OPEN REFLECTIONS

New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part III)

Chapter 5 of my thesis focuses on opportunities to intervene in the current cultures of knowledge production in academia and publishing, exploring efforts to rethink and re-perform the institutions surrounding the material production of the book, as well as our own entangled scholarly communication and publishing practices. I focus in particular in this chapter on open access publishing and experimental research practices. You can find a draft of the third part of this chapter underneath. As always, any feedback is more than welcome.

Chapter 5, part I can be found here and part II can be found here.

For chapter 2 of my thesis, see here and here. For Chapter 3 see here, here and here. And for chapter 4 see here and here.

5.3 Experimental Research Practices

5.3.1 Commodification of Knowledge and the Business Logic of Innovation

As established above, the open access discourse on making knowledge available for free on the web without barriers to access and reuse, is being accompanied increasingly by a neoliberal rhetoric. In particular, this rhetoric pertains to the knowledge economy and its need for continual innovation. Following this demand for innovation and the transparency that it relates to, making research results available online is seen to aid the search for new sustainable business models, to help the creation of competitive advantage, and to maintain the successive testing of new products to satisfy consumer demand. Within this context, experiments with digital, open publishing increasingly takes place with a specific outcome already in place: to ensure that a new publishing or business model is viable, and that it is effective, in order for it to become a model which can be monetised with the ultimate goal of increasing return on investment. Besides that, making publicly created research information and data available in this way is designed to allow the private sector in general to thrive and to help drive further innovation and creativity for all kinds of business opportunities, enabling the private sector and our economy at large to be more profitable and competitive.

Consequentially, this can create situations where our ideas of experimentation, or even of critique as open intellectual enquiry, are challenged by this corporate rhetoric of innovation. Researchers are increasingly asked to experiment with new ideas, methods or practices not just for experiments sake, but in the name of innovation, leading to results that are deemed to be an improvement to the previous situation, in the sense that they serve dynamic economic growth. For if we adhere to a neoliberal logic, then we need continual innovation to stimulate the competitive mechanisms that encourage this dynamic growth. As Giroux states: ‘In its dubious appeals to universal laws, neutrality, and selective scientific research, neoliberalism eliminates the very possibility of critical thinking, without which democratic debate becomes impossible’ (2005: 10). Critical thought, Giroux argues, has given way to market-driven values and corporate interests. Knowledge becomes a product, a commodity, just another form of capital (Giroux 2010). As Fitzpatrick similarly argues, ‘having marketability as our only indicator of the value of scholarship or a scholar’s work represents a neoliberal corruption of the critical project in which we as scholars are ostensibly engaged’ (2012b).

We can see a situation arise where the elements of unpredictability that accompany experimental scholarly methods are filtered out in favour of risk assessments and contingency plans (risk-aversion), where the notion of critique, of pushing boundaries, of rethinking systems, is replaced by demands for increased efficiency and transparency. The goal is to make experimentation predictable, where experiments are designed to achieve the goals they were set out to achieve, creating outcomes that are measurable and demonstrable, namely mirroring a situation where innovation is often closely linked to specific objectives, namely those that encourage economic growth.

Pellizzoni and Ylönen point out that perpetual innovation as part of the knowledge economy is seen as one of the guiding principles of the neoliberal era (2012). Within the knowledge economy, innovation is then conceptualized as a collective endeavour, as a coalition between education and industry. The OECD report The knowledge-based economy (1996), quoted in Roberts and Peters, states that ‘innovation is driven by the interaction of producers and users in the exchange of both codified and tacit knowledge’, and pertains to a model of knowledge flows and relationships among industry, government and academia in the development of science and technology (2008). Based on her analysis of the perceptions of Canadian health scientists, Wendy McGuire argues that this reorientation of knowledge production towards a collaboration of research and industry is promoting a new vision of what constitutes legitimate science, one based on innovation policies: ‘Innovation policy is both an ideological discourse that promotes a new vision of legitimate science, emphasizing social and economic relevance, and a neoliberal strategy to change the organization of knowledge production through the intensification of relationships between university scientists, industry and government’ (2013). In order to develop a critique of this notion of perpetual innovation that is increasingly structuring our knowledge domains, I will look at experimentation as an alternative discourse. In particular I want to turn to a selection of alternative conceptualisations of experimentation, to examine how these are practically implemented in radical forms of open, online publishing. The openness of the politics of these projects lies with their will to experiment, where experimentation is understood as a heterogeneous, unpredictable, singular and uncontained process or experience. In this respect they argue for a more inclusive vision of experimentation, one that is open for ambivalence and for failure. This vision is all the more important in the context of monograph publishing, where it could be argued that issues of access and experimentation are crucial to the future of the scholarly book, if the critical potentiality of the book as a medium is to remain open to new political, economic and intellectual contingencies. I will thus explore the idea of experimentation in more depth from a specific cultural studies perspective. I want to do so because cultural studies has a special relationship with experimentation and because of this it is in an excellent position to put forward an alternative vision with respect to experimenting in open digital publishing, a vision that is different from the neoliberal focus on experimentation as a force to drive innovation, capital accumulation and object-formation.

