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Open Scholarship for Open Education

The promise of massive, open online courses is that they would be available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that could be revolutionary.

Unfortunately, these attempts at open education are mostly not that open.  This is especially true when it comes to reading materials which are severely limited because of copyright restrictions. In spring, 2013 when we piloted our massively participatory open, online course (#InQ13), we worked with librarians to find and use legitimately open access reading materials. As it turned out, this involved a lot of work on the part of some heroic librarians.

This presentation from the CUNY IT Conference, 2013 explains some of the nuances of that process:

If you’d like to read about the nuts and bolts of this in more detail, here is a self-archived, pre-print version of our paper “Open Scholarship for Open Education,” co-authored by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite and me.

Tarnished Gold: The Tale of Bohannon, DOAJ, and the Predators

Many of us may remember the Sokal hoax of 1996. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, successfully published a hoax article in Social Text in order to ridicule humanities scholarship.  More recently, last fall, John Bohannon, a journalist for Science, sent out a significantly scientifically flawed “spoof” article about a wonder drug. He sent the article to 304 open access journals. The majority of these journals published the “spoof” article. Why did he do this? He wanted to prove that open access journals offer very little or no peer-review. Many of the journals were listed in the main portal for open access journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals aka DOAJ.

The first question to ask is why so many open access journals accepted the sham article. The answer, although not obvious, is that there is a dark side to open access: predatory publishers.

dracula

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Dracula_1958_c.jpg

Predatory publishers have always existed in various guises. Most academics are familiar with the vanity-press style monograph publishers that exist to help authors get their work into print. Even in commercial journal publishing unethical practices are not atypical (try googling “fake Elsevier journals“).  Junket-y conferences are another face of predatory publishing.

Nefarious publishers have always existed but the new twist comes with technology. Anyone can install a free publishing platform and call themselves a journal publisher. This is great but also problematic. New “gold” open access journals can be launched easily. Some open access journals charge authors article processing charges to help cover costs. This is most common in the STEM fields where authors build these fees into their grants and/or can get funding from their universities.

As in the past, there is good money to be made on the backs of desperate and/or naïve scholars rushing towards tenure and promotion. Now the process is as simple as submitting a paper online.

peer-review-in-a-week

And no revisions to worry about! Visa, MasterCard, or PayPal, please.

Predatory publishers have mushroomed, spinning off vaguely named and copycat titled journals. Spam emails lure in new fish.

Hoe's_six-cylinder_press

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Hoe%27s_six-cylinder_press.png

Many of us first learned about predatory publishers from a New York Times piece about Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian, and his crusade to save us from the predators by listing them on his blog. Beall’s “list” was the A to Z of what we knew about predatory publishing. And then came Bohannon.

Bohannon’s sting caused a firestorm, but his method was flawed. Why not also probe how many toll-access publishers would accept the article? Bohannon’s conclusions were dubious–the majority of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals actually rejected the article and a majority on Beall’s list accepted the article. Yet in the aftermath, there has been considerable hand-wringing. The question was now:

Who is policing open access?
Those creepy predatory journals are giving open access a bad name!
 

In response, I recommend that everyone read “On the mark? Responses to a sting“ as well as librarian Barbara Fister’s thoughtful comments on the issue.  There are also helpful organizations including OASPA, COPE, and SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals in addition to the broader SPARC organization.

But what happens when a discovery tool takes on a bigger role?

DOAJ tightened inclusion standards after the sting and now offers a seal of approval. The new standards are not without flaws:  (paid) registration with CrossRef is difficult for small and/or one-off open access publishers. However, DOAJ should be lauded for their efforts to keep the predatory publishers at bay. At least 114 journals were removed from DOAJ after the Bohannon scandal.

But Dorothea Salo in the aforementioned group commentary “On the mark?” notes:

This is progress, but a cursory examination of the new DOAJ criteria shows that they are crediting good practices such as peer review, rather than punishing bad practices such as email spam, falsely-listed editors, and junkety conferences. … Its program simply does not suffice to eliminate all the scammers and scammy practices.

It’s still too early to tell if DOAJ’s efforts will make a difference. We need much more public education about gold open access and how it differs entirely from predatory publishing. The recent scandal involving Springer and IEEE publishing 120 “gibberish” papers is further evidence that scholarly communications based on peer-review needs reform. Is open peer-review the answer? Are predatory publishers just an expression of a transitional period and will they wither as open access grows to the stage where it is widely understood and embraced?

The Unhappy Divorce of Journalism and the Social Sciences

Just about the worst thing you can say about a piece of sociological writing is that it’s “journalistic.” The term is often used as a criticism, interchangeable at times with “descriptive”, “thin,” or just plain superficial.

There’s good reason many us have little confidence in journalism: the closer a story comes to our own experience, the easier it is to see its flaws. Take, for example, the article about the proliferation of “hooking up” on college campuses that appeared in The New York Times a few years ago.

Image from NYT "Sex on Campus"(Source: New York Times, “Sex on Campus”)

The story claimed that hooking up—sex outside of relationships—is commonplace on college campuses, and is being pursued as actively by women as men. On the basis of interviews with a small number of women at elite schools like the University of Pennsylvania, the article claimed that busy women students didn’t have time for full-blown relationships, so they opted for more superficial sexual liaisons.

It was quickly denounced by sociologists, who charged that the reporter based on claims on flimsy evidence. It was even more roundly criticized on the Internet by college students who felt that the article’s generalizations were unfair or inaccurate. Many of their classmates were indeed pursuing long-term relationships, some argued. A veritable cottage industry of commentary cropped up alongside the article, showing the press’ power to incite and engage. (See, for example http://goo.gl/vg57t.)

Journalism Dictionary Image(Image Source)

“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,” journalists frequently joke. And in fact, for journalists, who must hook the reader in and keep their attention in order to hold onto their jobs, storytelling is an end in itself. Since their audiences are reading for the sheer pleasure of good writing, they write, at least partly, to entertain, and to encourage readers to keep reading.

This is how George Saunders, the award-winning author of nonfiction and short stories, puts it:

“I’m essentially trying to impersonate a first-time reader who has to pick up the story and at every point has to decide whether to continue reading.” If an “intelligent person picks it up, they’ll keep going. It’s an intimate thing between equals. I’m not above you talking down. We’re on the same level. You’re just as smart, just as worldly, just as curious as I am.”

Academic books, in contrast, tend to be written for a finite group of other experts, conveying an argument which is typically based on  an extended research project. Writing a first book, which often emerges out of a dissertation, you may envision your audiences as particular professors on a tenure committee. Later on, you’re probably addressing experts in your field. While the writing should be persuasive, academics don’t particularly care if they’re holding the reader’s attention or not; they assume that what they say is inherently interesting, and that their potential readers are sufficiently intrigued by the topic to read on —even if the writing is less than scintillating.

