Updates from July, 2012 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 11:14 pm on July 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Social Theory and Fragmentation 

    Sociology seems to produce a number of co-existing and mutually exclusive (semi) paradigms which continually split and re-form in different combinations. Those who are committed to the idea of the necessity of a ‘theoretical core’ frequently argue that such a situation represents a moment of synthesis, a moment that requires the development of a unified frame of reference representing structure and agency as presuppositional categories (as argued, for example, by Parsons,Alexander Habermas, Giddens,Archer, Scott, etc.). The fact that an accepted synthesis never comes and that each new attempt gives rise to further critique suggests that ‘synthesis’ is one of the moves that gives rise to new splits and forms and is not, therefore, a resolution.

    Holmwood, J. (2010) Sociology’s misfortune: disciplines, interdisciplinary and the impact of audit culture. The British Journal of Sociology. 61:4, 639-658

  • Mark 12:03 pm on July 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    What is an organisation? 

    Consider the Sociology Department of Warwick University. What is itThe department is not just the individuals within it. If you took all the staff and students from the department and plonked them down in a field in the middle of nowhere, you’d no longer have a sociology department, you’d have a gaggle of confused academics, support staff and students in a field. If this was not a random act of God but instead some sort of collective journey to the countryside, it might be possible to enact organisational roles in the field: meetings could be had, lectures could be taught, administrative work done. Or could it? Certainly there are some functions which coud be sustained, albeit fallibly, however others clearly require a material infrastructure drawn upon by individuals in enacting their roles within an organisation e.g. there would be no computers in the field.

    But what if everyone bought their own laptops, tablets etc? it depends on the people who are enacting the roles and the relationships between them. It would be easier  for people who’ve worked together for years to go and pretend to be an academic department in a field than it would be for a collection of strangers. Furthermore, there’s more material infrastructure than computers. Over and above this though, the individualised allocation of resources and the organisational allocation of resources are unlikely to be coterminous over time: people might be able to meet the functional needs of their roles sometimes (and for some time) but the pattern of the distribution, as well as the capacity to meet it, isn’t homologous with that of an organisation allocating resources more or less rationally on the basis of financial capacity and functional need (as much as this often limits activity in practice).

    So what if everyone in the department packed up all the stuff that’s in there, trucked it over to the field and worked hard to build a passible facsimile of the department there? It might work, possibly, up until the point where some function requires interaction with other elements of the university or anything in the wider world i.e. there’s no IT services, no payroll, no library and, well, it’s a building in a field… no students are going to want to enroll.

    Obviously it’s a silly example. But I think this kind of counter-factual approach is useful to understand the composition of organisations. It helps delineate different dimensions to what an organisation is and how it works:

    • The individuals who populate the organisation
    • The lived trajectory of interactions between these individuals and their personal & social meanings
    • The roles individuals enact within the organisation (and the causal relationships between the enactment of these roles by individuals)
    • The material infrastructure they draw upon in their enactment of those roles
    • The department as an emergent entity able to exercise powers of constraint and enablement over the individuals and networks within it
    • The broader organisational structures into which that department, as emergent entity, is causally interlocked: enactment of roles at the individual level, sustaining action at the collective level, presupposes all sorts of causal relations with other entities within the university and with the university itself as a much larger emergent.
  • Mark 3:50 pm on July 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Emotions and Reflexivity 

    Archer’s account has recently been subject to criticism for allegedly marginalising the role of emotion in reflexivity (Burkitt 2012, Holmes 2010). Though largely stemming from reading her recent work in isolation, such that the elaborate account of the emotions given in Archer (2000) is ignored, the form the critique takes raises some pertinent issues. Burkitt wishes to avoid an approach which “sees emotion as just another factor to be drawn into the reflexive process, where it can be effectively monitored and managed”. Instead emotion should be construed as a “motivating factor to reflexivity, colouring and infusing reflexivity itself” and as “woven into the fabric of the interactions we are engaged in and it is therefore also central to the way we relate to ourselves as well as to others” (Burkitt 2012: 459). Though he recognises, unlike others such as Atkinson (2010), the profound differences between Archer’s account and that of Giddens et al, he nonetheless holds that the former has a ‘rationalist’ and ‘individualistic’ hue resulting, it is argued, from understanding emotions as a “subjective commentary on our own concerns”.