5.3.2 Cultural Studies and Experimentation

In her book The Ethics of Cultural Studies (2005), Zylinska refers to this specific engagement of cultural studies with experimentation, which marks the ‘open-ended nature of the cultural studies project’, as Zylinska calls it. This means that, as a project, cultural studies is constantly being repositioned, without an assured or fixed outcome. For Zylinska, this openness to the unknown, to forms of knowledge and politics that cannot be described that easily in more ‘established disciplinary discourses’, is what makes cultural studies intrinsically ethical (2005: 38–39).

Cultural studies has also been interested in exploring more inclusive forms of knowledge that acknowledge otherness and differentiation, and that are more affective and experiential. This exploration by cultural theorists of different forms of knowledge was initiated by restoring the separation between the concepts of experience and experiment. Under the heading of Empiricism, Raymond Williams, in his Keywords volume, explores the etymology of experiment and how it got to mean something different from experience with which, until the 18th century, it was interchangeable. Experience started to mean subjective or internal knowledge, where experiment came to be aligned with the scientific method of an arranged methodical observation of an event, a theoretical knowledge directed towards the external world. Cultural theorist Gregory Seigworth identifies the search for a more inclusive knowledge, one that includes both experience and experiment, not only in Williams, but in the projects of a variety of other thinkers too, most notably Deleuze, Benjamin and Bergson (2006). Seigworth argues that the current renewed attention to empiricism, as a resurgent culturalist experiential paradigm, is based on the influence and popularity of these thinkers within cultural studies as a result of the boom in Deleuzian cultural studies. This is an empiricism where experience and experiment—or practice and theory in more general terms—are still one and the same and are not split up. Within this paradigm the concept of experience operates beyond the interpretative powers of a being’s knowing sensibility. Experience does not belong to the subject, nor is it mediating between subject and object. It is, as Seigworth states, referring to Williams and his concept of ‘structures of feeling’, something that needs a form of autonomy; experience needs to become an active potential, freed from the fixed and the personal it has come to be associated with in daily life. For Williams, experience is crucial to tackle and grasp change, flux, flow, all that escapes our fixed efforts at signification and at knowing. Experience is thus directed towards process and emergence. The splitting of experience and experiment, however, lead to the distinction between practical and theoretical, between subjective and objective knowledge, and between experience past and present. As Seigworth states, Williams wanted wholeness again with respect to this concept, where experience was now based upon a set of exclusions (of theory, of creativity, of the present and future) and upon a subjectively centred model of consciousness (2006).

In keeping with the viewpoint I expressed earlier when presenting my alternative genealogy of openness, just as it is not useful to maintain the binary between open and closed, so it is likewise not beneficial to emphasise the rupture between experience and experiment. Instead, we need to enable a critique that remains open to question, but that can at the same time be reconfigured, that can be cut and (temporally) fixed at some points to establish meaning and signify knowing. It is a knowing that in this case goes beyond an internal subjectivity and includes the external life world.

Seigworth goes on to show how Benjamin, Deleuze and Bergson all explored ways to establish this wholeness. Benjamin’s notion of speculative knowledge, the knowledge derived from experience, focuses on the incorporeal and the ephemeral. Unlike a model of knowledge based on representation and resemblance, and similar to Barad’s theory of posthumanist performativity, speculative knowledge for Benjamin is nonrepresentational. It belongs to neither subject nor object and is neither inside nor outside. For Deleuze, experience refers to open intensities and sensations (affect), which are not subsumed necessarily by faculties of knowing and interpretation. Experience is open-ended and emergent, not yet articulated. For Bergson, experience and experiment are linked in intuition, which exceeds or overflows the intellect. Intuition is a lived immediacy, it is mobile, processual; it connects past, present and future, where experience can then be seen as memory, duration and experiment. This relates to William’s idea of the pre-emergent, the not yet articulated, where a practical consciousness functions as a creative process. Williams tried to find space for creative intuition, for an experimental openness to the world beyond our fixing, interpretive consciousness and pre-existent conceptual frameworks—an openness towards multiplicities. In this respect Williams wanted to analyse the flows between process and structure, between a thing’s singularity and its contexts of relations, to explore where something new emerges (Seigworth 2006).