Faced with these differences of purpose and audience, some would suggest that we leave storytelling to the journalists, and sociologizing to the sociologists. Let journalists speak to the people, while let sociologists keep working in the trenches, doing the hard work of data collection and analysis. As a graduate student of mine recently told me, “Sociology is supposed to be serious and scientific, not entertaining and story-like.”

Sociology and journalism, he was taught, are as different as cows and horses.

Horse and Cow(Image Source)

Early in their graduate school careers, students learn that professionalization means performing the role of sociologist, and differentiating oneself from those who value good writing for their own sake, and who write to entertain—writers of fiction and nonfiction. Rather than writing pleasurable prose, they are supposed to be advancing sociological knowledge.

But in fact, sociology and journalism have long existed in relation to one another. For one thing, sociologists know what they know partly through the media. And of course social scientists rely, at times, upon the media to disseminate our ideas to broader publics.

Likewise, journalists regularly mine sociological work for insights on everything from young adults’ changing pathways to adulthood, to the question of whether equality diminishes sexual desire, and sociologists are used to being consulted as experts for that telling quote on a variety of subjects. The best journalists do even more: browsing the web and journals for story ideas. They regularly raid our work, popularizing it for others to consume—at times without citing us.

Sociologists and journalists also have in common the fact that they’re both in the business of producing representations of social reality— stories– accounts of connected events that unfolds through time, which have characters that interact with another in different settings. Journalists and sociologists have different strategies of storytelling, to be sure. When journalists tell stories about social phenomena, such as hooking up on college campuses and other social trends, they tend to tell them through the lives of individuals—they show the reader what is going on, painting portraits of scenes and characters. Sociologists, in contrast, tell—they make arguments, drawing on data— numbers if we are quantitative sociologist, or vignettes and thick description if we are ethnographers.

But while we sociologists have been busy honing our rigorous methodological skills and ways of telling, we’ve ceded the field of translation, which requires showing, to smart journalists. By failing to discuss our work in compelling ways, we limit its impact, placing a wall, in effect, between our work and potential audiences.

Rather than deride “popular sociology” which addresses larger publics, in book-length works of general interest as well as shorter articles and essays –it’s time to reclaim it as something to aspire to. Popular sociology offers the general reader a sociological take on something he or she may be curious about. It embodies a hybrid style of writing, bridging journalism and sociology by showing and telling, painting a portrait of a group, a scene, or a trend that unfolds over time, offering thick description while analyzing what is occurring beneath the surface of events.

~ Arlene Stein is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, and editor of Contexts Magazine. You can follow her at twitter @SteinArlene. She blogs at https://steinarlene.wordpress.com.

Cathy N. Davidson Visiting In-Person for Lunchtime Discussion of #FutureEd

How do you unlearn? How do you remove the filters we have – like culture – that may prevent us from learning?

We’ll explore these questions and others having to do with the transformation of higher education in the 21st century tomorrow at our lunchtime discussion section of the meta-MOOC curated by Cathy N. Davidson.

And, as a special treat, tomorrow we’ll actually have Professor Davidson live, in person, with us at the discussion!

Everyone is welcome (if you don’t work at the GC, simply come to the building at 365 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 34th St., show your photo ID, and proceed  to the Dining Commons, 8th Floor).  Look for the JustPublics@365 tent cards on tables near the back (the banquettes).

The discussion will be lead by: Lisa Brundage (Director, CUNY Advance), Polly Thistlethwaite (Chief Librarian), and me, Jessie Daniels (Professor, CUNY).

 

Closing Out Punishment to Public Health Series

As we close out our series on “Punishment to Public Health,” I wanted to thank the many scholars, activists and journalists who contributed to the series. I also wanted to draw your attention to some relevant news.

You may have heard Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech in which he came out with a proposal for limited distribution of medical marijuana. This is clearly a situation where leaders are following constituents, given that a majority of New Yorkers support medical marijuana.  This is a decidedly public health, rather than punishment, approach to this issue.

Perhaps more remarkable was Vermont Gov. Shumlin’s State of the State speech in which he spent the entire time addressing the problem of heroin in Vermont. In a turn from the usual “lock them up and throw away the key” approach to drugs, Gov. Shumlin’s framed Vermont’s trouble with heroin as a public health problem.

Both of these gubernatorial mentions of drug policy are at least partly the result of efforts by one of our partners this year, Drug Policy Alliance.  The reframing of drug policy as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue was the focus of our last two Summits. Of course, it’s impossible to draw a straight line of causation between any single event but it does speak to the relevance of this topic series.

 

What is the Future of Higher Education, and How Can We Transform It?

What is the future of higher education?  This is the central question posed by educator, author, innovator   Cathy Davidson, Professor of English at Duke University and co-founder of HASTAC, in an open, online course that launches at the end of January.  Davidson has designed an intriguing course on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education: Or, How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns and Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, Ethical, and Socially-Engaged Future.”

The six-week long course, hosted through Coursera (sign up is free), will use a variety of methods (lecture, discussion and interview) to deliver the course digitally to participants all over the world.  The course is just one element in a larger HASTAC initiative #FutureEd.

From the beginning, JustPublics@365 has been deeply engaged in questions of transformation in higher education, so we are partnering with Davidson and HASTAC to bring discussions of the Davidson’s course and of #FutureEd. to the CUNY Graduate Center.

We will meet on Fridays, January 24-March 14 from  12pm-1pm in the Dining Commons (on 8th Floor).  Everyone is welcome (if you don’t work at the GC, simply come to the building at 365 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 34th St., show your photo ID, and proceed to the elevators to the 8th floor).  Discussions will be lead by: Lisa Brundage (Director, CUNY Advance), Jessie Daniels (Professor), and Polly Thistlethwaite (Chief Librarian).

The recommended readings for the course are Professor Davidson’s book Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Change the Way We Live, Work and Learn (Viking2011), which will be made available free online for the first 50,000 students registered for this course, and two readings available as free downloads,  Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning, and the Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. The learning objectives are for the course are as follows:

  • Understand how and why we inherited the Industrial Age educational systems.
  • Think deeply about the requirements of the world we live in now.
  • Discover new ideas, methods, competencies, and subject matter.
  • Share our pathways to successful innovation with others around the world. Together, we can change schools, classrooms, institutions, learning–and maybe ourselves!

Our lunchtime meetings in the Dining Commons will serve as a local and informal “discussion section” of the course and of the future of higher education.  We’re interested in thinking about the future of higher education, as well as about how we might shape that future of higher education in ways that promote social justice.

If you are reading this post, then you have the basic skills necessary to participate in the online course, and you can sign up for free at Coursera.  If you eat lunch on Fridays, and are in the vicinity of the GC, then please join us!

