Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In this thesis I will explore and experiment with the future of the scholarly book. In doing so, I will raise a number of important questions for our common, print-based, conceptions of the book, and for the monograph in particular, as a specific material and conceptual instantiation of the book.[1] Instead of seeing the monograph as a fixed object, I will present it as an elaborate set of scholarly practices, structures of knowledge production, and discursive formations, which together enact the dynamic and emergent materiality of this medium. At the same time, in a complex interplay of relations, the scholarly book helps to shape the various forms, debates and actants that are involved in the processes of knowledge creation. This double aspect of the book, as both enacted and enacting, means that the scholarly monograph occupies an important nodal point in this meshwork of relations, and thus plays a vital role in determining what kinds of knowledge are possible. It is therefore extremely important to take account of the ongoing changing materiality of the scholarly book, if we are to understand its potential to enact new institutional forms and to embody and perform different scholarly practices.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Indeed the need to experiment with alternatives is all the more felt in a situation in which our current (heavily print-based) forms and practices of scholarly communication are increasingly becoming problematic—especially in the humanities. Here, a situation has emerged where, as I will set out in detail in this thesis, the present arrangements tend to sustain the interest of established stakeholders, inhibiting wider access to scholarly research and experimentation with new forms of scholarship and scholarly communication. These arrangements are predisposed to be iterative and conservative instead of being open to alterity. In this sense they continue to reproduce what can be seen as essentialising aspects of the book, which include a fetishisation of both the author and the book-object.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Instead I want to imagine more experimental, ethical, and critical futures for the scholarly book in this thesis; futures in which we as scholars take greater responsibility for our continued engagement with the book’s becoming. As such, this is something that requires a critical investigation of our academic communication practices, our systems of knowledge production, as well as the debates that surround both scholarly publishing and the past and future of the academic monograph. This thesis can be seen as an example of such an investigation. Additionally, it seeks to encourage other academics to rigorously explore their own relationship and entanglement with the book—and with scholarly communication in general too. Academics should do so in order to both determine what they want the book to be and to examine new ways of being for themselves as critical and engaged scholars.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Why is it important to explore alternative futures for the scholarly book at this time specifically? First of all because it can be argued that the scholarly book and its further development in the humanities is at risk. In saying this I am not referring to a dystopian future in which the printed book is replaced by its digital nemesis—the much-heralded ‘death of the book’. I am merely endeavouring to draw attention to the way it is increasingly hard today for specialised and experimental work in the humanities to obtain a formal publishing outlet, whether it be in print or digital format. The reasons for this situation are diverse: ranging from library budget cuts to the ongoing commercialisation of the scholarly publishing industry. Nonetheless, their consequences are wide-reaching. In particular, this state of affairs influences the job prospects of early-career researchers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to get their thesis or first book published. It also affects the quality of scholarly research, in that it is now extremely hard to publish academic monographs that are highly specialised, difficult or radical. Instead, whether a book can find a publisher or not is tending to be determined more and more by its marketability, not by its value or quality as a piece of scholarship.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The mechanisms behind this so-called monograph crisis have by now been well-discussed (Thompson, J. 2005, Willinsky 2005, Greco et al. 2006, Hall 2008, Adema and Ferwerda 2009, Fitzpatrick 2011b, Adema and Hall 2013) and are, as I will set out in this thesis, ultimately connected to the overall neoliberalisation of the university. However, although strongly invested in developing a critique of the political economy of scholarly publishing, I do not intend to put forward a ‘crisis’ narrative regarding the academic book, scholarly publishing or the humanities in general (Drucker 2014b). I don’t want to do so for the simple reason that it can be argued that the humanities have always been in crisis and that humanities book publishing has never been financially self-sustainable (Cooper and Marx 2014, Kember 2014). I am thus not intending to overcome this condition via the route of technological utopianism or the search for new sustainable business models; or by defending an idealised past system of values associated with the (printed) book and the humanities. I am more interested in embracing this ‘crisis’ or messiness to some extent, in order to explore the potentialities or so-called ‘lines of flight’ that seep out of these ongoing and indeterminate contingencies, both for the book and for the humanities. I will therefore critically examine some of the affirmative projects, ideas and concepts that are currently trying to explore alternative potential futures for the book—the difficulties mentioned above notwithstanding.