Similar to Williams’ aim to explore experimentation as a way of opening up space for difference and otherness beyond our totalising conceptual knowledge frameworks, philosopher Samuel Weber intends to use experimentation to deconstruct one of our most established knowledge fixtures: the university. In the context of experimenting with and rethinking scholarly institutions and practices, his work is therefore essential. Weber connects the search for a different concept and meaning for experimentation directly to the need to break down the modern conception of the university. This conception depends, he argues, on a bias towards universally valid interpretative knowledge, or on a notion of knowledge as well as a vision of the human as unifying, holistic, and totalising. Weber notices the integral connection between this perception of knowledge and neoliberalism: ‘What lurks behind its ostensible universalism is the message that there are no longer any alternatives to the dominant neoliberal political-economic system’ (2000). For Weber, however, hope lies in the experimental method derived from the modern sciences, which is focused on creating replicable sequences and repetition, and which has an orientation towards the future and the world as open, consisting of a plurality of possibilities. However, the scientific method still subsumes the particular under a general conceptual framework. Like Seigworth, Weber therefore explores alternative conceptualisations of experimentation that are open to ambivalence. To this end he adopts Kierkegaard’s notion of experimenting as a verb. The latter emphasises experimentation as a notion where the singular gets articulated without letting its particularities dissolve into the universal. This opens up room for that what is different in repetition, for the exception, and for transformation in repetition. Using Kierkegaard’s notion, Weber finds a way to introduce uncertainty, unpredictability and ambivalence in our modern conception of experimentation, one that seems to go directly against the neoliberal rhetoric of planned outcomes, risk analysis and contingency plans, all of which are designed to filter out the uncertain and the unpredictable (2000).

Here we can see how a re-conceptualisation of experimentation within the discourse of cultural studies towards iterability and difference in repetition, has opened up possibilities to imagine cultural studies itself as a space of experimentation. In addition to the relationship Zylinska sketches between the role played by experimentation in cultural studies and the latter’s open-ended nature, Simon O’Sullivan connects experimentation directly to cultural studies’ performative dimension. In a Deleuzian posthumanist reading of cultural studies as experimentation, O’Sullivan breaks with a focus on the interpretation and representation of culture, and opposes the idea of an object of study (culture) that gets interpreted by a human subject. This idea works as a mechanism to fix and define culture, as well as fixing both the subject and knowledge, however fragmented they are. O’Sullivan proposes cultural studies be understood as a pragmatic experimental program moving away from stability, affirming cultural studies as a critical process, as a doing. Using the Deleuzian metaphor of the rhizome, he envisions cultural studies as a dynamic, fluid, open and interdisciplinary system, capable of creating the world differently. This enables multiplicities and the thinking of virtual potentialities. O’Sullivan notices how cultural studies, through its actual institutionalising mechanisms stabilises, and through experimentation creates new lines of flight. Cultural studies is thus both programmatic and diagrammatic (2002). It is this performative dimension—more than a representational one—and the way it is apparent in and being practiced in cultural studies as part of its engagement with experimenting, that I am most interested in here.

Now that we have taken a closer look at the way Williams, Seigworth, Weber and O’Sullivan have re-conceptualised the concept of experimentation from within the discourse of cultural studies, we can make some more general remarks about experimentation from the wider perspective of humanities knowledge production, while still opposing the business logic underlying neoliberal forms of experimentation as innovation. According to the above thinkers, experimenting means to welcome the possibility of new thinking, to explore the conditions where ideas and phenomena that escape the formulations of previous conceptual paradigms emerge. To create and think new forms of knowledge, experimentation is reconciled with experience to include speculative forms of knowledge and difference in repetition, thus providing room for ambivalence, for the ephemeral and for failure, for that which does not fit. Experimentation here has the potential to become part of knowledge production in general, where it can be used to critique the essentialising object-formation of our scholarly institutions (including the book), and to explore what new forms scholarship will take, how it will continue to transform itself, ourselves, and our understanding of the world we live in.

