Digital Scholarship: Recognizing New Practices in Academia
KeywordsDigital scholarship Recognition Academy Web Bourdieu Honneth
More often than not, novelty is met with suspicion. The status of “newness” is very rarely given a particularly high value not only because of the unfamiliarity it carries but also because of the threat it poses to established norms. Digital technologies in the context of a global knowledge society may no longer be news, but the transformation of scholarly practices with the support of the web still is.
Digital scholarship practices encompass a wide range of knowledge activities and approaches online which ultimately encourage practices that diverge from established academic norms. More precisely, through the affordances provided by the web, agents are slowly challenging the canons of knowledge production and distribution with practices of open content, self-publication, and public discussion. Although the adoption of digital scholarship practices by academics is increasing, its acknowledgment as a legitimate academic contribution is still minimal.
The lack of support and acknowledgment of digital scholarship practices is problematic, given their role in transforming academic practice, professional identity, and forms of public engagement. In this entry the authors turn to theories of recognition to explain the politics surrounding digital scholarship practices, in particular the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Axel Honneth. Bourdieu’s understanding of (mis)recognition provides us with a structural and institutional (field) concept of the role that symbolic capital, especially in the form of reputation, plays in the reproduction and transformation of academic life, whereas the recognition theory of Honneth – built on the assumption that the drive toward personal autonomy, self-esteem, and respect can only be achieved intersubjectively through a process of recognition from significant others – invites us to rethink the role of affect and social capital with regard to professional recognition. The paper looks to explore the interplay between this “recognition turn” of Honneth and Bourdieu’s emphasis on distinction, in effect examining the intersection of intrapsychic and social locational understandings of recognition. It is argued that, combined, Bourdieu’s and Honneth’s concepts can be used to develop new understandings of digital scholarship practices and its relation to concerns over reputation, prestige, and respect which are core to the recognition of academic practices.
Digital Scholarship: Landscapes of Change and Conflict
Scholarly activities are gradually being changed through the inevitable process of digitization. Yet, the greatest differentiation digital scholarly activities present in comparison to more conventional ones lies in the almost ubiquitous accessibility academics have to distributed knowledge networks and the practices of openness that derive from participating in such social systems. The encounter of academics with the web can thus result in scholarly activities that are supported and enhanced by the use of the web and the ideas and movements associated with it. Digital scholarship practices, in this context, are heavily influenced by a growing culture of participation and sharing, openness, and transparency, of which the open access movement is one of the most prominent outcomes (Jenkins 2009). Another aspect associated with the participatory culture, and which is key to understanding the recognition dilemma digital scholars face, is related to the gatekeeping of ideas and knowledge production. The web with its read and write features weakens the power of established gatekeepers – for example, publishers and academic journals of great renown and long-standing tradition – as it gives its users the autonomy to circumvent publishing conventions through self-publication practices. This “do it yourself” (DIY) approach disturbs the canons of academic publishing while raising questions about intellectual authority, ownership, and recognition.
Looking at the web beyond its functional use as a tool and interpreting it simultaneously as a field of practice and a space of empowerment lead to new understandings of digital practices. From a digital scholarship perspective, the web thus represents a new, alternative space where intellectual work can be discussed, published, and made openly available to a wider range of communities. Yet, such practices do not come without challenges, given that they mark a departure from the conventions with which higher education institutions are often associated.
This is especially the case with research, a field in which digital practices can be viewed as a threat (Costa 2013). Digital scholarship practices associated with research activity are held in less regard because they tend to represent a break with the rules of the institution and with what is at stake (Costa 2014a), i.e., the reputation of the academic institution with regard to how institutions expect research outputs to be assessed and recognized formally by its funders. The potential for conflict, therefore, is immense.
In exploring the roots of this conflict over digital scholarship, one can borrow Bourdieu’s concepts to understand the impact of the web (as an emergent social field) on academic practices (habitus) and explore how it changes or conflicts with academia as the structure where scholarly work achieves formal recognition (see, e.g., Bourdieu 1977, 1990). Bourdieu’s work represents a well-founded interpretation of social (re)production and change, with his key concepts offering “… an ideal framework for theorizing about the ways in which social, cultural, and material forces intersect to produce particular types of social action” (Elam 2008, p. 18). This requires an understanding of the social spaces (its written and unwritten rules) where practices take place, and which Bourdieu designates of fields. It also requires an appreciation of the different forms of capital (economic, social, cultural, and symbolic) that engender a set of dispositions toward practice, the habitus. In the context of digital scholarship practices, this set of dispositions can be defined as a commitment to openness and innovation of academic knowledge work (see Costa 2014b), an emergent feature in the academic habitus that is trying to find its place in academia.
