Academic Journals in Old Age

Literary scholarship has come a long way in the past 200 years. In preparation for the masters program I’m starting this fall, I am currently reading Eagleton’s Literary Theory, which traces the movements of literary criticism and theory since the early 1900s.

Consistently, academic journals have fostered (and fomented) those developments.

That’s one reason I’ve chosen “Academic Journals in the ‘Network’ Economy” by Jordan Ballor for the next ProfoundNet. Here’s a snippet:

John Hartley, the founder and editor of the International Journal of Cultural Studies […] takes his experience as an editor to reflect on the current state of the scholarly journal amid the challenges and opportunities in the digital age.

Hartley opens his study, “Lament for a Lost Running Order? Obsolescence and Academic Journals,” by concluding that “the academic journal is obsolete,” at least as regards to its “form– especially the print journal.”

One could say the same about any timely, community-based writing. However, one feature of the “ivory tower syndrome” that afflicts literary scholarship is a dependence on academic journals for self-propagation. Like it or not, the future of print will have a profound impact on the way we read and teach literature and scholarship.

Hartley’s article comments further on this idea:

For now that it is available online, ‘users’ (no longer ‘readers’!) can search for what they want and ignore the journal as such altogether. This is presumably how most active researchers experience any journal – they are looking for articles (or less: quotations; data; references) relevant to a given topic, literature review, thesis etc. They encounter a journal online through its ‘content’ rather than its ‘form.’ The latter is irrelevant to them, and may as well not exist.

What is lost when form is shattered?

  • Order. The editorial process of organizing articles in a logical pattern is ignored.
  • Unity. The impact of cover, design, and image is separated from text.
  • Context. Individual articles are skewered from the associated–either complementary or contrary–viewpoints in the field.
  • Contemplation. The act of reading is no longer set apart from checking email, reading the news, or watching a video clip. Room for critical thought becomes scant.

Ballor concludes that “the complete digitization of journals and casting off the printed form ‘may reduce collegiate trust and fellow-feeling, increase individualist competitiveness, and inhibit innovation.'”

He doubts that journals will become entirely obsolete, and I tend to agree, but I do think we will see the gulf widen between academia and well-read, educated members of the non-academic community. That, in my mind, is one of the biggest losses of all.

Thanks, Jordan, for a thought-provoking post.


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