Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 As the title above already indicates, this thesis includes a conclusion. A conclusion is one of the explicit elements in a linear text that serves to bind all the arguments together by looking back and summarising the line of reasoning. In this respect, a conclusion can be seen as a structural feature within a text that serves as a logical ending, which cuts a text down to some extent, turning it into a whole, into a ‘work’ separate from other content: for example, internally from the appendix or from supplementary material that can be regarded ‘outside’ of this whole; or externally from other texts, both by the work’s author and by other authors. This conclusion does not serve as an ending, however, and more importantly, this thesis does not end with its conclusion. In other words it is not done, completed, finished, fixed or stable. It does not provide this kind of closure. Indeed, another function of a conclusion could be to suggest new pathways for further research, or to speculate on other directions and areas of investigation next to making recommendations for future work. Therefore it can be argued that a conclusion does not necessarily have to function as the ending to a text. It simultaneously connects the text to future incarnations, adaptations and versions, as well as to other texts that might reference it, rework it, or in some other way connect to it.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This conclusion will both summarise and extend outwards. However, it is not the kind of conclusion that brings the argumentation to a logical outcome either, as the main argument has already been made throughout this thesis, i.e. that we need to pay more attention to the way our scholarship, and the scholarly book specifically, is currently cut together-and-apart (one move) and for what reasons. This conclusion includes an appeal to academics themselves to examine and critique their entanglement with the book, both through their scholarly communication practices and the systems that sustain them. This conclusion entails a plea to book and media scholars to take into consideration how their discursive representation of the past and future of the book is also a material practice (and vice versa), and hence a performance of its history and becoming. Finally, this conclusion is a call to scholars to start thinking and performing the apparatus of the book otherwise, in a potentially more ethical way, as part of a reconceptualisation of the book to come, and alongside an ongoing review of scholarly identity. However, our alternative incisions in the book apparatus will be contingent on the specific academic and publishing contexts in which we will have to make our cuts, and will hence be continuous and driven by various underlying motivations (from sharing to reputation building).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 As I have observed in my introduction, the scholarly book has been and remains one of the key locations of struggle over the future of academia, of scholarly communication, and of the university. The monograph has been shaped by our systems and structures of scholarly communication and by the practices and discourses connected to them. But it has simultaneously played an important role in the becoming of our modern system of science and scholarship, influencing how it came about, presently functions and, most likely, how it will continue to develop in the future. The impact of the emergent and dynamic materiality of the book thus needs to be taken into account here. At the same time, through its open-ended nature, the book forms a potential site for experimentation and intervention, where it constitutes an opportunity to start to think this system differently and embody and perform alternative scholarly practices and new institutional forms, as I have attempted to do here.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I have also shown in this thesis why it is important at this specific point in time to imagine a different future for the scholarly book. It is important first of all because monographs—and certain specialised, experimental and difficult instantiations of the monograph, in particular—are endangered at the moment. This is largely due to hegemonic communication power structures, which are focused more on increasing reputation and reward for their stakeholders rather than on promoting access to and reuse of scholarly research for the public at large. Rethinking and experimenting with how these communication and publishing structures might function differently remains one of our main tasks at hand. Secondly, this is a key moment to imagine a different future for the book because the digital provides us with an opportune context in which to re-examine our print-based and humanist communication systems, practices and discourses. This is the case especially with respect to how these systems, practices and discourses are determining our authorship practices, our material systems of knowledge production, and our conceptions of the inherent affordances or essential material features of the book (i.e. fixity, authority, originality and trust).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In this thesis I have explored the ways in which the scholarly book has been bound together and fixed in the course of its development. I have focused on the various agencies that have enforced forms of binding on the book, and on the specific practices, systems, and discourses that have accompanied and further stimulated these disciplining regimes. At the same time I have examined the material role and agency of the printed—and now the digital—book in intra-action with these developments. Yet I have also explored alternative ways of both thinking and performing the book, highlighting various forms of unbinding that are currently being proposed in a digital context—often as part of a highly agonistic battle over the future of the book (i.e. print versus digital). I have based my analysis of these formations of binding and unbinding of the book on scholarship that has paid particular attention to the entanglement of the material and the discursive. This includes feminist new materialist theories (i.e. Barad, Haraway), and critical and cultural theorists who are both attentive to the material-discursive and performative nature of our media (i.e. Foucault, Hayles), as well as to the ethical and political implications of the cuts we make in our scholarship (i.e. Derrida, Levinas, Hall, Kember and Zylinska). Building on these theories and theorists, I have contributed a posthumanist performative vision to the debate on the past and future of the book, seeing the book as a processual object entangled in a meshwork of material and discursive formations. With this vision I have provided an alternative to, and a critique of, the existing prevailing discourse on book history. In particular, I have argued that this discourse remains too focused on an essentialist, representationalist, and humanist framework that does not give due recognition to the intra-action of elements and agencies involved, nor to our own entanglements as scholars with the becoming of the book. However, I have not attempted to submit a new ‘master narrative’ to supersede this currently hegemonic discourse on book history. Instead of establishing yet another binary, I have provided a transversal and diffractive reading of the existing debate, reframing it to some extent.