Performing Scholarly Communication

Published by Ted Striphas on Wed, 08/25/2010 - 13:43

Words are not tools, but we give children language, pens, and notebooks as we give workers shovels and pickaxes.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (76)

If you’re like me, then chances are you’ve opened up or otherwise accessed this issue of Text and Performance Quarterly to stay on top of the latest developments in Performance Studies.  That’s a sensible thing to do.  Academic communities depend significantly on our willingness to share our latest research with our colleagues and to share in theirs in return.  Journals are particularly well suited to this type of exchange, maybe even better than books.  Because of the frequency with which periodicals are published and the specialized audiences they usually address, they’re able to offer more regular opportunities for fields or disciplines to reaffirm or challenge their discursive bonds.   The question I want to pose is, should we expect even more from this type of exchange than we currently do?

The foregoing activities and a host of other ones fall under the rubric of “scholarly communication.”  In its conventional usage, the term refers to both process and product, drawing on the two dominant senses of the word “communication” James Carey identified more than 35 years ago: the ritual (e.g., the periodic avowal of disciplinary solidarity) and the transmissive (e.g., the instrumental dissemination of research) (12).  The claim I want to advance is that our expectations of academic publishing are linked to how we conceive of the “communication” part of “scholarly communication,”[fn]…and indeed to the “scholarly” part of “scholarly communication,” but that’s a different essay entirely.[/fn] and that the conventional usage hardly accounts for the range of phenomena with which periodical publishing in particular can be associated.  I might even be tempted to say, paraphrasing Deleuze and Guattari, that words are not tools, but we give journals to academics as we give construction workers shovels and pickaxes.

Serials, indeed, are more than just obligatory tools of the academic trade.  This becomes apparent as soon as we emphasize the performative dimensions of scholarly communication.  By this I refer to the material transformations that result from a given communicative event and, relatedly, to the socially-inculcated habits that dispose us to engage repetitively—though too often unreflectively—in culturally charged activities (How to Do 6; Butler, Gender passim; Butler, Bodies 12-16; “Performing Writing”).[fn]Note that I am parsing the ritual, transmissive, and performative aspects of communication for analytical purposes only, recognizing that there is significant overlap between and among them.[/fn]  I’ve addressed the first part of this definition elsewhere and at length, looking specifically at the political and economic consequences that result from our participation in a scholarly book and journal publishing industry that in recent years has come under increasing corporate control (Striphas, “Banality”; Striphas, “Acknowledged”).  In what remains of this brief essay I want to home in mainly on the second part of the definition.  Specifically, I want to explore the conditions under which some of our current journal publishing practices, or performances, first arose and to reflect on their pertinence today.  Then, drawing on one unconventional publishing experiment I’ve initiated, I’ll offer a few ideas about how we might perform scholarly communication differently—that is, without simply giving in, in Judith Butler’s words, to “the compulsion to repeat” (Gender 145).[fn]The full quotation is: “All signification takes place within the orbit of the compulsion to repeat.”[/fn]

The emergence of a routine set of practices that would today be called “scholarly communication” is a fascinating, if understudied, aspect of intellectual history.  Despite the obvious topical overlap, communication scholars haven’t much chronicled, let alone theorized, the development of these activities other than informally.  (This is, I suspect, indicative of the degree to which the humanities generally, and the discipline of communication more specifically, have taken these activities for granted.)  The responsibility has instead fallen mainly to historians of science and sociologists, who’ve nonetheless painted a fascinating picture of how scientific exchange began to coalesce in the early modern period.  What intrigues me about this history is not so much the invention of modern science as the improvisations by which a burgeoning group of journal editors and contributors came to devise their communicative protocols.