Special Interview with Ernie Drucker

JustPublics@365 Ernie Drucker
Ernest Drucker is an epidemiologist at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, a Scholar in Residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of the 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America. He is licensed as a Clinical Psychologist in NY State and conducts research in AIDS, drug policy, and prisons and is active in public health and human rights efforts in the US and abroad.

 

 


Can you share a little bit about how your research speaks to the issues of criminalization of public health?

Well, I’m an epidemiologist. It’s principally looking at the numbers independent of the individual experience. They tell a story in their own right basically because of how large they are, how big the disparities are between by race and ethnicity and how much of it is related to drugs.


How does criminalization and mass incarceration affected the lives of people in your research?

Well, it’s the fact that you’ve programmed a level of involvement in the criminal justice system into the lives of such a large portion especially the poor black male community of the United States that it’s almost like in a water supply and the nutriments that they get in the opposite direction of course.

The facts that are important here are that about 40% of young black men at this point can expect to be, if rates continued at the same rate, can expect to be in prison basically some time in their lifetime. The current figure is over 30%, about 35% but it’s going up. Even though the prison rates are going down, the probability of any individual being involved in this is so great.

The experience of Stop-and-Frisk in New York is a good example of the way the system reaches as it were and involves people in experiences that are based on an assumption that they’re involved in criminal activity reaching a peak of 700,000 stops-and-frisks in a year and a half ago in New York City. That, as an epidemiologist, who used to work on occupational and environmental health, we looked at people’s exposures to things like asbestos, mercury, toxins in the environment.

You can look at this as a toxin that’s very widespread in the African-American community of United States especially affecting young men who are most prone to be involved in behaviors like drugs, violence, being on the street that makes them vulnerable to getting picked up by the system.

Once they’re picked up by it, and so they’ve been infected. They carry it with them really pretty much their whole life because so much of that the structure of punishment, of mandatory sentences are connected up to what’s called predicate offenses – the idea that the first time you do something you make a probation for it. The next time you get a sentence, the next time you get a bigger sentence for exactly the same behavior. It’s a system that I imagine it’s deterring people but in fact that they reappear again and again shows that that’s not so.


What are your thoughts on policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? Are there any examples of policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? If so, do you think these are better or just reproduce the same systems of inequality?

Well, the policies in the criminal justice system don’t intentionally draw from public health. That’s not their model to that crime and punishment. One of the biggest contradictions or conflicts between the two models is that criminal justice model very much like medicine or a law enforcement is inherently on an individual basis, right? It’s about an individual who commits a crime. He gets charged, tried, convicted, acquitted, whatever but it’s a highly individual matter. In fact in the courts, sociological evidences are not really admissible as part of the discussion of the significance of an individual’s action. Therefore the individual case of crime and punishment is the unit of the criminal justice system.

The statistics that you do about populations in the throne of justice system are very similar to the ones that we do in public health-what could be done to help populations instead of individuals. What most of them don’t realize is that public health like medicine which is alive too is an interventional field. It’s like medicine. It’s involved in doing something about things. However these things that does that are not on the individual case basis but on the population affected. You reduce exposure to toxic fumes for everybody, not just people who get sick for a moment.

Try to apply that model to the criminal justice system is a stretch and needs an explanation because its’ engine, it’s the basis of decision making and justification is highly individual.

Now of course the intention behind it is exactly not individual, it’s societal, it’s collective. The idea of deterrents as referred for criminal penalties as opposed to deterrents for other people from doing bad things is inherently social. The effects although not examined that way usually are also very social. A guy goes to prison and leaves behind a family. That family is profoundly affected but what they do even public health for example that affect the mortality rate, the life expectancy and the achievement in college, the likelihood of going to prison. All those things are dramatically affected for the children of people who go to prison. It’s set in motion before they’re even old enough to commit a crime and get arrested.

That becomes the epidemic aspect of it, that’s how something is transmitted from generation to generation or passed from individual to individual by exposure the same way a coal miner coming home from the coal mines with coal dust on his clothes would make his child more likely to get lung disease. Likewise for a parent involved in criminal justice system in addition to the … I mean the fact of it is clear and the mechanism of it. It’s not the same as a physical exposure. It’s a psychic exposure, more in common with war and PTSD and trauma than it has in common with physical exposure to toxins but yeah, it does act as toxin.

We have a concept now that’s gaining. Currency about toxic stress actually comes out of pediatrics and developmental studies. Children, the idea that levels of abuse in a family that go on over time-living with an uncle that sexually abuses a little girl who keeps quiet about it. The stress of that builds overtime. No doubt there’s damage and that’s being recognized now.

The same thing with this large rate of criminal justice involvement – arrest, prison time, coming out with a stigma, going back in again – its relation to other criminal activities that aren’t inherently, drug use especially, it’s not the same as natural, the things that everyone agrees that are bad and shouldn’t do them, like assault, rape, kidnapping. Everybody agrees that those are things people shouldn’t do and you want laws against doing it. You want to enforce those laws.

The issue of punishment is a separate one but the idea of criminalization and why criminalization takes the form that it does is a very good question. We are obviously in a period now of criminalization amongst everything. About 35% of all Americans have a criminal record at this point.


The last question I have is a major focus of the just publics at 365 Project is bringing together academics, activists and journalists in ways that promote social justice, civic engagement and greater democracy. What sort of lessons learned do you have from your experience with your research about academics entering a terrain more frequently trialed by activists and journalists?

Well, academics have been involved in criminology forever. They’ve invented it but the more critical issue now is in the current world where you have ideas you want to have a voice in public policy and be understood by the general public are very important. You run up against, in terms of the way in which academics and journalists can play a role in public attitudes, literacy and ultimately support for or antagonism to new policies directly relates to what you’re talking about in just publics, and that is the development of public literacy, public understanding, public attitudes and not leave that to Fox News. The people who exploit to either gain attention, which is certainly true in politics like the tough-on-crime posture, is not particularly interested in statistics or outcomes because it’s another tool of promoting political careers and staking out of a place has become a mainstay of political strategies now. Anybody who doesn’t take that road get slammed by their opponents and so stays away from it. You haven’t heard a word about drugs and drug sentencing, drug regularization laws which are going on in the country. You haven’t heard a word about that in any political campaign in recent years, I haven’t at least. What was once upfront and can fit the most important issue even a dozen years ago isn’t there anymore because they recognize that there’s a lot of politicians, that there’s a lot of change in attitudes about drug recently, about drug laws, drug legalization now, a lot of legalizations now supported by 58% of adult population. You have legalizations in two states, Colorado and Washington for marijuana and other states doing a similar thing now. You can begin to see a crumbling on the war of drugs which has been the mighty engine that has driven massive incarceration but it will take its place in the immigration, immigration consulates and again the same thing again with the politicization of that discussion at the expense of immigrants who built this country with their hands, 400,000 deep rotations last year, a whole private industry. It’s imprisoning these people and transporting them. Sex offense is another growing issue of criminalization – watching porn on the internet. It can get you entrapped into major prison time. The financial crimes, not the Burney Maddox things but the small things like child support which fairly connects with child support. This is often built into the release arrangements, parole of people coming out of prison who are piling up to pay child support would come out of prison unable to earn any money certainly to pay back those debts. That becomes an example of something that’s set up to feed the criminal justice and prison system, which is going down from the drop in drug enforcement and drug arrest which is sad even though drugs are doing fine in America, methamphetamine trade especially. There isn’t the same appetite for pursuing it as there was. It becomes less of an issue in creating a prison population versus other things – immigration and financial crimes and sex offenses take its place.


