Monday, March 07, 2011

Dozens? hundreds?

The research suggests that 93% of all humanities articles go uncited. Though it is likely impossible to measure, this statistic leads me to wonder how often the typical humanities article is even read. Obviously all articles are read by someone: editors, reviewers, etc. Does the typical humanities article have a readership in the dozens? the hundreds? Certainly not more than that....

It would seem to me that the average academic (or academic journal) seeks to avoid exposure. Publishing an article in the "Journal of narrowly-focused humanities studies" is a good way to hide. Those who do manage to find you will probably be sympathetic. Plus you always have the shield of peer-review: clearly someone thought what you said was ok. Even if someone disagrees with you, the differences will likely be on details that very few people will know or care about. Besides, by the time that person manages to write and publish a response, your article is in the distant past. In any case, this almost never happens. Since 93% of humanities articles are never cited you can safely publish with the assumption that no one will ever mention your article again. Phew!...

To think about such matters from the perspective of assemblage theory, we should be able to see that the material and expressive segments of a journal serve a strong, territorializing function, reaffirming the boundaries of discipline and the identities of participants. Sitting behind a paywall, available primarily through academic libraries, one can be fairly certain that no one will even accidentally encounter the text (and even if they did, the discourse would likely turn them away). There are good reasons for doing this kind of writing, but I would suggest that it is not the only kind of writing humanists should do. On the other hand, the functionality of the blog has a strong, deterritorializing function. It is designed to carry the media away via RSS feeds, to go viral via Twitter and Facebook, and so on. It is public and available via Google. And while its discourse can be variable, and potentially as esoteric as any journal article, the culture of blogging in general invites participation and sharing.

— Alex Reid, “On the value of academic blogging”.

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