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This reframed debate has subsequently served as an introduction to each of the three forms of binding that have together made up the framework of this thesis. These forms of binding have been brought forward by—and have at the same time stimulated—a print-based and humanist vision of the book. They include: authorship, the book-as-commodity within systems of knowledge production, and the perceived fixity or stability of the book as an inherently bound material object. As mentioned above, through a transversal and diffractive reading of the book-historical discourse and the book’s material formation, I have explored how these forms of binding have emerged, developed and sustained themselves over time—and how they are currently being reiterated in a digital context. I have simultaneously examined possible means of unbinding as they are experimented with within a digital framework, based on ideas and practices of remix, openness and liquidity. These potential forms of unbinding have been used to critique the perceived originality, object-formation, and fixity of the scholarly book. I have argued however that these forms of unbinding too, especially in their implementation, continue to adhere to many of the humanist and print-based aspects I have examined as part of the becoming of the book. These are aspects that, as I have shown, are strongly ingrained in our systems and practices of scholarly communication and are maintained by its existing stakeholders. Yet I have also explored the ongoing potential for disruption that these forms of unbinding embody. I have done so by showcasing some of the exciting new experiments that have been undertaken to reimagine and (re)perform the scholarly monograph in a digital environment, and by exploring the potential of these experiments to envision a knowledge system that goes beyond the humanist and essentialist notions commonly attached to the printed book. For example, I have presented posthuman forms of authorship (critique), and I have provided an alternative genealogy and reading of openness and open access—reclaiming it from its current neoliberal implementation—based on a vision of radical open access and experimentation. I also made a sustained case for the fact that scholarship and publishing are not separate fields but that publishing should be seen as an integral aspect of scholarship and knowledge formation.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Finally, I have suggested that instead of analysing the perceived medial fixity of the book from a perspective of binding/unbinding or fixed/fluid, it might be more useful to look at fixity from the perspective of the cut or cutting. In place of providing a binary analysis based on the fixed/fluid dialectic, I have therefore offered an alternative vision based on cuts and contingent stabilisations. As part of this, I have emphasised our own entanglements as scholars with the apparatus of the book and have examined ways in which we can focus on a politics and ethics of ‘cutting-well’, as Kember and Zylinska have called it, especially where it concerns our own scholarly publishing and communication practices.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Alongside analysing current experiments with forms of unbinding—such as remix, openness and liquidity—and their potential to cut the book together-apart differently on the basis of alternative values and criteria, I have envisioned this thesis itself as an experiment in making affirmative incisions into the book apparatus. I have done so by following a methodology of critical praxis, which offers an alternative to simply conforming to and repeating established practices with respect to writing a thesis, without analysing the assumptions and perceptions upon which they are based. Developing a critical praxis by experimenting with digital tools and technologies, and by performing a thesis in an alternative way, might help us to not give in to the compulsion to repeat established forms and practices, and might allow us to contribute to a further critique and transformation of our current forms of knowledge production. With the digital and open research practice I have adopted in this thesis as part of its performative, experimental and interventionist approach, I have therefore attempted to focus on the processual nature of our research. Through the performance of my thesis I have endeavoured to rethink how we make incisions in our research and communicate it and share it. I have done so by experimenting with different ways of versioning this thesis during its development, which have included—and will include—the use of a weblog, various open archiving media and a hypermedia platform. This in an attempt on my part to critique the continued emphasis on the end-result of our research as well as the object-centred publication approach promoted by publishers, universities and funders alike. Instead a focus on the processual and collaborative nature of our research-in-development might make us more aware of when we share and publish our research and for what reasons; but also where we publish it, on which platforms, using which media and in which forms; and how we do so, with what kind of stipulations for its further uptake. It also provides us with an opportunity to give credit to the people we collaborate with during our research, who comment upon our work-in-progress, critique it, adapt it or share it. This experiment in versioning my thesis—which is ongoing—is thus intended to make myself as well as other scholars aware of the incisions we make during our research, and to explore whether we can potentially make different, more ethical, and more informed cuts in our research, at different stages during its development.

