The perseverance of print-based authorship within humanities scholarship (II)

Chapter 3 of my thesis focuses on authorship, and you can find a draft of the second part of the chapter underneath. As I stated before, any feedback is of course more than welcome but please take into account that these are just fragments in process which are part of a larger (undefined) ‘whole’.

You can find part 1 here and part 3 here. For chapter 2 of my thesis, see here and here.

man-writingCritiquing authorship in practice

Barthes and Foucault are two of the most pre-eminent critics of authorship, and their writings on the death of the author, the author function and the role the author plays in capitalist knowledge production, have proved to be tremendously important for literary theory and authorship studies. In particularly, they have played a significant role in focusing attention away from the humanist idea of what an author is, to what an author does (Bennett 2004: 3). At the same time they have also helped to place more attention on the discursive historicity of both authorship and the work. Nonetheless it can be argued that both Foucault and Barthes didn’t in practice do much to critique their own authorship position, status and practices, and they were themselves often writing in a very authorial and traditional way, focusing on the authority and originality of their mostly individually authored and published texts. In this respect, their work at times lacked a practical or practice-based performative dimension.[1] In this respect the examples of authorship critique that will be discussed below (hypertext, collaborative digital humanities work and remix practices), can be seen to offer a more practical critique of authorship, whilst targeting specific aspects, such as authority, individuality, originality, that have structured the romantic, humanist authorship discourse in academia.


Hypertext[2] theory and practice has been classified as a practical application of Barthes’ and Foucault’s criticism of authorship, at least to the extent that in the hypertext debates the focus returns to a critique of authorship exactly from this perspective of a new (literary) practice. For example, as hypertext theorist George Landow points out, hypertext can be seen as the ‘electronic embodiment of poststructuralist conceptions of textuality’ and it thus ‘reconceive(s) the figure and function of authorship’ (Landow 2006: 126). Hypertext scholarship is among other things interested in bridging the gap between the author and the reader, where the reader increasingly becomes the author of the work that is being consumed, challenging the authorial role (Landow 2006, Bolter, Jay David 2001). It can be argued that in hypertext theory the figures and functions of author and reader become deeper entangled, where authorial power is redirected to the reader. According to Landow this is possible due to the read/write capabilities of the net and hypertext. This offers the reader interactivity and the possibility to choose their own way through a hypertext, via hyperlinks to other nodes and locations, and thus to create their own meaning based on that path. In a networked hypertext environment, the reader becomes the ‘performer’ of a text, where each text is a unique performance. The multiple meanings of a work and a text, as theorised by Barthes and Foucault, were thus arguable more practically embodied and visualised in the production and consumption of hypertexts. Hypertext’s multiplicity of meanings therefore suggested a changed relationship between the reader and the text. Landow argues that radical changes in textuality, such as with hypertext, will cause radical changes in authorship, where the lack of textual autonomy, as he calls it, its unboundedness, disperses ideas of authorship too (Landow 2006: 126). Instead of the author subject and the bounded text object, we now have the network, in which both are decentred. This is also the main feature Jerome McGann attributes to hypertext: its decentred textuality, open and interactive, where hypertext is not centrally organised (McGann 2004: 25). Katherine Hayles similarly sees hypertext as dispersed, performative and processual, due to its capacity to transform on a continuous basis (Hayles, N. K. 2004).