Of the many works exploring the history of academic journal publishing, among the most compelling is Harriet Zuckerman and Robert K. Merton’s essay from 1971, “Patterns of Evaluation in Science: Institutionalization, Structure, and Functions of the Referee System.”  The authors focus on the “social invention of the scientific journal,” or the diffuse ensemble of negotiations through which, starting in the late 17th century, scientific communications achieved a high degree of formalization (68).  Their account begins with the fundamental notion of making public one’s research.  Doing so was hardly self-evident to early modern scientists and their predecessors, let alone the acknowledged good that it is today.  Quite the contrary, they tended to shroud their experiments and discoveries in secrecy (69).  This was a compensatory move, intended to offset the prevailing lack of regard for the sanctity of another’s words and ideas.  It was also something of a carry-over from the guild system, which enforced strict norms of trade secrecy as a matter of civic, regional, or national pride (“Guilds”).[fn]Guilds, Belfanti notes, often worked to impede innovation through their enforcement of secrecy and tradition.[/fn]  An indeterminate amount of sharing did occur, of course, but it often transpired in isolation, and generally then in the form of private letters directed to one’s closest confidants.  Zuckerman and Merton label this correspondence “fugitive” because of the highly dispersed scientific record that resulted from it (71).  Indeed, with cutting-edge research tucked away in the odd corner of one’s desk drawer or perhaps stowed haphazardly in someone else’s personal library, it’s little wonder that many early academicians felt the need to be wandering scholars (c.f.: Printing Press 72, 579).

All that changed in due course, so much so that the figure of the wandering scholar was gradually displaced by that of another: the researcher “standing on the shoulders of giants,” in Isaac Newton’s words, or building deliberately on earlier and more readily accessible work (qtd. in Surowiecki 164).[fn]Surowiecki conjectures that Newton may have intended the phrase to be “a cruel joke” directed toward his diminutive rival, Robert Hooke.[/fn]

The shift from an ostensibly closed scientific paradigm to a considerably more open one occurred to some extent by design.  Yet, as Zuckerman and Merton observe, more often than not it occurred extemporaneously.  Peer-review, publication dates, even the formal academic paper—these and other routine features of scholarly communication began their days as “adaptive expedients” meant to address particular problems relating to the nascent system of journal publishing (69).  Dates, for example, arose as a means for certifying “priority of discovery” and thus as an incentive for scientists to begin sharing their work publicly.  The carefully-crafted research paper appears to have emerged even more organically, a result of peer and editorial pressure, both real and perceived: “Communications intended for publication would ordinarily be more carefully prepared than private scientific papers,” write Zuckerman and Merton, “and all the more so, presumably, in the knowledge that they would be scrutinized” by authorities within the growing scientific community (73).

All that to say, the norms of scholarly communication that we perform today were forged under historically specific circumstances.  This of course begs the question of the extent to which those circumstances continue to apply today—a question that I cannot hope to answer here.  Instead I’ll address it indirectly, by commenting briefly on how peer review has transformed over time.

Peer review serves the purpose of quality control, no doubt, yet it performs other, less obvious, functions as well.  It is way of constantly enacting the principle: there is a finite amount of pages in any given volume of any given journal, and so only the most worthy research ought to have the privilege of filling them. In other words, peer review is a speech act whose outcome is rarity, or scarcity.  The practice arose partly as a means of compensating for the material realities of the medium of print, which places determinate limits on how much content can find its way into the public realm (“Obsolescence” 721).[fn]Specifically, Fitzpatrick discusses “the scarce economics of print.”[/fn]  But it hasn’t always been so—at least, not exactly.  In the early days of scientific periodicals, it wasn’t uncommon for those in charge to come up short on papers deemed “publishable” when it came time to send an issue to press.  They devised two main strategies to work around the problem: wait to publish until sufficient—and sufficiently suitable—matter presented itself; or fill the remaining space with work that hadn’t been properly vetted.  The latter, Zuckerman and Merton note, would appear absent the endorsement of the scholarly society under whose imprimatur a given journal was published.  Here a different standard prevailed: “sit penes authorem fides,” or “let the author take responsibility for it” (68-69, 73).  On those occasions when the quantity of pages ceased to be an overarching concern, that is to say, early journal editors recognized that they need not maintain the performance scarcity as a matter of course.

