Publishing a compendium of chapters or going for the magnum opus

Over the last couple of months, I’ve suddenly been able to make progress on the book project I’ve been working on in various forms since 2008. From 2008 to 2014 this took the form of my PhD thesis which was embarrassingly riddled with typographical errors which I should have been made to correct, as well as being a textbook case of a young theorist trying to imitate the voice of their supervisor. But I’ve had enough people tell me it was a creative and innovative piece of work that I’ve recognised there was at least some value in it in spite of my ambivalence. From 2014 to 2018 I worked on the Distracted People of Digital Capitalism which produced hundreds of blog posts, scores of conference presentations and about 40k word of draft text. But for various biographical reasons I ended up junking the project, as the first stage in a multiyear process of losing my self-confidence as a theorist in a way which I don’t think was perceptible at the time to anyone in my life.

I now curiously find myself in a situation where I don’t just feel able to complete this project but feel that it’s extremely important that I do so in the near future. This is helped by the recognition that these were two parts of the same (self-interrogative) project: an ontological investigation of digital media and self-formation. As someone whose adolescence was shaped profoundly by the internet, I’ve wanted to understand the role of technology in establishing the parameters of self-formation. The PhD was about self-formation (or as I call it, possibly in my supervisor’s voice, personal morphogenesis) and the post-doc work was about the role of technology in this. It’s rapidly taking shape and it’s looking likely I’ll have finished seven chapters by the end of the year:

There are at least another five chapters in the project. This sounds a lot but most of it is integrating things I’ve already written. The question is how carefully and systematically should I do this? I’m confident each chapter can be internally coherent in a matter of months but the internal coherence of the project as a whole, written in faltering steps over a decade, will take a lot more work. It feels like I have the choice between getting this out there in early 2023 in order to move on with my intellectual development. Or alternatively spending 2023 (and possibly a big chunk of 2024) turning this into my magnum opus: my first systematic work of social theory which carefully answers questions I’ve been plagued by for twenty years. It remains to be seen which option I will choose.

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