[-empyre-] Week Three - Open Access

Gary Hall gary at garyhall.info
Fri Jun 18 03:13:23 EST 2010

My turn to clarify perhaps. I’m not sure anyone is simply assuming that 
open access publishing is necessarily a mode of resistance - necessarily 
being the key word here. To do so would seem to me to evoke a rather 
simplistic, uninteresting and unhelpful understanding of politics and 
resistance. As far as I am concerned at least, there is nothing that is 
intrinsically radical or resistant about OA any more than there is about 
what is called digital piracy. However, from what other's have said, I 
get the impression my reasons for thinking this may be a little 
different from some of their's, so perhaps I can expand on how I do see 
the politics of OA, to set alongside the account Paul has already given.

Again I’d like to begin by picking up on some of the threads from 
previous weeks, this time the discussion around questions of the 
‘neurological turn’. As Katherine Hayles pointed out, these questions 
are important because ‘they bear directly on what pedagogical strategies 
will be effective with young people’. Myself, I wonder if there isn’t 
more at stake here even than this? As well as a certain kind of reader 
and a certain mode of reading, isn't this going to create a certain kind 
of scholar, too, an idea Katherine seemed to be pointing us towards with 
her comments on the manuscripts she receives from ‘younger hipper 
scholars’? And if this is the direction things are headed, I’d be 
interested in knowing what people think the implications of such a 
neurological turn are going to be for the authority of the scholar.

Given that knowledge and research is increasingly being externalized 
onto vast, complex, multilayered, distributed networks of computers, 
databases, journals, blogs, microblogs, wikis, RSS feeds, image, 
video-sharing and other social networks – of which both open access and 
Empyre are a part - to what extent are those ‘post-neurological turn’ 
scholars who emerge out of or after the current generation of 18-24 year 
old students still going to be expected to know the field? Do we 
envisage the scholars created within this scenario continuing to 
endeavor to internalize a particular – and what was once perceived as a 
potentially knowable - branch of knowledge by means of extensive (and 
intensive) learning, training, reading and study? That’s what would make 
them scholars, after all. Then again, how can they do so, if they have 
difficulty integrating even the books they do read into their long term 
memory because they are ‘in a more or less constant state of 
distraction, ... constantly leaving a text to check email, surf the Web, 
chat online’?

Or, since there already seems to be more to read nowadays than ever, and 
as some of us have been saying, less and less time in which to read it 
(for many of those who work and study in the contemporary university 
too), do we think the scholars we create in this way will increasingly 
give up on this idea of knowing their field deeply and passionately, and 
having a comprehensive overview of it. Is it likely that they will come 
to concentrate instead more on developing their specialist search, 
retrieval and assemblage skills, confident in the belief that, if they 
need to know something, then they can find it quickly and easily using 
Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, and a host of Open Access, Open Education, 
Open Data resources?

In which case, is there a risk that a large part of their authority is 
going to pass to the administrator, manager or technician? Will scholars 
themselves increasingly come to resemble such figures? Someone who does 
not necessarily need to know the knowledge contained in the systems they 
administer and have access to. Someone who depends for their authority 
more on an expert ability to search, find, scan, access and even buy 
knowledge using online journal archives, full text search capabilities, 
electronic table of contents alerting, citation tracking, Zotero, 
Mendeley, Scribed and so on, and then organize these fragments into 
patterns, flows and assemblages.

Or are we thinking that the kind of phenomena we’ve been discussing in 
terms of the neurological turn will lead to the emergence of what could 
be thought of as a rather different form of scholarship? One where 
scholars won’t get the bulk of their information in concentrated 
immersive doses, as they might have in the past from sitting down and 
carefully reading a book or even a journal article. Instead, they will 
indeed experience more fragmented and distributed flows of smaller bits 
of information (perhaps not so very different from the ones those 
subscribed to this list are experiencing now), which nevertheless enable 
a certain body of knowledge to be built up over a longer period of time 
in a more ambient fashion? (I recall some people describing the 
experience of being on Twitter in the early days of its existence in 
just such terms.) What might be called ambient scholarship.