Future Book-Entanglements

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Analysing the history and potential future becoming of the book, as I have attempted to do here, is a complex and multi-faceted undertaking. Therefore, of necessity, this thesis has had to make decisions to focus on certain aspects related to the future of the book in particular: for instance, on some of the main aspects of binding and unbinding the book has been confronted with, and on the role that has been played by the scholarly book in the humanities specifically. One aspect relating to the future of the book that deserves more attention than I have been able to give it here, however, is the history of the monograph. It would be very valuable to have a dedicated overview of how the monograph has developed in intra-action with our modern systems of science and scholarship and our formal publishing and communication structures. Any such history would do well to include a more thorough overview of the development of university presses, and the relationship between the book and commerce, as well as the various power struggles that have been played out over the book’s material and discursive becoming.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The other aspect relating to the future of the book that might benefit from increased attention concerns our relationship as scholars with the book’s becoming. It would be very useful if more research would be conducted on the performative aspects of the book and our own material-discursive entanglement in this performance as scholars, producers, disseminators and consumers of book-works. As I have outlined in this thesis, a lot of research is already being done on the material performativity of the book, on media-specific analysis, and on the way design, different formats, media and platforms, structure the way we perceive and perform research. However, I would like to see more attention being paid to our own role as scholars in this, which would include further experiments with different forms of doing scholarship, of disseminating it and of consuming it. Included in this should be a re-assessment of both the media in which we communicate our research and of our current publishing practices (in closed or open forms, in print or online etc.) as well as the various constraints on choice (for example with relation to early career and later career academics, or with respect to the often lacking availability of open access options) that continue to inhabit the uptake of alternative and experimental practices.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 A further feature this thesis could have explored in more depth, and which functions as another important form of binding for the scholarly book, is copyright. It would be especially useful to examine how copyright functions with respect to scholarly books in the humanities at the moment, and for whom it is actually beneficial. This should include attention to copyright’s relationship with authorship and moral rights, how it connects to the ownership of a work, and how it serves to bind a work together and at the same time potentially restricts its intra-actions and performances, as well as the material formats and platforms in and on which it appears (proprietary or open source, DRM-ed etc.). Finally, I think it would be beneficial to explore the various ways in which the future of the book has been perceived and imagined during the course of its history, in both utopian and dystopian fashions (i.e. the universal library, the death of the book). These discourses connected to the future of the book will provide us with valuable information on how the book has been perceived, struggled over, and imagined as part of its development, and could supply us with more information about how the book has been shaped and formed in relationship to these visions. How have these specific discursive formations influenced the further development of the book’s future and past?

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Most importantly, and as I have already reiterated during this thesis, I want to make a plea for the availability of more space and time to experiment with the ways in which we publish and communicate our research. Experimentation needs to be an ongoing critical process in this respect; a process through which we evaluate our scholarly publishing and communication practices in a continuous manner, and through which we explore different cuts and potentially more ethical futures for our scholarship. Experimentation equally should be conceived as something that is part of all aspects of the development of our research: we should experiment with the way we conduct and produce our research, how we share and disseminate it, but also with how we consume it, and in which modes and formats. An ongoing examination of, and experimentation with, these aspects should be an integral aspect of how we train as researchers in order to remain critical of the ways in which we are being shaped as scholars, and of the ways in which we, simultaneously, shape the outcomes of our research.

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