Networks and Enclaves conference
February 16, 2010
The Networks and Enclaves conference recently held at UC Irvine endeavored to question the role of the University (and academics, and theory, and publishing) in the networked age. This relatively intimate conference put in conversation an array of scholars and academic figures from a surprisingly broad international context. The discussions covered a lot of ground over the course of a day and a half, ultimately culminating in a day two panel that considered access to information in the twenty-first century. Although the speakers focused on familiar questions - copyright and creative commons, open-access publishing, the Google books settlement - the juxtaposition of these topics and the preceding discussion put into relief questions of how we should produce knowledge in the contemporary moment. While the discussion unsurprisingly veered toward suggestions that information, articles, and books should generally be as freely available as possible, the underlying argument emphasized the challenge to a "university as enclave" model. Rather than gathering and disseminating knowledge, then, the discussion centered on the blurred boundaries between academic knowledge production and the social and political contexts with which they are inextricably networked. Information should circulate unfettered not simply because it can in a digital era, but because the imperative for the academy, the humanities in particular, should be public engagement. The great intellectual challenges of the digital media era will not prove to be computational, but instead interpretational, situational, and relational, making sense of the vast array of data and understanding the contexts in which it is produced and distributed. This is not simply a matter of returning to the (already romantic) concept of the public intellectual, pointedly expounding on the issues of the day, but instead arguing for a model of academic knowledge production that engages already networked publics, and then explicitly sharing the resultant synthetic knowledge with these same publics.
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