Writing, impacting, timing in academe

This post is a meta-post, delivering a few (more) considerations about the practice of writing in, and for, academe.

Brian Tomasik has a good essay that, although provocatively, questions: “is it better to blog or formally publish”? The essay suggests some arguments for publishing in journals and conferences and some arguments against publishing in journal and conferences. According to Tomasik, traditional outlets are “good” for signalling quality, “appearing normal” (this is nice), building on previous literature, having formal and informal feedback, being citable. But they are “bad” because of (often useless) time investment, grunt work, slow turnaround, impossibility to change or remove articles, narrowing of focus and potentially limited audiences. In my opinion, the last two points are the real issues: journal writing is limited (in SSH at least) by the need to follow a “rigorous” method that may result in downplaying new, although less “secure”, ideas; journals are read by scholars (and by those who read English), end point.

My answer to the question “is it better to blog or formally publish” therefore is: do both! I think we need to “impact” at the same time within the academic world – which is where new ideas may be produced and our ideas be further explored – and outside it, in the “real world” where ideas may impact on society, culture, politics.

An important issue is that of “timing”. In an era of “zero distances” (for communication and for those who can access the networks, at least), in an era in which delay is reduced to minimum in several fields (think to photography, for example), there is a generalised pressure for “being fast”.

Michael Eisen talks of the “glacial pace” of academic publishing. The experience of “delay” for the sake of formal publication is a daily struggle within academe. To make an example, I have a paper submitted in July 2012 (yes, two thousands and twelve), which is undergoing the third (or fourth?) review: of course it is my responsibility as well (it was my first paper submitted to an international journal, you know, I would spare a lot of work to reviewers, nowadays). I feel nevertheless frustrated when I have to wait six/eight months between a submission and a feedback. And I feel my case studies “old”, at least for the sake of narrative.

Yet, as remembered by Catherine Durose and Katherine Tonkiss, fast scholarship is not always good scholarship. Time and patience are necessary in order to build and frame good ideas, indeed. This is one of the reason I still think the PhD is one of the most exciting adventures for a curious mind (in SSH, at least) – and why I am an advocate of thesis in PhDs. This also suggests us that writing papers for journals is important, but looking for more flexible outlets, like books, is important as well.

Yes, the point, here, is that academe is in a turn-point of its history, and it should be evident that up-to-date outreach, impact journal publication, and slow, traditional writing are to be accepted as the faces of the same coin, the three sides of our moon.

(Simone Tulumello)

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