Notwithstanding the potential of hypertext theory to decentre the author’s authority, it has still kept many of the other ‘authorship functions’ in check, especially if we look at early hypertext fiction, which was seen to embody the possibilities the above debate focused on. Hypertext introduced a practical multiplicitous conception of authorship or of the prosumer—the reader as author—but does not deconstruct many of the other functions that are part of the romantic, humanist notion of authorship and the way it has been embodied in our institutions and practices. Hypertext works continue to be mainly been published as ‘whole’, and finished works. In their early distribution mechanisms (using CD-ROMs or particular forms of software and/or platforms such as Storyspace and Intermedia), hypertext fiction also remained ‘bound’ together (albeit in a different way than books), both in a ‘medial sense’ as well as bound together by their authors. For hypertext fiction still came with a recognisable author, including a copyright disclaimer. Not only do hypertextual works thus remain recognisable by a distinct author, they also continue to function in terms of a reputation economy with clear attribution and responsibility, and in this respect the originality of the work is also still attributed to the author. In the dynamic between author and reader, the author continues to stand out as the designer of the hypertext, where the specific paths or linearity created remain prescriptive in many ways. In what sense is this authorial prediscription then not already fixing possible meaning association for readers? As it is still the author who defines relationships within a hypertext, it can be argued that readers remain 2nd grade authors: it is an ad hoc relationship. When it comes to the interactivity promised by early hypertexts, on reflection this can be judged to have been rather low, having to do with, among other things, the complexity of many hypertext fictions. The different paths and structures seem difficult and problematic and do not always create a coherent narrative for readers, where on a design level many of the interfaces were also hard to navigate. Finally, many of hypertext’s proponents have presented hypertext as a radical discontinuity, seeing it, as Jay David Bolter has argued, as a revolutionary break with the past, similar to the rhetoric of modernist artists and writers (Bolter, Jay David 2001: 44). Such a dichotomous schism between the old and the new, and between networked or hypertext authors and print authors can be seen as overstated, as many print texts and works already functioned according to hypertext structures (Bolter, Jay David 2001, Fitzpatrick 2011b). Was print reading not always already collaborative and performative too? And does the authorship function really undergo a practical critique in an environment were artistic creativity and ownership or acknowledgement of works still remains an important aspect of the networked environment?

Collaborative Authorship

Initially, hypertext structures were mostly experimented with in a non-academic context, but increasingly aspects of hypertextual structures (especially the hyperlinking capacity) have become more common in digital academic communication, and many of the elements of hypertext practice and theory are being experimented with in both formal and informal digital publishing. In this respect developments in digital tools and media, from blogs to wikis, have made readerly interaction and prosumption easier. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick has argued: ‘Experiments in hypertext thus may have pointed in the general direction of a digital publishing future, but where finally hampered by difficulties in readerly engagement, as well as, I would argue, by having awakened in readers a desire for fuller participation that hypertext could not itself satisfy’ (Fitzpatrick 2011b: 99).

Within academia, however, a practical authorship critique of its own had started to develop, one which has been mainly based upon two developments: the rise in use of digital tools, media and networked environments in scholarly work, which has led to new forms of networked collaboration; and the growth, especially in a scientific context, of massively collaborative projects, following the principles of networked science (Nielsen 2011). These developments have lead to an enhanced questioning of the romantic discourse of single authorship, especially within certain fields in the sciences and the humanities where the developments described above have been the most apparent. High Energy Physics (HEP) is an example of a discipline where the romantic discourse on authorship as it normally functions within academia has become a serious problem. As Blaise Cronin explains, from the 17th century onwards, in a scientific context the appropriation of credit and the allocation of accountability developed as simultaneous processes, based on the idea of a work written by an author (Cronin 2001: 559). Jeremy Birnholtz shows that although authorship is the established and accepted method in science to assess the contributions of researchers to their specific discipline—playing an important role in the reputation economy and as a measurement of symbolic capital—it can be difficult to recognize an individual’s contributions to a research article. Taking responsibility for an article becomes problematic on highly collaborative projects, for instance. Birnholtz shows how in HEP the authorship model has not been functioning very well in the traditional sense, as the amount of people working on a collaborative project can run into the hundreds. It is not uncommon that every article by a member of the research team lists all the participating physicists on that particular project, a phenomenon known as hyperauthorship (Birnholtz 2006: 1758–1770). As Cronin shows, the problem within such a regime of hyperauthorship is that it becomes impossible to determine where ultimately authority, credit and accountability reside. And authorship without responsibility, Cronin points out, becomes literally meaningless, as responsibility, in the form of affixing authority, credit and accountability, is an essential part of the standard ‘rights and responsibilities’ model of authorship in the current scholarly communication model. For instance, I have the right to claim credit and symbolic capital for my authorship but also the responsibility to defend and stand behind my claims and take the blame if they are flawed (Cronin 2001: 562).