Could you tell me about your work in harm reduction and, more broadly, organizations that have a desire to shift from a criminalization modality to a public health modality?


Harm reduction you asked about organization that have arisen, have a desire to change this model from criminal to public health. We have an organization called From Punishment to Public Health which is a collaboration of John Jay The City University, you guys, the Columbia School of Public Health, NYU School of Medicine and other departments on these institutions focusing on the issues for New York City that sit at the intersection of public health and criminal justice, things like domestic violence, drug overdoses, violence of all sorts actually done especially.

You really have to extend some effort to separate the public health view of something like gun violence from the criminal view of it, because the numbers and so even though they have a much lower than this, they’re still very substantial. You can’t pick up a paper in New York or Chicago. How do they know Los Angeles without review of awful shooting that destroyed people’s lives. When you count those up they become the major source of death and injury for many young adults and not to mention all the bystanders who get hit.
In the face of the politics of guns in United States and the NIH, it’s suppression of exactly public health research. The NIH managed to get the freeze on the CDC’s ability to do gun research going back to back 10 years, because when you look for the answers to these things, the question is like how many are affected, who, what makes a difference, what time of day – all those stuff is very hard to find because it allowed to be funded by CDC or NIH in the last decade. That’s changing now I think on the new machines that are coming in but there’s a real vacuum here. But that’s a natural place for public health methods looking at the angry kid effects, making maps looking at risk by age and location and gender. All are very, very powerful tools that in fact make a lot of sense for looking at criminal justice issues through a public health lens.

The harm reduction, how it relates to drugs and a view of accepting the fact that drug use is pretty universal. Always has been, always will be. That our goals have to be to reduce the consequences especially, those related to violence. More and more countries are thinking about drug policy in these terms.

Now, all the policy creates this violence. The most dramatic cases being those near us, in sexual marriage in Mexico, which is a huge epidemic of violence associated with the drug business to sell products that are essentially almost worthless. They are very worthless but free. The efforts to bring these drugs: cocaine, marijuana, heroin into the American market are associated with 60,000 murders in Mexico over the last 5, 6 years.

Talk about outsourcing. This is a problem that was in the United States at the time of the peak of the war on drugs in the 80s crack wars when between the start of the war on drugs in the 70s and the decline in crime in the 90s in the 20-year-period, there were 200,000 extra homicides compared to the 10 years before and the 10 years since when the enforcement and the violence associated with drug enforcement in the United States diminished dramatically but moved over to Mexico into the supply side and the local markets.

A wonderful film called The House I Live In by Jarecki which is really, does a very good job of telling the whole story but especially depicting the level of violence of drug enforcement in this period and the exposure to that of so many people. That’s was the mechanism that built the prison population and once you’re in it, you stay in it one way or another, reset in the prison, re-entry and all that.

 

(new) Public Goods– Thursday oct. 3 @ the New School 9:30-12:30

(New) Public Goods: Design, Aesthetics and Politics. Oct, 3 @ 9:30am

Parsons the New School for Design and the School of Design Strategies invites you to the 2013 Stephan Weiss Lecture Series:

(New) Public Goods: Design, Aesthetics and Politics
A conversation curated by Eduardo Staszowski, Vyjayanthi Rao, Scott Brown and Virginia Tassinari.

Thursday, October 3
9:30am-12:30pm

Location: Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall
The New School, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York

This Fall’s Stephan Weiss Lecture considers the import of design practices concerned with the production and distribution of public goods, including public services and utilities, public policy, government institutions, and other organizations working within the public realm or subjected to broad public scrutiny. Increasingly, the focus of design is shifting from questions of form to questions of transformation. The Weiss Lecture will explore the challenges these design practices pose to the relationship between institutional infrastructure and regulative norms, as well as to emerging forms of commons and community. Configured as a Design Strategies Dialogue, this event brings together five leading figures from the world of design and the social sciences, alongside discussants Clive Dilnot, Victoria Hattam and Jamer Hunt:

PELLE EHN: Professor at Malmö University’s School of Arts and Communication

MARIA HELLSTRÖM REIMER: Professor at Malmö University School of Arts and Communication and Director of Studies for the Swedish Faculty for Design Research and Research Education

CARL DISALVO: Associate Professor in the Digital Media program in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology

JOAN GREENBAUM: Professor Emerita at City University of New York and the New Media Lab at the CUNY Graduate Center

KEITH MURPHY: Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of California Irvine.

With Discussants: Clive Dilnot, Victoria Hattam and Jamer Hunt

Activist East Harlem Walking Tour

New York City has long been a hub of activism.  An exhibition on Activist New York at the Museum of the City of New York uses artifacts, photographs, multimedia presentations to tell a broad story about activism in the five boroughs across a wide range of issues such as  civil rights and racial justice, fair wages, civil rights for LGBT people, and religious freedom.  New York is an intellectual and academic hub as well, so many of these activists movements have also included scholars, professors, and public intellectuals without institutional affiliation.

AEH_WalkingRegister here.

On Tuesday, 9/10 at 3pm, The Museum of the City of New York is offering an Activist East Harlem Walking Tour, co-sponsored by the Gotham Center of the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Some of us from JustPublics@365 will be on the tour, as well.  One of our goals is to help build digital elements of the walking tour that will be informed by scholarship by and about the neighborhood of East Harlem and openly available to everyone.

Round Table Public Health: Resisting or Expanding Criminalizaton?

How should we respond to drug users – with jail or treatment?  Is a public health approach to drug use a way to resist criminalization? Or, does public health just replicate control in new forms? These are some of the issues raised when people talk about public health and criminalization, and this has been an important week for talking about these issues.

Just yesterday, the Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine released their Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy (pdf).  A multi-year effort, the Blueprint makes a strong case for what they call a “four pillar approach” to drug policy.  The pillars are:  prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and public safety.  The first three of these – prevention, treatment and harm reduction (such as syringe exchange) – are rooted in public health responses to drugs rather than the “lock them up and throw away the key” approach of the last 30 years.

