Technological Ecologies and Sustainability

Sustaining Scholarly Efforts

Cynthia L. Selfe, Gail E. Hawisher, and Patrick W. Berry



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Certainly, it will not be our own limited efforts and projects that shape the profession’s ongoing negotiation of stasis and change. As scholars, we work among a community of individuals, with similar and different experiences and commitments, who will continue to define their own balancing points within departmental, institutional, and professional contexts. And these contexts, in turn, will continue to respond to—and shape—emerging practices in digital communication environments. Indeed, the MLA Task Force (2007) report, citing David Damrosch (1995) among others, noted that emerging technologies are already demanding our attention, creativity, and intellectual flexibility. The increasingly common practice of distributing dissertations in electronic formats, for instance, has already de-stabilized the historical understanding of the dissertation as a “protobook” (p. 67), creating both exciting possibilities and worrisome problems for junior scholars in departments of English. Similarly, changing digital venues for collaborative knowledge construction, exchange, and distribution, as well as emergent forms of multimodal scholarship, have already affected our professional understanding of scholarship in fundamental ways—both exciting and challenging.

Our goal, however, will be to continue our scholarly efforts, informed by feminist values and undertaken in ways sustainable within the contexts of our own lived experiences as scholars. For us, this means that we will continue to respect the judgment and input of colleagues who, as mentioned, maintain values on scholarly projects characterized by excellence, intellectual reach, and peer review. At the same time, however, we are also determined to push for change—to push our departments, our institutions, and our profession to recognize new forms of excellent digital scholarship; to push our tenure and promotion committees to understand the work of scholars exploring new digitally inspired ways of making meaning; to push ourselves to explore ways of producing, exchanging, and distributing ideas in digitally supported systems.

We believe that this balancing act demands ethically rigorous and sustainable forms of professional discipline within English departments. In this work, it would be dangerous to indulge either in unthinking digital boosterism or to succumb to defensive intellectual conservativism. If, for instance, we think it important to retain our historically informed value on scholarship that is original and innovative, smart and sustained, peer reviewed and published, we must also take on the responsibility of acknowledging that scholarly fields and forms change; and we must consider carefully how traditional values can be applied to emerging scholarly projects as well as conventional ones. Similarly, if we think it important to codify scholarly production standards in tenure and production documents, we must also be open to revising such documents on a regular basis so that they allow for a more “capacious conception of scholarship” (MLA Task Force, 2007, p. 5) that better accommodates the work of junior scholars breaking productive new intellectual ground. We cannot allow ourselves to be content with guidelines just because they worked for us at the historical moment of our own tenure. And if we are intent on retaining our conventional scholarly values, we must also remain intellectually active in our thinking. We must commit ourselves to avoiding ossification by being receptive to multiple new forms of knowledge production and new genres of scholarship—considering, among others, those forms that employ multiple semiotic channels to make and convey meaning, and collaborative systems of knowledge production that have proven generative and useful to scholars within digital environments. Making our way in this middle territory—by whatever tactics we adopt and strategies we negotiate (de Certeau, 1984)—will not be easy but may yield and sustain digital scholarly efforts, and, if we are lucky, valuable new forms of intellectual work.

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