Sociology grad student: scholars need to and can make their research and writing more public

Sociology PhD student Nathan Jurgenson argues that scholars need to make their research more public:

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 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.

Considering that Jurgenson researches social media (see my earlier post on another of his arguments), I’m not surprised to see him make this argument. Though most of his argument is tilted toward the brokenness of the current system, Jurgenson wants to help the academic world see that we now have the tools, particularly online, to do some new things.

A few other thoughts:

1. Does every generation of graduate students suggest the current system is broken or is this really a point in time where a big shift could occur?

2. Jurgenson also hints that academics need to be more able to write for larger publics. So it is not just about the tools but about the style and rhetoric needed to speak through these other means. I can’t imagine any “Blogging Sociology” courses in grad schools anytime soon but Jurgenson is bringing up a familiar complaint: academics sometimes have difficulty making their case to people who are not academics.

3. Jurgenson doesn’t really get at this but these new tools also mean that data, not just writing, can be shared more widely. This could also become an important piece of a more open academia.

4. The idea that academic writing should or could be fun is intriguing. How many academics could pull this off? Might this reduce the gravitas of academic research?

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