    Burkitt’s objection seems to be that grounding emotions in the ontology of the person, such that our emotional reactions are shaped by what has come to matter to us over time, obliterates the relational dimensions to our emotional lives. He writes that “How others judge and value us seems to play no role at all in emotional responses, or if it does it would only be because someone else’s judgements of us chimes with our own subjective one” (Burkitt 2012: 463). The former claim is simply disingenuous, even assuming that Burkitt’s critique of an approach articulated across a number of volumes proceeds solely from a (seemingly far from thorough) reading of one of them. The latter claim though is more interesting. The obvious retort is this: we will only respond emotionally to the judgements of others if we care about what they think of us and/or we care about not being judged to be X.

    In its own terms, this claim seems innocuous, even tautological i.e. we only care about things if we care about them. The real basis of the objection seems to be what this affirmation of the ontologically subjective dimension to emotional response seems to imply about the source of our concerns. Burkitt (2012) accuses Archer of rationalism, asking “surely, how we develop our concerns is not disconnected from our emotional connection, identification and dis-identification with caregivers, friends, teachers, the wide generation and society?”. His assumption seems to be that if our concern are relatively autonomous from the webs of relationships within which we are entwined, such as is necessary for the former to shape our emotional reactions to the latter, then our concerns must be those of a “reflexive agent that floats free of all commitments, except for those that are self-chosen” (Burkitt 2012: 463). Ironically given his accusation of rationalism, Burkitt’s own critique reveals an oddly rationalistic premise he himself would explicitly reject i.e. unless commitments result from social influence they must arise from the free choices of a rational subject.

    This seemingly unlikely assumption arises from a failure to conceptualise emotional life in properly temporal terms. It ignores the temporal sequencing of our concerns, the situations we confront and our emotional responses to these situations in terms of our concerns. Our concerns predate, even if minutely, any particular situation we encounter: while we always have concerns and are always situated, it is nonetheless the case that we bring a set of concerns, shaped by past experience, to each new situation we encounter which retains some prior existence vis-a-vis that situation. Similarly our emotional responses to that situation, in light of those concerns, is not immediate: even in what seem to be situations that are transparant in the meaning they hold, we must still respond to them. Unless we recognise on an analytical level that this process has multiple stages, even if they may be empirically super-imposed, it becomes difficult to make sense of the emotional experiences of actual subjects. These always occur temporally and it is the cycles of emotional morphogenesis and morphostasis this temporality entails which renders the sharp dichotomies implicit in Burkitt’s critique effectively irrelevant. Things that happen matter to us because of what we have come to care about and what we have come to care about is shaped by how we have coped, more or less effectively, with the things that have happened to us. Burkitt (2012: 458) is in a sense correct that “emotion colours reflexivity and infuses our perception of others, the world around us and our own selves”. But this recognition does not entail that we collapse our account of such processes into one undifferentiated mass with the concomitant claim that those who object to this are closet Cartesians.

    [Emotional Reflexivity: Feeling, Emotion and Imagination in Reflexive Dialogues. Sociology June 2012 vol. 46 no. 3 458-472]

  • Mark 7:52 pm on July 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    “What on earth will I tweet about?”: feeling comfortable with social media as an academic 

    Curious about social media but unsure where to start? This hour long webinar will explore the issues faced by academics when using social media to communicate online:

    • Being clear about what your goals are.
    • Understanding the potential benefits for academics of using social media.
    • Deciding which platforms and tools are right for you.
    • Managing personal and professional identity online.
    • Knowing what to tweet and blog about
    • Feeling comfortable on social media
    • Integrating social media into your daily working routines

    The webinar takes place later this year. If you’d like to be notified when registration is open, fill out the form below:

    Mark Carrigan is a sociologist at the University of Warwick. He works as a social media trainer and researcher for the Digital Change programme, recently completing a detailed analysis of the academic publishing landscape and a feasibility study for the establishment of a Warwick ePress. He co-ordinates a range of online publishing initiatives, including Sociology@Warwick and the Sociological Imagination, as well as exploring how digital technology can be used in all aspects of his practice as a researcher.