The field of scholarly practice encompasses at least three distinctive activities: teaching, knowledge exchange, and research. Although not completely dissociated from each other, each subfield of academic practice features different rules with the former two being less regulated than the latter. This has to do mainly with economic and symbolic interests that are at play in the academic game with academic institutions – especially in the UK – being mainly subsidized and recognized for their contribution to research, a contribution that is mainly recognized by publication of research in long-established, high-ranking journals.
The particular approach to academia’s contribution to research thus results in a tighter regulatory approach as to how such activity should be conducted, ultimately stifling innovative approaches to knowledge production and distorting the strategies of what and where to publish instead of supporting the use of alternative channels available via the web to extend the reach of academic research to different audiences.
Understanding digital scholarship practices from a research perspective then requires one to interpret the interplay between these two fields and the practices developed on each one of them, and its relation to what is at stake, i.e., the reputation and status academic institutions will win or lose for supporting digital research practices. With publications in high-ranking journals – because of its long-standing tradition – still being one of the main mechanisms through which the quality of research is judged, digital scholarship practices are not seen as a priority but rather as a risk at the eyes of the institution. The misalignment of digital habitus with the rules of long-established academic norms leads to the understanding of the web as a mechanism of deviance from the norm rather than a tool of innovation (see Costa 2015).
This misalignment, or misrecognition as Bourdieu would put it, suggests that the intersubjective world is a key battleground when it comes to the struggle over digital scholarship. And why wouldn’t it be, given the importance placed in academia on status, reputation, and prestige, in other words, forms of distinction? In order to flesh out the importance of this world for understanding digital scholarship, it is necessary to develop Bourdieu’s buried intersubjective analysis as a second and parallel strand to his more well-known and adopted “social location” approach to relational sociology. The work of Axel Honneth can prove extremely useful in this regard, allowing us to further explore Bourdieu’s contention that the “real is relational.”
Digital Scholarship: Honneth and Recognition
Through publications such as Disrespect: The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (2007), the work of Axel Honneth has gained prominence in fields such as sociology, political science, and philosophy. The current interest in Honneth’s work revolves primarily around his contribution to this praxis-oriented version of social science and social philosophy. This takes the form of a theory of recognition, a comprehensive and paradigm-shifting approach to reconnecting the micro and macro, agency and structural levels of social thought. Developed over at least two decades, the work of Honneth on recognition finds strong connections to previous theories of recognition, particularly that of Hegel. In summary, recognition theorists such as Honneth argue that the drive toward personal autonomy and self-realization can only be achieved intersubjectively – through the process of recognition from significant others.
This shift away from the atomistic tradition in philosophy allows Honneth to explore traditional Frankfurt School themes like individual freedom within a relational context, leading him to develop an elaborate theory of social justice and freedom. Most importantly it provides him with a normative grounding upon which to build a distinctive version of critical theory, one which connects everyday human concerns about identity and respect to broader struggles over power and inequality.
Honneth on Recognition and Intersubjectivity
Self-confidence: elementary level, context of family and love
Self-respect: level of rights and solidarity
Self-esteem: context of labor and societal recognition
Distortion to these forms of recognition leads to three forms of disrespect, the term “disrespect” importantly signifying the “denial of recognition” for Honneth (1995, p. 131). In this regard, Honneth (1995, p. 13) argues that “negative concepts” such as “insult” and “humiliation” are used to designate behavior that represents an injustice not simply because it harms subjects or restricts their freedom to act “but because it injures them with regard to the positive understanding of themselves that they have acquired intersubjectively.” He goes on to suggest (1995, pp. 131–132) that the experience of being disrespected “carries with it the danger of an injury that can bring the identity of the person as a whole to the point of collapse.” The key societal problem, then, according to Honneth, is the experience of various forms of disrespect, based on various forms of misrecognition.
By acknowledging the affective domain and its significance to a relational analysis of social processes, Honneth legitimizes existing strands of research that take the intersubjective domain as their starting point (Murphy 2011). This emphasis on intersubjective recognition as a worthy subject of academic study in its own right has had an increasingly strong influence on a variety of research areas, including education, although it has not made great inroads into theories of digital scholarship. This is a shame as such an affective take on recognition has much to offer when it comes to understandings of the academy and the conflicts associated with technology-related change. Specifically his theory of social struggle is ready made to complement that of Bourdieu, his horizontalized understanding of relations of recognition offering a useful counterpoint to Bourdieu’s more verticalized analysis of power and recognition. On this point, it is interesting to note that Honneth himself saw much of value in Bourdieu’s The Weight of the World (Bourdieu 1999), particularly as a source of empirical evidence to support his diagnosis that the modern world is imbued with struggles over recognition.
