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  • Engaging Academic and Nonacademic Communities through Online Scholarly Work
  • Avi Santo (bio) and Christopher Lucas (bio)

The decline of public intellectual culture has become a commonplace concern among academics, and many of us in the field of cinema and media studies, [End Page 129] although members of a young discipline, share these concerns over the nature of our contribution to society. Whether we see our field as populated by pawns and players in the left-right culture wars or anodyne purveyors of social uplift, craft skills, and critical faculties, the interface of the academy with the wider concerns of the public is a preoccupation for many scholars. As evidenced by a rising tide of editorials and essays in forums such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, digital technologies—particularly the Internet and related social networking tools—have exacerbated these concerns about praxis.1 With the rise of DIY culture, user-generated content, and ubiquitous online video, an explosion of oral, textual, and visual cultural production has presented scholars with both a threat to established hierarchies of declamation and authority and an opportunity to engage their students and the wider public in new ways. Our goal here is to provide a snapshot of media studies in relation to the current possibilities for digital scholarship by posing these questions: How are media studies academics responding to the new media ecologies? What are they doing with these tools? What might be done? Does this new cultural formation call for new commitments and ways of thinking about scholarship, particularly if these technologies hold at once the promise of praxis and a threat to the traditions of scholarly engagement with the public?

In March 2008, we distributed an informal survey via the Cultural Studies listserv and the MediaCommons e-mail list that asked participants to report their attitudes and practices around online scholarly work (writing, media, or other forms of online production) as a means of engaging nonacademic communities. Because there is an unavoidable degree of self-selection that accompanies Web-based surveys, as well as bias implicit in appealing to current readers of MediaCommons and listserv subscribers, the findings we offer here are in no way indicative of the entire field of cinema and media studies, and the analysis should be viewed as preliminary at best. Our respondents should be seen as already comfortable, if not advanced, users of digital technologies. Nonetheless, without making strong claims for the validity of these findings for all media scholars, we believe the responses reveal interesting trends and concerns worthy of comment.2

Attitudes and Scholarly Practices Online.

Our respondents overwhelmingly agreed that online scholarly work presented media scholars with new opportunities to engage nonacademic communities (96 percent of respondents either agreed or somewhat agreed with this statement). Still, the survey revealed tremendous gaps between the types and amounts of online work our respondents produce and the types of work they believed had the greatest potential to engage nonacademic communities. Moreover, the responses revealed somewhat conflicted attitudes about the groups academics see as their primary constituents and the role of online work in reaching those constituencies (Table 1).

As Table 1 shows, respondents reported a very high estimation of the potential for certain digital modes of communication to engage nonacademic communities. We found it notable, though, that in contrast to this rather high perception of [End Page 130] potential, the number of scholars currently engaged in these types of work was for the most part quite small. Participation in these types of work ranged from 7 percent in moderating fan forums and producing podcasts, to 73 percent in listserv participation, but it was clear that respondents are much more likely to produce words in their online work (listservs, blogging) and much less likely to produce artistic or audiovisual media (podcasts, mash-ups, fictional works). Notably, these are the types of work considered most likely to engage nonacademic communities (Table 2).

Table 1.
Respondents reporting "a lot" or "some" potential for types of online scholarly work in engaging nonacademic communities.

Type of scholarly work Percentage (%)

Blogging 94

Writing popular criticism for online magazines 93

Creating artistic/fictional works 86

Producing podcasts 84

Commenting on other people's blogs 82...


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pp. 129-138
Launched on MUSE
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