Hall – Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now

Hall, Gary. Digitize This Book! : The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now. University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.


  • H. begins by acknowledging the neoliberal turn in the life of the university in the last twenty years (rising tuition rates, closure of non-economically viable departments, contingent labor, students as consumers, etc.) before turning to a central tension for the university: we don’t want the neoliberal, free-market university model; however, we also don’t want the paternalistic, class-bound university model either (2).
  • In this book H. considers open access models of academic publication and scholarship as a way to reconsider the university’s relationship to ethics, politics, and culture (4).
  • In the knowledge economy New Media constitutes a very valuable commodity.  Yet, as H/N make clear, systems of information control are increasingly more and more important to the power relations that undergird the new capitalist machine in the age of the information economy (5).
  • H. points out that while GoogleBooks is an ambitious project it is only concerned with digitizing those works that have already made it into print.  Considering the perilous position of academic publishers, fewer and fewer works are making in into monographs in print form.  So, while GoogleBooks is doing something admirable, they aren’t changing the world of academic publishing and they aren’t really changing the status quo – they’re just digitizing it (7).
  • Open Access Initiatives in academic publishing:  arXiv.org, Cogprints, Open Archives Initiative, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.
  • Open Access initiatives make possible the publication of academic work for “intellectual value and quality” rather than the economic viability of a particular work (8).  This avoids the double-payment of the taxpayers for access to research (once paying scientists to complete the research and again paying to access the published results in databases, libraries, etc.).  Some argue that OA is a democratizing movement and even argue for the democratization of the tools of production.  Yet, anxieties about “quality” are a concern in OA.
  • What is not talked about as much in OA?  1) The influence of new media to go beyond remediating previous media but to “transform fundamentally that content, and with it our relationship to knowledge” (10); 2) the ethical and political questions about authority of academic institutions through democratized access; 3) the ability of OA new media scholarship to “undermine the boundaries separating authors, editors, producers, users, consumers, humans, machines” etc.  All of these issues will be the central concern of this work.  More specifically, H. will consider the humanities as a site to investigate the viability of OA by considering the ways that Cultural Studies could incorporate OA.
  • H. relies on Derrida, Weber, Laclau, and Mouffe because their work in deconstruction directly addresses issues of ethics (via Levinas’s ethics of the other).  H. also relies on these thinkers because they provide in roads to the question of politics.  Third, H. relies on these thinkers because of their explicit connection to the functioning of the university and, in Derrida’s case, because Cultural Studies at large has largely ignored his work (and H. wants to redeem it).
  • H. describes the problem of cultural studies and politics in this insightful passage [1. Substitute “Writing Studies” or “Rhetoric and Composition” here for Cultural Studies and you’ve got a nice summation of one of our own field’s real internal contradictions.]:

Metadata I: Notes on Creating Critical Computer Media

  • H. critiques the idea of the “prosumer” of new media – the academic that moves from a position of critique, thinking, and negativity to production, doing, and positivity.  He doesn’t critique this practice as much as the binary it relies on to maintain itself: production and consumption undergird the prosumer idea in much the same was as they did for the producer-consumer binary that existed before the spread of prosumer technologies.  For H., the transition to the knowledge economy reveals the realities of what H/N call “biopolitical production” or “immaterial labor” or labor that creates “immaterial projects, including ideas, images, affects, and relationships” and not just “the production of material goods in a strictly economic sense” (24).  So, the prosumer should not be thought of as an amalgam of producer and consumer but a biopolitical agent that is always in the act of production, consumption, and circulation of immaterial and material goods all at once (24).
  • H. offers some opinions on the “digital dialectic” between theory and practice in New Media.  He recognizes the importance of practical work; however, he doesn’t see this work as a “case study” in the social science sense or an exercise in “digital dialecticism” (27).  He is skeptical of too much talk of practice because he sees this talk as a fetishism (a fetishism akin to other work in the Humanities that looks to take work “to the street”).  He notes, “theory can never be taken on board sufficiently to bring such fundamental notions of the identity, role, place, and purpose of new media practice into question” . . . in other words, H. pushes against the idea that theory is less real than the practical, pragmatic work of practice.  H. also pushes against the theory-practice binary because he sees the ways that each side is already implicated in the other (29).  Much theory is grounded in materiality. . . and as such is constitutive of practice (and vice-versa).  As H. notes, “There can be no new media practice without theory.  In a sense new media practice has never been ‘practical’: not only because the practices of new media production are invariably informed and underpinned by theory but also because the practical is constructed in and through theory, through strategies of writing, textuality, language, and discourse.  New media practice, then, has always been a matter of theory” (30).
  • H. argues that practice might actually be a quite conservative process because practice at the university level is increasingly geared toward the demands of the (future) market.  So, being “practical” and “practice-driven” does have the potential for libratory work; however, it also has a very real propensity to slip into models of corporate production (32).
  • The “creative industries” or “cultural entrepreneurs” are the result of neoliberal economic logic capitalizing on creative cultural production and then doubling back to create educational systems that manufacture new labor capable of engaging in this cultural production (33).  This process is known as the “Queensland ideology” (Butt & Rossiter).