  • Mark 4:44 pm on July 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Youth Prospects in Late Capitalism 

    The changing circumstances faced in education and the labour market are often used to argue for a radical heterogeneity in the transitional pathways followed by young people (Biggart, Furlong and Cartmel 2008: 56). While an empirical evaluation of this claim is beyond the scope of the present project, it is worth considering the extent to which the influence of detraditonalisation theorists, often cited by those making the strongest instances of such arguments, has shaped the way in which the issue is framed. The aforementioned authors suggest that,

    “whereas members of the earlier generation of youth researchers may have focused on structure at the expense of agency, in the rush to embrace late modern or post-modern perspectives, contemporary researchers have perhaps over-stated the significance of processes  of reflexivity and life management.” (Biggart, Furlong and Cartmel 2008: 57)

    Nonetheless the position of young people within the labour market has been radically transformed, with their employment prospects increasingly detached from parallel trends within the labour market more broadly such that they suffer during downturns without any converse increase during periods of economic recovery (France 2008: 18). This takes place against a backdrop of broader economic upheaval within the industrialised world, with a decline in manufacturing and a rise in the service sector giving rise to a growing bifurcation between a demand for skilled labour within the ‘knowledge economy’ and an abundance of ‘poor work’ offering poor conditions and demanding little education or training (Shildrick 2010: 100). The ascendancy of the new right during the 1980s and the shifting political culture brought about by it saw these nascent trends compounded for young people by concomitant processes of ideologically blaming the young for lacking the wherewithal to thrive in a modern labour market while also restructuring their position within it in order to instill the discipline and competencies deemed necessary (Mizen 2004, France 2008). These processes both shaped and were shaped by a growth in post-compulsory education and the emergence of the ‘training state’ (Mizen 1994, 2004). Likewise as Furlong (2006: 17) observes during the 1970s it was common for large numbers of young people, often even a majority, within advanced industrial societies to have left school by the age of 16/17.

    In common with all of the OECD countries, this has increased dramatically since the 1980s, such that “with a substantial growth in the proportion of young people who participate in post-compulsory education, there has been an overall increase in the qualification profiles of school-leavers and hence an expansion of the potential pool of applicants for university” (Furlong 2007: 18). This is one factor in an expansion of university education  from around 4% in 1960s to around 37% at present (Archer 2007: 319). Though such a rapid growth unavoidably gives rise to inflationary pressures on the value of credentials, graduates can still expect to earn considerably more than those with A levels, on average around £16 p/hour to £10 p/hour respectively. However, as the authors observe, this is not true of those aged 21 to 24. They suggest this is a reflection of the different earnings profile of the two groups over time, which is “relatively flat” for those with A levels or less but, in the case of graduates, does not peak until well into working life despite often translating into an initial differential in relation to those young people who have accumulated a number of years work experience in spite of their lack of qualifications (McKay and Rowlingson 2011: 98-99). Though graduates will still likely encounter the casualized and precarious labour conditions which characterise the labour market more broadly, the employment biography within which this occurs is likely to be substantially different from that of non-graduates. As Furlong (2007) puts it, “the ‘graduate labour market’ has become segmented into secure and less secure zones as well as into segments that have a looser correspondence to graduate skills … whereas traditional graduate jobs have long been the more or less exclusive preserve of those with university degrees (such as lawyers, doctors and scientists), the other three sectors of the graduate labour market refer to those areas that have gradually become (or are still becoming dominated by people with degrees”. So any inflationary pressures in the value of credentials or diminishment in the conditions of graduates within working life is, at least in part, offset by the relative advantage simply having a degree confers in a society much more broadly characterised by profound inequalities:

    ‘The research evidence on social mobility shows clearly that we do not live in a perfectly meritocratic society: people’s occupational and economic destinations depend to an important degree on their origins. And if we compare Britain with other countries, rates of intergenerational mobility in terms of incomes are low and in terms of occupation are below the international average for men and at the bottom of the range for women … Britain, the United States and Brazil had the lowest levels of social mobility in terms of income. it therefore seems to matter more in Britain who your parents are then in many other countries.” (McKay and Rowlingson 2011: 95)

