Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summary of June 2009 Discussion on Accessible Scholarship

Below is a summary of our previous discussion, "Accessible Scholarship: Popular vs. Academic Culture"

The accessibility of academic research to non-academic circles is a major focus of this consortium. As scholars concerned with the impact of our research on the societies we study, it is necessary for us to ask ourselves how exactly that impact is to be felt. Is anthropological research more valuable if it can be accessed, understood, and used by the community it holds as its “object”? And does anthropological research carry more weight if it can engage a popular audience or be mobilized for a popular political or social campaign? These questions reveal that in terms of the issue of accessibility, we will be concerned, on the one hand, with the society as an “object” (i.e., that which is studied), and on the other, with the society as a “subject” (i.e. that which experiences, feels, and learns the “object”). In both cases, the scholar seems to float atop the circulation of knowledge – to be an omniscient producer of it, yet to be detached from its manifestations. How the “subject” and “object” act upon this anthropological knowledge, and how they interact with each other, is thought to be the domain of political and
international policy, safely beyond the purview of academia. Yet do scholars not represent an unmistakable force in the circulation of knowledge – not only in its production, but also in its interpretation, mobilization, and eventually its enactment in policy? The scholar is ultimately responsible for how the “subject” and “object” interact, and must thus be sensitive to how her/his knowledge will be deployed. Furthermore, by ensuring that her/his research is accessible to the general public, the scholar enables a more “democratic” form of knowledge, i.e. one that cannot be monopolized by social and political elites.

Whether or not the impact of anthropological research will be felt in the society that is studied is a slight question when compared to the greater question of what the nature of that impact is. How might anthropologists expect to create accessible scholarship, and yet guard against the manipulation or exploitation of their research for the purposes of contemporary politics? This question is especially urgent for anthropologists who aim to study contemporary political and
populist movements, and who therefore cannot extricate their research from its probable manifestation in policy or propaganda. If the political, economic, or militaristic movement is a legitimate one in the mind of the general public (e.g. globalization, market capitalism, the Human Terrain System in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), and yet adverse to the anthropologist’s intentions, how are scholars to detach their work from these popular goals, and yet maintain an objective
stance on the society being studied?

Since this consortium is primarily concerned with the arts and creative aspects of culture, it is necessary for us to explore how expressive culture might fit into the problem of accessibility. Many of us derive our research from non-academics; our studies are often based on extra-academic social spheres, such as popular culture and its reverberations in society. Moreover, “expressive culture” is an idea centered around the production and consumption of the expressive elements of culture, which is to say that it depends largely on popular culture. Scholarly analyses of expressive culture must therefore consider the intimacy between popular and academic cultures and the unavoidable intertwining of popular culture in academic work, in addition to the possibility for academic works, and indeed, academic culture, to intertwine itself in popular culture. What the nature of this intersection is, and how it is to be achieved, must be explored and experimented upon through this consortium.

As one contributor to our discussion noted, "accessibility must be concerned with not only expanding scholarship to connect with a wider audience, but also the process of scholarship and the relationship between the researcher and the people she/he is studying." Thus, we point to cultural narratives as an accessible form of anthropological writing and cultural representation. The very notion of academic work presented as a narrative conversation, as a performative process, is crucial to the question of accessibility in the scholarship of expressive culture. In order to engage the study of expressive culture with the general public, issues of expression in culture must be looked at across disciplinary boundaries, and must be connected with sociological, political, geographical, and economic issues, with particular foci on gender issues, class and ethnic inequalities, and nationalism. Thus, the engagement and participation of scholars and students in the creation of expressive cultural forms is needed in order to open up academic knowledge to the public, and provide new avenues for academics to present their research and knowledge (i.e. not just through scholarly papers). The key to creating accessible scholarship, and to ensuring its relevance to popular culture, is to expose academic knowledge to the general readership by submitting articles or editorials to mainstream media, as well as participating in governmental and non-governmental policy discussions. This would require a major institutional shift in focus - away from the work of the individual scholar, and toward a more public-centered form of scholarship.

No comments:

Post a Comment