Ian Bogost has a great post referencing the ongoing conversation about academic blogging that moves us in a productive direction, away from defenses and apologies (and related attacks and critiques of opponents) and toward thinking where academic blogging leads. Ian points to a number of other interesting posts, so if you're curious you should certainly follow that link and read those as well. One of the interesting things about the speculative realitst/ooo movement is that, while it is clearly undertaken in traditional academic discourses (books, articles, conference presentations, courses), it has also really flourished through the blogosphere. As such it is a great example of how academic blogging, as we have come to know it, might work in parallel with traditional academia. However, blogging, as a technology, clearly has its limits.
For a while now, I've been advancing the philosophical construction of artifacts, a practice I've given the name carpentry. Taking up that philosophical hobby horse, I wonder what a writing and discussion system would look like if it were designed more deliberately for the sorts of complex, ongoing, often heated conversation that now takes place poorly on blogs. This is a question that might apply to subjects far beyond philosophy, of course, but perhaps the philosopher's native tools would have special properties, features of particular use and native purpose. What if we asked how we want to read and write rather than just making the best of the media we randomly inherit, whether from the nineteenth century or the twenty-first?
I think this is an important question, and certainly a big part of my work recently has been thinking about what kinds of conceptual and methodological tools we need, because in some sense we need a theory of the relationship of media technology to rhetorical practice in order to this question. For example, an object-oriented rhetoric provides a useful form of analysis for understanding the role media objects play in composition. Speculative realism also offers insights into the broader ontological questions of composition itself.
But today I want to take a different approach and just try to answer the question for myself. How do I want to read and write? Here are a couple important things to consider. First, there's no reason for academica to follow publishing models for other industries. That is to say that we will not necessarily be bound by the digital versions of the book and journal. Second, as academics, our reading and writing practices are tied to how our work is measured. A change in one requires a change in the other, as we all know by now. Third, a change in the work of scholarship will also need to be reflected in a change in pedagogy, especially graduate pedagogy. (I think changes in undergraduate pedagogy are more likely to be driven by other non-disciplinary forces.)
When I think of the fundamental changes that networking offer, they are obviously
- the ability to communicate and collaborate with colleagues at a distance;
- quicker access to a wider range of research; and
- increased options in the way research can be composed (i.e. using non-print media).
And I would rank them in that order in importance to me. While the first is obviously in effect, primarily through blogging and twitter, it doesn't work with a high degree of efficiency. This is the problem Ian notes. The obvious antecdent to work from is the think tank. In this model, a group of researchers working on a common set of problems employ networked media in order to share their in-progress work and publish collaborative articles, white papers, etc. Such a group would also have blog that would serve as a public space for them. One would imagine the creation of such a group would also shape pedagogy, as they could contribute to each other's local classes and their students could communicate with each other as well.
Now this would clearly require some shift in the work we do. Namely it would require greater collaboration and to some degree aligning one's research priorities with a community. Of course the latter already happens (it's a central feature of graduate training) but we are so focused on "academic freedom" that we often fail to notice it. So, really, I think the basic technologies that humanities scholars need to flourish in a networked enivironment are already present. What we require most of all is a shift in ethos, in how we work together and understand our responsibilities.