publishing, but whether we have the institutional will to commit to the development of the systems that will make such technologies viable, and keep them viable into the future.

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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/introduction/overview/