We have significantly lost touch with this adaptability today.  This is attributable in part to the exponential growth of scholarly research over the last 300 years or so, which has helped to make publishing in academic journals an increasingly competitive affair.  Yet it’s also attributable to the compulsion to engage in scholarly communication as if the material constraints of print still straightforwardly applied (assuming they ever did).  For example, the editors of the journal Shakespeare Quarterly recently conducted an “open peer review” experiment, in which contributors to a special issue on the Bard and new media were asked to post drafts of their papers online.  Anyone visiting the site was welcome to comment on the work.  The authors, for their part, were encouraged to revise their papers based on the wisdom of the “crowd” whose feedback, the editors hoped, would surpass that of the usual two or three editorial board members responsible for evaluating the work.  Here’s the rub, though: beyond the fact that the editors still ultimately determined which essays would be published, the majority of those providing commentary were “very established, senior scholars” whose presence reportedly silenced some their junior colleagues (“Humanities Journal” A11).  What, then, was actually different here, beyond the fact that even more than the normal number of superstars got to hold sway over the direction of their field?  Indeed it seems to me that, if anything, this was a heightened performance of scarcity in spite of the preponderance of digital space.

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that we simply dispense with peer review, editorial decision-making, or the like.  Instead, let’s try to think much more creatively—even expansively—than we currently do about how these and other fixtures of scholarly communication might work.  Our early modern predecessors knew enough to recognize the difference between “there we go again” (a performance of expedient adaptation) and “this is how these things are done” (a performance of compulsory routine), and in this regard we’d do well to abide by their example (Social Construction 57, 59).

For my part, I’ve been tinkering with the norms of scholarly communication off and on since at least 2007.  Early that year I’d committed to writing a paper for the National Communication Association’s annual convention in Chicago, explicating this enigmatic statement from Deleuze and Guattari: “We do not lack communication.  On the contrary, we have too much of it.  We lack creation.  We lack resistance to the present” (Philosophy 108). I pecked away at the essay that fall and managed produce a presentable draft about a week before NCA.  Yet, the piece still felt unfinished to me—as if there was more that I wanted to say, but couldn’t.  I considered posting the draft to my blog, Differences & Repetitions (http://www.diffandrep.org), with the hope that my readers would provide some feedback.[fn]The site was hosted at http://striphas.blogspot.com until July 2010, whereupon I moved it to its current address. The original Differences and Repetitions remains online, albeit now as a legacy site[/fn]  It was then that I accepted the fact that I’d about reached the limit of my knowledge, and so I decided to take the project in a different direction.  I posted the essay to a wiki site and invited anyone interested enough work on it.  Thus was born the Differences & Repetitions Wiki: A Site for Open Source Writing (http://www.diffandrep.org/wiki), or D&RW, and its first-ever fully editable project, “We Do Not Lack Communication.”[fn]The site was hosted at http://striphas.wikidot.com until July 2010, whereupon I moved it to its current address. The original Differences and Repetitions Wiki remains online, albeit now as a legacy site. The version of the essay that I presented at NCA in 2007 was exclusively my own.[/fn]  I built the site, incidentally, using free open source software.

I cannot honestly say the experiment has been a resounding success—at least, not yet, since it remains ongoing.  On the plus side, the project site has received hundreds of page views since it went live in late 2007.  Fewer contributors than I’d hoped have added prose, citations, and comments, although I’m encouraged that after four years additions and changes continue to occur (albeit sporadically).  Perhaps the most promising outcome is that the contributors have nudged the project in directions I never would have thought to take it, thereby encouraging me to reflect on my own disciplinary predilections.  More unsettling has been the gradual absorption of my writing into that of others, which has challenged me to let go of my sense of propriety over the work.  Indeed, at one point I had designs on publishing the piece in a conventional academic journal.  Now, out of respect for my fellow contributors, I only feel comfortable publishing about it.  The essay ceased belonging only to me once it became open source.

In any case, “We Do Not Lack Communication” has taught me a great deal about the types of questions we might ask about our performances of scholarly communication in general, and of academic journal publishing in particular.  Could the concept of peer review be expanded to encompass distributed forms of collaboration?  Should colleges and universities reward this type of participation, and if so, how?  What if people other than out “peers” could easily and routinely add input to our work?[fn]On the organizational dynamics and drawbacks of “groupthink,” particularly in more or less homogeneous communities, see Wisdom 23-39 and 173-191. Surowiecki stresses “cognitive diversity” as an antidote to groupthink.[/fn]  What exactly is a “peer,” anyway?  How might editors and scholarly societies better curate academic research so as to encourage more broad-ranging engagement with it?  Must published research only include monuments to the past, or can it include work of a more plastic nature?[fn]Among those leading the effort to address these and other questions about the future of scholarly communication are Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Gary Hall. See Fitzpatrick (2006; 2008; n.d.); and Hall (2008).[/fn]

