Tag: Zygmunt Bauman

Beyond academic journals?

This is my third and final post in a (rather impromptu) mini-series on academic journals and their place in the 21st century landscape. You may want to read my previous two posts here and here before reading this one? 

To find a new enlightening and inspiring idea (as distinct from finding a recipe for getting safely through the peer-built barricade), browsing through thousands of journal pages is all too often called for. With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that were our Palaeolithic ancestors to discover the peer-review dredger, we would still be sitting in caves… (Zygmunt Bauman)

In my previous posts on academic journals I’ve compared them unfavourably – either explicitly or implicitly – with the kind of informal ‘peer review’ that happens through blogs and social media. Some commenters have assumed that this means that, like Bauman (see above) I’m completely against peer review. I’m not.

Peer review is valuable. In fact, it’s so important we need a (re)new(ed) academic ecosystem to protect it.

I’m all for new systems such as hypothes.is which provides an open, distributed peer review layer for the web. Although I don’t want to go into it in too much depth here, academia is one of the few unreformed areas with outdated power structures and glass ceilings.

As Stephen Thomas pointed out in the comments to my previous post, academic journals have, and still do, play an important role in both establishing precedent and providing a quality filter. This is important (most of the time).

But, as Dan Meyer pointed out in the quotation making up the bulk of my first post in this series, it’s the edifice that’s built upon the academic journal system that’s problematic:

The incentive seems strange to me… I don’t understand this brass ring I’m chasing. (Dan Meyer)

This academic edifice is built upon other perceived ‘advantages’  of academic journals, including:

  • Dissemination of work
  • Status
  • Career progression
  • Contact with others inside and outside field

Academics, unfortunately, have ended up inventing a stick with which they can be beaten. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a crude instrument looking a research outputs. Career progression (and therefore status) depends upon disseminating work in journals that are, all too often, closed and paywalled.

Part of the answer, I agree, comes through academic journals becoming open access. That’s a step in the right direction (even if it does smack a little of Henry Ford’s ‘faster horses‘). Going further, something more like Alan Cann’s experiments around open peer review could work. But, realistically, we need something a bit more radical. 

How can we save peer review whilst democratising and reforming higher education?

I leave you with the words of Frances Bell, who commented on my previous post:

What I suspect is that more research needs to be done on how, for example. scholarly societies can support research, scholarship and practice in a digital age. (Frances Bell)

Amen to that.

Why peer-review is flawed.

Trusting Blind PeersAlthough I’m still yet to have an academic article published, I’ve made a public commitment to do so only in open-access journals. I’ve already dedicated this blog to the public domain (see CC0 license in footer) and shared my thesis online. Whilst for me it’s a logical continuation of my position as an open educator/academic/researcher/individual, I’ve been waiting for a compelling reason for others to ditch closed journals.

In this, my third blog post quoting Zygmunt Bauman (from a recent interview with Simon Dawes, editor of Theory, Culture & Society), I want to consider briefly the ways in which the whole edifice of the peer-review system is flawed. It’s not just about the binary distinction between whether a journal is ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

Simon Dawes: One final question, TCS is committed to the process of peer-review, and many of our (both rejected and accepted) contributors are grateful for the feedback given by our editors and anonymous reviewers, and for the subsequent strengthening of their articles, but you are critical of peer-review and no longer act as a referee for us. Could you tell us why?

Zygmunt Bauman: There are, by the most conservative counting, two grave and deeply regrettable collateral victims of the peer-review gruesome strategem: one is the daring of thought (wished-washed to the lowest common denominator), and the other is the individuality, as well as the responsibility of editors (those seeking shelter behind the anonymity of ‘peers’, but in fact dissolved in it, in many cases without a trace).

Last but not least, I would single out yet another collateral damage: the multitude of the trails blazed and heterogeneity of inspirations. I suspect that the peer-review system carriers a good part of blame for the fact that something like 60 percent or more of journal articles are never quoted (which means leaving no trace on our joint scholarly pursuits), and (in my reception at any rate) the ‘learned journals’… ooze monumental boredom. To find a new enlightening and inspiring idea (as distinct from finding a recipe for getting safely through the peer-built barricade), browsing through thousands of journal pages is all too often called for. With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that were our Palaeolithic ancestors to discover the peer-review dredger, we would still be sitting in caves…

That’s a fairly damning verdict from an Emeritus Professor of Sociology, don’t you think? I haven’t met anyone who thinks that the REF (Research Excellence Framework) is a good idea and does the job it’s intended to do. The ‘peer-built barricade’ that Bauman mentions evolved in a world before real-time communication between academics; although it feels obvious to say so, the internet changes everything. As proved with <a href="my thesis (see Appendix 3) the amount and quality of feedback does not depend either upon journals or anonymity. We can, and should, build a better (more democratic, fairer, transparent) system.

