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Tag Archives: academia

This was originally posted at Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

Or: Intellectual Accessibility by Availability and Design

As a sociology graduate student, I sometimes feel like Simmel’s “stranger,” close enough to academia to observe, but distant enough to retain an outside perspective. Like many graduate students staring down a possible academic career-path, I’m a bit terrified at the elephant in the room: is what academics do really important? are they relevant? does it matter?

Who reads a sociology journal? As my former theory teacher Chet Meeks once posed to my first social theory course,  how many people look to sociology journals to learn anything about anything? While the occasional sociologist is quoted in the New York Times or appears on CNN, the influence these experts have is vanishingly small. I do not know as much about other disciplines, but the point for most of the social sciences and humanities is that, in my opinion, expert knowledge is largely going to waste.

And to echo folks like Steven Sideman or danah boyd, we have an obligation to change this; academics have a responsibility to make their work relevant for the society they exist within.

The good news is that the tools to counter this deficiency in academic relevance are here for the taking. Now we need the culture of academia to catch up. Simply, to become more relevant academics need to make their ideas more accessible.

There are two different, yet equally important, ways in which academics need to make their ideas accessible:

(1) accessible by availability: ideas should not be locked behind paywalls

(2) accessible by design: ideas should be expressed in ways that are interesting, readable and engaging

To become publicly relevant, academics must make their ideas available to and articulated for the public. Read More »


I want to reflect on Theorizing the Web 2011 by asking for a discussion about what academic conferences should look like. In fact, let’s forget the term “conference” for a moment and ask how thinkers should best organize to discuss intellectual work in public?

Theorizing the Web 2011 was PJ Rey and I’s first attempt at tackling this question [read PJ’s review of the event here]. We started this blog to provide a public forum for ideas and the conference was intended to do the same. Many reviews of the event have emerged (some posted on this blog over the past ten days). What has surprised me most is the degree to which the conference itself has been a main topic of discussion. And while we are very proud that the reviews have been so overwhelmingly positive about our view of an academic event, we understand that this is also a result of the failing of traditional venues for the intellectual exchange of ideas. Academic conferences are too often suffered through and individual sessions often poorly attended. Media outlets tend to ignore anything that smells too much like intellectualism, a term itself that has come to be viewed pejoratively because, at least in part, intellectuals have so poorly communicated ideas to the public. As graduate students, we know we needed to create a world that is better prepared to communicate the critical theories so important to understand our changing realities.

And the result on April 9th went well above our expectations.

We attempted to bring in art, multi-media, interdisciplinarity, and even non-disciplinarity to this event. Registration was pay-what-you-want. The event began with beers in an alley and finished with a loud band. We tried lots of things and will try much more if we do this again next year [we want to].The art was fun, and us organizers can take credit for that. Read More »