I’m not proposing D&RW as a model for the future of scholarly communication as much as a thing to think with.  There are many kinks that would need to be worked out before the site could even approach being a viable platform for regular scholarly exchange—and besides, a more “papercentric” type of journal publishing still has plenty of virtues (Digitize 20, 59-61).  The point of performing scholarly communication differently shouldn’t be simply to replace a one-size-fits-all approach with yet another one, or to use new technology for the sake of using new technology.  The point, rather, should be to expand our repertoire in ways that would enhance the quality of our research and our ability to share it—and by “share it” I mean not only among the constituencies we already know, but as important, among those we might not otherwise encounter.

References

Austin, J. L.  How to Do Things With Words.  2nd ed.  Ed. J. O. Rumson and Marina Sbisà.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962.

Belfanti, Carlo Marco.  “Guilds, Patents, and the Circulation of Technical Knowledge: Northern Italy During the Early Modern Age.”  Technology and Culture 45.3 (2004): 569-589

Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann.  The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge.  New York: Anchor Books, 1966.

Butler, Judith.  Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.  New York and London: Routledge, 1990.

-----.  Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.”  New York and London: Routledge, 1993.  12-16. 

Carey, James W.  “A Cultural Approach to Communication.”  Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society.  New York and London: Routledge, 1989, 13-36.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari.  A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  Trans. Brian Massumi.  Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

-----.  What Is Philosophy?  Trans. Huigh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell.  New York and London: Columbia UP, 1994.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth.  The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen.  “On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and Tenure Requirements.”  The Valve.  Jan. 6, 2006.  Jan. 24, 2009 <http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/on_the_future_of_academic_publishing_peer_review_and_tenure_requirements_or/>.

-----.  “Obsolescence.”  PMLA 123.3 (2008): 718-722. 

-----.  Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy.  N.d.  Aug. 31, 2010 <http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence/>.

Hall, Gary.  Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now.  Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Howard, Jennifer.  “Leading Humanities Journal Tries ‘Open’ Peer Review, Likes It.”  Chronicle of Higher Education.  Aug. 13, 2010: A11, 19.

Pollock, Della.  “Performing Writing.”  The Ends of Performance.  Ed. Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane.  New York and London: New York UP, 1998, 73-103. 

Striphas, Ted.  “Banality, Book Publishing, and the Everyday Life of Cultural Studies.”  International  Journal of Cultural Studies 5.4 (2002): 438-460.

-----.  “Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing.”  Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7.1 (2010): 3-25.

Surowiecki, James.  The Wisdom of Crowds: How the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations.  New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Zuckerman, Harriet, and Robert K. Merton.  “Patterns of Evaluation in Science: Institutionalization, Structure, and Functions of the Referee System.”  Minerva 9.1 (1971): 66-100.


This is a preprint of an article published in the January 2012 issue of Text and Performance Quarterly. © 2010-2011 Ted Striphas; Text & Performance Quarterly is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com

Comments

this is rather dated at this point (it's even pre-wiki), and the journal screwed up a lot of the links, but it's an early attempt to address some of these questions in a rather different context -- see "who writes" here: http://www.acjournal.org/holdings/vol6/iss3/

Thx v much for sharing, anon...and so quickly!  I'll definitely check out the link.

One specific -- albeit pretty rudimentary -- question I have for my readers is this: does the Butler quotation work as an epigraph, since I don't actually get to the substance of it until the end of the 3rd paragraph?

Thanks for the advice!

The link between peer review and this type of open source project is really interesting. I have tended to locate the possibilities of these new media projects in terms of open access for readers, but the potential of using it to democratize the peer review process is really interesting. Something must be done to fix the peer review process which is still shrouded in secrecy and no one seems to be happy with.
Also, at the end you make the case that d&r hasn't been wildly successful, and I don't think I agree. I don't think page views is how we should measure success with this type of thing. The very fact that this kind of thing exists is a success. It is pretty amazing to have the opportunity to comment on your work before submission.

Ps, I think the butler quote works fine where it is

First, thanks for being so encouraging about D&Rw.  I appreciate your reminding me that page views aren't necessarily the best indicator by which to gauge success or failure.  I wonder if perhaps the number of participants would be a better measure, or maybe, say, the quality of the conversation that ensues.  I've had some pretty amazing dialogues with folks around a couple of projects, especially the one on the Amazon Kindle.  So, yes, maybe I've sold the site a bit short here.

