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Provocations for “DIY Academy?”

Ashley Dawson’s “DIY Academy?” gives a lot to think about re: online publishing and calls for a structural change in how we think about publishing.

Paraphrasing Dawson’s critical equipment/philosophical history, it seems to me that he is warning against the kind of “digital revolution” that seems to have taken over online publishing in the creative writing arts–a field that was very quick to embrace digitisation in a way that “the Academy” has yet to do. In creative writing, there is a proliferation of online blogs, journals, and spaces to write–and as Dawson points out with regard to blogs in general, certain big name online forums are commercially-viable and successful, while most grad student-generated online journals die out as their editors lose steam and interest.

Work published online in these forums essentially becomes “wasted” work, if what you want from your writing is a) that it be read widely and enter a larger cultural consciousness, or b) that you get “credit” for it in some way.

Dawson’s comments imply that this kind of failure occurs because there is no systemic difference in that kind of online publication from extant print publication–only the medium is different, based on the lower cost of online publishing. For online publication to really unfold in its myriad potentialities, we need to think about the fact of online publishing itself in an entirely different way (this might remind some of us from Core 1 of the difference between text and hypertext discussed in the class when David Greetham came to visit us, where hypertext is not simply text with links inserted, but a completely different process of creation).

Some concerns voiced by Dawson, overlapping a bit with Sonia’s comments below:
1. Curatorial function. Academic presses now serve a kind of curatorial function that provides some measure of quality through the clunky, tedious, long-drawn out peer-review process.That doesn’t mean that we can throw peer review out of the window. Dawson stresses that “quality” is now married to “sellability” and the academic star system, so this process is not utopian, but it certainly is necessary. For instance, one complaint against many online-only creative journals is that the standard of writing they are willing to publish is–err–lamentable, let’s say. How can we ensure that academic writing doesn’t go this same route?
2. Academic and political freedoms. As Dawson notes, the academy is nowhere near perfect, but it does function as some kind of “shield” for scholars from larger political and social pressures. E.g.,within our classrooms, we can talk about incendiary politics and Ray Kelly isn’t going to come busting in the door, nor is Matt Goldstein looking to eavesdrop in the way the NYU grad students were snooped again. Therefore–

We need to think very carefully… about how to exploit the shift online without surrendering the relative autonomy from both market pressures and political censure that we humanities scholars have hitherto enjoyed. (263)

3. “DIY Academy?” The title of Dawson’s article contains that question mark precisely because he believes that we, as a group of humanities scholars (sorry Kiran, your kind have a whole other kettle of fish to deal with!), are woefully underprepared for the kind of sea changes in thought that online publishing can offer us. Instead of thinking of the web as an inexpensive place to “dump” all our work, we have to think about the forms that academic work online, via the commons or otherwise, can and should take. As members of the “cognitariat” (266), it behoves us to consider what we want from our scholarship, and how we can work to achieve this. It is heartening to see Dawson acutely aware of the rungs on the ladder of scholasticism–what junior scholars (us) are able to do is significantly different from what senior, tenured faculty (him) can, which is again different from the kind of clout the Big Names (in my field, perhaps people like Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, people like that?) have access to.

A couple of further thoughts:
1. I’ve talked a lot about creative journals that are online, and offer two examples. Both journals are run by friends of mine, but one, Construction, is online-only, doesn’t have access to regular funding, and is middling along as such small-scale journals do. The other, The Coffin Factory, is based more clearly on a business model, prints a paper version as well as having an online presence, and in general functions much more like “a business”–and was written up in the NY Times. Assuming the quality of work is equal, Dawson might argue against the latter, more successful, model on the basis that it replicates the systems of veto and control that the publishing and commercial industries have already (he draws on Golumbia repeatedly for this argument). It represents no new way of thinking about online work, although it is a smart way of using the internet as an alternative to the print-only medium.

2. Dawson’s article appears in Michael’s Socia Media Reader, and a recurring question to me is, who is this “reader” for? Is it aimed at other academics, with the hope of converting some and cementing others in the cognitariat? Is it aimed instead at undergrads, who seem to be largely unaware of these life-and-tenure discussions that their adjunct instructors are caught in? In other words, it seems to me that the SMR and other such texts (Dawson mentions several, and I’m very curious to look at the Golumbia book he mentions) are important efforts in a much bigger (and slower?) struggle to de-fossilise the administration on whom we depend to survive. Without the Provost agreeing to “count” online publications, there’s little point in newbies like us complaining about the lack of flexibility in how “work produced” is defined. Without a trending acknowledgement from the administration that the high capitalist model of goods produced and “profits” made that our current university is built upon is not ideal, there really isn’t much we as junior faculty can do if we want to get a job we don’t hate waking up to.

Online Journal in my Field–

Lastly, an online-only journal that I like, which doesn’t really have a lot of work going up on it regularly (in part, perhaps, because it replicates a print-publishing model instead of going for something more OA) is Latchkey. It looks like it started out with a lot of enthusiasm, is housed by Rivendale Press, and has a large “rose garden” of editors who seem primarily newer scholars all motivated by their love for Oscar Wilde and the fin-de-siecle. In my dealings with this magazine (both to use it for reference, and to publish with them), I’ve had some frustrations and some success. This journal seems to be run by great people who love this material, but it still seems to be “extra” work added on to the “work that counts” for many people running it. So, for instance, I wrote a 7-page biography to be added to the “Who’s Who” page which was accepted for publication, but the whole thing took even longer than it took for my regular peer-reviewed paper-only journal to review and agree to publish a 27-page essay (!!). The Who’s Who page is down, often for a couple of days at a time, as content editors put up new material, making it hard for me to use it as a reliable teaching tool in any way. I really enjoy how open and informal this tiny little online journal is, and would love to be a bigger supporter of it, but these nagging problems have made me wary of it.


Posted in Motivations, Reading.

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2 Responses

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  1. Laura Kane says

    Great post, Ria.

    I definitely agree with you about the (at the very least) perceived difference in quality between online-only and print journals. When I was looking through the open access journals that I found via Naomi, I did not recognize many of the names of contributing authors or editors. I think the perception that online-only academic writing is for those who cannot publish in print, and are to be avoided.
    I’ve always like Philosophy Compass (the journal I wrote about) because they have a different focus than a traditional journal, but I don’t know if that’s just my own prejudice against online journals!

  2. Hadassah Damien says

    Thanks, Ria! I’m looking forward to some QT with Construction.

    One quick aside related to the article — Dawson mentions the “dark side” of networks; how the majority of computing power is used for State and commercial purposes. Witness the million-square-foot NSA data-storage center in Utah that was reported on in this month’s Wired. Empire, anyone?

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