    This lack of social mobility finds reflection in a degree of educational reproduction which belies the claims made about the radical heterogeneity of youth transitions in late modernity: 44% of 18 year-olds with professional parents continue on to higher education whereas the same is true of only 13% of those with parents in routine occupations (Atkinson 2010: 78). The former group may very well encounter precarious labour conditions either during their degrees, with increasing numbers working part-time during degrees in response to a hostile funding and support climate, or in the graduate labour market. But a preoccupation with an increasing tendency for graduates to encounter such circumstances within their employment biographies occludes their relative structural advantage qua graduates, particularly when, as seems likely, the coalition government’s educational reforms lead to a contraction in overall numbers and increasing stratification within the higher education system as a whole. Though young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods were 50% more likely to get a place at university than they were fifteen years ago, this expanded access to higher education has overwhelmingly been to new universities. Yet as Reay (2011: 116) argues, “the ‘massification’ of the higher education sector has resulted in the reproduction fo the UK school system’s highly polarized and segregated hierarchy, with those new universities with sizable cohort sof working-class students languishing at the bottom of the university league tables, while the Russell Group universities, with equally sizable numbers of privately educated students, are at the pinnacle”. An increase in stratification in a context of broader contraction within the system seems likely to disproportionately advantage those students at the pinacle of it. Furthermore a Higher Education Careers Service Unit study found that even current levels of debt were leading larger numbers of final year students to work longer hours. Given that Oxford and Cambridge prohibit work in term time, it seems likely that access to the upper tiers, with all this implies for access to the professions, will become increasingly difficult for large swathes of young people (Reay 2011: 123).

  • Mark 12:17 pm on July 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: causal processes, psychobiography,   

    How to make sense of longitudinal qualitative data 

    These are the practical steps involved in the approach I’m taking to making sense of longitudinal qualitative data. In my case, these were 5 interviews with 18 people over 2 years. I had a interview guide for each one which was structured around the objective biographical markers pertinent to the participants (they were all students in the same year, doing different degrees, at the same university) but within the constraints of these reference points, the interviews were effectively unstructured. My initial analysis involved a pretty in depth iterative process of familiarisation, which I’ll write about in another post. After this, I’m taking what I term a morphogenetic approach to biographical research, aiming to reconstruct the crucial moments – which spark of processes of personal change and growth – underlying the direction in which an individual’s psychobiography unfolds.

    My intention here is to get to the causal processes underlying the empirical observations I’ve made about participant’s biographies. The central claim underlying this is that an individual’s reflexivity, in the form of their internal conversations, shapes the direction their life takes – and how they change as part of the process – through its application within the context of specific ‘issues’ created by all manner of life events. It’s in the attempts to resolve such issues that we become who we are. While we exercise deliberative agency, we do so in a truncated way – we shape the direction our lives take but we do so, on the basis of fallible knowledge, through our attempts to cope with the personal issues posed by a social world which forever outstrips our control and full knowledge. There’s an order to any individual’s biographical trajectory which can be causally explained but, crucially, that order is something which emerges relationally rather than solely from the subjective intentions of the subject or the objective properties of their circumstances.

    These are the practical steps I’m taking as I go through the data. I’ve got ‘points to watch for’ (e.g. the move to university, first year exams, moving into private accommodation etc) which are party based on the interview schedule and partly emergent from the familiarisation process. However though I want to make sure I’m particularly watchful for these events, I otherwise want to stay as close to the data as possible.

    1. Locate an event that interrupts the stable reproduction of personal life: any event that gives rise to an ‘issue’ which preoccupies the internal conversation of the subject. What social domain(s) do the factors underlying the event occur in? 
    2. How does the subject construe the event itself and the factors underlying it?
    3. How do they seek resolution of the ‘issue’? If they seek resources to support their attempt to resolve the ‘issue’, what are these, what is their history with them and what social domains do they reside within?
    4. If/when they resolve the ‘issue’, how has it changed the subject as a person? How has it changed circumstances across all social domains?
  • Mark 10:47 am on July 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: biopolitics, ,   

    Podcast: Foucault, Biopolitics and Critique 

    In this podcast recorded for Sociology@Warwick I talk to Claire Blencowe about her new book Biopolitical Experience. When I post this up on the department site, I’ll collect some of Claire’s papers as well.

  • Mark 11:13 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    “What are the challenges involved in using social media in teaching?” 

    The panel (below) responds at this Digital Change GPP event earlier in the year.

  • Mark 10:54 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    “Should I be conscious of the language I use on Twitter?” 

    The panel (below) responds at this Digital Change GPP event earlier in the year.

  • Mark 10:16 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , personal research environment, , robert o'toole,   

    What comes after Evernote? @robertotoole talks about the Personal Research Environment 

    A podcast recorded with Robert O’Toole at a Digital Change GPP event earlier this year.

    If you’re at Warwick and you’re interested in the P.R.E could you get in touch with me? We’ll hopefully be getting a chance to build this next academic year and, to do so, we need participants to help design it.