Image CC BY-SA Gideon Burton

Bauman on inequality and the logic of capital.


I’m going to present this without comment. It’s from Zygmunt Bauman’s recent interview that I quoted in a previous post.

Simon Dawes: And what do you make of the recent surge in interest in inequality, and the economic and environmental crises, that proposes de-growth, sustainable economies, post-capitalism or the continuing salience of communism as solutions to these problems?

Zygmunt Bauman: Poignantly and succinctly, the great Jose Saramago has already answered your question, pointing out that ‘people do not choose a government that will bring the market within their control; instead, the market in every way conditions government to bring the people within its control’ (2010).

I would say that the main, indeed ‘meta’, function of the goverment has become now to assure that is the meetings between commodities and the consumer, and credit issuers and the borrowers, that regularly take place (as with the government known to fight tooth and nail over every penny which the ‘underclass’, that is the ‘flawed (useless) consumers’, need to keep their bodies alive, but that now miraculously find hundred of billions of pounds or dollars to ‘re-capitalize the banks’, have recently proved; if proof were needed…)

Let me quote Saramago once more: ‘I would ask the political economists, the moralists, if they have already calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to wretchedness, to overwork, to demoralization, to infantilization, to despicable ignorance, to insurmountable misfortune, to utter penury, in order to produce one rich person?

Image CC BY Francesco Fiondella

Zygmunt Bauman on Liquidity vs. Solidity

Liquidity vs. Solidity

A couple of years ago, as part of my research into my doctoral thesis, I commented on how Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of ‘liquid modernity’ captured succinctly the changing nature of knowledge in our society. Serendipitously, I came across a recent interview with Bauman via a tweet from Terry Wassall, ostensibly a colleague of his at the University of Leeds.

It’s a shame (and ironic given some of Bauman’s comments towards the end of the interview) that Theory, Culture & Society isn’t open access. Quotations will have to suffice, such as this one (my emphasis):

I did not and do not think of the solidity-liquidity conundrum as a dichotomy; I view those two conditions as a couple locked, inseperably, in a dialectical bond… After all, it was the quest for the solidity of things and states that most of the time triggered, kpt in motion and guided those things’ and states’ liquiefaction; liquidity was not an adversary, but an effect of that quest for solidity, having no other parenthood, even when (or if) the parent would deny the legitimacy of the offspring. in turn, it was the formless of the oozing/leaking/flowing liquid that prompted the efforts of cooling/damping/moulding. If there is something to permit the distinction between ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’ phases of modernity (that is, arranging them in an order of succession), it is the change in both the manifest and latent purpose behind the effort.

I think what Bauman is getting at here is that it very much depends on your worldview and context as to whether you see liquidity or solidity as desirable. The fact that people differ in similar ways over time (e.g. one group arguing for the status quo, one against) leads to the ‘dialectical bond’.

Bauman continues,

Originally, solids were melted not because of a distaste for solidity, but because of dissatisfaction with the degree of solidity of the extant/inherited solids: purely and simply, the bequeathed solids were foud to be not solid enough (insufficiently resistant/immunized to change) by the standards of the order-obsessed and compulsively order-building modern powers.

To cut a long story short: if in its ‘solid’ phase the heart of modernity was in controlling/fixing the future, the ‘liquid’ phase’s prime concern is with the avoidance of mortgaging it and in any otther way pre-empting the use of as yet undisclosed, unknown and unknowable opportunities the future is sure to bring.

Essentially, then, the left and the right of the political spectrum is a continuum of metaphorical viscosity. The conservative right tends towards solidity and the status quo, whilst the left looks towards liquidity and, in the words of Bauman, to avoid ‘mortgaging’ the future for the sake of the present.

As an educator, it’s difficult not to apply Bauman’s analysis to our current problems with the education system. As a citizen of the western world, it’s even harder not to apply his analysis to the crisis of Capitalism…

Image CC BY-NC whisperwolf