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In addition to the potential offered by the scholarly book to critique and provide alternatives to the current political economy of publishing, as described above, there are further reasons why it is important to explore the scholarly book as it is presently unfolding. The book’s changing materiality also offers us the opportunity to critique the iterative print-based habits in scholarly communication. Even though shorter forms—from articles to mid-length monographs—along with collaboration and team-work, are becoming increasingly common, and indeed could be said to have always been an essential aspect of humanities scholarship, the authority of the printed long-form argument and all that it entails (e.g. fixity, stability, the single author, originality, copyright), continues to dominate the humanities. As part of this, the monograph, as a specific media technology, is being continuously shaped and reproduced in certain ways: by academic professional and disciplinary structures, where the printed monograph serves as the dominant vehicle for promotion and tenure; and by the publishing industry, where the bound book format remains its main commodity form for the humanities. This partly explains why the digital, with its perceived affordances of openness, fluidity and disintermediation, is seen by many as posing such a disruptive threat to both the traditional values of the humanities and to the business models of academic publishing. In this respect the dichotomous nature of many of the debates over the future of the book (i.e. print vs. digital) can be traced back to a much larger struggle related to power structures and to who controls (new) knowledge and communication systems within academia.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 That said, it is perhaps worth emphasising that in my critique of this print-based legacy that continues to structure academia, it is not my intention to position the printed book in opposition to the digital book.[2] However, I am interested in how this often highly agonistic battle over the future of the book (which also tends to draw on the ‘crisis’ rhetoric mentioned previously, i.e. ‘the death of the book’) leads to a situation in which essentialised mythical affordances such as individual authorship, fixity, authority, originality and trust have come to be connected to a specific format, i.e. print. This is the case even though book historian Adrian Johns has argued extensively that the elements of trust invested in print publications were in large part the result of social structures and systems that were negotiated and put in place (Johns 1998)—and so were not natural or essential to print at all. This defensive stance on the future of the book, based on an idealised print past, is something I want to investigate and critique in this study. I want to do so first and foremost in order to emphasise the non self-identical condition of texts: print is not fixed and stable—not in its production, its dissemination, or in its reception—and it has also never been stable (Drucker 2009). Witness our need for bibliographical studies and critical editing to try to recover the presumed original state of a work (from Shakespeare to the Bible), for example. Furthermore, my critique also aims to expose the power struggles, the politics, and the value systems that lie behind our hegemonic print-based habits and debates, and aims to explore whether, through our practices and actions, we can offer alternatives to perform the book differently, in potentially more ethical ways. This is all the more important where it can be argued that the current print-based system is maintained—not least via elaborate reputation and reward systems—to protect the vested interests of those in power: from publishers to universities and governments. All are stakeholders in a system, which, one could argue, is no longer facilitating the universal sharing and exchange of research to a public that pays for its production.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This critique of our print-based systems and practices notwithstanding, the ebook is similarly encapsulated in formative processes and structures. As a result, essentialising attributes or properties, such as openness and fluidity, are also accorded to the digital format. Nonetheless, I want to argue that, on the whole, both sides in this debate (print and digital) still very much cling to concepts connected to the bound and printed book. Even when it comes to experiments with the book that are proposed by those working in an online context, most of the time digital substitutes are being sought for stability, authority and quality. This can be seen as an attempt to structure the digital according to the academic arrangements and value systems that, as scholars, we have grown accustomed to with print. To provide some examples of the kind I will be coming back to during this thesis: wikis, seen by some as the exemplary fluid and collaborative technology of the digital environment, are set up in such a way that any edits that are made to them, as well as information concerning who made these edits, are easily retrievable; Creative Commons licenses, designed to make the sharing and reuse of materials easier, are still based on underlying liberal notions of authorship and ownership, and instead of offering an alternative to copyright only really reform it (Cramer 2013, Hall 2014); and finally, the remixer, curator or collector, often positioned as offering a radical critique of the individual and original author, has merely succeeded in adopting the latter’s position and authority. In other words, instead of experimenting with the new medium, and fundamentally critiquing the systems and values on which the book is based (including notions of authorship, ownership and originality), many experiments with digital monographs are simply aiming to emulate print. The fact that digital books are finding it difficult to move beyond these kinds of print-based aspects, is further fuelled by a discourse and a system of power relations that has invested heavily in the print-based system. For instance, think of the (initial) reluctance among publishers to experiment with open access, and their continued use of digital rights management (DRM) on ebooks to mimic print-based copyright mechanisms. What I am therefore interested in with this thesis is experiments that explore the book, its debates, and its practices and systems affirmatively—no matter in what kind of format, whether it be manuscript, print, digital, hybrid or post-digital print format. Experiments, in other words, that imagine the book itself as a space of experimentation, as a space to intervene in the fabric of our scholarship, and as a space to question the hegemonies in scholarly book publishing with the aim to perform scholarship differently.