Transforming Academia with New Technologies

Having consumed a great deal of time on this blog with discussion of anthropologists embedded in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as multiple posts on anthropology and colonialism, other areas of interest have been neglected where this project is concerned. Let me try to redress that by turning to some mainstream media articles and one online resource that could be helpful in understanding how academic practices can be transformed with the new help of new technologies and the Internet.

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From CBC News:
Print on demand: A tale of self-publishing on the web
by Paul Lima, November 9, 2007

Paul Lima asks: “Could traditional book publishers be heading the way of traditional music companies, which are heading the way of dinosaurs, thanks to the internet?”

His argument is that, “they could, but for different reasons….many authors are eschewing traditional publishers and book retailers in favour of online print-on-demand (POD) companies….I am one of the many.”

His article provides a good overview of print-on-demand services, and I recommend it as a good guide for those new to this topic.

For many academics, this option poses immediate problems, however. Such POD publications are, by definition, self-published, which means no peer review, which means that little or no weight may be attached to such publications when seeking tenure or promotion in a Western university setting.

Yet, matters may not be quite so stark, even in the typical North American university. For example, a university may place great emphasis on the basic “dissemination” of research, which this option allows, and much more quickly and with greater independence and freedom for the author. Also, some granting agencies, like some universities in the so-called “developing world,” place value on self-publication as an acceptable means for disseminating knowledge. In addition, rather than rely on costly textbooks, and middlemen of various sorts, professors could write their own course texts and set low prices, especially as some online POD companies offer both hardcopies and e-book versions of the same book. Also, there is nothing stopping an author from seeking the reviews of colleagues, asking for candid comments, and publishing those comments within the book itself, while hopefully following some of the more helpful suggestions before finally publishing.

This is not free open access of course, but it has distinct advantages when compared to traditional academic publishers, and commercial publishers of academic texts, most notably in terms of cost, author freedom, speed of publication, and potentially limitless distribution. For books that are guaranteed to attract the condemnation from conservative opinion within a given discipline, this may be the only option other than simply shelving one’s book.

One of the leading POD companies is currently Lulu. A search of its current listings, using “anthropology” as a keyword, turns up nearly 120 books, some on topics that easily recognized as familiar to anthropology. Indeed, some appear to be very interesting as well, and a number are authored by public intellectuals with doctorates in cultural anthropology, such as Dr. Roi Kwabena in the UK.

Certainly what this option allows one to resist is the suppression, or over-negotiation and modification of different views. Whether universities will be likely to accept the value of such publications is an open question of course–however, with rising book costs, and publishers always less inclined to publish academic texts, universities may be left with less room for choice in the matter.

One thought on “Transforming Academia with New Technologies

  1. I agree with your point Universities need to embrace e-books, as especially in the UK rising production costs of books, their transit and storage woul be completly dealt with in one go, another advantage would be for less well known authors and phd students to get their works published, as how many great works have been turned down as a result of the hugh publishing costs

    Dr Bartholomew

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