This has led to a situation where, in HEP, the reputation economy no longer works on the basis of authorship, but runs via informal recognition. As Birnholtz states, ‘the HEP community largely has turned away from formal records of contribution and taken to using informal means of assessment and evaluation’ (Birnholtz 2006: 1764). This informal system of recognition relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and the ability to get noticed within large group collaborations. Credit does not come from publications but from establishing a reputation within the work group. Although traditional authorship has therefore become problematic within this environment, and the idea of individual responsibility seems to be bestowed upon the group and on collaborative notions of authorship within HEP publishing practices, the rights and recognition part of the standard model of authorship continues to run via individual recognition.

Although hyperauthorship is not particularly common in the humanities and social sciences to date, where the single author still dominates most fields, the example of HEP does show some problems related to our accepted notions of authorship. First of all, it shows that different research cultures have different approaches to authorship and to issues of social trust, as well as various ways of awarding responsibility and recognition for research findings. Hence there is no standard concept or definition of authorship that traverses the various research communities. There are different definitions of authorship and these definitions tend to change too within fields, making them contingent. These examples all seem to underscore that authorship is a social construct, not a natural fact, and that these constructs, and the way authorship ‘functions’, differs per epistemic community, both within the life sciences[3] and in contrast to the humanities and social sciences. Secondly, the examples above from HEP show that what we perceive as the standard romantic discourse of authorship has a problem when it comes to distinguishing different kinds of research contributions and collaborations. It only works within certain limits, limits which HEP and Biomedicine seem to be exceeding and which are also increasingly being challenged in the HSS.

For collaboration and co-authorship practices, combined with a discourse that encourages collaboration, are rising in the humanities and social sciences too. For instance, Cronin has shown how, with the growth in scale and complexity of psychological research, the need for formal and informal collaboration has risen. This has led to changing disciplinary practices related to authorship. As Cronin makes clear, this can be evidenced in the growing importance of what is called ‘sub-authorship collaboration’, collaboration that is made visible through acknowledgments in academic writing. This form of collaboration is visible in the rise and gradual establishment of acknowledgements as a constitutive element in the scholarly journal literature in the fields of psychology and philosophy (Cronin et al. 2003). In the digital humanities, which has been defined as ‘not a unified field but an array of convergent practices’ (Presner and Schnapp 2009), digital tools and increasingly also scientific methods for conducting research are being applied to humanities research. Collaboration is seen as an essential aspect of the research culture here. As digital humanist Lisa Spiro puts it, ‘work in many areas of the digital humanities seems to both depend upon collaboration and aim to support it’ (Spiro 2009b). Simeone explain this in more detail with the example of data mining:

With computational tools, digital archives can reveal more than they obscure by providing organizational frameworks and tools for analysis. However, these tools — in the guise of metadata organization, indexing, searching, and analytics — are not self–generated. They require the combined work of humanists with their interdisciplinary questions and computer scientists with their disciplinary approaches to partner with one another to produce viable research methodologies and pedagogies (Michael Simeone et al. 2011).

Digital humanities research needs collaboration but also depends on reliable infrastructures and platforms to make collaborations possible. Collaboration in digital humanities research is visible in the valuable support received from, among others librarians, IT departments and computer scientists, which are only slowly being acknowledged as full-fledged contributors to digital humanities projects.[4] There is thus a continued call within this environment to give credit to the various alt-ac (alternative academic) collaborators[5] in digital projects, following non-standard academic careers such as the ones mentioned above (Nowviskie 2011b).

But collaboration is also visible in the ‘non-digital’ humanities. In the process of preparing a publication we rely on others in multiple ways, both online and offline. For instance, via comments at conferences, in blogs and social media, informal commentary by peers and colleagues, reviews by experts, and support from editors, proof readers, copyeditors, book designers, printers and so forth (Danyi 2014). There is also a growing amount of interest in both the ‘traditional’ and digital humanities in environments and platforms for online collaborative work—in the case of international or cross-institutional research projects involving multiple project members for instance. This has led to the rise of what has been termed collaboratories, or Virtual Research Environments, and other instantiations of collaborative teams and technologies within the humanities (Verhaar 2009). As Simeone show in their discussion of the ‘Digging into Image Data to Answer Authorship–Related Questions’ collaborative project, with the rise of large-scale, multi-participant collaborative research projects, the authorship of articles, papers, journals, and books written by members of the project team becomes problematic, as it becomes hard to establish individual and collective contributions (Michael Simeone et al. 2011). The romanticising of the sole author in science and scholarship leads to a notion of science as a stream of geniuses and inventors, intrinsically connected to a cultural and historical context that privileges individual creativity.[6] This narrative stands in strong contrast with the community aspect of interconnected and networked scholarship that can similarly be perceived to be at the basis of our scholarly practices, and seems to be increasingly so.

