Working Papers in Cultural Studies Project

Published by Ted Striphas on Fri, 03/23/2012 - 14:57

Since 2011, Mark Hayward and I have been working to create online tools to help cultural studies scholars develop their research.  Our main project -- now in its initial testing stages -- is a website for working papers, or an incubator for scholarly writing.  Its purpose is to broaden the scope of community input on and involvement in one's work, while it's still in progress.  Instead of emphasizing products, as most traditional academic publications do, our site stresses the deliberate process of making research as rigorous as it can be.  And instead of hiding that process, our aim is to make it more accessible than it is conventionally.

We found inspiration for these tools by looking backward into the future.  Specifically, we studied the publication practices of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (BCCCS) during its heyday in the 1960s and 70s.  What interested us about the Centre's publications was how many different types there were and, more importantly, how they ran the gamut from formality to informality.  The BCCCS thrived in part beacause of its willingness to take a process-oriented approach to scholarly research and writing, one that recognized the value of traditionally peer-reviewed material and so-called "gray literature."  It also thrived because it developed a sophisticated social and technical infrastructure by means of which to produce and distribute the work of Centre faculty, students, and affiliates.

You can read about how the Centre's publishing practices inspired Mark and me in our essay, "Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature." We drafted the document "out loud" and in public, here on this website, cutting and pasting from several different Word documents that we shared via Dropbox.  You can track the many iterations of "Working Papers" in the manner of Wikipedia.  You'll see that however polished the final draft may appear, there were numerous false starts, wrong turns, and detours along the way.

We've also included notes and other documents relevant to the "Working Papers" project, which we've linked to below.  The documents tell a story that sometimes intersects with, but that also runs parallel to, the one we tell in the essay.  Mostly, they show how the latter's direction changed the deeper we delved into the history of publications at Birmingham.  Mark and I had intended to write a piece as much about publishing at Birmingham as about the state of publishing in cultural studies today, technologically speaking.  Much of the present-day material either got cut or was condensed into the conclusion, however, a result of the rich trove of historical information we discovered in the Birmingham Centre's annual reports from 1964-1980.

The essay is set to appear in issue 78 of the journal New Formations.  You can download an uncorrected page proof here.  Again, the spirit of this project is collaboration and sharing.  We welcome your comments on "Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature" and on any other aspect of the WPCS project.