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OpenAcademics is about releasing printed materials in academia from IntellectualProperty, but this thinking is wholly PrintCulture?. The availability, however, of academic information online--on the DigitalNetwork--will lead to a new method of academic inquiry.

OpenAcademics will lead to the rapid reorganization of academia around network models of production. Currently, academia, being based around the printing press, is mostly an individual and isolated affair. Universities are organized classically into disciplines split apart from each other like silos. Disciplines are defined by either the subject matter or their method or approach. These correspond with the histories of intellectualism in the West, where pre-Enlightenment (pre-press), scholars were interested primarily in the past, and during the Enlightenment they became focused on the present. Now, we are focused on the future, looking at outcomes, which is beyond mere solutions to problems. That is, we have a vision of where we want to go, and then we use the methods and approaches to get there. One can only only classify the past, since that is known and capable of being increasingly understood. But the imposition of classification on the future is what Western society has been struggling against for all time. That is, classification is a method of control in a static society, and we are well beyond that. Are we not in fact moving beyond OpenAcademics towards NetworkAcademics? Does this mean that we will organize around values rather than ideas? (Sounds very anti-Enlightenment.)

There are many examples. Where does the study of HumanComputerInteraction? live at various universities? Usually in several faculties, and each look at the problem from their own perspective. It's been obvious to me, as well, that my home Faculty of Information Science is remarkably Marxist whereas my old School of Computer Science was much more capitalist. Political biases from the faculties will control how they negotiate their networks; they will motivate which relationships they will build and which ones they will let wither or ignore. And over time, in a network age, I think an inter-disciplinary approach might be more like a factional approach to academics.

Perhaps the ultimate example of this factional (or rather political) approach to inquiry is Critical Theory whose project was the demolition of Modernism's imposition of models as control structures on society. Critical Theory was a concerted effort from a variety of fronts, each "issue-based" even if united by having a common foe. Women's Studies and Queer Theory and Racial Discourse have little in common except that they are all marginalized populations against a dominant form. But more to the point, as academic disciplines, they all had an outcome in mind and used whatever it took to achieve it (sometimes nastily). The caution is that these fields often made not just false statements, but occasionally outright bombastic lies in order to make their PoliticalAction. -- SunirShah

See also :

Bombastic Lies?

What kind of "outrageous bombastic lies" are you thinking of? It's hard to know how to evaluate your claim that these disciplines sacrificed truth to political expedience if you aren't willing to name names and offer some kind of evidence. -- PhilJones

The abuse of the word "rape" by certain feminists for instance. -- SunirShah

Hmm. I'd say that's a real argument. The point is everyone probably agrees rape means "forced sex". But the feminists want to challenge the common-sense understanding of "forced" and want to broaden it to include other kinds of impositions which women find hard to refuse because of their status in society. I may or may not agree with this attempt to redefine the the word - depending on the situation - but it seems a legitimate challenge. Particularly if it's done systematically (ie. the feminists don't have a double standard when they're applying it) and coherently. -- PhilJones

In reality (i.e. outside journals) the attack is often used blindly, vitriolically, and childishly. Even in the journals, the point was lost. Unlike blacks taking back 'nigger' or homosexuals taking back 'queer', 'rape' was not a word about oppressive identity, but an violent crime, and it will always maintain connotations of violence, or at least it should. Diluting the meaning of 'rape' was first stupid, and second a rhetorical device that was so extreme it only succeeded in destroying the credibility of the entire movement. Taking back the word 'cunt' was better.

The concept "legitimate" doesn't mean anything. Legitimate means printable, as almost everything is legal. But it was stupid. Or at least invalid if you're arguing from a logical framework (the wrong framework), but more to the point worse than useless as it backfired (speaking from a political framework, the right frame). Just because it's printable doesn't mean it's a good idea to print it, and not everything in writing is worth being read.