Chapter One: Why All Academic Research and Scholarship Should Be Made Available in Online Open-Access Archives – Now!

  • Software Communism – the practice of sharing electronic information over information channels.
  • In this chapter H. speculates about the possibility of having a “Napster” for academic publishing (it already exists!).  H. highlights how academic publishers are having a harder and harder time sustaining themselves due, primarily, to cuts in library funding.  This means folks that actually manage to get published may never actually see their work in print – and others will also not have access.
  • How do current OA get around copyright?  The “Harnad/Oppenheim preprint and corrigenda strategy.”  This strategy basically means that a preprint submission is uploaded to the internet.  Later the researcher signs a copyright agreement with the publisher after revisions to the original manuscript have been made.  As such, the OA version is a draft of the work and, as such, isn’t subject to the same copyright restrictions (46).  This process leads to greater visibility. . . which for academics involved in a citational culture is extremely important (47)[2. And also important for folks doing creative work].
  • What are the benefits of OA initiatives like CSeARCH?  1) Allows researchers to publish their research immediately upon completion; 2) Expands the size of readership; 3) Allows for the authors attachment of various stages of research (pre-refereeing, revision, submission, etc.); 4) Allows for linking to underlying, background, and related research; 5) Allows access to work if you have a computer and an internet connection (especially important in the developing world); 6) Makes work accessible 24 hours a day; 7) Provides the world with as many copies of a document as you need (great for education); 8) Links teaching with research through URLs; 9) Allows authors to advertise and promote their work for free through linking; 10) Potentially increase reading figures, feedback, impact, and sales of paper publications; 11) Meet the needs of consumers in the “long tail” that paper publishers won’t take on; 12) Make research permanently available; 13) Republish rare, forgotten, and out of print texts (what GoogleBooks sought to do); 14) Revise and update publications on the fly; 15) Provide a means to continue discussions of research; 15) Enable pre-purchase browsing for folks who prefer paper copies; 16) Fulfill obligations to funding bodies like ESRC, NIH, CERN, etc. (48-54).

Chapter Two:  Judgment and Responsibility in the Wikipedia Era

  • There are two reasons (according to H.) why academic publishing is resisting going digital and OA: 1) quality control; and 2) copyright.  In this chapter H. considers the issue of authority in digital archives.
  • Why do most digital journals remain tied to a ink-on-paper template?  Because of “papercentrism”  or the format, genre, and forum of the paper publication that constitutes (along with peer review) the ethos of the piece and makes us believe it is valuable (59).  According to H., the legitimacy and authority of a digital archive lies in a question of ethics. . . especially an ethics that owes a responsibility to the “infinite alterity of the other” (Levinas).  This responsibility comes through the act of social production of scholarship (via wikification) and relies on a couple of technological tools: the database, wiki technology, and code.
  • The database allows authors/researchers to consider a text unfinished, without beginning and end – a collection of individual elements that appear random but are always in the process of being patterned through user interaction/direction (64).
  • In considering the problem of authority via peer review H. asks the question: “how is the ‘parasite’ to be distinguished from the ‘guest’ or the welcome contribution to the field?” (67).  Noting that digital publishing can’t simply be a port for pen-and-ink publishing, H. notes that “the academic authority is already ‘digitized’; that it is in a sense always already in a similar condition to that which is brought about by the process of digitization” (71).  But what does he mean?  Well, to start, H. works through Samuel Weber’s work on institutionalization and disciplinarity by highlighting how disciplines identify and define themselves in relation to what they are not – the excluded becomes the mark of what can be included.  In other words, a discipline’s exclusions exist and are the origin point for its own identity.  In this way a discipline is always open to change through the process of incorporation and exclusion (70-3).  Inherent in this process is also an aporia of authority or a vacuum that describes the fact that a discipline can’t simply found itself.  Authority comes from without (in accreditation; however, where does the state get its authority?). . . ad inifinitum.  Instead, a discipline tells itself a story – a myth – about its founding fathers and founding tenants (74-5).  So, at the heart of any discipline is a space where there occurs a “stabilization of power” and convention . . . and at that moment politics comes into being.  So, in terms of the development of OA digital archives, that political moment is now. So, in order to get out of the neoliberal corporate university-paternalistic Arnoldian university dialectic we can draw attention to the aporia of authority in our disciplinary publishing structures to .