  • Mark 9:25 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Eleonora Belfiore, ,   

    “Ultimately, if I’m honest, I do it because it’s fun”: @elebelfiore on using social media as an academic 

    A podcast recorded with Eleonora Belfiore at a Digital Change GPP event earlier this year.

  • Mark 9:06 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , charlotte mathieson, , research communications, , ,   

    Why should academics embrace digital tools? @cemathieson talks about her experiences 

    A podcast recorded at a Digital Change GPP event earlier this year.

  • Mark 8:02 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Killer Bees 

    I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies
    and hypotheses can’t define how I be droppin these
    mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery
    Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
    Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits
    tremendous, ultra-violet shine blind forensics

  • Mark 7:00 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , jiscmail, mailing list, , ,   

    A quick thought about Jiscmail… 

    Do you administer a JISCMail? I administer two: asexuality-discuss and socialmedia-discuss. Though I’m shit at administering them and, partly for this reason, nothing much happens on them. This is a shame because my initial motivation still stands: I thought there was inadequate dialogue taking place on both topics and I wanted to try and help bring such dialogue about, connecting with others who were interested in these topics in the process. I assume this motivation is true of many others who setup Jiscmail lists. But I grew up with vbulletin and mailing lists have never really done it for me.  I assume this also applies to others. So a proposal: if you want to consolidate a research network around a specific topic, don’t setup a mailing list. Instead setup a wordpress blog. Create an account for anyone who asks for one and lay down no editorial restrictions whatsoever. Ask those who take up an account to do the same. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Don’t see the blog as a collective product but seem it as an open publishing platform, a clearing house, which serves the same purpose as a mailing list might have done but does so in a much more effective way. Thoughts?

    • Teresa MacKinnon (@WarwickLanguage) 7:09 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink

      I share your feelings on this really. Jiscmail lists I follow are more active when they connect those who are solving technical issues or sharing info. – the moodle users group, vle users group, ALT and AULC lists are always very active. Their users are in diverse roles but united in the need to sound out others using technology, share tips, get suggestions.Essentially there is a good fit between the aim of communication, means of communciation and the medium. For academic discussions I see more engagement when it is possible to see more about the person blogging and engage at a more in depth, personal level. So it seems to me this is a case of “horses for courses”.

    • Rachel Walls 7:30 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink

      I like this idea and would love to hear from people who had made it work! We have that set up at work (oxford careers service) with WordPress and I am pleased with the collaborative efforts- but of course that is our job! I wonder if people would be proactive enough to contribute – probably people are if the theme is of interest and they are comfortable with blogging as opposed to writing in a closed community. As a research student myself and others tried a shared tumblr for this project http://newresearchtrajectories.net/website/. We intentionally didn’t have a theme other than sharing research as a work in progress and this perhaps didn’t help in getting contributors. Mainly the blog was used to disseminate information from the organising team about our events and I have to admit I wasn’t proactive enough in contributing so can hardly expect others to join in! We also chose tumblr as we thought it would be easy for people to use but of course we couldn’t set up multiple accounts so shared one password and had to identify oneself in your post. so, a few lessons learned! Hopefully I will try again at some point and be more successful!

  • Mark 11:06 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Questions about the RCUK’s Open Access Policy 

    1. What effect will the introduction of RCUK compliance criteria have on the strategic priorities of particular journals and scholarly publishers as a whole?
    2. How will the block grant by RCUK to institutions be calculated? Will it vary across mission groups?
    3. Will any stipulations be laid down about the internal distribution and management of the block grant within institutions?
    4. How sizeable would the block grant have to be to preclude the possibility of rationing? Assuming this would be necessary, what form would it be likely to take?
    5. Are price controls on APCs at all likely? Are they desirable? Given the impact the asymmetric relationship between publishers and libraries had on serial costs over time, surely inflation in APCs is a real possibility.
    6. What does this mean for library budgets? Are there general answers to this question?


  • Mark 8:59 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , academic spring, , , , science communication,   

    ‘Academic spring’ or media hype? The open acccess debate and what it means for researchers 

    This session will explore the profound changes currently taking place within academic publishing and address their implications for researchers. Debates around ‘open access’ have recently entered mainstream debate, with the Guardian talking of an ‘academic spring’ building around the world. However the issues at stake go beyond open access and a focus on the technical details of particular proposals can often obscure the broader questions which the academic community, scholarly publishers and funding bodies are currently attempting to address. By putting currents debates in context, as well as exploring their practical consequences for those either undertaking or seeking an academic career, this talk aims to help move beyond headlines and bring some more clarity to the debate.

