Blogging @ Ruins

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It's been a while since I've counted Bill Readings' The University in Ruins among my own personal resonant texts, but there was a time when I read it pretty closely. Small surprise, then, that some of Clay's remarks triggered a synapse or two. I've been glancing back through it for the past hour or so (while listening to Jenny's inaugural show on KVRX), and I've got a couple of thoughts. I should also note that Alex Reid has been throwing down some analysis lately that's also a part of the stew...

So, Readings. There's a two-fold argument that Readings makes in UR that most everyone should recall. First, he argues that the university has gone through a couple of epistemic shifts, from the University of Reason to the University of Culture to, finally, the University of Excellence. The second part of his argument that most people recall is that the emergence of the UofE is characterized by the dereferentialization of everything into the empty category of "excellence" ("What gets taught or researched matters less than the fact that it be excellently taught or researched" (13).) by means of the translation of accountability into accounting, the rendering of everything academic into the jargon of excellence (the USNWR college rankings are the classic example of this). According to Readings, this has ruined the university, period. The question for him then becomes what we as academics might do, other than behaving like villagers at a Renaissance Faire, ignoring the fact that we're practicing a fiction.

Ok. It's been a while since I'd looked at the final chapters of the book, where Readings lays out his solution, or suggestion at least. I think the chapter title, "Dwelling in the Ruins," has caused some misreads as it connotes a kind of resignation that I don't really see there. And Readings does try to track some middle ground among nostalgia, fatalism, and neglect. The core of his suggestion:

To dwell in the ruins of the University is to try to do what we can, while leaving space for what we cannot envisage to emerge. For example, the argument has to be made to administrators that resources liberated by the opening up of disciplinary space, be it under the rubric of the humanities or of Cultural Studies, should be channeled into supporting short-term collaborative projects of both teaching and research (to speak in familiar terms) which would be disbanded after a certain period, whatever their success.

This clicks for me with what Clay had to say yesterday about framing our activities differently. And as I thought about it, the attention that Seb paid to issue-oriented and/or transdisciplinary work resonated as well. It's not just that disciplines are black holes, sucking everything to the center, in the academic attention economy. It's also that, even when we try to maintain a respectable distance from that center, we end up focused on the center in our efforts to avoid it. Disciplinary networks are like series of concentric circles, and regardless of which circle you occupy, you're always facing inward. And so that one discipline's gravitational pull doesn't interfere with another's, they're placed far enough away from each other that it's difficult for someone in one disciplinary orbit to find others outside.

The groups that Clay described (e.g., Many2Many, Abusable Tech, Wireless Unleashed, etc.) strike me as the kinds of collaborations that Readings would approve of. In a chapter on teaching, Readings explains that "Contrary to conventional wisdom, an audience does not preexist an event. The event makes the audience happen, rather than the event happening in front of an audience." The problem with much of the way that the academy works today is that we've been encouraged to believe the latter, that our audience must preexist any production of knowledge on our part. The time and labor intensivity of academic work means that starting that work without an audience is a gamble. But one of Liz's remarks yesterday--about the rewards of serendipity--are relevant here, as is Clay's "deep force" of atomization. If I sit down to write an article, I'm investing a fair amount of time and effort which is only returned to me in the event of publication. But weblogs remove a lot of that cost overhead, yes? The cost of putting together an idea for a blog post is alot smaller (the length of today's and yesterday's posts nonwithstanding), and the potential "reward" or return much greater. Both Jill's and Clay's talks (with the SOC and M2M examples, respectively) provide evidence for the claim that Seb made directly, that blogs allow you to find an audience, even in places where you may not be looking.

And I think we in the academy (if I'm allowed to speak that big of a "we") need to see more evidence of that, and to start thinking about ways of generating that return ourselves. A couple of days ago, I jotted down some of the things that keep academics from blogging in response to one of the posts Alex wrote to prep his talk, and in his reply, Alex mentioned wanting to preserve (or transpose) the "culture of blogging," and I wonder if this "event/audience" ratio isn't one of the most crucial elements of that culture. I'd add as well that making that turn (towards events preceding audiences instead of proceeding from them) is probably a key distinction between blogging done by academics (now) and academic blogging (soon?).

Ok. I've mentioned everyone from the panel now. Ha. There's more to say, of course, but I'm hitting the hunger wall now...Thanks again to the panelists for making me think about this...

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on June 12, 2004 4:16 PM.

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