Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

Section 1. Authorship

I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint – one that will no longer be the author but will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced [expérimenter]. (Foucault 1977)

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Authorship within academia has reached a cult status. Scholars, in the humanities at least, are increasingly assessed according to the weight of their individual, single authorial output in the form of published articles or books, and less according to the quality of their teaching, to take just one possible instance. The evaluation of a scholar’s authorial contributions to a field is considered essential for hiring purposes and for further career and tenure development, for funding and grant allocations, as well as for interim institutional assessments such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK. Authorial productivity and, connected to this, the originality of one’s work, increasingly determines a scholar’s standing within academic value networks. This fetishisation of scholarly authorship is integral to an increasingly hegemonic academic discourse related to originality, authority and responsibility, and linked to a humanist and romantic notion of the individual author-genius. This specific discourse on authorship is directly connected to a certain essentialist idea of ‘the human’, which one could argue the humanities, and with it scholarship as a whole, is based upon (Weber 2000, Fisher 2013). This is the idea of the universal human, the sovereign human individual, and of the self as unity, which can be translated, as Hall has done, into the idea of ‘the indivisible, individual, liberal human(ist) author’ (2012). Although, as Hall also states, this idea of human essence, of a unified self and a integral individual, has been interrogated by critical theorists for over a century now, the way knowledge is produced, consumed and disseminated today remains very similar to the print-based authorship practices that were devised as part of the discourse on the humanist author. This discourse continues to shape our academic authorial practices, in conjunction with our publishing practices, even in an increasingly digital environment.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 However, practices and discourses related to collaboration, networking and the greater academic conversation, have similarly fed into our notions of scholarship over the centuries, and for many scholars the Internet and digital communication seem the perfect opportunity to promote these capacities further. Developments in the sciences, where multi-authorship has become common practice, also increasingly challenge ideas of individual scholarship in the humanities. Some even argue that networked science has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of scholarship and scientific discovery (Nielsen 2011).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In this section I will examine how we can explore and critique the role humanist authorship plays in academia (and more in specific in the humanities), by analysing the way authorship currently functions within scholarly networks, and how our authorial roles and practices are constructed and performed as part of these networks. I will examine authorship from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective, in an effort to break down the discourse on the cult of individual authorship while also being critical of the—in some instances almost utopian—hope invested in scholarly practices of networked collaboration. I will do so by analysing the history of authorship and the rise of humanist authorial discourse to show that single authorship is a very recent construct and that scholarship has in fact always been collaborative and distributed. At the same time I will explore the mostly theoretical critique of authorship provided by poststructuralist thinkers, as well as what can be seen as some of the recent practical embodiments of that critique. Although we have been proclaiming the death of the author for several decades now, authorship remains strongly embedded within our institutions and cultural practices. In what follows, I will analyse some recent practical experiments with authorship critique, including hypertext, which I contend can be seen to focus mainly on replacing the authority and responsibility of the author with that of the reader. I will also look at remix practices within academia, which can be seen to mainly target the originality of authorship. Furthermore, I will investigate current practices within the digital humanities, which can be seen to foreground collaborative notions of authorship, challenging its presumed individualistic nature. However, as I will show, although interesting and promising, many of these recent collaborative, networked, interactive, multimodal, hypertextual, and remixed forms of authorship that are proposed as an alternative to the above described humanist authorship discourse, nonetheless still resort to many of the same structures and practices.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 I will end the next chapter by putting forward two examples of what can be seen as anti-authorship critique, namely plagiarism and 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. Here posthumanist authorship endeavours to continuously rethink, both in theory and practice, the way authorship functions within academia, and, in its critique of the humanist notions underlying authorship, it seeks to experiment with more distributed and posthumanist authorship practices.

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