But within the digital humanities further reasons have been developed with respect to why we need to be critical of our standard notions of authorship, as some have argued that they are becoming increasingly hard to sustain in a digital environment that can be seen as privileging process over product. As digital humanist Kathleen Fitzpatrick explains, online texts, such as blogs, tend to work via a logic of commenting, linking and versioning, stimulating the open-ended nature of networked writing: ‘All three of these features—commenting, linking, and versioning—produce texts that are no longer discrete or static, but that live and develop as part of a network of other such texts, among which ideas flow’ (Fitzpatrick 2011c). Research in blogs especially, which are becoming increasingly important in academic scholarship,[7] but also in other forms of online publications, from wikis to ebooks, can be updated and changed—by the author self but increasingly by the community at large too. This challenges the notion of a fixed text and with that of the author’s authority based on that fixed text which, as Cronin has argued, is an essential aspect of the traditional ‘rights and responsibilities’ model of authorship. As Susan Brown state related to to the open-endedness of digital humanities research:

Scholars will increasingly be able to build on existing electronic texts, restructuring or adding to them, or recombining them with new content to produce new texts. In a radical extension of earlier forms of textuality, the possibility that an electronic text will continue to morph, be reproduced, and live on in ways quite unforeseen by its producers makes “done” to an extent always provisional (Brown, S. et al. 2009).

In this respect traditional authorship, as is the case within the context of hypertext, is judged as having a hard time accommodating rival claims of authority from a reader or community perspective.

In practice, however, ideas based on the processual and unbound potential of digital works are still facing difficulty. Discourses building on print-based authorship, with its notions of individual ownership and authority, have functioned within academia as solidifying processes, where scholarship is from its inception already being created to function as a product to exchange on the reputation market. This process is institutionalised and enforced within the professional publishing system. David Sewell, editor at the Electronic Imprint of the University of Virginia Press, explains how under economic external constraints, the open-ended or processual character of both digital and traditional publications can be sacrificed once they become part of the formal publishing process:

But completely extrinsic factors such as the desire to include the book in a particular season’s list will often lead a press to veto an author’s wish to continue tinkering with a manuscript. Similarly, an author may not consider a monograph on Chinese art formally complete without the inclusion of several dozen full-page color reproductions on glossy inserts, but a publisher may omit them for the wholly extrinsic reason that the profit-and-loss sheet doesn’t budget for them. Once a book is in print, decisions about its subsequent “done-ness” (i.e., whether to reprint, revise, issue in paperback, etc.) are based almost entirely on economic factors. In the case of digital publications, I will suggest, extrinsic factors become important at an earlier stage and are proportionately more important at every stage of composition and publication (Sewell 2009).

But this insistence on creating a finished marketable object, favouring product over process, cannot only be blamed on publishers. Kathleen Fitzpatrick emphasises the ‘distinctly Fordist functionalist mode of working’ of scholars as writers, where in the reputation economy surrounding academia, the ultimate goal of research projects is final completion, the moment when a new item can be added to one’s CV as evidence of scholarly productivity (Fitzpatrick 2011c).

