Much discussion going around regarding danah boyd’s recent proclamation of her intention to publish in open access journals and call for other academics to do the same. I can appreciate the general spirit here: there’s a logic to the goal of making scholarship broadly available. On the other hand, in seeking to build a professional identity (and maintain one), publishing in traditional, closed journals is often a necessity. It’s probably more reasonable to consider a more balanced approach, and, over time, perhaps we will move more toward open access.
Anyway, I see in this conversation a larger issue as well. At one point, boyd suggests, somewhat hyperbolically, that an article in a closed journal might have a readership of zero. Zero? Doubtful. But 100 is possible. An article in CCC might average a 1000 readers or so, I would guess, but that’s because of the high numbers of NCTE members. However, writing an article on computers and writing, it’s hard to imagine an audience of more than a couple hundred people.
I’m thinking here of Kurt Spellmeyer’s argument in Composition Studies in the New Millennium (not that he’s the only one to make this argument): essentially that rhet/comp is making a poor decision in following its lit studies brethren in becoming increasing esoteric and less relevant to the broader culture. Sure, this is how one becomes an academic discipline, right? Develop erudite methods and discourses that require years of study to master. It’s largely true though that no one really cares what we think or say (except perhaps to take the opportunity to lampoon some conference paper titles). But isn’t also true that no one reads or cares about what most scientists say either? Somehow that’s different though, isn’t it? Scientific knowledge is for a different purpose, or at least it seems that way. It doesn’t exactly matter if most Americans don’t believe in evolution. Species keep evolving, scientists can study it, and knowledge and even practical applications can be built on it. On the other hand, if hardly anyone knows postmodern theory (and many who do, disagree with it), does it continue to exist untrammeled in the same way as evolution?
Maybe that’s a poor analogy. I don’t know.
That said, my own work is very esoteric at times. I also regularly argue for the importance of constructing ourselves as a discipline, around professional writing. If this puts us at risk with connecting to the larger culture, so be it. The first concern has to be establishing ourselves in the more immediate academic culture. Fortunately I do think we can do both. We concerns me more is our tendency to navel-gaze. I often write about pedagogy, but it seems like an obvious concern when a discipline’s primary focus is to study itself. However, I think we can develop a scholarly discourse and methods, study cultural rhet/comp practices, and connect with the larger culture. To make those connections though, we might need to recognize and value scholars when they choose to write for more general audiences.
There’s enough of us to write all these things
- "esoteric" theory-driven articles
- more applied studies of pedagogy
- social-scientific research
- articles and books for larger audiences
- open access articles, books, and other media
No doubt there are many crucial challenges facing the world in terms of environment, health, economics, and so on, and our work is quite clearly on the periphery of those challenges, though we may help people understand and participate in conversations about these issues. I continue to believe the future of our discipline will focus on studying and teaching literacies for emerging technologies, just as English grew up around print culture. Nothing earth-shattering in that prediction I shouldn’t think. Anyway, that task may not be as crucial as these others or as romantically heroic as the revolutionary dreams of some pedagogies, but it is not insignificant either.