Anyway, this is all a sidenote to my point, but maybe also explanatory. The framework of the sciences is logical, not political like critical theory, and conflating the two (e.g. with the word 'legitimate') is common but inaccurate. The cautionary note may be irrelevant. -- SunirShah

Network academics : Netocracy connection?

Actually, Sunir, if you'll bear with me, I think this is fascinating and on-topic. Let's get back to your original point. You're saying that academic learning has, until now, been organized around tools and institutions ("the printing press"). But that this is backward looking. In the future, we're going to get dynamic inter-disciplinary networks of collaboration between various "network academics" who float free of traditional "subject" classifications. Perhaps such networks are organized around "values" or political projects rather than traditional "topics" or "areas" or taxonomies of "departments".

And you identify "Critical Theorists" as a prime / vanguard example of people who've abandoned responsibility to a domain or canon in favour of oportunistic alliances for promoting political causes. Possibly it's even worse than merely promoting political causes - (which, after all, might include universal causes such as "justice" or "equality") - in fact, these alliances are mainly engaged in advancing the interests of particular sub-groups : "women", "gays", "blacks" etc.

Now, a lot of this sounds both familiar and plausible to me. It connects with Bard and Soderqvist's notion of "Netocracy" which supposes we are moving into a new economic "mode" where social connections form the basis of wealth and where managing and investing in your portfolio of connections becomes as important as the skills of managing capital in the current economic world.

Bard and Soderqvist think that this new economic order will come with a new philosophical order, roughly inspired by GillesDeleuze?'s ideas of "mobilism". The "netocrat" or succesful player in netocracy will see him / herself free to join and leave membership of networks and interest groups. Will trade membership for information, and vice-versa. And will hold temporary allegances to networks, but never feel completely defined or constrained by them.

Along with this mobilism goes a new emphasis on what knowledge is. My hunch is that this takes knowledge about social networks to be primary. Who is doing what with and to whom becomes the most important kind of knowledge to be interested in, and becomes the template for thinking in general.

In a sense, your accusation against the post-modernist critical theorist fits this pattern too. Their political causes are about identifying groups to side with and against. And knowledge is re-organized as a set of conspiracies about the interactions of such groups and their enemies. Commitment to absolutes such as truth or virtue or physics or life or mind or scholarship are abandoned in favour of partisanship.

And yet ...

Although I'm fascinated by this possibility, I want to resist it. I regard myself as part of an "empirical" or "critical" left-wing tradition. Seriously on the left, but looking for the continuity in that tradition from enlightenment, rational and progressive values. As such I'm fighting a war on two fronts. Both against the techno-libertarian / capitalist right who want to claim this tradition exclusively for themselves; and against a post-modern (possibly netocratic) "left" who want to abandon / distance themselves from it in favour of something else.

So, I can accept there are feminists who are more concerned with political point scoring than commitment to truth. But that doesn't mean that there can't be a space for a radical feminist analysis which does bring our current use of words like "rape" under-scrutiny and does notice that women are genuinely sexually violated even in cases which are not currently understood as rape.

Calling this kind of analysis "stupid" because it has the timerity to go against the common-sense understanding of words, seems naive about how much we often make progress by questioning entrenched categories.

And whether that is the main thrust of progressive academic theorizing (ie. whether the academic left has become a wholly netocratic left) or whether it's merely one of a fragmentary series of possible new directions is still an open question. But it's going to be fascinating to watch what develops.

-- PhilJones

Integrity : Politics != Science

The problem with the obvious response to my criticism that destroying the meaning of rape is stupid is that saying that destroying meaning is a good thing is begging the question. I understand the value of changing the meaning of political words, but rape was not a political word. If it was, if anything it was to women's favour. That they equivocate rape with housework is stupid since it is obvious it will hurt them as is intended to shock. Not only will it dilute the seriousness that people take rape, but since people do take rape seriously (and only due to other feminists' efforts), it will either create a dissonant state in people's minds if they supported these feminists or make them think these feminists were crackpots. I'm not in favour of living in a dissonant state. I don't think rape is a playfully ironic word, because I understand the consequences of rape. I somewhat understand the motivation: if rape was a strong lever to demonstrate the plight of women to the rest of society, could we broaden its context to bring more of the feminist agenda into the light? But what other response could I have but call that stupid? They burnt their only bridge to society by overloading it. You need to have integrity or else you have nothing.

