Rethinking The Academy:

Electronic Ways of Making Scholarship

In contrast to the traditional ways of making scholarship, which for the most part involve one person working alone and then publishing a single-authored work, electronic scholarship privileges collaboration and joint publication, partially as a result of the relative ease of working on projects together. Since distance is no barrier in cyberspace one can, and does, work with people in many different parts of the country. In some ways, this is nothing new - for years now, for instance, scholars specializing in one historical period, or in one genre, have worked with other scholars in that same field by using mail and fax machines, both examples of technologies that have become invisible to us as we become used to using them.

In fact, surface mail is particularly interesting since it no longer is thought of as a technology at all and can therefore be used as an example of invisible technology.

However, in traditional scholarship, collaboration is the exception not the norm. While literary scholars do gather - usually at the MLA convention, at regional MLA conventions, and at specialized conferences representing their research interests - they do so primarily to present work publicly that has been created in private. Scholars in these fields may not accept work done in collaboration for hiring and tenure track purposes; they argue that it is not possible to tell who has done what, and therefore that decisions of hiring and tenure cannot depend on such indeterminate standards. Of course, there may be a number of false assumptions hid in this concern: that one person is necessarily more important than another in any given collaboration, and that collaboration necessarily fails or is an alliance of unequals.

This seems to be a concern of literary scholars, not of compositionists, in which scholarship is often done collaboratively: witness Selfe and Hawisher, or Lundsford and Ede. However, electronic environments may allow for large-scale collaboration: for instance, some projects have centered worked on the collective creation of a database; RHETGLOS in the PreText Conversations was one such example.

Other possibilities for distinguishing between electronic and traditional models for scholarship may exist - for instance, perhaps the defining difference between these two modes is not authorship but functionality, between a paradigm that believes its knowledge-making to be a permanent bound activity with a finite end and another, more radical paradigm that sees all knowledge-making as provisional and temporary.

In fact, perhaps the mode of scholarship for those working in electronic environments will be the project, not the publication.

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick