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Monday, June 21, 2010

Indological Forums: a failure?

Several years ago, I actively participated to the creation and the life of an Italian forum about South Asian studies ( Whoever would like to find it on the web will fail, since the forum closed after a short while. Its administrator decided to do it because of lack of active participation. In fact, the only frequently visited section was the one about events relating to South Asia. A similar story has been told to me by Adrian Cirstei about another attempt of building a forum.
I am nonetheless sorry these forums closed. And, just like me, many other colleagues and students told me they miss it and used to read it regularly. As usual, there might be many accidental reasons connected to this failure. More in general, however, I would like to ask the following question: Why do the ones who now say they miss it never/hardly participated to it? (which could amount to: Why do we expect others to do what we do not have time enough to do ourselves?) Obviously enough, a forum cannot be made out of a (few) hero(s)' efforts. In order for an interesting discussion to occur, one needs several participants. On the other hand, an indological forum has the disadvantage of not clearly defining who its authors/readers should be. As I wrote in a previous post, I do feel closer to a colleague studying philosophy than to one who studies Bolliwood films (or Vedic preverbs). However, one might suggest a minimal definition of a forum for whomsoever is interested in reading Sanskrit texts. This would not be my favourite website (I am not particularly interested in whatever has been written in Sanskrit just because it is in Sanksrit), but I guess that no website would ever be my favourite one and I would certainly contribute to it.
As for readers/authors: a too large audience is by definition excluded (there are not so many people reading Sanskrit and among them the most part is rather of the lonely type and would not ever dream of participating to a forum). Hence, in my opinion, the forum should aim at covering all the rest of the audience, with no a priori exclusion (I do not believe that closed forums work, unless they are meant for a very specific purpose, such as discussing a book among coeditors).
Turning back to the initial question: how could one make Indologists write and discuss? One could not just hope they will. The system makes them rather focus on personal enterprises, such as writing articles/critical editions, etc., since they are academically rewarded (wehereas forum discussions are not). A forum might be hopefully useful, so that one wants to read (and, in case, participate) to discussions about, e.g., usage of terms one frequently encounters. On top of that, it has to be fun. Since, as already mentioned, there is no academic reward, one needs to enjoy doing it, just like one enjoys chatting with friends. Hence, although I am against closed forums, I would not engage again in one unless with a group of friends I really like chatting with. Moreover, it helps to have a common agenda (mine, as many readers already know is: making Indian philosophy part of Philosophy tout court).
Last, in my experience this implies also that one needs to enroll some graduate students (or people who are graduate students in spiritu). That is, one needs people who enjoy what they do and are still idealist enough to like discussing for hours about it. These qualities are rare, but they are even rarer among members of the academic staff (me included, of course).
What do you think?


Daniel Stender said...

Maybe the time is indeed ripe to give another try for a new forum. When I see this right there could be some dynamics in the pre-doc/early post-doc group. I think a fresh start-up should be grounded on a couple of people in form of a consortium, access control should be broad but not unlimited. Compared to mailing lists forums have a couple of advantages, one of them is that it is not tending always to be such arena-like as with the email lists. Headings and topic control could be chaired like at the conferences.

AC said...

I think that users should have the freedom to create whatever topics they need. If duplicate topics are opened the moderators can merge them.

elisa freschi said...

Daniel, I agree that the pre-doc/early post-doc group is often the more dynamic and open to experiments of this sort. I also think that one needs a consortium (we have all tried and failed…I, for one, would not give it another try unless with people I can share some fun with:-)).
I am just more liberal than you are. As AC suggests, I think that topic creation should be free and that moderation should be limited to formal points (such as: elimination of spam, merging of similar topics…). I also don't think that access should be very much limited. What about: all graduate students in Indological subjects + whoever is able to write a motivation letter explaining why she wants to participate?
A more general question: why not a blog with many authors, such as Manyul Im's one (see:
As already hinted at to Daniel, I guess that this could be a nice middle way (all adhikaarins could become authors and one would not have the problem of posts waiting for answers for weeks or months unless one gets tired of it). What do you two think?

Daniel Stender said...

Good idea!

AC said...

I don't think a multiuser blog a good place for discussions. It's structure is not appropriate. It's purpose is to host articles.

For free, open discussions, questions & answers the forum is the solution.

I also agree to idea that registration should be bases on a short motivation letter.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for your view, AC. I was thinking at something like the above-mentioned
or like this Italian blog:
Even if you do not understand Italian, you will easily see that it there are many discussions going on. Articles are posted and then answers/comments are much more important and numerous.
That being said, I'm happy with the forum. We could also try with both, if only one does not get upset due to few answers/comments.

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