Integrity is the point of unification between Enlightenment philosophy and political goals. You have to make decisions and statements that can be relied on. You don't want to be perceived as an unending series of KuleshovEffects if you want to be taken seriously because people do not like having their mind continuously twisted in a pretzel when they are trying to decide serious matters. Conflating a deadly serious matter, rape, with another serious matter--the status of women--again may seem like a good idea if you have no idea what you are doing, but you cannot make decisions about serious matters if they are conflated. Deal with one problem at a time.

Speaking of integrity, this discussion about the word 'rape' is an obvious StrawMan?. While for the sake of argument we are pretending like it really happened in some way like I am describing, but we both know it didn't, and I feel dishonest.

-- SunirShah

Well I was about to back off and say I didn't know there were people equating house-work with rape :-) I was thinking "date-rape" and "we were all drunk and she seemed to enjoy it" kind of discussions. But maybe you aren't now really making this claim at all. We can agree to agree that rhetoric and persuasion needs to be pragmatic and take into account the likely effect on the listener; and agree to disagree on whether certain words are a priori ruled out for that reason.

See also WikiPedia:Godwin's_Law for a short discussion of the "ethics" of such extreme comparisons.

But lets get back to the main point here, which I really find new and exciting.

Academic is changing. Is this new?

Are you still willing to hold up your claim that academics are evolving towards a new relationship with knowledge / that academia is re-organizing itself around short-lived, dynamic inter-disciplinery allegances? I'm thinking now that I did my masters degree in a school of Cognitive and Computing Science that was designed to support inter-disciplinery research between computer scientists, ArtificialIntelligence researchers, linguists, CognitivePsychologists? and CognitivePhilosophers?. Ten years later, that school has disappeared. The groups were simply not talking to each other. The AI people had eloped with people from the school of biology to study ArtificialLife? and NeuroScience?. The linguists were studying the history of place-names. The psychologists and philosophers went back to their traditional areas. And the rest of computer science merged with maths or engineering. This could be read as a failure of inter-disciplinery research. Or could just be the next turn of the kaleidoscope which is continuously re-arranging academic alliances.

Someone dropped this link on me yesterday : http://www.patternlanguage.com/archive/ieee/ieeetext.htm which has an interesting quote from ChristopherAlexander

Why would computer scientists and software engineers suddenly become responsible for the form and structure of the built environment? Is that not the province of architects, planners, agricultural experts, forestry people, and civil engineers? It ought to be. But the members of these professions are not taking responsibility for the generative approach to living structure – and so cannot produce it. And, as far as I can see, they do not see it coming, and are not preparing themselves to take it on, mentally or professionally. Therefore it will fall to someone else to do it instead.

In history, this kind of unexpected switch is a common thing. When a paradigm change occurs, in a discipline, it is not always the members of the old profession, who take it to the next stage. In the history of the development in technical change, very often the people responsible for certain specialty are then followed by a technical innovation. And then the people who become responsible for the field after the technical innovation are a completely different group of people.

So academia or the RepublicOfLetters? or the segment of society that thinks is always evolving and adapting. Is there anything specifically different and unusual happening now? Are institutions really falling apart at a faster rate than before, signalling some kind of phase-change in organization? Are we seeing merely the end of a period of rigid institutional academia - perhaps due to and contemporaneous with the 20th century domination of the nation-state or mass-academic publishing corporations?

-- PhilJones

I thought I'd add the AllKnowledgeLibrary proposal as it seems relevent to this discussion. --BrandonCsSanders



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