So what, specifically, can a theory such as Honneth’s offer Bourdieuan analyses of power in the academy? By aligning these two thinkers, one is also aligning two different basic conceptions of power – i.e., “one which construes power as a patterned structural inequality of resource and another which construes it as an interpersonal phenomenon” (Dennis and Martin 2005, p. 205). Although Dennis and Smith were referring to symbolic interactionism when it came to the latter conception, it also works for Honneth, as his intersubjective take on social pathology is also very much a theory of power. The ability to view the struggle over digital scholarship as the intersection of these different conceptions of power and recognition allows researchers to situate changing academic identities within both forms of structural transformation and emotionally charged workplaces and professional contexts.
The symbolic violence resulting from forms of misrecognition to use Bourdieu’s language have so far been explained through recourse to the language of capital, fields, and cleft habitus – conceptual tools that go some way to helping one understand the power of reputation and status in institutional life. But they only go so far in this regard: reputation and status are prized commodities not only at an interinstitutional level but also at an intersubjective one; as forms of control, their sources of power emanate from emotional contexts, as reputation and status at a professional level constitute respect. And following Honneth, without respect, recognition is denied.
Digital scholars are not immune from the need for this form of recognition and are as much at the mercy of peer review, if not more so, than traditional scholars. Investing time and effort in digital forms of scholarly activity is a precarious game to play for academics, given that such activity offers little reward and legitimation in the court of academic judgment. Indeed, the jury is out on whether such forms of scholarship such as microblogging will ever gain acceptance in a notoriously conservative professional culture. The risks, at a recognitional level, are potentially great, while also difficult to quantify.
It is fair to say that institutional life in the academy operates on the basis of a prestige economy, but the task of maintaining and protecting this economy does not fall solely on the shoulder of locational forms of recognition; the engine of growth here finds it fuel in an emotional terrain that is impossible for academics to avoid and yet remains invisible to those that see power through a locational lens only.
Theoretical Contribution and Conclusions
As is the case with digital scholarship, the understanding of recognition is dependent both on the way it is conceptualized and on the context to which it is applied. The Bourdieuan tradition arrives at understandings of recognition from a perspective of legitimized distinction. Academia as a social field operates as a site of legitimation of scholarly practices, with agents “fighting” for symbols of reputation and power which ultimately endow them with a given social status (or lack of). From a Bourdieuan perspective, the (mis)recognition of digital scholarly practices occurs at a vertical level, given that academia, as a normative field of intellectual work, establishes the properties of distinction that are adopted (or not) by the agents in and of the field. The higher the incorporation of these distinctive dispositions by the individual, the higher his/her distinctive position and the stronger her/his sense of belonging with regard to the site where their practices achieve the highest acknowledgment, i.e., the academy itself. Although useful, Bourdieu’s conceptualization of (mis)recognition accounts mainly for spatial distinction between the place of legitimation and the place of practice, i.e., recognized places of academic work. This explains the need of individuals in deliberately aligning their dispositions with the rules of the academic game in order to acquire symbolic capital.
However, Bourdieu’s theory is less effective in accounting for a horizontal and symmetrical perspective of recognition. Honneth’s work offers a much needed complementary approach to Bourdieu’s theory by exploring the concept and practices of recognition relationally. Recognition, in Honneth’s perspective, is social and consists of a mutual appreciation among individuals and for the rules they establish for themselves. With digital scholarship practices being a more complex phenomenon than one that is merely regarded or disregarded by academia this perspective provides a new dimension to the understanding of digital scholarly practices as one that goes beyond the binary explanation of digital scholarship practices being “powered” or “neglected” by the rules of the institution or “strengthened” or “weakened” by the respect and appreciation individuals show toward the work of their peers. From a Honnethian point of view, this conception of mutual recognition results in a type of social freedom which allows for the development of (digital) dispositions that may lie outside or at least at the periphery of academic legitimation. Yet, such practices are increasingly acquiring a place within knowledge and intellectual networks precisely because there is a mutual respect for the practices of digital scholars. Mutual recognition thus introduces a different pattern of legitimation of practices which is less formal and more democratic.
Both the vertical and horizontal axes of recognition are important when exploring the different aspects that drive or hinder individuals’ engagement with digital scholarship practices, because they both provide insights into the social realities of which academics are part. Ultimately, legitimate authority, as exercised by the institution, may have greater power. Yet, we cannot overlook the influence social and mutual recognition has on individuals that are fighting to establish new practices. Both approaches provide a more informed understanding of digital scholarship activities as this part seems a bit stretched out space wise acknowledgment.
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