Blueprint DPA NYAM graphics

On Monday, the day before the Blueprint release,  I took part in a round table conversation with a mixture of academics, activists, and journalists about these same issues. In a small group we tackled the following question: is public health resisting or expanding criminalization?

As each of us went around the table to introduce ourselves, I realized that there was a mixture of historians, lawyers, LGBTQ activists, public health professors, and journalists that made for an engaging, lively discussion.

The conversation opened with a declarative statement: the public health model is concerned with communities and populations, not individual behavior. “The criminal justice model is an individual behavior model,” said Ernie Drucker, author of Plague of Prisons, “and that’s why we should not use the criminal justice model to address issues of drug use and addiction.” Others agreed, but pointed out that public health has been a coercive tool and that it was important to be skeptical of behavior control methods being practiced under the guise of public health.

This part of the discussion produced more questions than answers. We wondered, how would public health drug policies be any different than criminal justice drug policies? What were the public health options for addressing drug use and addiction? Would public health officials be better suited for the problems of addiction than criminal justice officials? PHTweet_03

(You can see more of the Twitter updates from this session here.)

Rebecca Tiger (@rtigernyc), author of Judging Addicts: Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System, was especially wary of turning the problem of drug use and addition over to public health without some critical examination of the history of public health practices.

PHTweet_02

(You can see more of the Twitter updates from this session here.)

Recognizing that public health has increasingly focused on individual behavior change, the group questioned when public health began to focus on behavior modification. I suggested that the visual anti-tuberculosis campaigns in early twentieth century, which aggressively targeted individuals with posters that told them to stop behaviors such as spitting and coughing, could have been the beginning of the use of mass media for individual behavior change.

Rebecca Tiger questioned how the media contributes to the public discourse about drugs in the United States. In response, Sandeep Junnarkar talked about how he encourages his students to move away from mass media and focus their own blogs or even radio blogs. Rebecca said she thought the mass media has been perpetuating the “criminalization conversation” and one of the biggest obstacle in switching the conversation towards decriminalization and public health. By encouraging his students to think more broadly about where they publish their work, Sandeep said he hopes there will be a new generation of journalists that can help sway the conversation.

Tweets

(You can see more of the Twitter updates from this session here.)

The conversation cycled back to a discussion of the American public health framework when someone brought up the legacy of Progressive Era reform movements on present day public health. There were those who adamantly declared that public health was necessarily population and community based and those who were wary of public health practices. Clearly, we had not come to a consensus about the role of public health in decriminalization efforts.

The conversation, appropriately, raised more questions than it answered. Ernie Drucker said that part of the solution to the many questions and problems raised in the discussion was to have more cross boundary/cross disciplinary conversations like this one.

I completely agree.

You can see the archived livestream of our discussion here.  And, soon, we’ll have a more polished, edited video.

If you’re in the Buffalo, NY area and want to continue this conversation, you’ll want to attend this conference, May 2-3, at the Baldy Center for Law & Policy.  FREE and open to the public.

 

Making Research More Public

I was delighted to serve as moderator of last night’s panel on “Free Speech for Whom?” with danah boyd (@zephoria), Adrian Chen (@AdrianChen), and Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc) (more about which in another post).  At the end of the panel, I asked the panelists what one thing they might change if they were going to address the issue of hate speech and other forms of offensive trolling and abusive behavior online. The closing comments came from danah boyd who urged the audience of mostly academics, activists, and web-theorizers to “be more public with your work.”  As Dorothy (@deedottiedot) tweeted:

BePublic_danahboyd

I mention this here because danah’s call to action for the audience last night speaks directly to the core idea behind JustPublics@365.  As people who are committed to social justice, we see a lot that’s wrong with the world from hate speech, to growing economic inequality, to criminalization of large segments of the population.  We also know that there is a good deal of academic research that could speak to those persistent inequalities and entrenched inequalities that open up new ways of thinking about old problems.  JustPublics@365 is all about connecting academic research to social justice efforts already happening, and using digital media to do just that.  “Be public with your work,” well said, danah boyd.

An Interview With PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson, Co-Chairs of #TtW13

For most people, the web is now a constant part of our daily interactions.  Yet, most of us understand little about how digital technologies are changing the personal, social and political aspects of life on a broad scale. At the University of Maryland-College Park, sociology graduate students, PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson, have come together to examine how the web and digital technologies are changing our society, economy and culture.

Student-led conferences that are open to those beyond tight-knit academic circles are almost unheard of, and yet PJ and Nathan are pushing the norm. Using gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, and disability lenses, PJ and Nathan have organized an innovative conference that “bring(s) together an inter/non disciplinary group of scholars, journalists, artists, and commentators” to theorize the web. Together they are building a model of tech-driven social transformations.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing PJ and Nathan about Theorizing The Web (#TtW13) which launches today at the Graduate Center as part of the JustPublics@365 Summit: Reimagining Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century.  The conference runs all day Saturday, 3/2 on the Concourse Level of the Graduate Center.  It’s open to all, and registration is required (and you’ll need photo ID to get into the building).

JustPublics@365: Can you tell us a bit about how the first Theorizing the Web conference started?

NJ: It started in frustration. PJ and I were beginning as sociology graduate students at the University of Maryland applying social theory to new technologies and went to conferences that bummed us out in a few specific ways. It was tough to get theory people to talk about the Internet and even more difficult to get the tech-researchers to take seriously theorizing, especially that which isn’t strictly instrumental. Where were the critical theories of the Web taking deeply into account the intersections of power and domination? the dangers of capitalism? critical-race, feminist, queer, post-structural, postmodern, and so on?

These were the ideas we wanted to immerse ourselves into and we wanted to find the right network of people. We had already jumped onto social media to find people. We created the Cyborgology Blog. And it was PJ who first came up with the idea of maybe hosting a small group of graduate students working on similar ideas since he had done that in his Philosophy department years ago.

PJ: Right, our goal was really to build community that we didn’t find ready-made elsewhere. We didn’t have many resources to throw a conference, but our sociology department at the University of Maryland had plenty of space available, so we figured would could put something together in a very DIY fashion and attract a few dozen people who were also passionate in thinking theoretically about digital media, particularly from a social justice bent. We basically just made a list of all the things that would make us most excited about a conference, tried to build them into our plans, and hoped people would show up. We thought an exciting conference would try to get past the jargon and focus on ideas important to a wide audience. We also thought it would be good to engage artists and to make things really fun having socials with bands and djs.

