As this research project progresses I keep coming back to the question “who are we writing for?”. Clearly there are a lot of different answers to this question, but I have been quite surprised to hear how few academics I speak with actually want their work to be shared publicly. For many academic writing isn’t meant to be read broadly – it is written with a specific audience [supervisors, tenure promotion committees] as a kind of rite of passage as opposed to an act of sharing knowledge.
This came up again during a recent seminar hosted by the Media Anthropology Network. I didn’t follow the seminar closely enough to summarize it here, but what struck me was the response to a suggestion to make a Youtube video to publicize the project being discussed. The response to this suggestion was quite dismissive –
“Contrary to David’s opinion I find Michael Wesch’s Youtube work
to be slick, superficial. He is too much like a second rate McLuhan. As to his suggestion that I “prepare a youtube version of at least part of the Oak Park project – that way it can engage and interact with a whole other audience.” I actually cringe at the idea. What little I know about YouTube is that consists mainly of stupid pet tricks, stupid human tricks and million of really really bad rock bands. I know there are some really interesting clips and that some of Rouch’s films are available there but the “whole other audience” that David alludes to consists mainly of 15 year olds and that is not exactly who I had in mind as a new audience. Perhaps I am showing my age but too much of the material available on YouTube is too adolescent for my tastes. Before I retired I even thought the undergrads I taught had values that I abhorred. God knows what the people who love stupid pet tricks would do with my work? I prefer not to know.”
So here we have a perfect example of the kind of academics who simply do not want to share their work with a broader public (although the project does have a website even with his dislike of the youtube audience). For them anthropological productions are a very specific, specialized form of knowledge which are of interest only to a select group of academics.
The point I want to make is that anthropology journals are not “failing” to get ideas out there, since many authors simply do not want to share them in such a public fashion. The “pay to access” model works very well for many academics who want to filter out members of the public, or for those who see anthropological writing as being of little interest to anyone but other anthropologists.
The Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list provides a place for academics with specific interests to share ideas and argue with each other with less public feedback than say, a blog post. It’s fascinating to compare the kinds of discussions that take place given the increased amount of audience specialization.
The discussions are honest and extremely heated, and they are not anonymous. At the same time, a digest form of the discussion is made available online for anyone to read once the seminar finishes. I’m finding it really interesting to look at how audiences are managed in academic discussion.
random notes/tags –
[limited distribution is intentional]
[Is it rude to bring list serve discussions into the blogsphere? This post is not meant as an attack on the author, the quote is quite informative. Is it rude to leave his name out? This isn’t plagiarism, you can follow the media anthro link to read the whole thing]
[it’s not the publishers, it’s the academics, who want to limit the audience – to some extent anyways]
[public engagement – necessary or not? For some yes, others no.]
[People love to attack Michael Wesch! And they keep missing out imho.]
[the quote really shouldn’t be read alone, it comes out of a long discussion and the context is missing. ]