on digital discursive promiscuity


Plate 76. A well-crafted blog post. Note lines of flight
into and out of the vaguely-circumscribed post.

I was having some “meta” thoughts about writing this evening. Specifically, I was thinking why academics need to blog (or otherwise publicly write) and why it is as important, as a parallel project, as traditional publishing. These thoughts were prompted by a whole host of reasons and one blog post.

Something the comes up frequently in Becoming Poor meetings, especially when we read from The Europeans (which *cough* is most of the damned time), is how they all seem to be referencing one another without bothering to tell us that. As they are so thoroughly well-versed of each other, it’s almost like an in-joke among them. Still, it would be nice to know sometimes where all that is coming from. Relatedly, we’ve talked on occasion of various citation styles which make it easier or more difficult to reference others’ works. Thirdly, we spoke at the very top of our last meeting about the various emerging models of academic writing and publishing. Finally, I am perpetually interested in public scholarship. Part of it is uncertainty at the look of the academy when I am finally ready. Secondly, in my chosen topics of interest and fields of study, I do believe I have a social responsibility.

I was reminded of those thoughts tonight while reading Natalie Reed’s essay, “Discourse and Intersectionality“. I’ll quote liberally, as she makes some great points:

Here’s the thing: nothing I write is original…

Absolutely NO single trans person can speak for that immense diversity of experience.

I’ve often said, especially to cis people who discovered me by proximity to the Skeptic and Atheist communities, that if I’m the only trans-feminist you’re reading, then you don’t understand trans-feminism or trans issues. I meant that. I really really meant that. I can speak about a lot of things, but I cannot, by definition, speak to the actual range of gender diversity. No one can. The only way to understand trans is to understand it from as many angles and experiences as possible. Which is an effort I make as best I can.

My writing is informed by that.

Feel free to substitute trans above with whatever. The point is that in these days of blogging and linked text/media, there is no excuse to not promiscuously link, footnote, or otherwise reference others’ material. Personally, I love to footnote even in blogs. At first, I thought it a bit pretentious until I realized that I owe a great debt, even in “mere” blogging, to others whose writing I deeply respect. After all, I am finding that some of the best thinking and theorizing is being done in the blogosphere these days. And I like to give others shout-outs and link traffic. When we link promiscuously, those reading us will at least be started on a path toward different angles and perspectives. So we should do this, including sources with which we disagree. Most importantly, in our networked milieu we should tear down any disciplinary walls, flatten hierarchies, and link to people, based on who, not what, they are.

This format is preeminently suited to overcome the aforementioned European Non-attribution Problem. We identify intellectual lineages in group discussion all the time. And this digital format makes it absurdly easy to unobtrusively link out to and acknowledge all of the influences in our writing. It also gives us license to link to crazy, half-baked, and even downright insane material. This is not something we are afforded in august realm of traditional academic writing. So we should make the best use of this treason, especially as we think about the coming new forms of academic publishing. If there was ever any format to practice the theories of rhizomes, multitude, and plurality, this one is it.

If we need a reason why to do this, read all of Natalie’s post. We in Becoming Poor are an extremely privileged bunch; we can’t ignore that. And in traditional publishing, a lot of voices are left behind, effectively silenced, in our writing. This format allows us to bring more voices and experiences to the table, not to mention possibly interact with them. At the risk of sounding terribly net.utopian by saying this format “democratizes communication”… well, there can be a certain truth to it.

Compared to the gate-keepers and editors in the publishing realm, this realm is much different. We can certainly use it to rebuild some of the old gates, or we can help tear them down to help atone for being complicit in the exclusionary apparatus of tenure-track publishing. Again, whatever community you are personally substituting in, it comes down to privilege and representation:

After that many iterations of paring-down the breadth and diversity of what “transgender” is, you end up with just a tiny sliver of us positioned to represent a whole that no individual is able to represent.

…What we need to be is a discourse. A communication, a range of voices interacting and sharing and learning and challenging and pushing and driving forward, with compassion, working together. What we need is for the full diversity of trans lives, and it alone, to stand up to represent and speak for the full diversity of trans lives.

There is an undeniably gorgeous political project in these words, perfectly summed up in that last sentence. It is the move from representation to direct presentation. It is also a radically pluralistic project. As a format, the online realm creates a living discourse compared to the deader one of traditional published materials and facilitates this project. Academics cannot ignore it. I’m not advocating wholesale book burning here, but a controlled burn of selected publishing practices and houses would open up some fertile new ground but I am saying that if we are going to be socially-engaged and public scholars, we need to participate in multiple formats, especially the participatory ones.

One day after I drafted this post up to this point, beautiful serendipity floated across my transom. Along an entirely different train of thought, a friend point me to this essay in which author Whitney Erin Boesel basically wrote my earlier post and which ended with a description of Donna Haraway’s citation style:

Friends, colleagues, and students (both past and present) made this point over and over again: that Haraway went out of her way to cite even email threads and in-person conversations, even with her students, and that her commitment to making these citations had had positive impacts—both professionally and emotionally—for the people she cited.

Those repeated expressions of praise and gratitude made an incredible impression on me. They reminded me how important it is to cite the people who influence our thinking, and made me realize that citation can be an important political act. What I took home that evening from “Messing With Haraway” was not only a deeper appreciation of an extraordinary scholar, but also an updated picture of the scholar I aspire to become.

Citation matters, folks. Sure, we can’t all read everything—but when we don’t do due diligence in referencing the people and work we have read and do know about, we make it easier and more acceptable for other people both to do likewise and to avoid discovering that work in the first place. Failing to put Harawasian effort into our citations makes it easier for more powerful voices to be heard, and contributes to drowning less powerful voices out; more often than not, it also leads us to produce work of lower quality

As I’ve been quoting liberally in this post, I’ll echo Whitney’s near-final words, as I agree with every one of them:

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want a different Academy—and while I probably won’t get one in my own lifetime, I remain committed to working toward that goal.

Just like with publishing practices, I’m not advocating a wholesale inferno, but I’d gladly take a torch to certain parts of the Academy.

This entry was posted in Commentary, DigitalHumanities, Metascholarship and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to on digital discursive promiscuity

  1. Reblogged this on Nomad Scholarship and commented:

    Let me start out by saying I have mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, it’s pretty banal: link and cite more! Duh. On the other hand, sometimes the obvious needs articulation. And it seems that I had some deep-down visceral dis-ease that apparently needed expression. (“Tell me about your desiring-machines, Amy.”) There are reasons enumerated in the post for its genesis. Yet there is perhaps another reason beyond those, a reason which compels me to repost here. In one of our earlier meetings, Branden mentioned that somebody should be writing, in meta fashion, about what’s happening here in Nomad Scholarship: namely the appearance of collaborative discourse across institutional boundaries and geography, the transverse blending of two individual traditional face-to-face seminars into some new thing all it’s own. I’d like to think that this post is somewhat of a tangential start to that reflective process.

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