Now, while I’m intrigued by all these trains of thought set in motion by 
the idea of the neurological turn, I must admit to having no strong 
attachment to either of the two main ways of responding to this ‘crisis’ 
proposed so far: that which suggests we need to learn more about such 
hypertextual scanning if we want to teach our students more effectively; 
or which proposes we view the maintenance of the traditional aesthetic 
values associated with reading books and literary texts as acquiring 
something of a radical aspect in this context. Nor does it seem to me to 
be a matter merely of learning how to use both modes of reading and 
analysis and co-switching between the two as appropriate, which is what 
Maryanne Wolf proposes at the end of Proust and the Squid.

What really interests me most about this discussion is the potential 
this ‘crisis’ has to produce, not something that encourages those of us 
who teach to adopt new pedagogical strategies so we can educate our 
students more effectively. I’m interested in the potential it has to 
generate what might be called an unteachable moment - in the sense of a 
crisis in the teaching situation itself in which the very authority of 
the educator is placed in question.

It’s here that we come back to the question of politics. For this moment 
of ‘crisis’, chaos, perplexity and undecidablity is precisely the moment 
of politics. For example, I wrote yesterday that we can never know for 
sure whether the legislator – the founder of a new law or institution 
such as a university – is legitimate or a charlatan, because of the 
aporia that lies at the heart of authority, whereby the legislator 
already has to posses the authority the founding of the new institution 
is supposed to provide him or her with in order to be able to found it. 
I did so, not because I think revealing this state of affairs will 
somehow bring the institution to its knees. It was more to show that the 
impossibility of any such foundation is also constitutive for an 
institution such as the university, and so highlight the chance this 
situation presents to rework the manner in which the university 'lives 
on', as Derrida might have put it. Writing precisely about the moment of 
politics, Derrida says this: 'once it is granted that violence is in 
fact irreducible, it becomes necessary - and this is the moment of 
politics - to have rules, conventions and stabilizations of power.. 
since convention, institutions and consensus are stabilizations,… they 
are stabilizations of something essentially unstable and chaotic... Now, 
this chaos and instability, which is fundamental, founding and 
irreducible, is at once naturally the worst against which we struggle 
with laws, rules, conventions, politics and provisional hegemony, but at 
the same time it is a chance, a chance to change, to destabilize. If 
there were continual stability, there would be no need for politics, and 
it is to the extent that stability is not natural, essential or 
substantial, that politics exists and ethics is possible.'

I’d see the politics of open access in much the same terms. This is why 
I’d agree, there is nothing that is inherently emancipatory, 
oppositional, Leftist, radical, resistant, or even politically or 
cultural progressive about open access, any more than there is about 
what is called digital piracy. The politics of open access, like those 
of digital piracy, depend on the decisions that are made in relation to 
it, the specific tactics and strategies that are adopted, and the 
particular conjunction of time, situation and context in which such 
practices actions and activities take place. (Rather than generalising 
about OA, as if the open access movement is entirely self-identical, 
unified and consistent, it is very much this kind of specificity 
regarding contingent decisions taken in particular conjunctions of time, 
situation and context that I saw Paul as providing in his accounts of 

So open access publishing is not necessarily a mode of resistance. But 
what does interest me about the transition to the open access 
publication of scholarly research that is occurring at the moment, is 
the way it is creating at least some ‘openings’ to take this kind of 
chance to destabilize, change, and think the university (and publishing 
and philosophical thinking) differently - in a way that doesn’t offer 
simply a lifeline to the University as it currently exists, or advocate 
a return to tradition and the past. What’s more, the transition to open 
access is doing so in a fashion that, to my mind anyway, a lot of modes 
of resistance which operate according to a logic of either/or (i.e. 
either utopian freedom or co-optation) are not.

This month’s discussion began with a quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s A 
Thousand Plateaus (‘How can the book find an adequate outside with which 
to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce?’). Let 
me conclude with one taken from the same book. Just the next page, in 
fact. For, to be sure, the different or alternate kind of economy I 
mentioned performatively looking toward yesterday is unlikely to be an 
either/or thing: either market capitalist, communist or gift economy. 
It’ll likely be more multiple, hybrid, operating according to the ‘logic 
of the AND’:

‘“and... and... and...” This conjunction carries enough force to shake 
and uproot the verb “to be””. Where are you going? Where are you coming 
from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions... 
move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, 
do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings... /Between 
/things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing 
to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a 
transversal movement that sweeps one /and /the other away’
(Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)

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