The Future of Reading, or Do Scholars Really Want “Social Scholarship”?

David Weinberger comments on the new iPad:

The iPad is the future of the past of books


The future of reading is social. The future of reading blurs reading and writing. The future of reading is the networking of readers, writers, content, comments, and metadata, all in one continuous-on mash.

Depends what kind of writing you’re talking about, I suppose.  I’ve always been intrigued by Laura B. Cohen‘s blog post from a couple of years ago, “Social Scholarship on the Rise,” but I have yet to see it catch on among the sociolegal scholars I work with.  Start with Cohen’s first characteristic of a “social scholar”:

A social scholar contributes to the conversation about her research topic by discussing her findings and ruminations on her blog and by inviting comments. By doing this, she moves some of her research activities into the public arena.

Apart from a small subset of blogger/scholars, that doesn’t seem to be happening at all.  Perhaps it’s due to the training that most law faculty receive now–not just the J.D., but the long, perfection-oriented dissertation process–but in my experience, law professors and other sociolegal scholars are extremely reluctant (if not phobic) about releasing to the public anything other than a fully fleshed-out article.  Certainly they take advantage of the time-honored law school practice of workshopping their papers at other law schools, but this is all done face-to-face and generally with no record of the discussion other than the notes the speaker may take.

Scholars in law and sociolegal studies (and, I suspect, in many other fields) don’t seem to want the sort of fluid, boundaryless interaction of reader with the written text that futurists like Weinberger predict.  I doubt that many casual readers of popular literature want that either.  Certainly some Harry Potter fans like discussing their favorite books in online groups or creating fan fiction, but I suspect the vast majority of readers prefer to consume their literature in the traditional way, as artifact and object separate from the reader.

Some of us comfortable in the online environment might like to see the type of reading Weinberger predicts become the norm, but I’m not betting on it.


2 thoughts on “The Future of Reading, or Do Scholars Really Want “Social Scholarship”?”

  1. It seems like some scholars are putting some of their thoughts online — is one example — but I have yet to see an example of the kind of full out “social scholarship” you’re talking about. Most blog content consists of initial reactions of a more informal sort (with some exceptions). Full scholarship is available on SSRN (for example), but that hasn’t really caught on (from what I’ve seen) as a place to post drafts and get feedback.

    Certainly this is how I personally blog and publish. Sure, I put things on my blog that make it into my larger research, but mostly it’s just snippets and initial thoughts, not full-out work. Partly in online writing shorter works better, partly I feel like I want my scholarship more fully researched before I share it.

    Something to think more about though. Perhaps I should change the way I work.

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