From the earliest stages of our planning, we thought it would be fantastic to have danah boyd give a talk because her willingness to engage a wide range of audiences and her focus on issues of public concern really seemed to fit the spirit of our conference well. From the moment we contacted her, she was so generous and wonderful in helping us pull things together for that first year. I really couldn’t imagine having had a better keynote to launch this whole project. Also, in the same year, Saskia Sassen contacted us after hearing what we were planning and offered to travel down to Maryland to join us and has been hugely supportive ever since. Having talks by both danah and Saskia, as well also our advisor, George Ritzer (who, also, unfailingly offers the best suggestions on tough planning decisions), really set the tone for the first event, and, frankly, just got us both super-psyched about the whole thing.

Personally, that first conference introduced me to a number of extraordinary people with whom I now regularly collaborate. For me, these relationships were the primary motivator in turning this original conference into an annual event.

JustPublics@365: Isn’t it a little unusual for graduate students to start a conference that’s not just for other grad students?

PJR: Originally, we just sort of assumed that Theorizing the Web would be a graduate-student conference. In fact, that’s how we we framed it in our initial proposal to the Maryland sociology department. Reeve Vanneman, the sociology chair at that time–who really helped get us on our feet–encouraged us to open it up to faculty too, since there was really no reason to turn away anyone interested in the topics we wanted to address. As it turns out, a lot of faculty–even senior faculty–were deeply interested in theorizing how digital technologies were both shaped by and shaping society. In fact, we received far more submissions than we anticipated. The main difficulty for us, as grad students, is that we can only feasibly organize a relatively small conference (everyone including the speakers volunteer their time and energy). So, this means we end up being forced to turn away a lot of really great submissions. Hopefully, more events will continue to develop to serve the apparent demand for the kinds of conversation that Theorizing the Web and similar events facilitate.

NJ: And as we move forward into planning for 2014, we are looking at ways to expand the conference to meet the demand, which we are simply not able to do right now. We also are looking into expanding who makes the submission decisions beyond just ourselves, something that now seems appropriate given the surprising growth of the event.

Most importantly, we could not have done the conference those first two years without the help of fellow Maryland graduate students, Tyler Crabb, Dan Greene, Rachel Guo, Zach Richer, Jillet Sam, David Strohecker, Sarah Wanenchak, Matthias Wasser, and William Yagatich. Tyler and Sarah are again helping us this year, along with two more graduate students, Whitney Erin Boesel and Tanya Lokot, who have gone above and beyond in helping to make this event happen. JustPublics@365: So, 2013 is the first year that Theorizing The Web is in New York City.  How do you anticipate that this will change the conference?

PJR: We’ve teamed up with brilliant folks at JustPublics@365 who helped reinforce our emphasis on engaging broad publics and important social issues. This partnership actually has some deep roots. Jessie Daniels helped us get Theorizing the Web off the ground by organizing a really excellent panel on race and social media at our first conference. We’re both fans of her scholarship on cyberracism, which is a perfect fit for Theorizing the Web. She introduced us to Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, Jen Jack Gieseking, Matthew K. Gold, Wilneida Negrón, Morgane Richardson, and Emily Sherwood. Having this great contingent of CUNY folks each contributing their unique talents to the planning of the conference helped to give to give TtW13 a distinctly NYC flair. Also, we’re really excited to have an invited panel that specifically features research on the Web being done at the CUNY Graduate Center.

NJ: Agreed! One of the goals Theorizing the Web has had is to make ideas more public. The space should be open to the public (the conference registration has always been pay-what-you-can), we’ve deeply integrated the Twitter conversation and now the live stream, and we’ve also pushed and selecting for ideas to be addressed in a way that is appropriate not just for an inter-disciplinary audience but also one that may be non-disciplinary. Moving the event to New York City is helping us reach more people since there are more people working in these areas as researchers, artists, activists, and so on. For instance, there is an #OccupyData hackathon happening concurrent with the conference in the James Gallery, and the New York City-based culture mag The New Inquiry, who we’re huge fans of, is helping us promote the event outside of academic circles.

JustPublics@365: The conference is, obviously, about ‘theorizing’ the web – but how will people be ‘using’ the web during the conference?

PJR: We really try to practice what we preach with the conference: namely, getting away from the “digital dualist” conception of online and offline as separate spaces for social interaction. We set out to “augment” the conference with digital media, which we believe helps us reach the widest possible audience. We offer live streaming video of all our panels so that folks who cannot afford a plane ticket to travel to the event can still watch in real time. Even more important, we actively work to move the so-called “Twitter backchannel” onto the front stage by having “hashtag moderators” at each panel who livetweet the discussion and ask the panelists questions on behalf of those viewing the panels remotely. These tactics are aimed at making anyone who cannot be physically present still feel like a full participant in the event and also at making the role of audience member a less passive, more “prosumptive” experience. That is, after all, what social media is all about!

NJ: An example of the culture of digital-material enmeshment at Theorizing the Web was the 2012 keynote, a conversation between NPR’s Twitter journalist Andy Carvin and UNC Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, namely, Zeynep’s superhuman ability to follow the discussion face-to-face together with the very, very active Twitter feed. I think there were about 5,000 tweets that day on the conference hashtag and we were even the #2 trending Washington D.C. topic at one point when I checked. Meanwhile, Zeynep navigated the simultaneity of the various flavors of information coming at her with ease. Tellingly, when Zeynep asked for questions, the hands in the room didn’t go up, instead, they collectively checked Twitter. JustPublics@365: Can you say a little about how the Friday evening event is different from the conference on Saturday?

PJR: Friday features a set of invited speakers we think will be of broad interest to our audience. We know a lot of people will be just arriving on Friday and many will be doing last minute preparations for Saturday presentations, so we wanted to keep the Friday event pretty simple. Saturday features 3 sets of concurrent panels, each focused on specific issues. It’s pretty packed schedule with 48 total presentations and a closing keynote by David Lyon.

This is actually the 7th conference I’ve helped organize now. And, above all, I’ve learned that meeting and catching up with people is the part that conference-goers look forward to most. So, on both days, we try to provide as much opportunity for socializing as possible, while still cramming in lots of great discussion. We really hope everyone can make it to the Friday night social and the Saturday night afterparty.

NJ: We think it is fitting to open the conference with a plenary on Surveillance by Alice Marwick, which is a real juxtaposition to the closing keynote, also on surveillance. We hope attendees appreciate Marwick’s somewhat-different approach to surveillance, namely, her conceptualization of “social surveillance” that differs from traditional surveillance studies to capture the rise of social media. Next, the invited panel titled “Free Speech for Whom?” should be a lot of fun. danah and Zeynep are leaders in this line of inquiry and are well-known to most of our audience. Adrian Chen is a journalist at Gawker and wrote the article outing (aka, “doxxing”) that nasty Reddit troll, which was pretty big news and should provide a new angle. We also reached out to some folks who are more unabashedly ‘information-should-always-be-free’, but timing unfortunately didn’t work out. [note: Kate Crawford was originally on this panel but had to back out because of a conflict with another conference she is keynote-ing]. Last, we’re especially excited to have an event in the James Gallery, as art has always been central in our thinking of these issues. JustPublics@365: Right, there seems to be some effort to involve artists.  What’s that got to do with ‘theorizing the web’?

