Transdisciplinary publishing

Lisa Gye reports on the Hard Copy forum

At exactly 5pm on March 13, 2006, the computers in the State Library of South Australia shut down. No advance warning, just a blank screen. The person taking notes for the final session of the Hard Copy workshop sat bolt upright as the data projector defaulted to blue. “Errr… we’ve been continually saving this I hope.” Vain hope as it turned out. Given the day’s discussions with regards to the important role of the library in the process of archiving this seemed like just a little too much irony.

Hard Copy was organised by Lizzie Muller and Melinda Rackham as part of ANAT’s [Media State] program run in association with the 2006 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. The workshop was facilitated by Roger Malina, editor of the US periodical Leonardo, and its aims were to provide an overview of the state of interdisciplinary publishing in Australia and to provide participants with an opportunity to contribute to a dialogue about new models. It also aimed to develop new partnerships between organisations and individuals active in the field. The workshop was preceded by a discussion on the Fibreculture list led by Malina and the other facilitators; Lizzie Muller, Keith Gallasch, Linda Carroli and myself. An ongoing report on the outcomes of the workshop will be developed on the wiki on the Fibreculture site and it is hoped that a permanent resource will emerge from this (http://wiki.fibreculture.org/index.php/ Hard_Copy_Workshop_2006).

The workshop itself was divided into 3 themes that looked at interdisciplinary publishing from the point of view of archiving and distribution, research, scholarship and their dissemination, criticism and readerships. Given the breadth of the themes, it’s not surprising that the day’s discussions were far ranging and detailed. Rather than attempt their faithful reproduction, I’ll focus on a few salient points.

From the outset, the question of language and the definition of terms occupied both the discussants on the list prior to the event and those present at the workshop in Adelaide. Andrew Murphie asked whether the use of the term ‘transdisiplinarity’ was more appropriate than ‘interdisciplinarity.’ “Put simply”, he wrote, “if interdisciplinarity allows an impossibly smooth communication between different disciplines, often by imposing some kind of recognition metrics across the whole, transdisciplinarity is about how things cut across disciplines and transform them, moment by moment. Of course, their processes—including legitimation and so on—are constantly transformed as well. This would include publishing.” Although not explicitly addressed at the workshop, Andrew’s point could have framed many of the discussions that took place on the day.

How, for example, do we allow for the transformation of academic writing by new technologies rather than trying to make new modes of writing fit into outdated but recognisable academic constructs? Even further to this, how do we then get the academy and those who fund research to recognise these new modes of writing as legitimate? As many of the workshop participants noted, new technologies for publishing not only allow for different outcomes in terms of writing but can in fact also produce new ways of thinking about writing. Writing is not always about something, as Linda Marie Walker put it. An instrumentalist approach to writing fails to recognise writing as research rather than writing about research. This was a point also made by Ross Gibson when he talked about the need for a more immersed critical writing to balance out the over-emphasis on critical distance in academic writing that has emerged in the last 150 years. He argued that the kind of writing called for in interdisciplinary publishing is reflective, active and immersed writing that helps the reader to think rather than telling the reader what to think. For Gibson, however, new technologies for publishing can actually hinder this kind of writing because they emphasise speed rather than reflection and development.

Questions about the potentials created by the use of digital technologies in research and publishing, however, did generate a good deal of discussion on the day. These discussions ranged from the appropriate use of terms such as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ to describe off and online forms of publishing (does the term ‘soft’ devalue online publishing, for example) through to questions of authentication and reputation in online and collaborative publishing environments. And, of course, the archive is critical to the entire project of online publishing. Katie Cavanagh warned that we are living in a digital ‘dark age’ where the amount of content published is exceeding already its ability to be stored and retrieved effectively. How we address this problem is crucial if what we create now is to survive into the future.

Following on from this, questions about how we sustain publications, and in particular specialised, academic or niche publications, in a rapidly contracting funding environment were also addressed. As both Sam de Silva and Andrew Murphie pointed out, we are approaching a time when we may have to imagine a world where there is no funding or institutional support. As an adjunct to this, the development and maintenance of readerships/audiences is crucial if interdisciplinary research is to develop an interface with the broader community. As Lizzie Muller pointed out, there is a need for a public discourse that is still thoughtful and not merely popular. How all of this will transform Keith Gallasch’s publishing “ecology”—“the patterns of mutualism, dependency, fuelling, parasitism … in a system and between overlapping systems” (Fibreculture list, 11.03.2006, http://fibreculture.org/pipermail/) is anyone’s guess. As his post also notes, it’s a challenge that this very publication is facing as it continues to work to “bring audiences into the loop of critical engagement” in the face of new models and methods of delivery.

Hard Copy, the event, was an intensive and inspiring day. The issues that were raised both on the day and on the Fibreculture list need to continue to be addressed. Hopefully this is just the beginning of an ongoing engagement with these critical issues and ideas.

Hard Copy, organisers, Lizzie Muller and Melinda Rackham, ANAT’s [Media State] program, 2006 Adelaide Festival of the Arts with support from Creativity and Cognition Studios, University of Technology, Sydney, the Fibreculture network and Smart Internet CRC.

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 10

© Lisa Gye; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2006