remake our disciplines anew (79).

Metadata II: Print This!

  • A key point that H. returns to throughout this work is that “new, digital media technologies not only change the process of accessing, communicating, exchanging, classifying, storing, and retrieving knowledge, but they also change the very content and nature of that knowledge” (81).

Chapter Three: IT, Again; or, How to Build an Ethical Institution

  • In this chapter H. looks to answer the question he started in the previous:  How do we make ethical, responsible decisions about what to include in a digital archive when there is an “irreducible ambivalence of disciplinary delimitation and an aporia or institutional authority”?  (89)
  • What is the iterable?  According to Derrida, the iterable is “repeatable – legible in the absence not only of its ‘original’ meaning, context, referent, and of ‘every determined addressee,’ but also in the ‘absence of a determined signified or current intention of signification'” (89-90).  How does iterability relate to knowledge?  For us to recognize something as knowledge it must, in some way, be re-cognized or seen again – it must be assessed in terms of something that is already knowable (hence all the teleological narratives in science and the academy at large) and must also be recognized as new.  But how do we do both at the same time?
  • H. notes that the ways the culture industry attempts to assert control over information (RIAA, MPAA) could be read as another iteration of the peer-review process in academic circles. . . . or, in other words, the authoritative structure of the university (whose authority is aporetic in nature) wants to control the production of knowledge in a particular way (and hence has problems with the idea of OA archives) (97).  In fact, H. argues that the reason why digital archives still look like pen-and-paper productions is precisely because of this reason.[3. Genre and form must play a role in this legitimization procedure – the work of Smagorisky, Swales, etc. make this apparent.]  As H. notes, “From this position, the peer-review system appears as a means of coping with a certain anxiety and apprehension that digital publication may be out of control of the institution: it is a means of disciplining such texts, keeping them within defined and measurable (i.e., assessable) limits” (97).  [5. Another argument here lies in the academy’s exclusionary processes for folks wanting to publish work from outside the Anglo-American/Australian nexus.]
  • Using Weber, we might rewrite a statement from H. on 100 to read, “In other words, writing studies must be rethought from the point of view of the “exception; which is to say, from the perspective of what refuses to fit in, what resists assimilation, but what, in so doing, reveals the enabling limits of all system, synthesis, and self-containment” (100).  This would mean remaking our discipline from the outside again – by defining it through a delimitation of the bounds of scholarly practice and publishing politics.