NJ: Marshall McLuhan liked to say that only artists can know the present, while, at best, the rest of us are in the near-past. I’ve always found it interesting how, contrary to what McLuhan would have wanted, art and academia are so often separated. Academics, at least in the social sciences but often beyond, rarely consider art as of equal epistemic standing to their research; that is, it isn’t equally legitimate or able to convey ideas, insights, truths (what Lyotard or Foucault might talk about as subjugated knowledges). Meanwhile, artists are often engaging cutting-edge theoretical topics, and my hope is that academics can learn from them. And perhaps the artists can benefit from the academic skill of translating the ideas for different audiences and linking the insights to other theories, research, histories, and current events. And I can’t speak of art too long without thanking the great design work we’ve been fortunate to have with this conference, Ned Drummond for 2011 and 2012, and Imp Kerr for 2013. We owe both a large debt of gratitude.

JustPublics@365: What are you most looking forward to about #TtW13?

NJ: Seeing people meeting new people, making that new connection, and striking up conversation and spinning off new ideas. Also, seeing people taking notes and tweeting ideas during the talks. And, selfishly, getting to see all those friends we’ve made through the conference, Cyborgology, and Twitter. There are those friends and colleagues I do not get to see often, and what is also exciting is meeting people in-person I have previously known only as a Twitter-handle or a name on a journal article. Oh, also, the conference after-party on Saturday night! We have a DJ (Sean Gray of Fan Death Records) and a band, Niabi, who is an excellent ambient-meets-dreampop-meets-shoegaze electronic musician.

PJR: Meeting and catching up with people is always the most exciting part for me too. And, really, that’s why we started this whole thing in the first place. I often reflect on how many of my close collaborators I’ve met through the Theorizing the Web and how different my life would be if we hadn’t started the conference. There are a several folks who I first connected up with in 2011 and who keep coming back with new and exciting observations. Also, I’m excited to be exposed to new voices and new ideas. After the event, I’ll go back and watch the archived video of all the panels I missed. The past conferences gave me so much to think about that it took a month or two to fully digest.

JustPublics@365: Can people still participate? How do they go about doing that?

PJR: The program is set at this point, but as I said before, no one at Theorizing the Web is just a passive viewer. Lively conversations have already begun on the #TtW13 hashtag and on the Cyborgology Blog. We invite anyone and everyone to jump in. Your questions, whether asked in-person or through the hashtag, will shape the conversation at the event. I’m really looking forward to seeing what emerges as the main talking points.

NJ: And we invite those inspired by what happens at the conference to write about it! The Cyborgology blog often hosts guest-posts on these topics and is a great way to “keep the conversation going”, as Richard Rorty might say.

Nathan Jurgenson(@nathanjurgenson) is a social media theorist, PhD student in sociology at the University of Maryland, musician, photographer, and co-founder of the Cyborgology blog and Theorizing the Web conference. PJ Rey (@pjrey) is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Maryland examining how social media is changing our economy and culture. In addition to being a co-chair of the Theorizing the Web conference, he is also a co-founder and editor of the Cyborgology blog.

Why tweet while someone else is talking?

Since joining twitter, my “presence” has been sparse and mostly carefully curated from the comfort of my own home. From there I can scan the internet for things that I am sure are worth sharing, mull over a clever 140 character-description, and then type it out on my laptop to avoid potential embarrassing autocorrect mistakes on my phone. As far as I can tell this is the opposite of how twitter is supposed to be used. So when I offered to livetweet from a conference last week for JustPublics@365 I was kind of throwing myself into the deep end.

What I discovered surprised me. Audience members used twitter as a space for props, critique, and documentation. Watching the thoughts of other audience members unfold on my phone screen deepened my own listening experience. It was far from being the distraction I thought it might be. (Disclaimer: I know people have been doing this livetweeting thing for a while now! I am late to the game – let this be a little “aha!” moment from one open-minded-but-not-very-tech-savy person to another).

The event was called “a Symposium on Race, Law and Justice: Strategies for Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” It was organized by the Office of the District Attorney (Kings County) in collaboration with Medger Evers College (CUNY). The panelists and audience members were a fantastic array of social workers, academics, politicians, school administrators, religious leaders, and activists. My own research is about the criminalization and management of racialized youth in Canada and I was excited for this opportunity to learn about how these issues play out in New York. I’m familiar with the broad strokes of debates around the school-to-prison-pipeline but I was hoping to figure out what the particular dynamics/disagreements/nuances are in discussions among New Yorkers who broadly agree that the “school-to-prison-pipeline” is a problem. Twitter was a space where some of these dynamics were made visible. Here are a few examples that surfaced under the hashtag #RLJ13 (RaceLawJustice2013):

(@marlon_79) “Being patient, but I am disturbed when ppl are surprised when they hear black kids get suspended 2 much” #RLJ13

(@ruby_beth) “Do NOT ignore the courts as resources.” – Judith Kaye \\ this is hard to do when courts are sources of anxiety & not support for many #RLJ13

(@marlon_79) Not 2 many men in attendance at #RLJ13 this is an issue on most forums. Where r the men? Y aren’t convos marketed for us? Y we don’t come?

These tweets (and others) were counter-conversations; questions; people making visible (and then attempting to fill) gaps in the official program. Without twitter I think these thoughts would have probably remained as private notes scrawled on people’s free conference notepads.

There weren’t that many people tweeting under the #RLJ13 hashtag (which was developed by a few of us in the absence of an official suggestion). But it was easy to see how, at a larger event (or one which explicitly promoted the use of twitter), many different sub-conversations could emerge. An event organized around sitting and listening to presentations about the school-to-prison pipeline could become, in the twitterverse, a collaborative project of thinking through the issues being raised in real-time.

Just like any other digital technology, twitter doesn’t change anything about conferences, or activism, or academia independent of us deciding to use it in particular ways. But it does provide a space for conversations to be layered and laid-out in ways that I think are unique. The way we were using twitter at #RLJ13 made the summit feel like a more interactive and more participatory space than the official set-up actually allowed for. There are barriers to tweeting that make it less than totally democratic – the most obvious being that you need a material electronic device that costs a lot of money in order to participate (and I would love to hear more about what others think about the democratic potential of twitter). But I definitely heard voices I wouldn’t have otherwise heard and made connections with other audience members that I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

  • Please join me as I tweet for JustPulbics@365 from this event next week. Beth Richie will be talking about her new book Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation at King Juan Carlos Center in New York, and I will probably literally tweet everything she says because she is brilliant.
  • You can also follow the upcoming Theorizing the Web (#Ttw13) conference on twitter. There will be an official hashtag moderator livetweeting from each session and compiling questions from the twitterverse.