The narratives and institutional customs mentioned above all in different ways argue for a revision of our discourses on and practices of individual authorship. Rethinking and reperforming authorship might aid in promoting the discourse of collaboration that similarly accompanies authorship, and the newly developing digital research practices and their potential underlying values of scholarly openness, experimentation and sharing. However, in the narratives described above, collaborative authorship can be argued to focus mainly on extending (to include alt. ac. contributors etc.) forms of individual authorship to a larger group, instead of really critiquing the notions that individual humanist authorship is based upon. It might be interesting to again look at the work of Kathleen Fitzpatrick at this point, who in her book Planned Obsolescence makes a passionate plea for the need for community and collaboration in (digital) humanist and experimental research and publishing projects. For instance, when Fitzpatrick talks about forms of collaborative authorship in her book, it seems that she wants to primarily focus on stimulating interaction and conversation and on getting the collaborative aspects of scholarship acknowledged more widely. Fitzpatrick’s is a reformist stance in this respect, rather than a disruptive one, where her critique of authorship seems to focus mostly on fostering individual authors’ sense of community in order to stimulate their writing practices, and to find more pleasure (as opposed to anxiety) in their writing process (Fitzpatrick 2011b: 52). As she states: ‘what this chapter aims to do is less to disrupt all our conventional notions of authorship than to demonstrate why thinking about authorship from a different perspective—one that’s always been embedded, if dormant, in many of our authorship practices—could result in a more productive, and hopefully less anxious, relationship to our work’ (Fitzpatrick 2011b: 56). As Gary Hall has pointed out in this respect, ‘Kathleen Fitzpatrick, does not really offer a profound challenge to ideas of the human, subjectivity, or the associated concept of the author at all’, nor is she ‘radically questioning the notion of the human that underpins ‘the “myth” of the stand-alone, masterful author’ (Hall, G. 2012). Hall thus argues that Fitzpatrick’s notion of collaborative authorship is mainly based on the idea of a group of ‘‘unique’, stable, centred authors’ … ‘now involved in a ‘social’ conversation ‘composed of individuals’’ (Hall, G. 2012). In this respect it can be argued that the collaborative authorship practices promoted in networked science and the digital humanities are not really an embodiment of the anti-humanist critique put forward by thinkers such as Barthes and Foucault, something this thesis does want to explore more in depth, both in theory and in practice. For instance in the instrumentalist rhetoric of Michael Nielsen, networked science is foremost focused on ‘aiding discovery’, more than it is on challenging the problems that individual authorship has created for the way our institutions, practices and political economies of research production currently operate. Nonetheless, following Foucault’s idea of rethinking the way authorship functions within academia, practically experimenting with new forms of collaborative authorship, might be seen as a start, or a beginning to rethink, reperform, and re-cut authorship in a more ethical way. However, in this process, we have to remain wary of simply replicating our humanist authorship discourses and practices within our notions of collaborative authorship, and we thus need to be critical of these alternative forms of authorship, in a continued fashion too. For example, replacing individual authorship by forms of community knowledge production can still promote liberal hegemonic forms of control and, as I have written elsewhere, runs the risk of creating ‘problems of conformity, groupthink and bias in online communal knowledge production’ (Adema 2014). How can we in this respect continue to critique the potentially ‘oppressive aspects of the consensus model of community’ as Fitzpatrick calls it (Fitzpatrick 2011b: 42–43)?

Authorship in academic remix practices

Remix practices within academia, from combining different media in innovative ways to collaboratively (re)mixing fragments of texts in new contexts, not only offer an alternative vision on collaborative authorship, they also challenge one of the other main aspects of romantic, humanist authorship: its discourse of originality. Remix thus offers the possibility to performatively explore and critique these humanist and essentialist notions at work within humanities scholarship, aspects that have been connected to the development of the book and a fixed print regime. At the same time, remix practices in academia have also been critiqued in a variety of ways from a scholarly perspective. For instance, they have been attacked from a viewpoint which declares that remix practices in a digital environment seem to take on what can be seen as a ‘wide democratic approach’, in which everyone is able to update, reuse and remix. Critics such as Andrew Keen and Sven Birkerts see this as a threat to expert knowledge and as diluting the distinction between amateur and professional content (Keen 2007a, Birkerts 1994). Others have criticised Wikipedia, which is based on the online collaborative editing and re-editing of encyclopaedic or topical entries, for its perceived failure as a reliable source due to the lack of credentials of its editors.[8] Remix practices also challenge the idea of a stable scholarly work and pose a problem for the idea of the integrity of the scholarly object. They thus question the idea that scholarly objects exist and should be preserved as discrete entities (Warwick 2004, Brown, S. et al. 2009, Keen 2007b). Remix practices can therefore be seen to pose a challenge to our traditional conception of authorship and present a problem for responsibility and attribution in the scholarly reputation economy.