    • Dale Reardon 3:16 am on July 17, 2012 Permalink


      Do you have a word doc or some other format of this presentation? I am vision impaired and use a screen reader to “view” the screen and it just doesn’t work with these presentation services.

      Twitter: @DaleReardon

    • Mark 7:03 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink

      Nope, I don’t sorry. I’ll probably record the talk as a podcast in the next couple of weeks though. If I do, I’ll post it on here 🙂

  • Mark 1:07 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    What does the government’s open access announcement mean for researchers? A round up of coverage & reaction 

  • Mark 11:08 pm on July 15, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   

    What about the authors who can’t pay? Why the government’s embrace of gold open access isn’t something to celebrate 

    Sometimes I worry that Twitter is an echo chamber, reflecting my own prejudices back at me and shielding me from contrasting views. On other occasions though, I find this same characteristic immensely comforting. Such as when reading that the government has officially embraced the recommendations of the Finch report and finding that other PhD students and early career researchers were just as dismayed by this news as I was. Leaving aside the broader issues pertaining to gold open access, which in practice simply redistributes costs within a broken system without challenging the underlying commercial premise, there’s one particular question posed by this chain of events which is the cause of my current dread about the future of academic publishing: what about the authors who can’t pay?

    I fear that academic publishing could come to resemble the perilous landscape that PhDs and ECRs are only too familiar with at present. The competition for post doctoral funding is ever increasing, leading to continual inflation of the things you need on your CV to stand a chance, yet without funding it’s very difficult to actually achieve these prerequisites. Or in other words: the best way to get post doctoral funding is to already have it. Could we see something similar happening with publications? If authors are dependent on their institutions and/or funding bodies to pay the substantial fees required under gold open access then those who already have a job and funding will find it easier to publish and thereby increase their chances of getting another job and more funding. Much as the post doctoral funding climate creates virtuous cycles, so too will the publishing climate, as a whole swathe of early career academics will find themselves untroubled by article processing charges. From their perspective, open access of this form will be great: it doesn’t pose problems and it means their research is freely available. On the other hand, what of those who find themselves excluded? If your funding is patchy or non-existent how can you compete? Is it even going to be possible to be an independent researcher in any meaningful sense?

    In a climate where freelance, part-time and fixed term contracts are increasingly the norm within academia, the extent to which the government’s announcement is retrograde cannot be overstated. Such a radical increase in the dependence of researchers upon their institution has profound consequences for those who do ‘make it’, leaving aside the many who seem likely to be wholly or partially swept aside for the reasons discussed above. With funding bodies increasingly focused around narrow priority areas, often tied to short term political whims to a truly abominable degree, themselves falling into homology with priority areas within universities, naturally aiming to increase their success in winning funding from these bodies, what becomes of research that falls into a non-priority area? What becomes of independent research full stop? Will their be funding available to cover author fees? Will their be conditions attached to it? How will the inevitable rationing work? Even assuming the best will and highest managerial accumen in the world, these yet unanswered questions paint a picture of the future university which I find far from appealing. What of the willingness to dissent and speak up at a time when economic instability looks set to continue indefinitely? With academics even more reliant on universities, as one of the two potential sources of author fees, will they be willing to resist? Or will the disciplining of academic labour, already entrenched in multifaceted ways with many personal consequences, simply continue?

    • claytonbingham 3:01 am on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      You have hit on something very important that I worry about a lot…I think that the near-term solution is ensuring that either libraries don’t lose their budgets or it is reallocated to departments via research departments…This will ensure that some funding is available for authors publishing in OA journals.

      It is interesting to speculate on how this may augment the politics on campus and make various departments even more top-heavy politically than they already are…

    • claytonbingham 3:02 am on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      Reblogged this on and commented:
      You have hit on something very important that I worry about a lot…I think that the near-term solution is ensuring that either libraries don’t lose their budgets or it is reallocated to departments via research departments…This will ensure that some funding is available for authors publishing in OA journals.

      It is interesting to speculate on how this may augment the politics on campus and make various departments even more top-heavy politically than they already are…

    • Mike Taylor 4:46 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      You haven’t done your research. There are lots of OA venues that are free to authors as well as to readers; and among those that ask a publication fee many (such as the PLoS journals) offer a no-questions-asked waiver to authors who do not have funds for publication.