In this respect, it is important to emphasise—and this is where I want to connect back to the work of Barad—that we as scholars are always already a part of the intra-action of the experiment. Based on her reading of Bohr, Barad argues that our experimenting, intertwined with our theorising, is a material practice. Both theory and experiment are complexly entangled dynamic practices of material engagement with the world. They are both material-discursive enactments that we as scholars perform through our scholarly practices. We therefore produce matter and meaning through our experimenting. And this is in turn a material engaging with the world in which our experimenting is not an intervening from the outside, but an intra-acting from within, as we as scholars are part of the experimental apparatus (Barad 2007: 55–56).

5.3.3 Radical Open Access and Experimentation

We can see the value of the above articulation of experimentation for the concept of openness, and open access publishing more specifically, in forms of what I have called radical open access. Here experimentation in many ways takes central stage, in contrast with more mainstream forms of publishing. For instance, Striphas has noted that experiments in cultural studies publishing have taken place at the fringes of the field, where the former has mostly been ignored and undervalued as a subject of exploration (2010). The same can be said about experiments in open access publishing. Radical open access can therefore be seen to function as a critique of the wider open access movement. In the latter, strategies of providing access to information and of making open, online scholarship more qualitatively esteemed, are rather disconnected from strategies focused on experimentation.[1] In this respect radical open access also constitutes an integral critique of openness, both of the strategic openness of the wider open access movement, but also of the more neoliberal incarnations of open access that favour a business logic and that promote the existing hegemonic power structures and vested interests of the scholarly publishing system. Both are in their own way very anxious about questioning or disturbing the object-formation of the book.

Meanwhile, experimentation, as described above, also serves to question the fixtures in scholarly (book) publishing that we have grown accustomed too, especially those established as part of our modern system of scholarly communication and the mostly print-based media ecologies of the 20th century. For example, Striphas is interested in exploring how, through experimentation, we can perform our scholarly practices differently in order to rethink those practices that are pertinent today, both in theory and practice. Our socially constructed habits and honoured ways of doing things lead us to engage with repetitive practices in the way we read, write, do research, publish and assess our research findings. We need to think more creatively and expansively, he argues, about the fixtures in scholarly communication and how they might work otherwise, like peer review and authorship, for instance. As stated previously, Striphas uses his Difference and Repetitions wiki to explore this: to experiment with new, digital, and collaborative writing practices that challenge the accustomed tradition of single authorship and the idea of ownership of works and ideas, trying to not give in to the compulsion to repeat and merely produce more of the same. For Striphas, the open wiki experiment is not meant to function as a new type of institution but as a thing to think with, ongoing, changing, uncertain. As he points out, this experiment has thought him, and can teach us, ‘a great deal about the types of questions we might ask about our performances of scholarly communication in general, and of academic journal publishing in particular’ (Striphas 2011).

Tara McPherson likewise frames some of the publishing projects she has been involved in—such as Vectors, an openly available multimedia journal and platform that investigates the intersections of technology and culture, and Scalar, a multimedia scholarly publishing and authoring platform—specifically within a framework of experimentation. The aim of both of these projects is to use experimentation to explore new publishing practices that try to make better use of the potentialities and affordances that the Internet has to offer, from multimodal scholarship to networked forms of communication. As McPherson puts it, in this respect, ‘Vectors has functioned largely as an experimental space, publishing work that is formally challenging and that explores the boundaries of what might count as scholarly argument’ (2010). For these specific projects this has meant examining the boundaries between creative expression and scholarship, exploring so-called ‘emergent genres’ that ‘better take advantage of the affordances of computation’. This includes investigating ‘bold new forms of experimentation and bookishness’ to push scholarly publishing in the humanities further (McPherson 2010). For McPherson, experimentation and open access are aligned projects here, where for her this framework of experimentation also stretches to the ownership and distribution of scholarly content (2010). Although she promotes broad experimentation, McPherson is also aware of the fact that it might not be sustainable in the long run. Although we need to continue to experiment, we should also, as she puts it, ‘evolve more “standardized” structures and interfaces that will allow us to delineate more stable genres and to scale multimodal scholarship’ (2010). Nonetheless, this process should not stand in the way of exploring new modes of scholarship and publishing, where McPherson emphasises the ongoing need for forms of bold experimentation.