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Who then is currently experimenting with the book in these ways, and why? Think, for example, of scholars who want to change the way quality is established through experiments with new forms of (open) peer review; or of academics who want to critique the myth of single individual authorship by exploring forms of collaborative and even anonymous authorship; or of those who want to question the commodification of the book by exploring both gift economies and the opening up of the book through forms of open access; or related, to that, who want to explore the fixity of the book through experiments with reuse and the remixing of material; or who want to critique the objectification and bound nature of the book by working with processual works, with liquidity and versionings. Yet most of all I am interested in scholars who see the book as lying at the basis of our system of knowledge production in the humanities, and for whom changing, rethinking and reimagining the book is seen as an important and perhaps even essential (first) step towards reimagining a different, more ethical humanities, albeit a humanities that is messy and processual, contingent, unbound and unfinished.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 By focusing on the future of the book specifically, I do not want to neglect the book’s past or present condition, since both stages are fundamentally wrapped up in the book’s further becoming. I am interested in the book’s ongoing development—the book to come, in Blanchot’s words—which is always unfolding in an enveloping move with its past and future (2003). Past, present and future are here seen as relative concepts where a different reading of the past reconfigures the book’s future, and vice versa.[3] I will therefore focus equally on the history of the book and on its discursive formation in this study, taking into account how a specific reading and (re)reading of that history shapes the book’s present and future.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The importance of the book’s history (i.e. the influence of the book’s past materiality and systems of material production) on the medium’s present and future condition has always been acknowledged within book studies. However, as I will argue in chapter 2 of this thesis, not enough attention has been given in past and current models of book history to how book history writing has shaped the book’s becoming. I therefore want to analyse the specific manner in which book history has been written and I want to explore the vision of the book that has been brought forward by the prevailing discourse on book history.[4] For example, as I will set out in more detail in chapter 2, the discourse on book history is highly dichotomous, based on various sets of oppositions related to the description of the book (e.g. book/society). Furthermore, the book itself is mostly described in an ‘objective’ way—disconnected from us as scholars and unrelated to our communication practices—as an object that either has agency or that has agency inflicted upon it. There is also an object-centred approach that lies at the heart of book history—which has been criticised by among others Johanna Drucker (2014a)—an approach which envisions the book as an object instead of as an interconnected and relational process or event. Finally, one of book history’s major themes has always been the causal relation between the book on the one hand and culture or society on the other hand.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Contrary to this, in the second part of chapter 2, I want to emphasise that the book and society cannot be disconnected so easily in this kind of oppositional thinking, as both are always already entangled. In this respect, I will argue that book historians and media theorists need to give due recognition to the inherent connectedness of the various elements and agencies involved in the becoming of the book. This includes our own discursive as well as material entanglement with the book as scholars, where our book histories are inherently performative, meaning that our specific depiction of the book’s history is incremental in shaping its future to come. This becomes even more pertinent if we take into consideration the way we as academics are not only influencing the becoming of the book through our discursive actions (i.e. through our descriptions of the book’s past, our reflections on its current condition, and our speculation on its potential future); we simultaneously shape the book through our material scholarly practices (i.e. in our usage of the book as a specific medium to publish and communicate our findings about its being and development). I therefore aim to intervene in this discourse—which up to now has mainly adhered to forms of representationalism and binary thinking—by focusing on its inherent performativity and by paying extra attention to how studies of the book in their description of the book object, its history and becoming, have influenced its present and future incarnations.[5] In this thesis I will thus be exploring the genealogy of the book and the assumptions that lie behind our scholarly historical descriptions of the book medium.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 A specific focus on a genealogy of the book, focusing on its historicity and temporality, needs to simultaneously consider the book’s emergent materiality, which encompasses both the systems of material production that have surrounded the book in its ongoing development (including our scholarly practices), as well as the specific material formats of the book (i.e. manuscript, digital), with all their potentials and limitations. I am particularly interested here in the way the material agency of the book influences how we think and act as scholars and how we communicate our findings. This also includes a recognition of how the materiality of the codex book is actively structuring the digital becoming of the book, for example. On the other hand the specific affordances of the digital book simultaneously create conditions for new forms of knowledge and new scholarly practices (or at least they have the potential to do so). The book is thus an embodied entity, materially established through its specific affordances in relationship to its production, dissemination, and reception, i.e. the specific materiality of the digital book is partly an outcome of these ongoing processes. As Katherine Hayles has aptly stated:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland—or better, performs as connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user. (2004: 72)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 I will therefore