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Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

4.3 The Neoliberal University and the Marketisation of Academia

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The serials and subsequent monograph crisis continued to be a topic of hot debate from the 1990s onwards, particularly where it concerned the function and future of the university press and its relationship to the university, something which would have direct consequences for the further development of monograph publishing. As Lindsay Waters has argued with respect to the continued commercialisation of university presses: ‘Academic books are not a sustainable or profitable business. The idea then that university presses should turn into profit centers and strengthen the university’s budget is ludicrous’ (2004: 5). Waters emphasises the role played by the market in this development. He makes clear that there is a direct connection between the university’s marketisation and the crisis in publishing. Where the universities were increasingly focused on growth in productivity—i.e. more publications—this meant, in Waters words, ‘the draining of all publications of any significance other than as a number’. As with journal articles this meant books increasingly turned into ‘objects to quantify’ (Waters 2004: 6). Here there are larger problems that need to be addressed, connected to issues of accountability in university systems, the managerial/bureaucratic revolution, and forms of what Waters calls ‘cognitive rationality’.[9] This turn towards an increasingly economic rationality in both academia and publishing took place after WWII. As Waters puts it: ‘the university was made over on the model of the American corporation’ (2004: 11). Readings argues that the natural cultural mission that determined the university logic in the past has been declining and has been replaced by the idea of the ‘University of Excellence’ (1996: 3). From a connection to the nation state, producing and sustaining an idea of national culture, it has become a transnational bureaucratic company following the logic of the discourse of excellence and accountability: a ‘relatively autonomous consumer-oriented corporation’ (Readings 1996: 11). Consumerism replaces nationalism here, where ‘culture no longer matters as an idea for the institution’ (Readings 1996: 91). The emerging issue of the demand for publications was one of the factors, in addition to a more widespread social shift generated by neoliberalism’s reliance on managerial and consultancy techniques, which has led to the emergence of an audit culture within universities. Here quality is no longer assessed but credentialing happens by counting up publications (what Waters refers to as ‘Fordist production’), with the effect that decisions about tenure have been increasingly outsourced to the presses (Waters 2004: 24). The corporatisation of the university, as well as the administrative revolution and the search for excellence, thus all play an important role in the commercialisation of publishing as well as in the development of the serials and the monograph crisis (Hall 2008: 11–12, 42).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 It is important to emphasise the role the corporatisation of the university played in this development, as this lays some of the responsibility for these developments on a shift in academia as a whole towards marketisation, as well as on our own institutions embracing this market logic, and ultimately on ourselves as scholars within these institutions. What is our role as scholars in this development? How can we create an alternative to the University of Excellence? Although market forces are in some sense abstract, is there a way for us to start changing our practices in order to battle these abstract movements? I will come back to say more about this in the next chapter. Here, however, I want to argue that, as I already made clear in my introduction to this chapter, it can be highly problematic to perceive academia and publishing as different fields, the one operating via a cultural logic and the other via an economic logic. In a way this points the finger of blame towards publishers or even towards the publishing function, seeing it as a separate entity, something outside the university that is outsourced and othered, instead of envisioning it as a function that could, and should (and has!) been an integral part of the development of the university. The commercialisation of scholarly publishing is deeply entangled with the waning of the humanities and the increasing lack of subsidies for these fields hitting hard on the HSS and on not-for-profit book-focused university presses. The developments in scholarly publishing are directly connected to both the commercialisation and globalisation of the book publishing business, but more importantly, they are integrally related to the neoliberal marketisation and managerialisation of the university (Hall 2008, Readings 1996, Waters 2004).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Nonetheless, there are others, such as sociologist and book scholar John Thompson, for instance, who, based on his reading of Bourdieu’s field theory, make a clear distinction between different publishing fields and the so-called social fields to which they are related, such as that of higher education (which in Thompson’s vision includes the world of university libraries). In his model, Thompson disconnects the publishing function from the social field of the university. According to him different interests and logics shape these fields: ‘These fields are not the same, they have different social and institutional characteristics, but they are locked together through multiple forms of interdependency’ (Thompson 2005: 7). For Thompson, then, there is a distinction between culture (the university) and commerce (the publishing field) which gives rise to tension, misunderstanding and conflict.[10] What he neglects is the fact that this tension is already part of the university system and has been from its inception. Likewise, this tension has been part of a publishing system in which cultural values and struggles have always played an important role.[11] Thompson also overlooks the fact that the logic of commerce within scholarly publishing is closely related to the neoliberal logic of our current university system, which is getting an increasingly tight grip on academia. Here I would like to argue that they are not separate fields, but that the logic of commerce, or the growing monopoly that economic values have in our neoliberal institutions, is turning both the university and the university press more and more into commercial businesses. Academia as a whole, in which I include the publishing function, is structured by internal, entangled and clashing economic, cultural, technological and political logics, not by logics that are subdivided into fields that are necessarily opposed to each other. Publishing, or the publishing function, is not to be blamed in this respect for the increasing commercialisation. The root cause of this problem should be located in the larger struggle for the future of the university, where at the moment it seems commercial interests are winning.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In what ways are these functions then entangled? How do developments in (book) publishing relate to developments within universities? In addition to the examples already mentioned above, another connection can be found in the hyper-specialisation in scholarship—increasingly countered now by the need for inter- and trans-disciplinary studies. This urge to specialise within academia is connected to the demand to produce ever more research to increase one’s ‘research impact’ (which as Collini has shown, chiefly refers to economic, medical and policy impact (2012: 171)), based on research that at the same time needs to be original and new. This kind of highly specialised scholarship is, however, increasingly hard to market by university presses who are supposed to break-even or make a profit on their endeavours (Thompson 2005: 177, Hall 2008: 43). Another related problem is the creation of ever more PhD students, as well as academics on zero-hours and temporary contracts, who are to a growing degree working as cheap labour and replacing contracted full-time staff.[12] PhD students are also, following the accountability logic of the university, expected to publish their dissertations, which are again supposed to contain highly original and new research, in order to apply for increasingly fewer full-time positions. All this while ‘at the same time (…) the market for the scholarly book has collapsed’ (Thompson 2005: 175), making it harder for these early career researchers to attain tenure positions in their fields (Darnton 1999).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Thompson argues that it has been the clash between the different logics that has created a situation in which the ‘field of academic publishing and the field of the academy are being propelled in opposite directions’ (2005: 177). Instead, I want to emphasise that this is a result of the internal contradictions structuring neoliberal marketisation, where both the publishers’ need to be more selective when deciding what to publish according to market needs, and the demand on scholars to publish more for research impact, are based on principles of market competition. Credential inflation means that there are increasingly fewer positions available for scholars, which leads to a stronger selection based on more and better publications, just as more publications and less market demand means more selection and increased competition for publishers.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In the next chapter more attention will be given to alternatives to the present publishing system, focussing on those that take into account a variety of entangled factors that intend to change the way we publish, but that also have the potential to change the university and academia as a whole, taking into consideration material, technological, politico-economical, cultural and institutional structures. These initiatives intend not only to increase access to books in order to battle the object formation and increasing commodification of the book, but also to ask important questions on the material nature of books, authorship, copyright, originality, responsibility and fixity—issues that lie at the basis of our modern system of scholarly communication.

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