The clarification: when you say the Butler quote works fine where it is, do you mean in the body of the essay only, or as as an epigraph as it appeared in an earlier version?

Thanks so much for taking the time to offer a response.  I really appreciate it.

Hi Ted,

I’ve been meaning to respond to your piece for about a week, but have been stuck doing the chores involved in moving house and getting back to school. I think this is a great piece, and puts into words a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about for a while with much greater clarity than I’ve been able to muster. That we are in the midst of some major shifts in the structures of scholarly communication is something that I wholly agree with.

 

There is one aspect of your piece that I’m wondering if you could develop a little for my own curiousity, namely how these transformations will fit into ongoing changes in the nature of scholarly labour. The C&C/CS essay talked about how the moment of signing the contract was a moment of alienation (or at least a material manifestation of this process.) This piece, which develops the constructive project of your earlier conclusions, doesn’t have as much to say on the subject. How do you see the transformations you advocate articulating with new (yet to emerge?) forms of labour surrounding the production of knowledge? I think this is an important adjunct to the changes in the practices of scholarly publishing you put forward.

 

mark

Great, great question, Mark, and thanks very much for posing it.  I'm going to have to take some time to think it through, but rest assured a substantive reply is forthcoming.  For now, the cynic in me would venture to say that the danger of mucking about with academic publishing is the usual one: more service, greater expectations for scholarly productivity, and less material reward.  I'm not a total cynic, though, and so I'm still somewhat optimistic about the prospects for a different -- or an alternative -- system.  One of the things that strikes me is that, if done right, it could be possible to construct some type of revenue-sharing arrangement wherein academic authors would be remunerated for their articles were they, say, licensed or reprinted.  In most cases this wouldn't amount to much if anything, but then again that's better than the present situation: absolutely nothing.

Let me thank you, too, for the kind words about "Performing Scholarly Communication," and for connecting the dots so smartly from it to "Acknowledged Goods."  I understand that the pieces are related, but because I'm so close to the work it's difficult for me to see exactly how they're related.  I especially appreciate your having put a finger on what are genuinely serious concerns about the future of academic labor. I was, admittedly, on the verge of sidestepping them.

More anon...

It occurred to me in thinking through your comment a bit further that it might be useful to reflect on how the ending of "Performing Scholarly Communication" changed. 

In "Acknowledged Goods" I discuss how scholarly societies  have been outsourcing their journal production operations to private -- typically for-profit -- corporations.  Because I imagined "Performing Scholarly Communication" as something of sequel to "Acknowledged Goods" (albeit a truncated one), I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to develop that theme in reverse, as it were.  I'd planned on ending the piece with a flourish, calling on scholars of all countries to seize ownership of the instruments of journal production.

Clearly that didn't happen, and it didn't for two reasons.  First, I got so caught up in the history of scholarly journals that I simply ran out of space.  I'd planned on using my discussion of D&RW as a lead-in to the "take ownership of the instruments of production" argument, but in the end it didn't -- couldn't -- materialize.  I suppose, too, that the site's modest success wouldn't exactly inspire the kind of activism I'm looking for.

Second, I began to realize how naive that call would be  Don't get me wrong -- I still believe strongly that we scholars need to own and operate the journals we publish in (I'm less sure about books).  But actually doing that, and doing that well, takes an extraordinary amount of (wait for it...) work.  I think about all of the time and effort I've put in to creating this still pretty rudimentary site.  Now imagine multiplying that to accommodate a whole community of scholars anxious to publish their work -- never mind how their work will be vetted, etc.  It reminds me of the old joke about the Marxist revolution, when the workers finally take ownership of the instruments of production: "now what?"  That's the question, and it's not one to be entered into lightly.

I still believe strongly that we can do it, but it will take much more than an individual effort such as my own.  And I suppose setting up a viable journals infrastructure will necessarily involve an uptick in our labor -- at least in the short- to medium-term, until the journals we create are established and (another battle) properly accredited.

All that to say, the labor issues run deep, deep, deep -- and wide, for that matter.  And I suppose that's the next piece I'll have to write: "How to Build a Better Academic Journal."  Maybe we could do it together.