A similar sense of open experimentation can be found in the C-Search publishing project. C-Search, the cultural studies e-archive, is a free, open access archive for cultural studies research literature and related materials, and is provided as a further supplement to the Culture Machine e-journal. These archives can be seen as an experiment with digital, open texts, to explore some of the possibilities these have beyond merely replicating print in the online world. With their lack of fixity, and permanence, with their undermining of traditional intermediaries and roles, and their use of and incorporation of different media, they have the potential to fundamentally transform the content they transmit, and with that, to change our relationship to knowledge. This provides us with radical ethical and political questions with respect to authority and legitimacy in a digital age. The clear intention of Hall (one of the founders of C-Search), is to experiment with these latter, more uncomfortable issues, and the kind of impact open publishing has on these (2008a: 19). He argues that C-Search is motivated by a need to creatively experiment with the invention of new institutional forms, to think the university differently, and to helps us conceive a different future for it (Hall 2008a: 10). Hall and his colleagues, as mentioned before, also experiment with how to reimagine our institutions via Open Humanities Press, especially in its experiments with publishing work in non-traditional formats, such as liquid, living, wiki-books that re-use and repackage existing material, and that are open for collaborative editing. These books are questioning our notions of authorship, legitimacy, and quality assessment and are exploring the idea of research as a more processual event. These kinds of institutions, Hall argues, are structurally open. As a form or experiment, this makes it easier for them to be incorporated into a neoliberal discourse—as I have tried to show with the example of the Finch report and open access publishing. But it also gives them their force as forms and sites of resistance. In particular, it gives them ethical and political power to create something different, an alternative, a critique and a resistance to the neoliberal discourse and its hegemonic project.[2] Echoing Bergson, Hall argues that these kinds of experimental archives and institutions can be seen as, as he calls it, singular, different, alternative instances of a kind of experimental, creative militantism from the side of cultural studies (2008a: 207). These institutions, like Weberian experiments, are never finished, nor do they know the answers to the theoretical and practical questions they pose or the outcomes of the various experiments they are conducting. In this sense they can be seen as always emerging institutions (Hall 2008a: 227).

5.4 Conclusion

The last two chapters have explored the systems and narratives that surround the material production of academic books, books that we as scholars produce, disseminate and consume on a daily basis. This analysis has tried to pay attention to the specific technological developments and affordances of the book, its entangled political economy of knowledge production, and the discourses narrating the object-formation of the book in academia and scholarly publishing, which have been the subject of chapter 4. Through this exploration I have examined what specific roles the book as a scholarly object, both materially and conceptually, has come to play in the current scholarly communication constellation, what struggles it has encountered along its way, and what potential opportunities for intervention this might offer.

In this chapter I have tried to supplement this material-discursive genealogy of the monograph’s object-formation with alternative visions and practices related to both its past and future, to show how a politics of the book can extend beyond dichotomies such as openness and closure/secrecy, experimentation and experience, and object and process. In this respect, the book, and the practices and discourses surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of its material incarnation, offers an important starting point to envision and shape our scholarly communication system differently. Through its open-ended nature (again, both conceptually and materially) (Drucker 2004), the book offers an opportunity for experimental/experiential critique, and for practices of ongoing experimentation. Affirmatively engaging with its affordances can thus enable us to explore more ethical, alternative and responsible forms of doing research. Experimenting through our discourses and practices and through the material form of the book will potentially give us the opportunity to deconstruct and re-cut what we still see as fixed and naturalised features of how we communicate as scholars. Critiquing these structures, however, means at the same time taking responsibility for the new boundaries that we enact, with respect to authorship, copyright, originality and authority. Nevertheless, through our alternative incisions we can start to imagine a potentially new politics of the book, one that is open-ended but which responds to its environment; and with that we might be able to also invent new forms of politics. This critique of our forms, narratives and performances of publishing and research needs to be ongoing however, where it involves a series of continuous critical struggles concerning both the past and the future of the book, materiality, the university, politics, etc. Within this contingent context, our open-ended book experiments will need to respond perpetually to the new technological, economical and institutional constellations that they encounter.


[1] The strategies described above that seek to attain critical mass for open access and to stimulate open access book publishing and accessibility by focusing on print-based values and practices, seem hard to combine with a simultaneous critical reflection on these practices. Conducting experiments with the form of electronic books in the digital age might be hard to do if at the same time we might not want to push too far, as this might risk estranging the average humanities scholar from the open access project.

[2] For example, it can be argued that it’s hard to attribute ownership to a text that is co-written, in a wiki environment for instance. This in turns makes it harder for any of its authors to sell it, as they’d need approval from all others. Which in turns makes it harder for the forces of neoliberalism to privatise and commodify it.


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5 comments on “New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part III)

  1. Pingback: New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part I) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  2. Pingback: New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  3. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part I) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  4. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  5. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part III) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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