The Mass Amateurization of Academic Publishing: A Look at Graduate Students’ Roles in Knowledge Transmission
The realm of academic publishing is traditionally one in which professors aid graduate – that is, Master’s and doctorate-seeking – students in preparing manuscripts for publication in a print (and in this sense, academic) journal. That process, however, has changed in the past several years with the onset of open-access, electronic publications. In an effort to explore the platforms and processes of graduate student publishing, this post acknowledges the rise of new media platforms for publishing, and argues that these platforms allow for the creation of new roles that graduate students assume within academic publishing.
In fall of 2009, a Master’s degree graduate and teacher at a vocational college in China created a personal blog meant to foster discussion amongst academics the world over. Born from a by-pass of Chinese Internet censorship via a proxy, the site had only 12 visitors during its first month. As of winter 2012 the site – figureground.ca – now boasts 10,000 visitors monthly. Most known for its repository of interviews with professors in numerous disciplines, the site is run completely by graduate and post-graduate students. It is, then, an opportunity for students to participate in the ever-expanding canon of knowledge to which academics are so often expected to contribute.
In his seminal work Here Comes Everybody (new window), Shirky (2008) discussed what he termed the “mass amateurization” of publishing, and stated that such “mass amateurization…undoes the limitations inherent in having a small number of traditional press outlets” (p. 65). Although he was talking primarily about news sources, the idea resounds meaningfully with academic publishing. New media is shifting our narratives. Amateurization – not in the sense of “immaturity” or embodying a “lacking,” but in the sense of dissolving a dichotomy – is allowing for the creation of outlets that support those not directly affiliated with any professional or institutional organization. No longer are audience-selective print journals the main players in academic publishing. Via electronic platforms, student academics have a chance to publish and be a part of publishing. Likewise, students are no longer expected to publish content that is just written and that strictly follows traditional rhetorical argument.
Publishing, first and foremost, is a business, and supports knowledge according to how innovative, important, and far-reaching that knowledge is. Now, though, with the advent of e-journals such as gnovis (new window)and sites like Figure/Ground (new window), knowledge is not produced simply for the student author’s vainglorious attempts to have her or his name and ideas in print. Knowledge is now something shared and unscripted; that is, it comes in many forms. The transmission of knowledge – including both the platform and the actors – becomes a creative process. For example, students play a significant role in knowledge transmission. They are not just the “assistant researchers” for established professors’ work, as Pasco (2009) frames them. They are the authors, the peer-reviewers, and the editors who have a say in how knowledge is shared. Students’ roles are also more fluid – students choose when to change roles, and the roles themselves evolve to include other responsibilities.
The benefit of these e-platforms, then, is increased collaboration among students, less authoritative dictating as the result of a top-down structure, and less pressure to categorize knowledge as valid only when written in research paper-format. Other benefit includes enabling those students – and professors – not prominent in traditional publication venues to express interest and learn about a number of disciplines and practical journalistic skills.
Further research in this area has the potential to expand to other contexts. Any context with collaborative efforts can certainly benefit from exploring the ramifications of evolving authorities. Underserved communities may do well to explore how new media platforms can give them a voice, and how effective group collaboration can enhance their experiences with this ever-important electronic platform.
Most importantly, however, educational communities can learn how students’ relation to pedagogy and academia are changing. Respect for education still exists, but it manifests itself in new, entrepreneurial, ways. Students now take charge of their interests and create roles for themselves as facilitators of knowledge. Professors’ roles change as well; they are still the purveyors of information and knowledge, but their role is now more that of a mentor, and less authoritative. Thus, academia’s structures – especially the in-classroom professor-student dynamic – are increasingly becoming egalitarian. Academic publishing in its print and competitive form is diminishing, and in its place is a sector of knowledge transmission that values learning, creating, and improving the sphere of discussion.
Figure/Ground Communication. 2013. figureground.ca.
Pasco, A. (2009). Should graduate students publish? Journal of Scholarly Publishing: 231-240.
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.