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the responses. Hmm...

First: I completely agree with both your cynical and your optimisitc side. I think they are both right and necessary.

Second: Exhaustion is definitely a thing I've been thinking about a lot and extending labour (even if not necessarily making it more intensive) is always a concern. However, you are also right, something must be done. Lurking somewhere in this I think there are some very interesting questions about what tenure gives (and doesn't) and what one should take from the relative security of academic employment. I'm not sure I'm able to express what those questions would look like right now, but there's a danger in this transition towards being 'open' that you might get caught in seeming to be doing nothing when you're working harder than ever just because the products are taking traditional shape.

Third, why write about building the better journal. We should probably try to do it, after all time's getting tight. 

Mark

I'm with you, Mark--it's high time to just sit down and make this happen.  A formal statement of philosophy can follow later.  And for whatever it's worth, I'm pretty sure that Drupal, the open source system I've used to build D&RW, could support the type of publication I think we and others are after.  I particularly like its fine-grain permission structure, which allows for greater flexibility compared to, say, WordPress or MediaWiki.

My only hesitation is this: I know what I think would make for an interesting, next-phase academic publication, but I'm not sure if those who might use the system would agree.  Before proceeding I'd probably want to do a fair amount of listening, or at least brainstorming/workshopping with a bunch of people about how best to proceed.  I'd like to believe in the principle, "if you build it, they will come," but thus far in my admittedly small endeavors I haven't yet seen that happen to the degree I'd like it to.  Also, I'm convinced that it's important to get potential users interested and invested at the build-stage, because that way they're on board with the project from the ground up.

What do you think?

I've not used Drupal. I looked into it, but then got overwhelmed with the set-up. Plus, I'd already gotten good at designing forms and writing some more sophisticated functions for mediawiki. But I agree that there is software out there that can be adapted pretty well without too much difficulty.

As for bringing folks in, I think you're right. The project needs to have at least some kind of community for it to succeed. I was talking about this during the summer with some folks at the John Fiske conference (where I presented a thing about JF's importance in building CS's publishing institutions.) I very much see the use of something like 'our-crowd sourcing' that was mentioned above. Also, working on the wiki-linked project from the media crisis project at NCA last year, I'm seeing that it's hard to get folks involved and that may have been the problem. People are comfortable with the old ways even if they don't like them. But was worth a try I guess.

(Speaking of which, I know you didn't want to put anything in about your stuff on turks, but maybe a short piece about where to next for collaborating scholarly communication...the sequel to this sequel. I think it's a good group of folks who would be giving feedback in a relatively short format - 3000-5000 words - and low intensity stage.)

That's what I think, but I'm not sure what's next.

A really fantastic piece, Ted, and I very much like the ways that you're responding and editing here.  I'm curious whether the "final" journal version of the article will be able to carry with it any traces of this process.  This is something I wrestled with in revising Planned Obsolescence -- really trying to think through how to represent a collaborative process within a text that ultimately attributes its authorship to me.  I wound up quoting from and footnoting a lot of the conversations on the site, trying to be scrupulous about who led me to which idea, and how.  And I also wound up focusing on the process and what we'd learned from it in the conclusion.  There's an irony, of course, in the fact that the print version of the book won't be out for about a year yet, but it's an irony too painful for me to focus too closely on!

One issue I did want to raise: in your reference to the SQ open review experiment, which we conducted at MediaCommons on behalf of the journal, you point out that the predominance of the senior folks in the field may have squelched the voices of more junior scholars.  I'm not entirely sure I agree, but would really like to hear more from those junior scholars to know if it's so.  As it turns out, the authors of the articles are themselves predominantly junior, and they seem to have held their own well in the conversation.  And the decision to target as commenters the established Shakespeareans -- the same scholars who would have been the reviewers in a more traditional process -- had in part to do with the journal needing to establish the legitimacy of the process in a fundamentally conservative environment.

