Collin writes about embarking on a new project, responding in part to a discussion going around here and elsewhere. Jeff and others are also off and going in related directions. The shared idea here is to make the process of scholarship and its composition as "text" or "multimedia" or what have you more public and perhaps more collective.
Earlier I had written about the motives for producing scholarship–the emphasis on personal advancement and reputation and so on … and my skepticism about the role more alturistic motives might play. I want to make clear that I certainly don’t except myself from such motives. And while I don’t wish to sidestep taking some responsibility, I think such motives are inescapable within the gravitational effects of disciplinary discourse. When we write as academics, we take up a subjective position in which authorship has proscribed functions. First and foremost among those functions is the relation between authorship and position/status/reputation, which can often determine who can say what and how much attention is paid to the speaker in any number of academic settings, from department meetings to conference presentations to listserves. I don’t care to complain about this one way or another, but that’s just the way it is.
Of course we can choose to write as not academics, which is what many believe happens when someone like myself creates a blog, but then the work we do does nothing to improve our reputation. In fact, reputation may even suffer. This is all common knowledge.
Collin makes a related point when he writes, "It’s so unbelievably hard to get out of the habit of policing the
borders of "my" ideas that there are times when I don’t know where to
start." His new blogging venture seeks to do that, at least that’s part of the objective. As hard as it is to break that habit, it is equally hard to break the habit of steering clear of another’s intellectual territory (Steven Krause mentions something about this in a comment of Collin’s blog). See, I didn’t want to step on what Steven said, even if he might have said something a little different and in a different context and perhaps even to make a different point.
So what we are talking about here is a new ethos as much as we are talking about a new technology/new media. In a reputation/gift economy such as our own, you "give" your ideas "freely," but expect something in return (reputation). But in order to do it, you must first own the thing you’re giving. (Otherwise I could give you Mt Everest for your birthday: do you like it? I hope it fits.) However, here perhaps we are suggesting giving up ownership of ideas, which of course "we" have been on about for the last half century or so.
At first blush, authorship, intellectual property and technology appear unrelated, b/c we ascribe creativity to the mind, which we hope to keep separate from technology. Everyone reading this post though probably realizes that’s not the case though–that our ideas of authorship and copyright stem from print technologies and that the "problems" authorship creates goes back to Plato and Phaedrus.
So how do I "give up" my ideas? By recognizing they were never "mine" to begin with. I just experienced them in my head where my mind likes to think it’s hot s___.
There is still the important problem of remunerating people for their labor, which is why we created the legal fiction of authorship in the first place. In academia it means separating the efforts of academics in the production of knowledge from any attribution of particular pieces to one person or another.
So I think Collin’s and Jeff’s projects are steps in the right direction. I’ll be interested to see what happens next. My vision for a next, partial step would be to imagine something that is a combination of these projects with the group blog practice. That is, consider six or ten academics working together on a research blog without author attribution (obviously they’d know who wrote what, but no one else would have to). It is hardly an ideal or even a "solution" to whatever problem is being posed here, but it would move us in a different direction.