Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

4.1 Introduction

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 How did the discourse related to the commodification and object-formation of the book, in particular the academic book, develop? How did it evolve as part of the general history of the book, but also as part of the debates surrounding the development of the scholarly press and scholarly publishing more in general? How, in this respect, has our modern system of scholarly communication and publishing been envisioned amongst object-oriented lines?

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 These are some of the questions I want to explore in this chapter. In doing so I will focus mainly on the first part of the above described strategy: namely, on reframing the discourse surrounding the past and the future of the book, with a specific focus on the development of the monograph as a commercial product within scholarly publishing and as a value-laden object within the academic reputation economy. For with the coming of print (or even earlier with the coming of writing), one can claim that the book turned into an object, a standardised product that can be duplicated over and over again to securely communicate and preserve thoughts. Even more, it can be argued that with the coming of the printing press, and especially with the advent of industrial mechanisation and printing processes in the 19th century, the book turned into a mass-market commodity. Due to declining production costs, the book could be produced and sold to an ever-growing audience of potential consumers. New forms of material production thus accompanied this book-object, part of which became the blossoming (early-) capitalist enterprise of the international book trade.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Similarly and simultaneously a system of scholarly communication and publishing arose as part of these new forms of print communication in Europe, with specific roles and power structures. It was a system that from the beginning was integrally connected with, and almost indistinguishable from, the developments and interests of the commercial book trade. This system for the production, distribution and consumption of scholarly research (which can be seen as continuously in progress)[1] consisted of practices and tactics of standardisation, attribution, reviewing, selection, and quality establishment, as well as trust and reputation building. Eventually this developed into what we presently perceive as the ‘modern’ system of formal scholarly communication.[2]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In this chapter I will explore the ways in which this gradually developing system can be said to have been partly responsible for turning the book into a scholarly object, both materially and conceptually, playing specific roles and functions within the scholarly communication and publishing system, and how it influenced future scholarly journal and book forms. Some of the main issues this chapter will engage with are encapsulated in the following questions: How did publications turn into integral, trustworthy, authorised documents that were unlikely to change? How did a set of functions and roles develop, involving academics, publishers and librarians among others, all with a great stake in the system of securing the book as a stable and solid object? And, vice versa, in what ways did the specific materiality of the printed book help to shape our scholarly communication system, where some have even said that ‘historically, the school and the university have been the institutional expressions of the book’ (Lechte 1999: 140)?

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