      This is a non-issue.

    • Mark 9:10 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      You say ‘many’ but could you cite some examples beyond PLoS? Furthermore could you offer some examples specifically relevant to the social sciences and the humanities? I’m aware that some gold open access journals offer waivers, I’m just sceptical about how generalisable this will be as the model expands and becomes more integral to the economics of scholarly publishing. The fact you seem to think both that I’m unaware that open access extends beyond author pays models and against open access in principles makes me think that you either didn’t read my post and/or are reading it through a pretty narrow ideological prism. My problem may very well be a “non-issue” but the evidence and argument you’ve cited to this end amounts to nothing more than observing that not all open access involves fees (I know and not really the point here) and observing that PLoS offers waivers. I’m very worried about the impact this will have on early career researchers in humanities & social sciences and I’d LOVE to be convinced I’m wrong about this. But you’ve not really come close to doing this, just said some largely irrelevant stuff and then declared it a ‘non-issue’.

    • Mark 9:14 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      I think it’s the politics of this that fundamentally concerns me. It’s impossible to predict the technical details at this stage but given the general trajectory of higher education, particularly for social science and humanities, over the last decade, increasing the dependence of academics on institutions and funding bodies (while living commercial publishing, in principle, untouched) is a glaringly obviously bad thing.

    • Mike Taylor 9:29 pm on July 16, 2012 Permalink

      Mark, I beg your pardon — I am a scientist and am writing from a scientist’s perspective, where fee waivers really are widely available: see for example the BMC journals as well as PLoS. I’d not realised you’re in the humanities, and concluded you’d “not done your research” on the basis that you didn’t mention PLoS — which of course is not really relevant to you.

      I don’t know much about humanities, but IIRC SAGE Open is the main open-access megajournal in that area — correct? If so, their current gold-OA fee of $195 seems very reasonably, and they say Authors who do not have the means to cover the publication fee may request a waiver [click on “Submission Guidelines”].

    • Mark 7:06 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink

      Thanks for apology, I thought your initial post was unnecessarily dismissive and I realise now it wasn’t intended to be 🙂 I’ve been obsessing over this for the last 2 days (I gave a lecture on scholarly publishing & open access today) and I’m a bit tired of talking/thinking about it at this stage to be honest…

    • Seb Schmoller 7:30 pm on July 17, 2012 Permalink

      ALT’s peer-reviewed journal Research in Learning Technology – a niche field, I guess – is Gold Open Access, with no article processing fees for the moment. [We switched it from traditional to Open Access in January this year.] This is not to dismiss the issues that Mark raises.

    • dratarrant 2:43 pm on October 16, 2012 Permalink

      “If so, their current gold-OA fee of $195 seems very reasonably, and they say Authors who do not have the means to cover the publication fee may request a waiver [click on “Submission Guidelines”]”.

      Excuse my ignorance of this but is this $195 a personal contribution by the author i.e. from their wage packet? And who judges whether or not someone is worthy of a fee waiver? As an employed ECR (for now!) I am by no means struggling financially but to have to pay even the apparently ‘reasonable’ (I don’t consider this reasonable when I want to publish just one paper, let alone more, so I can be competitive in this job market!), $195 from my own money seems ludicrous to me. In essence I am returning the wage I got to write the paper in the first place for my work to be public, which should be a right anyway! It seems wrong that any author should have to pay out of their personal finance to have work published when they have already worked hard on it. Maybe I am wrong on this, but I think Mark makes very important points relevant to science and humanities more generally.
      Any correction to y points or constructive development on these ideas appreciated.

    • Mike Taylor 10:31 am on October 18, 2012 Permalink

      Excuse my ignorance of this but is this $195 a personal contribution by the author i.e. from their wage packet?

      That is a possibility, but I imagine it’s extremely rare. The general expectation of Gold OA journals is that publication is part of the cost of doing research (just as library subscriptions are) and that the money comes from the same pool that’s used to buy lab equipment or other necessities of research.

      And who judges whether or not someone is worthy of a fee waiver?

      That’s down the the publisher. But in my experience “I have no institutional funds to cover this publication” has always been sufficient reason to obtain a waiver. To return to the example of PLoS, it’s explicitly part of their philosophy that no-one should be prevented from publishing with them by financial issues. (I don’t know whether the same is true of SAGE Open, but we can reasonably hope it would be so.)