However, many contemporary scholarly remix practices, like the ones I will describe in depth in what follows, are in essence much less radical and much less of a threat than they are sometimes perceived to be, to the practices, institutions and discourses surrounding this fixed print regime that continues to structure academia. I am thinking, for example, of remix practices such as the use of Creative Commons licenses for scholarly publications which in many cases (such as the CC-BY, attribution license) allow for the re-use of material; or those practices associated with Wikipedia. But I am also thinking of remix theories, including those from celebrated theorists such as Lev Manovich, Eduardo Navas and Lawrence Lessig, which focus mainly on finding a place for humanist and essentialist notions of attribution and authorship within remix practice and scholarship. As I will explore more in detail later in this section, Creative Commons licenses can be seen as mere extensions or adaptations of print-based copyright, which can be perceived as enforcing humanist authorship notions, and Wikipedia incorporates many print-based functions to establish authority within its system, by keeping edit-logs of each change by a particular contributor, for instance. Manovich, Lessig and Navas’s theories each in their different ways try to face the problem print-based authorship poses in a digital setting by replacing the author with the selector, the remixer, and/or the DJ as the authoritative and responsible figure. They thus primarily try to cope with, and find a solution for the ‘problem’ of authorship in the digital age. Instead of fundamentally trying to re-perform or rethink the print-based and humanist notions behind authorship, they can be seen to reinforce these notions within a digital environment. Although remix practices in academia have the potential to shake up the authorship function, until now they have not managed to dethrone the traditional academic author-god and in some cases even reinforce her or him.

a) The selector or curator

One of the suggestions made in discussions on remix to cope with the problem of authorship in an increasingly digital setting, is to shift the focus from the author to the selector, the moderator or the curator. This is one of the proposed solutions to the issues raised regarding authorship, authority and originality that have been explored by the remix theorist Eduardo Navas, especially in the realm of the music remix. Here authorship, as he states, is increasingly being replaced by sampling—’sampling allows for the death of the author’—where the origin of a tiny fragment of a musical composition becomes hard to trace. This makes authorship and writing into something distinct from an original work, where it becomes an act of resampling, selecting and reinterpreting of previous material. As Navas points out, with the death of the author as the one who creates a new and original work, the author function in the Foucauldian sense of selectivity takes over. Navas argues in this respect that s/he who selects the sources to be remixed takes on the critical position or the needed distance to the material used in remix, and with that takes on a new author function (Navas 2008).

One of the problems with replacing the idea of authorship with the idea of the selector, however, is that this move only shifts the locus of authority from the author to the selector or moderator. Selection, although incorporating a broader appreciation for other forms of authorship or for an extension of ‘the author function’, can all too easily be just another form of humanist and individualistic agency and so does not necessarily offer a fundamental challenge the idea of authorship or authorial intention. Along with not inherently confronting the idea of authorial authority and intentionality, the selector also cannot be seen as automatically critiquing or rethinking authority, as authority here is frequently just shifted from the author unto the curator, who still carries responsibility for the selections she or he makes. What happens when the author function is further decentered, and agency is distributed within the system? And what do we do with forms of non-human authorship? The question then is: how do we establish authority in an environment where the contributions of a single author are hard to trace back, or where content is created by anonymous users or avatars? Or in situations where there is no human author and the content is machine-generated based on certain tags or protocols, such as is the case with data feeds, where users receive updated data from a large variety of data sources in a single feed? And what becomes of the role of the selector as an authoritative figure when selections can be made redundant, choices can be altered and undone by mass-collaborative, multi-user remixes and mash-ups? At what point does it become necessary to let go of our established notions of responsibility, authority and ownership, as they become impossible to uphold? What alternative cuts can we make that start to move in directions beyond individualistic forms of authority and responsibility and towards distributed and posthumanist forms of authorship?