Chapter Four: Antipolitics and the Internet

  • Main argument of this book:  the potential challenge to the established modes of academic legitimating offered by the digital reproduction of scholarly research literature, and open-access publishing and archiving in particular, raises questions one might place under the heading of ‘ethics’ (105).
  • In considering politics, H. argues that cultural studies (and the Humanities at large by extension) must consider the present political situation and give up the “religious attitude toward political action” in order to “move beyond its melancholia “for a lost idea of culture that needs political renewal” (107).
  • Three narratives about open-access:  1) The liberal, democratizing approach argues that digital production creates a global information commons; 2) the renewed public sphere approach argues that open access has the potential to facilitate the creation of a revitalized public sphere of discussion, debate, information networking, and exchange (this perspective assumes that folks don’t participate in democracies because they don’t have access to the information needed to make informed decisions; and 3) the gift economy approach understands open access as a form of radical, digital gift giving that doesn’t necessarily want to dismantle the capitalist machine but actually arises out of it and co-exists with it.  This position argues that exposure and recognition justify the gift giving process (108-11).   While the gift economy approach arises out of capitalism it provides an alternative model (and challenge) to the capitalist system of commodification and property.
  • H. critiques the tried and true arguments of “digital dialectics” with respect to new media as a way to subvert their claims.  These arguments include:  1) Internet is good! (democratic participation is encouraged/rewarded, new media is a everyman’s way of surpassing the ‘elite’ global mass media toward heterogeneous news/culture/commentary.  Championed by Douglas Kellner; 2) Internet is bad! (the internet becomes a place for the continuation and intensification of the powers of government and the market.  New media is seen as a tool put to use by the capitalist powers.  Piracy is actually just another capitalist ploy to sell the hardware to make listening to stolen goods possible.  FLOSS (free/libre/open source software is co-opted by corporations to make more $$$.  Our Web 2.0 identities are co-opted by corporations for marketing purposes and different forms of social computing are actually leading to electronic balkanization (affinity groups that coalesce around less than savory shared interests). Sees the “Internet is Good!” argument as a kind of technological fetishism that actually depoliticizes the political realm due to a lack of bleed over from digital to flesh worlds.  Finally, the internet – and new media specifically – is a tool to allow for the neoliberal globalization of markets through sophisticated technological advancements that allow the free flow of data and information necessary to buoy up a system of speculative finance (115-25).
  • H. resists both of these positions because he doesn’t buy into the binary of the unequivocally good or bad nature of the internet. . . and in terms of the age-old dialectic (125).  As a way out of the dialectic, H. turns to “tactical media” as a way to consider how new media can be “practical, performative, affective” in order to act now (127).  This means adopting a D/G ethic of “Experiment, never interpret.”  Tactical media cut across the mainstream vs. amateur divide and tend to be more viral, fluid, and itinerant.  As Garcia and Lovink note, “tactical media can be described as never perfect, always in becoming, performative and pragmatic, involved in the continual process of questioning the premises of the channels they work with” (129).  Tactical media provides an alternative to representational party politics, political dogmas (like the left), and NGOs. . . in essence, it is intensely pragmatic. Yet, tactical media too is stuck in the dialectic (de Certeau’s dialectic) . . . a movement co-opted itself by social media like Facebook.
  • GIFT ECONOMY SOURCE:  Barbrook, 1998, The High Tech Gift Economy – First Monday.
  • H. recounts Dean’s work on Zizekian post-politics to explain how some detractors of the internet actually see its political potential weakened in the emphasis to cooperation, consensus, tolerance, and attunement.  As D. notes, “The problem is that all this tolerance and attunement to difference and emphasis on hearing another’s pain prevents politicization” (137).  Later, H. recalls Mouffe’s work on liberal democracy to draw attention to how liberal democracies as pluralist democracies depend on antagonism and conflict to function; as such, deconstruction – as a method that refuses closure – is so well suited to considering issues of the democratic polity (140).  H. does both of these moves (and many others) to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, politics shouldn’t be understood in the context of hegemonic vs. counterhegemonic struggle and might instead be reconceptualized as something else.  As H. notes, “not only does presuming that new media can be understood in terms of pre-decided categories and concepts lead politics on the Internet to remain to all intents and purposes trapped in the dialectic of cultural criticism; but also ignores or forecloses any possibilities for a politics that is new, different, innovative, or exceptional as well as for any heterogeneous excess that cannot be recuperated within politics as it is already known and understood to emerge. . . . it turns out to be antipolitical” (148).

