Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses social possibilities in online scholarship

Portrait of Kathleen Fitzpatrick.

On March 7, 2013, the Center for the Humanities At Temple (CHAT) hosted Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. Dr. Fitzpatrick’s talk, The Humanities In & For the Digital Age, focused on how scholars can leverage digital technologies to solve deep contradictions that currently plague academic publishing.

Fitzpatrick argued for the peer-to-peer structure of online communication as a corrective to problems with traditional peer review processes. Online publishing platforms allow scholars to publish their work earlier, calling on a supportive network of known peers to provide feedback during an idea’s development. This approach also lets academic authors remain engaged with their work longer, as their focus shifts from completing scholarly productions to the process involved in knowledge creation.

Fitzpatrick expects that an additional benefit of this new mode of authorship will be greater scholarly engagement with the broader culture, bringing with it greater awareness of the humanities’ potential for enriching public life.  For such changes to bear fruit, the conservative culture of academia will need to recognize online publication and review as valuable activities meriting tenure consideration.

Rather than claiming that technology itself is a panacea to the scholarly communication crisis, Fitzpatrick’s work highlights the quintessentially social nature of the best technological solutions. She has incorporated these ideas into her own scholarly practices, releasing an online draft of her most recent book Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy for open review. At the Modern Language Association, she has helped in the development of MLA Commons, an online space where association members can form fluid groups to share and review work-in-progress.

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