conceptualise the material development of the book as being inseparable from its discursive becoming, where I want to emphasise that discourse is always already material, and material always already discursive. Instead of positioning the two in opposition to each other, or exploring in which way the one influences the other—which has been the dominant tendency in the discourse on book history—I will, following Barad, explore these discursive and material elements in an entanglement. These elements cannot be ontologically separated, only temporarily ‘cut’ when we distinguish between a book object and an author subject, for example (Barad 2007). I will therefore claim that in order to say things about the book’s future, we need to explore the material-discursive development of the book, where the book, as stated before, should be seen as a process of mutual becoming: a form of interaction between different agents and constituencies (human and non-human). My aim with this thesis is to explore a different, alternative future for the book, through a rereading of its past and future and a further reimagining, both in theory and practice, of its material evolvement. In this respect this thesis is performative: it is actively involved in and takes responsibility for the becoming of the scholarly book and wants to explore how it can enable different cuts in its development, cuts that might promote a more ethical involvement (by us as scholars) with the book as it unfolds.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 After chapter 2, I will explore critically the material changes the monograph has experienced through three interconnected examples of material-discursive book-formations, which have been important in promoting and advancing the book’s print-based features. I will discuss these book-formations in three separate sections, which will together constitute the main body of the thesis. Firstly, in section 1 (chapter 3), I will explore academic authorship as a specific scholarly practice that is intrinsically connected to the scholarly book, and which binds it together, through the notion of the work. In this section I will examine authorship from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective. I will then analyse several recent practical experiments with both authorship critique (hypertext, remix, collaboration) and anti-authorship critique (plagiarism, anonymous authorship). This will lead to an exploration of the potential for a posthumanist critique of authorship and, as an extension of this, possible forms of posthumanist authorship. Secondly, in section 2 (chapter 4 and 5), I will examine an example of a material formation, i.e. scholarly publishing, and the commodification of the book object, which takes place through the formal publication of scholarly materials. In chapter 4, I will explore the narratives that have surrounded the material production and commodification of the book-object in publishing and academia, and, in chapter 5, I will look at potential opportunities for intervention in the current cultures of knowledge production—with a particular focus upon book publishing projects that have explored radical open access and experimentation as forms of intervention and critique. Finally, in section 3 (chapter 6), I will take an in-depth look at what is perceived to be one of the codex format’s specific material attributes, namely fixity, and the forces of binding created and imposed upon the codex format. Alongside this, I will examine a number of current digital experiments focused on more processual forms of scholarly research, most notably in the form of fluid, remixed, and modular books. I will then explore these issues of stability and process in more depth, by looking at the concept of the cut as theorised in new materialism, continental philosophy and remix studies.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 These three material-discursive practices and formations will be read transversally through a reframed discourse on book history, which will introduce each section, exploring the respective formation from a historical perspective. Parallel to these examples of book-formation—which have been fundamental to the way print-based features and practices were commodified and essentialised—I will discuss various forces of unbinding that are being examined in digital environments at the moment. I will analyse three practices and/or concepts of unbinding in particular—where both these triads of book formation and unbinding represent the ‘essentialising aspects’ of the print and digital medium—, namely: openness, liquidity and remix. Openness can be understood as a disruptive force with respect to existing business and publishing models in academic publishing, whereby open forms of book publishing enable the universal sharing of scholarly research, which can be seen as a threat to the commodification of scholarship. Liquidity can be seen to put the supposed fixity and stability of scholarly communication at risk, through experiments with the linking, updating and versioning of scholarly publications. Finally, remix can be regarded as a critique of originality and individual authorship, simultaneously exploring the interconnectedness and networked relationships of scholarly texts. I will critically analyse the potential and shortcomings of the various experiments that are currently being conducted with or along the lines of these three practices and concepts. Furthermore, with the aid of these practices and concepts I will try to rethink and re-perform the three examples of binding described above—which function as the three themes framing this thesis on the future of the book, i.e. scholarly (book) authorship, the commodification of the book as object, and the perceived material stability and fixity inherent to the book. I will do so by exploring how they have the potential to offer different ways of doing authorship, conceive what an ‘open’ scholarly system might entail, and conceptualise an alternative to the binary between the book as product and process.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 I will begin this thesis however with an overview of the theoretical and methodological frameworks that will serve to ground my argument. In chapter 1, I will establish connections with the main thinkers and theories this thesis builds upon, which include the material-discursive genealogies of Foucault and the agential realism of Barad, contemporary (materialist) media theories of (re-)mediation and media archaeology, and theories of feminist new materialism. I will use these theories to help develop the specific performative materialist approach towards the scholarly monograph that I will be adopting in this thesis, in which I aim to position the monograph within a wider meshwork of processual relations.