Thinking correctly, talking Sanskrit.
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Not only does crowdsourcing of academic work create its own
"popularity" system for producing scholarship (traditional grant routes
do this as well in supporting particular academic trends, but the key
difference in my mind is that there is a formal, learned vetting system,
even if it is not ideal). My larger concern relates to the
privatization of funding for research, especially for individuals and
for specialized works. Crowdsourcing of academic work gives an all-too-easy excuse for grant-giving and governmental bodies
to disconnect from the funding of individual scholarship altogether.
It does the same for the publishing industry, where they can require or
increase already-required subventions. Arguably, these groups are
already doing this in different fashions, especially under current
austerity measures and the economic debacle many countries are in, but
this sort of crowdsourcing could make their argument radically easy if
it were to become at all popular in academic circles. Who can't
envision members of government, when considering funding priorities,
stepping back altogether and saying, "If it has any public appeal, the
public will fund it" and use crowdsourcing as a justification to cut
funding completely? Or a publisher doing the same in requiring a
subvention? Crowdsourcing scholarship would certainly be appealing to
certain university higher admin types who could easily justify
eliminating internal funding altogether—especially for the humanities,
where "practical value" and larger fund-raising potential are hard
arguments to make.
While I am not a fan of slippery-slope type arguments, I wonder if we
are hurting ourselves in the long run if we circumvent the standard
grant vetting based on an academic market for a different sort of
market-driven popularity. Perhaps certain types of work are more
appropriate for crowdsourcing, I don't know. And, of course, I admit
there is still the vetting that takes place with the publisher, though
that industry is in flux. But are we going to see many more of these
sorts of appeals? A future onslaught across list serves? Or to
think it out further: are people going to increasingly turn to
colleagues to fund any project they don't get a grant for or don't
self-finance? How about requests to fund unfunded dissertation projects?
Or to fund [insert name here]?
Clearly this is only going to work for projects that the "crowd" will understand and appreciate. Which is just the sort of thing an academic funding body will not fund.I think this is telling from Slouber: "The Kickstarter project will help me to move beyond the catch-22 of needing a book to land a tenure-track job, but needing the income of a steady job to have the time to devote to research."The times are changing. Academic funding is highly competitive and vastly smaller than what is needed for everyone who is capable and has a worthy project to be able to proceed.By the same token the 5 books I've published (including a memoir by my mother) were never going to find a commercial publisher (and not for want of trying). It was self publish or nothing. So I think this is the new model - self-publishing, crowd-funding, blogging etc. 100 years ago most research was carried out by aristocrats who could afford the expense of gaining a PhD and doing research. Then governments took over and provided funds via various channels. Now governments are withdrawing from funding certain kinds of research (our kind) and thus we need to make alternative arrangements. In terms of convincing your peers - well one of the examples you give is a development of a PhD thesis which presumably convinced many people. The other guys say "But this is not an academic work as such: it's a labor of love" and get the "former CEO and President of Yoga Journal" to endorse their work. So this is not an academic project - it uses the skills and resources of scholarship to produce something more accessible. I'm totally into that and happy they got their funding. I'll certainly be looking into crowd funding. It might be the only way I can afford to get into the academy.
Dear Jayarava,yours sounds like a very interesting comment, but I am not sure I understand it correctly. You say that crowd-funding only applies to non-academic crowd-appealing projects and that the Yoga one is one among then. However, I do not understand whether you think that Slouber's project belongs to this group or not. In fact, I think it does *not*. Slouber's work is a great work, but not one which is meant for a large public. It deals with manuscript variants, philology and history and as you mention, is part of his own life-plan. What is your view about crowd-funding in such cases?
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