Mark Bauerline’s essay, “Reading, Writing, and the Profession,” in The Chronicle Review: Brainstorm for this date deals with the increasingly apparent problem of expecting students to read a lot, and fast, while expecting faculty to publish a lot, and fast, a double crisis of overproduction and increased consumption that is part of the commercialization and industrialization of intellect. Instruction that emphasizes high speed reading of mass quantities (I am certainly guilty of this in my own courses), “hinders slow reading — close reading, textual exegesis, explication, conceptual analysis, deconstruction.” Of course, as part of the inflation process we also have publishing thrown into “high gear”:
The “publish or perish” formula holds as ever, and from what I’ve seen it has decayed pretty far into a simple rule of output, the bare volume of printed words.
The result is a rushed publication schedule that is copied from the natural sciences into the social sciences and humanities.
Bauerline suggests that humanities departments should limit the number of pages that candidates for tenure present for review, to their 100 best pages, and to judge one or two excellent essays as more substantive than four, passable, middling ones. Indeed, with the accompanying publishing problems of increased costs of print, fewer subsidies for academic publishers, the continuing failure of scholars to embrace open access publishing at any great speed, increased copyright restrictions, reduced funds for increasingly expensive library resources, and the limits reached in the number of available reviewers, it would seem perfectly wise to encourage limits or to increase qualitative expectations. Too often it seems that productivity is understood as a quantity, not as a process. The underlying Protestant “work ethic” that informs the positive valuation of scholars who churn out vast amounts of work is also responsible for this distinctively Western cultural bias in higher learning, one that is generating its own unsustainable contradictions.
To give one of many possible examples (I use this one since I happened to receive a notice about this author’s most recent work), in what is meant to be a very positive portrayal of James Petras, his publisher, Clarity Press, has the following biographic statement about him:
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of 63 books published in 29 languages, and over 560 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has published over 2000 articles in nonprofessional journals such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, New Left Review, Partisan Review, Temps Moderne, Le Monde Diplomatique, and his commentary is widely carried on the internet…read more
I have a great deal of respect for Petras, some of whose books I own and have read, and I respect all of his hard work as well, and I do not intend to take away from that here. However, the numbers seem entirely superfluous and, ironically, are indicative of the values of this Protestant Capitalist system that we inhabit, the so-called education industry, which is reinforced by such presentations.
Aside from that, it really is incredible that one could publish so much, which works out to more than one book per year, and roughly a dozen journal articles published each year — the effort seems to be a superhuman one. As I needlessly suggested before, we could find more examples like this (I doubt many), and one has to wonder whether individuals are conscious of the ideals and values that they project through numbers, and how they continue the culture of more is better.
This system could degenerate into something conceivably vulgar: You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. We’ll see who has the bigger one.