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Integral to the theoretical framework that accompanies this thesis, is the practical methodology that will be developed as a form of critical praxis. Engaging in a critical praxis can prevent us as scholars from simply repeating established practices without analysing critically the assumptions on which they are based. Critical praxis then refers to the awareness of and the reflection on, how our ideas become embodied in our practices, making it possible to transform them. To illustrate what a critical praxis might look like, and how it can envision and create an alternative system, this thesis can be seen as an experiment in developing a digital, open research practice. By exploring (while at the same time remaining critical of) the possibilities of remix, liquidity and openness in this research’s conduct and format—among others through the use of a weblog, various open archiving media and a multimodal or hypermedia platform—the way this dissertation is produced, distributed and consumed becomes an integral part of its critical, interventionist and performative stance.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The approach adopted here has a specific political-economic dimension in the sense that it aims to question and disturb the existing scholarly publishing model—which is still focused on only publishing the final outcomes of research—by making the research for this thesis available for reuse online as it develops in the form of blog posts, papers, tweets, presentations, draft chapters, remixes, etc. This raises all kinds of interesting questions. For instance, when and why do we declare a work done? When do we declare ourselves authors? And how do we establish our connections with others in this respect? These are intrinsically ethical questions too, where ethics is not external, but always already present in our practices and institutions and performed through them (Levinas 1979, Derrida 1999). This thesis is therefore also an ethical intervention in the sense that it wants to focus on the potentials and boundaries of our scholarly practices, and on our entanglements with the book, and the cuts we make in and through it. How can we make ethical, critical cuts in our scholarship whilst at the same time promoting a politics of the book that is open and responsible to change, difference and that which is excluded? Experimenting critically with the materiality of the scholarly book and the way our system of scholarly communication currently operates will, as I will argue in this thesis, be a meaningful step towards such a continuous ethical engagement.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [1] A monograph is most commonly defined as a self-contained, one-volume, long-form publication, consisting of original research and aimed mainly at an academic audience. Predominantly published by scholarly publishers and acquired by libraries, it remains the preferred means of scholarly research dissemination in the humanities and a prerequisite for career development and tenure in these fields. An extended format is preferred, as it allows scholars to develop multiple intricate arguments and narratives, or a prolonged set of thoughts, meeting the demand for the complex and sometimes idiosyncratic, multifaceted nature of reasoning (Williams et al. 2009: 75). In addition to the monograph’s accomplished and complex nature, Thompson argues that it appeals to humanities scholars because it offers more of a space for extensive analysis of large sets of (primary) sources, whereas journal articles serve more as a means to develop critical dialogues (2002).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 [2] I will rather look towards breaking down the binary relationship between print and digital that is repeatedly put forward in narratives related to the future of the book—based on supposedly essential differences between the two. Phil Pochoda’s work serves as a clear example of this practice when he talks about the distinction between what he calls an ‘analogue’ publishing system (‘bounded, stable, identifiable, well ordered, and well policed’), and a ‘digital’ publishing system (‘relatively unbounded and stochastic, composed of units that are inherently amorphous and shape shifting, and marked by contested authorization of diverse content’) in terms of an ‘epistemic shift’ (2012).

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 [3] As Karen Barad eloquently argues: ‘Which is not to say that emergence happens once and for all, as an event or as a process that takes place according to some external measure of space and of time, but rather that time and space, like matter and meaning, come into existence, are iteratively reconfigured through each intra-action, thereby making it impossible to differentiate in any absolute sense between creation and renewal, beginning and returning, continuity and discontinuity, here and there, past and future’ (2007: ix).

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 [4] When I talk about discourse in this thesis, I use it as simultaneously a single and plural concept, where a discourse always already encapsulates several debates, and can refer to a single debate on a given topic as well as to a plurality of interconnected debates.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 [5] I am drawing on the work of Judith Butler and her notion of performativity as both iteration and transformation here. Performativity as a practice of repetition can then be seen as a (collective, social) re-enactment of already socially established and constructed meanings. However, performativity is also anti-essentialist and productive, an iterative doing which produces both signification and material effects. We can thus repeat our (scholarly) practices differently, making performativity into an emancipatory concept through which we can change and intervene (through) our practices, even within restraining socio-cultural formations (Butler 2006: 178). Barad reformulates Butler’s theory of performativity towards a theory of posthumanist performativity, emphasising the materiality and material dimensions of bodies, and discursive practices (2007).

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