Another problem associated with replacing the author by s/he who selects is that this doesn’t really critique the profit and object-based system of individual authorship, and therefore doesn’t form a challenge to the traditional idea of ownership as it is connected to authorship. As Bill Herman shows in his excellent article on the DJ as an author, the DJ is made an author, not by what he or she does, but by the representation of her or his practices in a capitalist system. As Herman points out, the DJ was instilled with authorship by the music industry by marketing him or her as a brand name and promoting the sale of commodities related to the DJ. In this sense the DJ is a tool, the author-as-selector becomes an object from which commodities can be derived. Herman argues that initially in remix culture we could see the disappearance of traditional forms of authorship. As he explains: ‘the authorship that was traditionally invested in the performers of songs was deteriorated as the songs’ individuality disappeared into the mix’ (Herman 2006: 24). The DJ started out playing a background role, foregrounding the artists and numbers that were being remixed, where s/he himself was just another member of the party. This situation didn’t last long however as, following the logic of profit and capitalism, authorship was re-established on an even stronger basis. The DJ became a superstar to fill a commercial void. Eventually this led to the DJ being instilled by music producers as another author-god.

Herman makes a compelling argument for seeing the commodification of music via the DJ-figure as a crucial part of the author function in the music industry (Herman 2006: 23).[9] Furthermore he offers additional proof for the idea that the author function is a sociological construct, not based on a practice, but instilled upon the author, for instance by ‘cultural businesspersons’ within the music industry. The author is created as an integral part of a larger set of social relations, a system of exchange that is governed by the logic of capital. As Herman states: ‘The DJ’s authorship becomes the discursive solution to an economic problem’ (Herman 2006: 34).[10]

b) wikis

As cultural theorist Gary Hall has shown, it is interesting to look at the use of wikis as examples of experimentation with new ways of conceiving authorship practices (Hall, G. 2009). Wikis have the potential to breakdown the authority of the specialist and replace them with ‘the wisdom of the crowd’ or forms of crowd-sourced authority. Wikipedia is the most famous example here where its peer-production potential was seen to compete with traditional sources of expert knowledge such as the Encyclopedia Britannica.[11] Whereas in early hypertexts the potential for user interaction was still arguable low, with the implementation of hypertextual elements into a wiki environment, the distinction between readers and authors in practice seems to almost disappear. However, wikis are envisaged and structured in such a way that authorship and clear attribution, and therefore responsibility as well as version control, remain an essential part of their functioning. The structure behind most wikis is still based on an identifiable author—or at least an identifiable IP address—and on a version history which lets you check all changes and modifications, if needed. Wikipedia, the largest public wiki and one of the most well known examples of a wiki functioning via the structure described above, also encourages authors to sign their articles. As it states on Wikipedia: Etiquette site: ‘Unless you have an excellent reason not to do so, sign and date your posts to talk pages (not articles).’[12]Wikipedia is also increasingly moderated and some moderators have more power than others, thus in a way becoming not unlike curators.[13] In reality, the authority of the author is therefore not challenged fundamentally in Wikipedia, nor does its authority really come to terms with the element of continual updating that wikis evoke. In this way Wikipedia can be seen to struggle between traditional notions of authority, authorship and credibility and the more communal crowd-surfed ideologies of openness it is said to support. The prevalence of the print-based notions still seems to be strong. As the juridical researcher Ayelet Oz calls it, there is ‘a conflict between the aspirational and organizational goals’ within Wikipedia. As she points out: ‘The enforcement mechanisms on Wikipedia enact an internal conflict between Wikipedia’s open, inclusive ethos and its organizational reliance on power, hierarchy and punishment’ (Oz 2010).

c) Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses are some of the licenses most used to promote the free distribution of research in an Open Access environment. Not only books and articles, but also blogs and wikis that stimulate academic remix and reuse use the CC-BY license, or another variant that allows free reuse.[14] However, Creative Commons licenses can again be seen to be based on a relatively traditional notion of authorship, and although they do have the potential to stimulate remix and creativity, in some ways they enforce traditional author functions even more. Lawrence Lessig, law professor and one of the founders of Creative Commons, explains part of the reasoning behind these licenses in his book Remix (Lessig 2008). Taking a pragmatic position, Lessig’s copyright reform focuses on ending the copyright wars while at the same time promising artists and authors the necessary copyright protection which, as he claims, they need as an incentive to create (Lessig 2008: xix). The argument Lessig makes pro-remix culture and against the current severe copyright law is that the latter restricts creative freedom, evolution and development. Furthermore, he emphasises that the law should not be too rigid and should not criminalise an entire generation by designating them as illegal pirates. But he does not go so far as to dispute copyright altogether, as this would again argue contra ‘creative evolution’, as authors and producers need an incentive to create, and this incentive, in Lessig’s argument, is, at the very minimum, attribution, to ensure the reputation economy still functions. Here Lessig can be seen to still abide to the liberal humanist notions of individual ownership and responsibility, based on privatised capital and individuated resources (Berry, D. 2005). In its initial form Creative Commons licenses, set up to stimulate creativity and promote remix practices, keep holding on strongly to the authorship function: CC-BY, still requiring attribution, being one of their most liberal licenses. Even with their more recently established licenses such as CC-zero, which releases a work into the public domain, this still needs to be granted (or ‘waived’) by the author.[15] It could therefore be said that Creative Commons makes copyright less rigid and more open while also placing an extra burden on the authorship function. The author becomes more powerful in determining under which exact conditions his work can be shared and distributed. Instead of seeing cultural works and information as something people are always allowed to share, we are still operating here with a system in which sharing (of individuated creative objects) needs to be authorised.

