I wasn’t really able to take notes during the roundtable on “revolution or reform” I participated in at noon today, but I wanted to note a few things from it.
First off, this was a great combination of folks: Taso Lagos from UW, Victor Pickard from UIUC, Lauren Langman and Saher Selod of Loyola, Mary Walling Blackburn from the Art Institute, me, and the roundtable organizer, Ted Coopman. We began with a brief presentation about the ways the internet facilitates the construction of parallel social structures that enable people to evade oppressive structures rather than face the impossibility of overthrowing them, and moved through various presentations thinking about different structures through which such evasions might be able to take place, such as indymedia and political blogs.
I was the second to last presenter, and basically gave a two-minute spiel about the ways that internet communications might serve such a purpose in evading or overthrowing the entrenched communicational structures of the academy, pointing to the anxieties displayed by Ivan Tribble as evidence that some degree of concern about blogging academics is precisely the ways that blogs evade the regulatory structures that scholarly discourse has long been hemmed in by. The blog threatens traditional academics precisely because of its unregulatable nature: on a blog, anyone can say anything, an idea that makes many folks nervous, but that could ideally energize scholarly discourse. As someone suggested in the discussion that followed, the academy has in many ways ossified, and is manifesting great difficulty at moments in changing with the times; one of the results of such ossification, I think, is the academic publishing crisis — our systems of validation are tied to an economically unfeasible mode of communication, and yet the academy clings to the book as if it were the only means through which academics could produce work. At the end of my presentation, I introduced (again) the notion of founding an all-digital, creative commons-based, open access scholarly “press” as a means of helping the academy out of the publishing crisis precisely through escaping the extant, but dying, mechanisms that regulate (and now inhibit) the exchange of scholarly discourse.
All of the presentations were compelling, but mine wound up hijacking the discussion, in no small part, I think, because of the self-reflexivity that it encouraged. The other discussants were primarily scholars of social movements, studying the ways that activist communities make use of technologies not simply for planning purposes (ICTs as just an extension of the telephone, telling people where and when to show up) but instead as the locus of protest itself. I think there was something compelling about suggesting that the academy itself is in need of such activism, and that we might find a way to practice what we preach. Part of me felt guilty for having so dragged the conversation away from social movements, but it was exciting nonetheless to have a cluster of scholars who are so far outside my field (or me outside theirs) interested and thinking about the ways that ICTs might help recreate the face of scholarly communication, and the kinds of structural changes that will be required within the academy for such a recreation to be accepted.