While Martin Weller’s seminar in #Change11 was ‘on air’ two days ago, I was editing the last draft of my MRes dissertation, a small interview project…looking for ‘digital researchers’ in an Italian university. No doubt that the preparation of this work benefited in every part of the process by my networks of contacts and the ‘joys of openness’: just to mention the month of September, I was able to access relevant publications, such as Garnett and Ecclesfield‘s ALT-C paper on ‘A Framework to Co-creating open scholarship’, White and Le Cornu‘s article on Visitor/Resident typologies of online engagement and the open access version of Weller’s book on The Digital Scholar before receiving the printed copy. What a blast! 🙂 ! In turn, I made comments in some blogs, shared rough materials and links of empirical studies and aggregated essays, conferences’ recordings and blog posts on the topic. What next? Certainly now I have something to say and I will be able to blog about that. Moreover, I will opt for an open access submission of my dissertation, when approved. For sure, given the topic being researched, I drew obvious advantages by my permanence online, even if only any accepted papers that I will be able to formally publish for conferences and journals will be all that will really count for my resume to be enriched.
But what if I was a classicist? I talked with a brilliant young researcher in Humanities that is far more ‘digital-as-networked’ than me. However, her colleagues (also abroad) are not used to share any content (e.g. references) in social media: how could it make sense to be a networked researcher if you are in fact a ‘Lone Ranger’ in your field? So, she prefers to curate a digital identity in an intellectual field that has nothing to do with her academic commitment.
What if I was a researcher in Medicine, under pressure due to the competitive environment? Probably I would also be suspicious towards blogging as a viable means to practice scientific discourse. Or would believe that there are more efficient means to communicate among peers and have impact on a wider context (e.g. traditional media).
What if was a young researcher in Physics, whose digital interaction are rigorously channelled within the ‘boundaries’ of a large international community of a funded project? Maybe I would find it difficult to practice other forms of openness beyond the well-established conventions to share pre-print (in fact finished papers) in renowned subject-based online repositories. Perhaps I would wander whether there are modes to illustrate to layman the meanings of highly specialized (and costly) research threads.
What about any possible champions of digital, networked, open researchers? All that I could observe from my narrow perspective is related to two cases of ‘digital researcher’:
1) a well-established researcher – a social scientist – working in a discipline and from a research perspective that can be nurtured by a networked discourse: he has an exploratory approach towards new technologies and a well-established academic reputation. So, he can afford to curate a (parallel) academic digital identity even if his own academic context does not acknowledge that. Moreover, he endorses an idea of democratisation of the researcher’s reputation and the moral responsibility of a scholar as a public intellectual;
2) a doctoral researcher – a ‘digital’ archeologist – that undertakes her scholarly apprenticeship within a discipline in transition from a traditional to a still uncharted asset. Her networking activities is closely linked to the collective and collaborative endeavors to define methods and create digital instruments. Open collaboration is an efficient way to do all that. For sure she personally has an exploratory attitude towards new tools, but she works in an enabling disciplinary context, that makes her ‘naturally’ digital, networked and open. It is also true that she currently live in a sort of ‘limbo’ constituted by her doctoral journey. The scholarly system that can acknowledge her digital profile as a prospective young researcher is all to be thought and constructed.
I find it particularly fascinating Weller’s idea that “a well-respected digital scholar may well be someone who has no institutional affiliation”, because s/he is more defined by networks and online identity s/he establishes than by the institution which he/she belongs to. The autonomy of a ‘disintermediated’ scholar with respect to institutional and traditional scholarly constraints can even be considered as an advantage in some disciplinary contexts, but it is worth exploring to what extent this perspective can be generalized across disciplines. Otherwise, how this idea is likely to be inflected in different subject areas and discliplinary conventions of work practices and ICTs appropriation In this sense, the ‘digital scholarship resilience matrix‘ can help to situate the digital scholar’s emergent profile within the macro and micro contexts and according to individual attitudes and motivations.