|Kuhn argues that scientists create new ways of thinking about a particular phenomenon not because they have discovered some greater truth about it; rather, by creating new ways to talk about that phenomenon, the perceived truth about it shifts to be commonly understood in terms of the new model created by the new language. (67)|
Some have argued that, in the five years of its existence, the World Wide Web has begun to cause a paradigm shift in the ways that authors, publishers, vendors and archivists view the production, distribution, and management of new academic knowledge. Authors like Stevan Harnad and Paul Ginsparg have claimed that "the best interests of nontrade authors (and, when they wear their other hats, the readers of nontrade serial literature) are best served by having their work available free for all, in perpetuum" (Harnad, "Paper House of Cards").
Using the example of the pre-print, automated, physics electronic archive, xxx.lanl.gov, Harnad and Ginsparg suggest that authors who are writing for "scholarly publication (esoteric scholarly publications)" generally write not to make money but to "communicate research information and to establish our research reputations" ("Winners and Losers"). While this cognitive scientist and physicist are careful to restrict their speculations to journal submissions of the highly specialized scientific communities to which they belong, they suggest that other academic communities might also benefit from this pre-print distribution of new knowledge. Such an anti-foundational stance, which values dissemination of new knowledge above all else, might indeed serve highly specialized disciplines like law, medicine, and even the sub-field of computers and composition. At the same time, however, such a distribution system raises a host of unanswered questions and has dramatic implications for the print industry and academic archivists.
This paper explores the implications of developing such professional archives outside the field of physics. As two, non-tenured, junior English faculty, we are particularly interested in examining and contributing to the new vocabulary that is emerging out of these controversial forms of publishing. Like scientists who create new ways of thinking about a particular phenomenon, we have not "discovered some greater truth" about web-based publishing of esoteric texts. Rather, by studying and talking about already existing web-based archival models in new terms, we hope to influence a shift in "the perceived truth[s]" about the non-profit academic publishing industry.
These kinds of shifts occur, according to Thomas Kuhn, when "abnormal discourse" becomes normal. "Abnormal discourse" emerges, according to Kuhn, as a "new vocabulary about a phenomenon evolves that in some way contradicts the normal disciplinary discourse and thus presents a new way of perceiving and understanding the subject" (Qtd in Dobrin 69). Not all different language is considered abnormal. Rather abnormal discourse "must have the potential to become normal discourse and alter a discourse community's knowledge." We realize that it is difficult to identify a paradigm shift at the same time we may be contributing to it, but experiments like the MUSE online journal project of Hopkins University Press, the National Library Association's electronic archive project, JSTOR, the University of Columbia's CIAO website, the Argos Medieval website in literature, and the electronic xxx pre-print archive in physics and math suggest that electronic technologies are, in fact, changing the ways that academic publishing and archives will be managed within the near future.