Writing and then?

Writing for the sake of publishing work in journals is one of the hardest things academics do. There is the strain of putting everything together in a way you hope will convince the reviewers. Then there is the revising, the pushing around of text, the addition of new materials, the nod to work you didn’t cite fully in the first place, and then the final decision – often delayed – to finally re-send it, ideally with the end result that the reviewers and editor(s) accept your changes. Some time thereafter your work appears on the journal’s web site, or in print form, and bingo: your work is ‘out there.’

This whole process takes time. And it can be exhausting, not least in an emotional sense: reviews can be harsh. Even when they aren’t, that moment of seeing what your peers make of your work can be tough going. To top things off, we’re also now under growing pressure to do additional work to promote our published papers. Of course, there has always been pressure. Before the Internet, I imagine (because I can’t say for sure, not having ever worked without it), there would have been pressure to send print copies to colleagues, peers, or respondents. Now, though, just sending around your work in print form doesn’t quite cut it. You might therefore consider:

a. posting a pre-print version to your university’s open access repository. Here is Maynooth University’s. And here are papers written by Geographers.

b. tweeting a link to the open access version or to the journal’s web site where the accepted version is located

c. posting a version to a web site such as Academia.edu.

d. putting a version on Research Gate.

e. writing a short description and putting a link of some sort on a Facebook page.

f. updating your Google Scholar page so your new paper shows up there.

g. updating your web page with links to your new paper

This is work. It takes time. I admit: I don’t particularly like this side of things. But I feel as if it’s increasingly necessary. Why?

I think part of the issue here is simply that, when we write we should want others to read our work. Sure, others might come across our work via a Table of Contents (ToC) email alert from the journal. Or, they might find our paper cited by someone else and want to access it for their work. And if the journal pays Thomson-Reuters, the paper will be indexed on the Web of Science, an extremely powerful (but limited) search resource, and might turn up on someone’s search and be read.

In a sense, then, we could just get work published and leave it at that. Many do just leave it at that. However, relying only on a ToC email alert, someone else citing your work, or Web of Science really isn’t enough these days. For one thing, ToC alerts are easily ignored amidst the swarms of emails we all receive these days. Then there is the fact that many of us publish in journals that don’t pay Thomson-Reuters, so the work isn’t indexed there. And not all institutions have access to Web of Science, and even when they do, they don’t all have access to the journal. The institutional landscape is uneven: a great many people simply do not have access to the sorts of journals many of us look to publish in (and hey: this does raise questions about what sorts of places we look to publish in i.e. should we think only about our own career advancement and solely target the so-called ‘top’ journals in our discipline, or should we also send our work to open access journals such as ACME in Geography?).

At least for these reasons, then, going just that little bit further makes a lot of sense today. The point is to maximise access, if not exposure. In other words, that bit of extra work to ensure an open access version is available should be something we do, even if the self-promotional side of things need not necessarily detain us (and judging by my Twitter timeline, it doesn’t; that is, I know the people I follow are publishing but they ain’t really tweeting about it…).

All of this is work. Sometimes it requires help from a technician, for example to update our web pages with direct links to the repository. But really: today, this is something we need to be doing (or something our institutions should be helping us do). (On writing this I see I haven’t posted open access versions of everything I’ve written; so I’m off to do this right away).

So there is writing. And then there is post-publication ‘after-work’. Is this the end of the story? Not quite. Around us today there is a pretty intense debate about what sort of after-work we should be doing. For example, in this excellent blog post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the use of Academia.edu is called into question (in brief, the issue is about whether we should be giving data to a private firm that will ‘mine’ and sell it to “advertisers or other interested parties”) – and a range of alternatives mentioned. These sorts of concerns (see also a post here by Gary Hall) emerge against the backdrop of related worries about the neoliberalization of the university: y’know, that process through which the value of our work is increasingly calculated according to “nonacademic market metrics that value scholarly endeavor according to its commercial uptake or attractiveness to would-be investors,” as Wendy Brown puts it (Undoing the Demos, Zone Books 2015 p.197). The point: university administrators might be happy to see us gifting data to private firms if it makes our institutions more competitive, but we shouldn’t necessarily buy into that, nor should we simply participate without dwelling on whether it’s something we’re happy about doing.

Given all this, perhaps we would be better off if we set strict limits on the sort of after-work we conduct? But where to stop? For example, I’m inclined to withdraw my material from Academia.edu, but should I also stop tweeting? Like many others, twitter for me is partly a place for random brain-dumping. But I have also tried to use it to promote my work (as well as to connect with scholars whose work I like). I have used it for the sort of “look, I just published this” tweetage [and I’ll use it to promote this blog post]. Thanks to the way twitter boosts the value of what Nancy Ettlinger has called ‘overlapping social networks‘, tweets – ahem, well, if they are ever RT’d, which is a form of generosity seen all too rarely these days, in my opinion (not that I’m a saint) – can reach not just my followers but potentially many thousands of others. Twitter can give us reach. Cool.

Yet the same fears about Academia.edu and its need to mine data also apply to Twitter. Just yesterday it reported disappointing earnings. It needs to sell our tweets to advertisers – as it has been doing already: who else has noticed, but tried to ignore, the promoted tweets from Elsevier et al? – and although academics make up just a small proportion of all tweeters, we’re still playing our small part in its emergence. Twitter is a repository, of sorts; a place where academics debate, contest ideas, produce knowledge. There’s data in those there tweets. If we’re to pull our data out of Academia.edu, which might be the conclusion to reach based on the concerns raised by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and others, maybe our academic selves should also leave Twitter behind?

[Certainly, one related and uncomfortable aspect about the way our after-work on Twitter interacts with our institutions is the way universities re-tweet academics with a view, not just to benignly having something to keep the timeline going – for the timeline must never stop – but also (and more depressingly) to promote the university and help it compete against others. With this in mind, maybe adding something like FFS or LMFAO to your self-promoting tweetage will stop this practice?]

There is, then, this broader (and quite heavily-contested) relationship between the sort of after-work we do (or might think about doing), and a range of issues about our practices as academics, the institutions in which we work, and our ties to the market. We’re making data, maybe reproducing a certain rationality about the university’s place in society; albeit whilst possibly trying to increase access to our work or raise awareness of what it is we are trying to do. If increasing access to published academic work – such as by putting our work on an open access repository – is a relatively straightforward piece of after-work we should all be doing, going beyond that is a lot more complex. I’m not convinced of any one stance on all this. Maybe I should be. Feel free to convince me in the comments section.

Alistair Fraser

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Some suggestions on what to do after the hard work of getting an article published…


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