Brian Holmes on Wed, 27 Jul 2011 23:40:57 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> some more nuanced thoughts on publishing, editing, reading, using

On 07/27/2011 06:38 AM, Gary Hall wrote:

one piece I've found helpful is Ted
Striphas's (2010) 'Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics
of Academic Journal Publishing',  Communication and Cultural/Critical
Studies, 7 (1), 3-25
There's an 'open' pre-print version here:

This is an excellent piece, many thanks. It cuts to the heart of our current debate. Reading it, one might also feel shocked at the rarity of critical reflection on the technological and organizational conditions of knowledge production in the universities. Here at last someone puts a finger on academic alienation from the means of production and distribution. And the point of the reflection is to act, to change the hyper-competitive for-profit system of publication that effectuates a privatization of knowledge.

Of course, no feeling of shock will affect recent generations of "precarious intellectuals" who cannot find - or in some cases, don't want to find - secure positions within the context of academic overproduction described by Ted Striphas. The crucial generational difference is that from the Sixties to the Eighties, universities expanded vastly, integrating scholars who had gone through a period of deep social contestation. When they set about defining their professional goals and reshaping their fields, these scholars believed they were changing one of the central mechanisms of social reproduction in the knowledge societies: the university itself. They were changing it by the _content_ they brought, the theoretical techniques, the teaching styles, the new disciplines or transdisciplines and the intense questioning of both the "objects" and "subjects" of academic study -- all of which helped open the universities to new practices and different people, in terms of class, race, culture, sexuality and so on. A lot was accomplished in this way and one should not forget it.

From today's precarious perspective, however, the Sixties-to-Eighties generation lost the battle on two fronts. First and most obviously, the culture wars in the US, and more recently, the attacks on multicultural policy in Europe, have led to a weakening of the most socially transformative programs. At the same time, the new entrepreneurial management, with its ethics and metrics of hypercompetition, have voided much of the substance from the philosophical positions of the radicalized generation, whose most distinguished and sexy members were sucked into a worldwide star system. Vast new sets of issues brought on by networked globalization have not been subject to active political dissent, but only turned into grist for the mill of normative and neutralized career-paths. In the last decade the two trends came together in the form of direct persecution of individuals, broader "chilling effects" on critical research, increased workloads and performance metrics, and above all, budget cuts and shrinking departments, with the consequence of a dramatically increasing casualization of the university labor force. Would-be academics suddenly discovered that they have no career perspectives, and that because of the kinds of specialization they've been forced into by hyper-competition, their writings as well as their protests have no audience. The content has not circulated in the right way, which is the overarching point that Ted Striphas makes.

Instead of sustaining an alternative culture that can resist the dominant one, critical research has been funneled into the new hierarchies created by entrepreneurial administrators and by corporations such as Elsevier and Informaworld. The mix of egalitarian and environmental concerns that define all the different versions of the "New Left" seem to have gotten lost along the way. In fact, the universities no longer produce anything as politically potent as the aspirations of the Sixties-to-Eighties generation of radicals -- not even in the writing and the actions of nost of those same "radicals." The wave of student protests and university occupations that has swept across the world in the last three years (often under the impulse of working grad students and adjunct professors) has finally translated the precarious perspective into words and acts, which is a damn good thing in my opinion. We are still waiting to hear the echoes in the academic presses.

The only way for people in the social sciences and the humanities to regain some progressive societal influence would be to reasses what one of the founding Cultural Studies books called "the uses of literacy" -- but this time I mean, the uses of their own literacy, by themselves, their employers, their students and the wider literate culture with which they often fail to connect. What are the uses of literacy in the contemporary knowledge societies? In what kinds of technological and organizational infrastructure are these uses grounded? What subjective, cultural, social and political forms result from the networked uses of academic literacy? What kinds of blind spots are produced? And how can those involved exert a reflexive effect on these dynamics?

Gary, your post and the Striphas article have led me to a fascinating work, namely your own "Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, Or Why We Need Open Access Now." This pdf reads like an expanded, in-depth synthesis of all the excellent debates we've had on this topic on nettime over many years, since the Budapest Open Access Initiative was launched in 2002. As I understand it, the book is not a hacker call to piracy, but instead a program to achieve institutional transformation, using the technical possibility of free access as a wedge to open up the current university hierarchy and fight the entrepreneurial trend with a new constructive program. It seems the book was supposed to be available in the digitized form championed by its title. And it is -- but as far as I can tell (perhaps due to some technical glitch?), it's only available at the website-of-choice for today's precarious generation: everybody's library-of-the-future-right-now, A recommended destination for the alienated academic multitudes.

best, Brian

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