Law professor Niva Elkin-Koren offers a compelling argument in her supportive but also critical review of Creative Commons. She regrets that the strategy of Creative Commons is not aimed at creating a public domain in the legal sense, free of exclusive proprietary rights. The people behind Creative Commons believe free culture will arise by a different exercise of copyright by owners, where contracts are used to liberate creative works and make them more accessible (Elkin-Koren 2006: 1). As Elkin-Koren argues, however, ‘in the absence of commitment to a single (even if minimal) standard of freedom in information, Creative Commons’ strategy is left with the single unifying principle which empowers authors to govern their own work’ (Elkin-Koren 2006: 2). The focus point of Elkin-Koren’s critique is that by maintaining the idea of copyright, Creative Commons keeps on seeing cultural goods as consumable products. It treats creative works as commodities. This only strengthens the proprietary regime in information and culture (Elkin-Koren 2006: 2).

[1] Barthes did however experiment with a different ‘language’, a different style of writing, in his novel Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, published in 1977. Foucault has discussed anonymous authorship in his writings (among others in his essay ‘What is an author?’ (Foucault 1977: 383)) and in his interviews. He has also conducted an anonymous interview with Christian Delacampagne for the French newspaper Le Monde, in which he states: ‘Why did I suggest that we use anonymity? Out of nostalgia for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard. With the potential reader, the surface of contact was unrippled. The effects of the book might land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of. A name makes reading too easy’ (Foucault 1990: 323–324). He also expressed his disappointment with the fact that, due to his fame and the immense popularity of his Collège de France seminars, he couldn’t discuss and develop his work in-progress further in a more interactive and collaborative (and less one-dimensional) setting (Foucault 2003: 1–3).

[2] The term hypertext was coined in the early 1960s by Ted Nelson.

[3] For the difference in the way authorship is constructed and functions within biomedicine and HEP, for instance, see (Cronin 2001).

[4] See for an extensive overview of collaboration in the (digital) humanities: (Spiro 2009b)

[5] As Bethany Nowviskie describes it: ‘Alt-ac is the neologism and singularly-awkward Twitter hashtag we use to mark conversations about “alternative academic” careers for humanities scholars. Here, “alternative” typically denotes neither adjunct teaching positions nor wholly non-academic jobs’ (Nowviskie 2011a: 7).

[6] On the development of this image and the continued importance of the myth of the lone genius and creativity in present day culture, see: (Montuori and Purser 1995).

[7] For a survey of social media use in research see Rowlands et al. (2011).

[8] See:

[9] Similarly James Boyle and David Berry have argued that contemporary authorship and related notions of ‘creativity’ are being ‘reconfigured to meet the needs of capital’ (Berry, D. M. 2008: 42, Boyle 2009).

[10] It would be interesting to extend this analysis to the academic publishing industry, and the role authorship plays here in these commodification processes, something I touched upon before but will not discuss further in this context.

[11] For an overview of this controversy and the ensuing debate see:

[12] See:

[13] For more on Jimmy Wales push towards a flagged revisions moderation system, see:

[14] This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered besides the CC-0 public domain waiver license (see: CC-BY is recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials. See:

[15] See: and



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10 comments on “The perseverance of print-based authorship within humanities scholarship (II)

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