This means of producing a process's bona fides will shift over time, I think, as we become more comfortable with material being reviewed in this way, but it'll nonetheless remain key for scholars (as well as reviewers and promotion and tenure committees) to know who it is that we're in conversation with, in order to know how to interpret the comments we receive.  What that means will depend heavily on the field: in my own process, the readers whose comments I took most to heart were overwhelmingly junior, and many of them are in alt-ac positions (librarians, technologists, etc).  A traditional process likely wouldn't have gotten feedback from them, but they were the group I most needed to hear from.  So I think more and more that we need to think about "openness" a little differently, a little less binarily.  A new peer-to-peer review process may not throw open the floodgates to comments from "just anyone," but instead do what Katherine Rowe has referred to as "'our crowd' sourcing," figuring out who the peers for a particular text are, and then facilitating a conversation amongst those peers within the borders of the text -- very much what you've done here.

-- Kathleen

Hi Kathleen,

 

First, let me thank you publicly for contributing your thoughts!  It's such a delight to have someone as well-versed in these issues as you providing feedback and asking questions.  I really appreciate your input.

 

The issue you raise is an important -- strategic -- one: timing.  How do you convince people that it's a worthwhile endeavor to change scholarly peer review?  It seems to me there are two types of responses to this question. 

 

The first is conservative, as you say, or gradualist, in which those in charge of journals translate/adapt elements of the print-based peer review model into a new media context.  This was basically the case with the SQ experiment -- which perhaps I came down too hard on, particularly as someone who wasn't a participant in the process.  I suspect this approach was necessary in a field like Shakespeare studies.  My understanding is that it's hierarchical, invested in tradition, and somewhat slow to change.

 

The second approach is additive, or generative, in which those in charge of journals experiment even more radically to push the bounds of scholarly publishing, come what may (more or less).  And I suppose this is the approach I'm trying to develop on this site, especially in the "We Do Not Lack Communication" project.  I want to see what would happen if we found other ways in which to imagine peer review, perhaps even in the form of decentralized collaboration.

 

I don't think either one of these approaches is necessarily better than the other.  Indeed, the question for me is always strategic: which of these strategies, if either, do you need to engender a better a better environment for scholarly journal publishing?  People sometimes fault me and my work for wanting it both ways, but I guess that's just the pragmatist in me: make the most of what works.

 

The point you raise about the crowd is a very interesting one, and I suspect it's going to provoke a blog post for me, if not a full-fledged writing project.  I'm quite taken with the idea of identifying and cultivating an "our crowd" for scholarly journals, especially along the lines of the "peer-to-peer" review idea you've been developing in your work.  The question I have here, though, is, how can we know in advance who "our crowd" is without excluding people whom we don't already know who might nonetheless have something compelling to say?

 

In the footnotes to "Performing Scholarly Communication" I cite James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds.  There are lots of problems with the book (as is the case with all books), but there are some provocative insights there as well.  Among them is his suggestion to cultivate "cognitive diversity."  If I didn't have to abide by such a strict word count, I would have included a sustained engagement with this idea within the framework of scholarly communication.  Too often, I find, we speak to audiences we already know, and who, if they do not know us personally, still have a good sense of the types of arguments that are acceptable for us to make within a given field.  I wonder what would happen, though, if knowledgeable "outsiders" (forgive the term) played a more important role in what we do in our scholarship?  For whatever it's worth, I will say that I've become (in my estimation) a more skilled and accessible writer as a result of (a) blogging regularly and (b) writing a book with some crossover potential to the trade.  This is a direct result of my having to engage people other than "my crowd."

 

Whew -- so much great material here.  Thanks again, Kathleen. You always make me think!

I forgot to say something about the dilemma you point to, namely, how to represent what goes on in online comment spaces like this one in a printed book or journal article.  I wish I had something to add.  I don't at the moment, unfortunately, since all I suspect I'll be able to do with "PSC" is acknowledge the fact that this dialogue exists -- as I have with previous essays I've published.  So there's another blog post or essay: how to represent the livingness of a document like this in a print-based environment...

and thank you for being willing to share it. I have a couple of comments:

1) I agree with the way you are characterizing the cognitive issues with the collaborative writing process. I have now participated in a couple of different collaborative writing experiments with a group of 5-7 people, and letting one's own prose be manipulated by others seems to be one of the most difficult barriers to this type of collaborative work. It is probably a little more intense when one person does most of the initial writing. But it seems to be intuitive that collaborative work would yield a more balanced, comprehensive, and accurate product (insofar as it could be called "finished"). I suspect that someone has studied the relative accuracy to wikipedia compared to the standard dictionary; wikipedia has started to become a high-quality product (and has really promoted the importance of citation/hyperlinks to information). I think it is time that programs in the humanities (the sciences do this now) begin to train people to do collaborative work as part of their coursework, and then be able to defend the quality of that work. I have been pondering the idea of someone using graduate seminars as a place to develop collaboratively written journal pieces based upon the course topic. We already have the formats available to do this work conveniently (along with soliciting outside commentary on the group's progress). It would certainly be more fun for both students and faculty alike than writing alone under strict deadlines or reading a pile of papers hastily written and of varying quality.