      $195 from my own money seems ludicrous to me. In essence I am returning the wage I got to write the paper in the first place for my work to be public, which should be a right anyway!

      I whole heartedly agree.

  • Mark 3:52 pm on July 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , web technology tools   

    The problems facing a digital research culture amongst PhD students and how universities can solve them 

    The recent Researchers of Tomorrow study highlights an interesting trend relating to current doctoral students using digital technology as part of their research. Though I haven’t read the full report yet – yes, I do recognise the irony in this given some of the other findings – I wanted to get some thoughts down while they’re fresh my mind. I’m fascinated by the disjuncture between the use made of digital technology by my generation of researchers in their private lives (“in 2009 the majority of Generation Y doctoral students self-identified as being in the category of ‘elite technology users’ in their personal lives”) and  a seeming reticence about using such technology in their public lives as researchers. This isn’t a new finding (though it’s an important empirical contribution to our understanding) and, though it may seem counter-intuitive if you are yourself of this generation and connected with many others online, it’s worth considering the role that confirmation bias might play in creating this impression i.e. it’s easier to notice all the people you know who use these tools as part of their research than the far greater numbers who don’t. This disjuncture demands explanation. If Generation Y researchers are en masse tech savvy and tech positive then how might we explain some of the findings in this report?

    • Take-up of most institutionally-provided and open web technology tools and applications is low among doctoral students overall
    • Generation Y doctoral students are more likely than older doctoral students to use technology to assist them in their research
    • Generation Y doctoral students tend to use technology applications and social media in their research if they augment, and can be easily absorbed into, existing work practices
    • Levels of use of social media and other applications helpful in retrieving and managing research information are steadily rising among Generation Y doctoral students, but those applications most useful for collaboration and scholarly communications remain among the least used
    • Fellow students and peers are the major influence on whether or not Generation Y doctoral students decide to use a technology application and are their main source of hands-on help

    I’m particularly interested in the third and the sixth point. The ubiquity of digital tools in personal lives easily gives rise to a pragmatism about their incorporation into working life – their appeal, or lack thereof, will stem from how apparent it is that they can be incorporated into existing practice and either enhance or transform that practice. In essence, the key question is: “what’s in it for me?”. In a world of tablet computers and smart phones – not to mention funding shortfalls, pressures to publish or perish and anxieties about exactly what comes after the PhD – immediate practical utility is central. As the Jisc research shows, vastly more respondents use citation or reference management tools. Although the relative longevity of these tools vis-a-vis others on the list likely plays a part, it’s also the case that this is undoubtedly down to the ease with which the utility of such tools can be immediately apprehended. Due to the opportunity costs (i.e. if I do x I can’t do y) involved in taking what training opportunities are provided, where they are provided (which is another issue), appealing to PhD students necessitates framing the session around clearly definable practical goals i.e. “how to blog about your research” or “how to produce an academic podcast” rather than “technical training for Platform X”. The other aspect which explains the popularity of reference management tools relates to point 6 i.e. there are network effects (which cross different groups within the university) that will condition an environment which is conducive to using the technology in question.

    It’s an improvement when research technology is a concern of the library rather than the IT services department but there are still fundamental inadequacies with centralised provision of digital services and training within universities. Firstly, a distance from academic departments unavoidably translates into a distance from the day-to-day practices of people within those departments. Secondly, a distance from academic departments unavoidably translates into a distance from the professional networks within those departments. These are not insurmountable obstacles: it’s possible to frame training in terms of practice reasonably effectively by talking about what researchers in general within professional group X do. Likewise it’s possible to proactively offer assistance to people who are taking up these technologies, putting them to novel uses and support their practice in a way which leads, organically, to the innovation spreading. But nonetheless it seems blindingly obvious to me, as unfashionable as it is to say it in our interdisciplinary era, that the academic department is the natural unit for research technology. This is not to claim that the infrastructure should be organised at that level (the suggestion is patently absurd) or that people doing this work inside departments should be insulated from similar concerns elsewhere in the institution. It just seems increasingly obvious to me that if it’s a strategic priority to encourage adoption of digital tools by researchers, practical initiatives are going to struggle to succeed – for precisely the reasons I’ve discussed – unless resources are allocated to support developmental activity on the part of those already using such tools and embedded in existing networks within academic departments.

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