On Being Published – by Gavin Weedon

In that fateful moment when pen slides across paper and rights slip away, whose thoughts have not drifted in the direction of, ‘‘Why am I not getting paid directly for this?’’ And who has not then experienced a modicum of regret upon suddenly feeling so . . . entrepreneurial? (Striphas, 2010, p. 7-8)

What dissonance accompanies the act of publishing?

For me, in summer 2010, there was relief that a project spanning almost two years seemed in sight of some ends. Congratulations were offered. Your paper will be published with us. Only formalities remain. For a moment, at least, my recurrent anxieties about the work I had poured over, doubted, and persevered with, were superseded by the (self-)legitimacy of publication. There was euphoria of achievement, of a somewhat romanticized sense of becoming: A writer? An academic? Part of ‘the conversation’ I had listened in on so attentively?

There was, also, a confounding nervousness, that what I had written would now be synonymous with my name, ‘out there’, hostage to changing times and shifting spaces, circulating among a relatively small but nevertheless daunting field of scholars: colleagues? And later, contriteness, at the egotism of it all. For the paper is now published, and I have been congratulated for the act, the achievement. Yet the issues I  sought to engage with in the paper persist.

I have since wondered if these discordant feelings were, as Ted Striphas suggests in the above vignette, a product of my idealized notion of academic research as a public resource, ‘untainted’ by commercial logic. The notion of publication as an entrepreneurial act clearly contravenes this ideal. It elucidates a tension between my commitment to public service and a need to secure personal ownership over my work for the purposes of career development. Had the act of publishing, the feelings it evoked even momentarily, compromised my fidelity to these ideals of what it means to be an academic, to ‘do’ research? Some would say that such ideals are willful nostalgia for a time which never existed. Perhaps Striphas was on to something, then. Were my feelings of unease attributable to a loss of ownership rights over my work? Should I have been and felt more entrepreneurial?

It is easy enough, and judicious, to lay at least part of the blame for this dissonance with the corporate university, which adheres to the economic logics of business models and is widely thought to encourage and reward such individualized approaches to scholarship. But hindsight has brought into focus new reasons for introspectively questioning the act of publishing. For the words I published were not my own. I wrote them, of course, crafted the paper, sought a dialectic between writing and research, theory and evidence, all familiar practices. And I had cited all of my sources. But the paper could never be mine alone. As Albert Einstein famously said, we each stand on the shoulders of giants, striking dialogue with the scholarship of others and seeking to adopt, extend and recalibrate their endeavours. Writing, and the development of scholarly knowledge is an inherently mutual endeavour. How, then, could I have signed a publishing agreement in which ‘my’ intellectual property rights were relinquished to a publishing company, endowing them with exclusive rights over knowledge which reaches far beyond the insights to which I could lay any claim? I couldn’t. But I did.

This process, in which we are all complicit, constitutes the enclosure of the (digital) commons (Morrison, 2011). It is a process we each typically consent to and partake in when signing commercial publishing agreements. Public knowledge, assembled over centuries, is transferred at the click of a virtual box to commercial publishers, only to be released back in to the ‘privatized mainstream of capital accumulation’ (Harvey, 2003, p. 149). The implications are plural and severe, for academic freedom, for scholars committed to engaging with wider publics, for those who wish for their interventions to begin at the point of publishing, not to stop there, circulating within an insular intellectual domain.

The dissonance of publishing, of oscillating between entrepreneurial and public intellectual subject positions, is not a product of the academic publishing industry alone, but it is inseparable from and perpetuated by this industry. The conversation I had been so excited and daunted to join ought to be dialogical, involving multiple publics and scholars from across the globe, but the strict enforcement of intellectual property rights leads me to ask who exactly is invited to this conversation? Who is sending the invites? Who is excluded, on what terms, and with what consequences? These are the politics which evade the euphoria and relief of publishing, and while they are elucidated by personal introspection, they urgently require a public forum.

References

Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Morrison, H. (2011). Enclosure and Open Access in Communication Scholarship, Stream: Culture, Politics, Technology 4(1), 2-22.

Striphas, T. (2010). Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7(1), 3-25.

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