Metadata III: The Specificity of New Media

  • H. shows his cards here:  because of the opportunities presented by the transition from print to digital scholarship, he maintains that “if we do not make the most of the opportunity to raise questions regarding the authority and legitimacy of scholarship and the institution of the university that are created by the current transition in the mode of technological reproduction, academic online publishing will continue to function for the most part in a relatively closed, papercentric, unethical, and antipolitical fashion” (152).  That being said, H. wants to proceed on a case-by-case basis . . . or at the level of specificity to avoid claims of philosophers about universals (155).  This is why he restricts his argument to OA in scholarly publication and why he argues “media-singular analysis” should be the method with which researchers approach new media artifacts/movements/deployments (158).
  • H. draws attention to the archive as a non-neutral institution in this section . . going so far as to quote Foucault in an epigraph at the beginning of the chapter.  As he notes, “Yet the medium of an archive actually helps determine and shape its content; a content, moreover, that is performed differently each time, in each particular context in which it is access or material is retrieved” (160).  This means that an archive not only archives, it also performs a disciplinary epistemology.
  • What about authority in the digital archive?  Because of the heterogeneous nature of the texts found inside the “digital mode of reproduction promises to place us in a position where readers are again called on to respond and to make judgments and decisions about the nature and authority of texts, and of the disciplines, fields of knowledge, and registers these texts are supposed to belong to (or not)” (161).  In this sense OA digital archives are a tactical performance.
  • The open access archive – an archive that digitizes not just pre-publication work but also notes, notebooks, pictures, etc. – can provide us with the opportunity to ask some interesting ethical questions:  why should what counts count?  Whose interests are served in the publishing practices of papercentrism?  Are the walls of the discipline more permeable than we might have once thought?  By including things such as books in the archive the archive becomes something more than itself: it is integrated into the institutional frameworks of scholarly advancement and prestige. . . thereby effecting the network in political ways (165-6).

Chapter Five: HyperCyberDemocracy

  • Three aspects of politics online (that are dated and should be reworked):  1)  technological determinism – disrupted by ideas of “tactical” new media use (Lovink, de Certeau).  Internet technologies are constantly being pulled between the poles of the binary CONTROL vs. EMERGENCE.  If technology is controlled who is it controlled by?  If it is emergent, what logic (human, machine, human+machine) dictates the emergence?  (170); 2) The public sphere – public/private is an increasingly difficult binary to maintain in the digital world.  While some theorists argue that the internet is the kind of public sphere Habermas imagined it would probably be more accurate to argue that it has the potential to facilitate the creation of that kind of public sphere (173); and 3) democracy.
  • In this chapter H. pushes toward the Latourian perspective of hybrids and object oriented ontologies when he uses Stiegler and Derrida to talk about the technological condition or technicity – humans are always already constituted in relation to technology (178).
  • In this chapter H. claims that the forms of politics on the internet might take forms that we simply can’t conceive as of yet as democratic politics.  This is what H. calls “hypercyberdemocracy” (185).

Conclusion: Next-Generation Cultural Studies?

  • H. begins by recounting the arguments for OA as a tool for the capitalist extension of the knowledge economy and OA as a means for more democratic participation and resistance (in addition to the boundary busting vis-a-vis the university/public divide).    Relying on Negri via Virno, H. argues that capitalism creates the common through “abstract labor” or the collective wellspring that capitalism continuously exploits [6. A key thread in Negri’s thinking is how to tease apart the common from its exploititive nature.] for its own benefit.  Negri points to the global information commons as the space where abstract labor becomes non-exploited – it emerges into forms of “active common of labor” (p2p networks, Wikipedia, OA, etc.) (192)[8. See Virno and Negri 2003 Public Sphere, Labour, Multitude: Strategies of Resistance in Empire).
  • What are H.’s politics?  They seem indecipherable over the course of the book?  Why?  Because, “certain forms, practices, and performances of new media – including many of those associated with open-access publishing and archiving – make us aware that we can no longer assume that we unproblematically know what the ‘political’ is, or what sorts of interventions count as political” because our understandings of politics are structured by the binaries present throughout the book (196).  As such, H.’s politics are only visible in his specific new media actions; most notably, his creation of the Cultural Studies e-Archive as an ethical and political step toward his institutional location and scholarly identity.
  • Key takeaway for H. (substitute “writing studies” for “cultural studies” here): “digitization, open-access publishing, and the archive are also potentially political, I want to argue, in that they encourage us to ask questions – of politics, but also of ethics and legitimacy, that are otherwise often kept concealed and ignored but that cultural studies should be posing if it wants to remain consistent with its own definitions of itself and its ideas of what it means to be political and to ‘do politics'” (202).

Metadata IV: The Singularity of New Media

  • This chapter lays out the justifications for an OA archive in Cultural Studies in relation to the rest of the book.
  • According to H., OA provides two ways to possibly enact the kind of politics that H/N imagine:  1) it encourages us to take a decision over scholarship without recourse to determinate transcendental justifications about what scholarship is, and where its politics and ethics lie; and 2) OA has the potential to keep the question of thought open and undecidable in the context of the contemporary university (208).
  • How do you bring politics and ethics together under a universal value?  Only if the universal value is “infinite justice and responsibility to the Other” (211).

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