However, the big problem is how to make that work not just count as "1/7" or 1/10" of an article for each co-author in the eyes of someone evaluating one's CV.

2) You ask, of course, the right questions at the end of the piece, but for me, I feel those have to be the starting places for changing the writing process, not where we end (probably on a fair expectation for you, I know). We have the technology to do a number of different experiments that would likely yield great work. Academics are writing quality stuff for public circulation in online journals and blogs now. We have to: a) be able to defend the quality of it to administrators (collaborative peer review -- especially when populated by a wide group of "star academics" -- would easily solve this problem); and b) we have to evaluate the quality of work based on something other than scarcity. The "quality" of journal is often based either on citation (metrics dependent heavily on the size of one's area of study, the language of publication, and differences in disciplinary citation practice) or rejection rates. One's CV, at least with regard to publication, is often about measuring the degree to which someone has manged to convince editors to use their "scarce print resources" on one's work. It is the personal accumulation of that scarce space that is a significant determining factor in job security. Even online journals, which have no scarcity issue, are creating artificial one's now to increase their prestige. There is an assumption: creating finite resources promotes competition and offers a way to discriminate in the quality of scholarship. Figuring out how another system to evaluate work -- and selling that system to a wide range of administrators -- is probably the biggest barrier.

I think most academics write because they like doing it; scarcity of publication resources (at least that are respected) is a barrier to being able to enjoy your work. But there are concerns that using alternative outlets or doing interesting writing experiments will not be rewarded, and that concern, especially for the younger generation of scholars that ought to be most adept at using new writing tools, can be enough to suppress good creative expression. Especially if the energy and commitment that one's puts into those experiments trade off with other work that will be more highly rewarded.

Wow!  Thank you, anon, for taking the time to write in and, more importantly, for sharing such thoughtful provocations. 

I wish I had more to offer in terms of your first point, about collaboration, but I don't see too many work-arounds for how to divide up scholarly credit.  Two imperfect ideas come to mind, though.  One of the advantages of online wiki-based systems is their ability to track layers of changes by different users.  I don't know how one could/would create metrics using that type of feature, but at least it does create a "paper" trail (I suppose we need a new word now) by which one might assess at least the writing part of the collaborative process.  There are also site emerging where academics can share research, working papers, etc., so perhaps they hold some way to judge or assess some of what goes on at the back end of collaboration.  But still, these systems aren't quite where we need them to be yet.

The second point you raise is also vexing, although it seems to me there are better models for how to address some of the concerns you raise there.  Indeed, gathering star academics together for collaborative peer review probably would solve the problem of how to justify the worth of online publications to administrators (especially those who oversee humanities departments).  By the same token, I'm not sure the star system best suits the broader purpose behind expanded forms of peer review, which, as I understand it, is to grow the diversity of evaluative voices beyond the seniormost people in a given field -- people who already tend to hold disproportionate sway over the direction of their fields.  I'd like to say the answer is citations, comments, and trackbacks as evaluative measures, but then I worry about the ways in which people are able to game those systems, especially online (which isn't a reason to throw them out altogether).  I wonder if it would be possible to devise code capable of flagging illegitimate citations, much along the lines of how Google ferrets out dummy websites designed to up a given site's search ranking.

The world that I'm imagining -- and it sounds like you are, too -- would be a world of abundant scholarship, albeit I suppose of varying quality.  And that to me raises the stakes on editorship or, as I call it above, "curation."  There would need to be both centralized and decentralized authorities mutually determinnig what work to feature, when, and for how long.  Abundant scholarship also raises the stakes on search, for without a robust enough search engine, good work would likely get lost amid the clutter.

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