British Modernism and the Public Intellectual

It’s the beginning of a new semester as well as the new year. There are new faces in my classroom, and taxes are due. And, with JustPublics@365, the figure of the public intellectual is very much on my mind.

A couple years ago at a weekly Friday departmental talk, I was surprised when a very respected professor bemoaned the dearth of contemporary public intellectuals. We have no Voltaires, he said, and as a culture we are suspicious of too much erudition. Another professor joined him to urge us, graduate students in this public university, to publish outside academia because really, hardly anyone is reading your 30-page article in the leading academic journal in your field. “You have to get yourself out there, and heard by a wider audience,” they exhorted.

Listening to them, I wondered: I teach between 50 to 90 students per semester; isn’t that “public” enough? Each week, my inbox floods with notices of talks, exhibitions, readings, screenings, and panel discussions that I look through and delete—there’s just not enough time for everything. It seemed, in the small circles I moved in, that there were too many public intellectuals. If only these academics stayed home a bit more and did a teeny bit less, I might have the leisure to make it to more of their events.

It’s been a few semesters since this gripey reflection, and I now realize how different my experience is from, say, that of my students. Consider the results of a brief, informal survey: Only a handful of hopeful engineers in my community college classroom had heard of Stephen Hawking, whose author photo from A Brief History of Time (1988) was one of the most significant images of my childhood. My film studies class had a few young people who lived and breathed film, though a majority would have trouble locating the Angelika. But the biggest challenge by far is with my English literature students, who study literary theory and British modernism with me. Few public intellectuals are spouting insights based on structural linguistics or psychoanalytic criticism, and even fewer reference nuggets from James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and the like. To my students, the value of the material we cover is purely personal because, they see, there’s no place for that kind of language or discourse in the so-called real world. If there are “text-to-world” connections (such a favourite in pedagogic short-hand) between the classroom and the rest of lived experience, well, those connections are largely restricted to out-of-the-box ideas about romance and relationships, not job decisions and work ethics. In a kind of mental extension of the Levittown mentality, the personal is separated from public life, matters of head and heart firmly distanced, and although my students acknowledge that the literary modernists had pretty good things to say about interpersonal relationships, I’m also told in no uncertain terms that the “modernist mood” is no help at all with practicalities. We measure out our lives with coffee spoons, but what good does it do to point it out?

http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/901/flashcards/124901/jpg/head_butt1304882691036.jpgMark Halsey, “A Short History of Modernist Painting” (1982)

All of which would have upset the modernists at least a little. Although modernism is most famous for being difficult, snooty, cold-hearted, and abstruse (to pick only the nicer adjectives my students supply), modernist writers were eager to be part of larger dialogues and the bigger picture. They felt the need to “Make it new”—not only for themselves, but for the culture as a whole. George Orwell, one of my dearest literary figures, was so committed to political action that he volunteered for the Spanish Civil War and was shot in the throat for his pains; he also managed to get a lovely book out of it. Eliot, for all his erudition, was intimately concerned with steering the intellectual climate of interwar England. The stultification they experienced, the alienation, loss, emasculation—all this was meant to draw in the unwary reader and then pull the rug out from under them, so to speak, and make it impossible to read any run-of-the-mill mush in quite the same way again.

In Nightwood, Djuna Barnes writes about failed relationships (among other things) and why we fall so stupidly in love with the wrong people over and over again. But really, she’s talking about education and the incipient danger of gender stereotypes:

“We were impaled in our childhood upon [unsuitable, stereotypical lovers] as they rode through our primers, the sweetest lie of all, now come to be in boy or girl, for in the girl it is the prince, and in the boy it is the girl that makes a prince a prince—and not a man. They go far back in our lost distance where what we never had stands waiting; it was inevitable that we should come upon them, for our miscalculated longing has created them. They are our answer to what our grandmothers were told love was, and what it never came to be; they, the living lie of our century” (145-6).

This passage is startling in its use of semi-colons, but further, it manages to succinctly connect fairy tales and children’s books to complex questions about gender (“princes” and “princesses”), identity (“a prince—and not a man”), illusions (“miscalculated longing”), and family structures (we inherit the dreams of our grandmothers, which seem so much more benign than those of our mothers). I like to spend a good bit of time in class discussing how our training molds and shapes us, and annoy students by suggesting that all this education is really designed to leave them (us) quiescent. I say, borrowing Barnes’ irony, that you “take away a man’s conformity and you take away his remedy,” leaving him like “the paralyzed man in Coney Island who had to lie on his back in a box” (155) as gawpers passed by. As we read, we find that these insights are from a middle-aged cross-dressing drunk, the false Dr. Matthew O’Connor. Social commentary with a dash of raucous melodrama: who wouldn’t want to read this book cover-to-cover?

All of which is to say, the modernists are no longer in the public eye, and maybe they are as over-intellectual as my students claim, but that doesn’t preclude their relevance today. One of the missions of JustPublics@365 is to invite participatory voices from beyond the academy; I propose we extend this “beyond” to those chilly, austere, literary modernist works that urge us to think outside and behind, to probe and question, to declaim the system even as it teaches you to speak. BLAST.

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What does it mean to be a “Digital Scholar”?

This post was originally published on the GC Digital Fellows blog

After reading Erin and Alice Lynn’s latest posts, I began to wonder what a “successful” digital scholar looks like.  Should success be measured by the scope of one’s digital presence?  Should it be measured by how much one’s research is cited on the web?  Or does it instead have something to do with how many digital tools one has created for / incorporated into their research?

This is a tricky question to answer; just trying to find a simple definition of ‘digital scholarship’ is a task unto itself.  Some argue that we should refrain from attempting to define digital scholarship in the first place, while others argue that digital scholarship should be defined loosely so as to incorporate diverse approaches.  If we can’t even decide how to define digital scholarship, how can we determine if one is a successful digital scholar?

I can’t say that I have an answer that could unify or encompass everything that may fall under ‘digital scholarship’, and I won’t try to offer suggestions here either.  Instead, I’d like to suggest that readers of this post reflect on problems they’ve encountered in academia (trouble finding others who share your research interests, institutional limitations on your research, difficulty gathering and assessing data, limited publication options for your topic, etc), and think of ways that these obstacles could be overcome using less traditional means.  What do I have in mind by ‘less traditional means’?

Although it is difficult – and perhaps unnecessary – to strictly define digital scholarship, it is not difficult to become a digital scholar; approaching traditional scholarship from a new angle is all that’s required.