New dissertation on publishing will be released as a Wiki page
What micro-politics is at play when we publish? And how can we expand the common understanding what constitutes a publication? These are some of the key questions in a current doctoral thesis in Artistic Practice by Eva Weinmayr.
So, your thesis will not be an actual book but an open-source wiki-page. How come?
– My research explores the micro-politics at play when we publish. This means I am exploring the interactions, expectations and conventions at play, and the implications, dilemmas and power politics involved. For example, we all know many books with emancipatory and potentially radical content, but often they fall short of acting politically in the making of the book. This is why I am not just writing about collective knowledge practices in my thesis, but enacting them by developing the thesis on a MediaWiki. The open-source and fundamentally collaborative approach of a Wiki operates simultaneously as a production and dissemination platform. It generates a non-linear form of writing – and reading. It offers different entry points, and it can link to its outside. It can embed multimedia, such as audio recordings, and moving images, and in this way mitigate the strictness and potential "monumentality" of more traditional forms of academic writing and reading. There is also a very concrete reason: this research is practice-based and the five submitted projects of this PhD are collaborations, so it was just consequent to find a mode of publishing that allows for a diversity of voices, for different viewpoints and even disagreements. After all, the MediaWiki with its open-source approach stands exactly for a non-proprietary approach to knowledge practices and that's what's so progressive about it.
You write the following: ”This practice-based inquiry explores the social and political agency of publishing by investigating the micro-politics of making and sharing knowledges from an intersectional feminist perspective.” How would you break this down? In other words, how would you explain the subject of your thesis to someone without a background within academia or feminist theory?
– I don't think it is actually productive to create a binary of inside and outside of academia. It falls back to the assumption that academia is a monolith that is closed off from the world. On the contrary, most of my practices are located outside the university – in communities that are trying to live a feminist life – working and campaigning against structural inequalities. Just look at the method I chose to share my thesis – it is public, and it is to an extent collaborative and multi-vocal, and it can be accessed, used, discussed and built upon by anybody who has an internet connection. Karen Barad's metaphor of the "compost pile" is relevant in this context to describe the kind of distributed knowledge practices I am exploring. Hence, if we imagined knowledge practices not to be housed in a university building, but in a compost pile, we might be able to imagine a different knowledge ecology – one of feeding, digesting, excreting, and transforming. Authorship here is fundamentally decentralized, because here multiple agents are at work to create this nutrient-rich milieu.
You state in your thesis: ”At its core, this inquiry aims to expand and test the normative criteria of what constitutes a publication.” What are these criteria?
– There are several assumptions about what constitutes a publication in normative, or traditional publishing practices. The most crucial one is that a publication is a finite object, a fixed and discrete material stabilization that can travel – detached from its maker – and circulate across regions, contexts, and epochs. As Florian Cramer says, "the idea of the book is one that can be read in one, five, and one hundred years' time". Such fixity however has implications on knowledge practices, because of the authority that is produced by it – compared to oral, time-based, contextual or situated utterances.
Another standard assumption, which I deem problematic, is the common understanding of authorship, and of individual authorship in particular.
I am unpacking in the thesis the prevailing idea of authorship that turns knowledge – via copyright – into private property. This whole concept of intellectual property seems ridiculous, when you start from the assumption that knowledge is and always has been a collective effort from the very beginning.
You write: ”this inquiry critically investigates the presumption that publishing is an outright positive and progressive act, a tool of giving voice and developing emancipatory agency.” Is it not? Could you elaborate?
– It's definitely more complicated than that, as I explained above. To add to the fixity, authority argument one could say that publications in our current systems of evaluation and audit have been turned into some kind of asset, a currency that secures cultural capital and livelihood, such as an employment at the university. In these contexts, we often don't seem to value publications for what they do, what they enable, but reduce them to a quantifiable "output" according to a logic of calculation.
How did you decide on this topic/inquiry?
– Publication became a main mode of my artistic practice early on. Through publishing it appeared that I could shape the terms and conditions of production and distribution and could act without the authorization of galleries, curators, collectors, etc. Publishing has the potential of being a vehicle for ideas that can spread more cheaply and easily – compared to traditional artworks. After many years of publishing practice, I realised there was a shift in my understanding I saw the necessity not only to expand the common understanding what constitutes a publication but also to shift the focus on the process. If we learned to understand publishing as a verb (a process) rather than a noun (the finished object) then practice itself could be understood as a form of publishing: for example, a teaching situation, workshop, seminar, group dialogue, where knowledge is collectively created and shared at the same time.
My research shows, that in order to enable emancipatory practices we need neither more outputs, nor more radical content, but new methods and taxonomies of value that pay attention to the ways and processes how we publish. Christopher Kelty sums it up nicely when he says we need forms and practices, that see merit not only "in the content of the things we say (whether in a political argument, a scientific paper, or a piece of code)", but "in the ways we say them, or who is encouraged to say them and who is encouraged to remain silent."
Eva Weinmayr will defend her dissertation Titel: Noun to Verb: an investigation into the micro-politics of publishing through artistic practice on Thursday November fre 5 nov at 1 PM.
Text: Cecilia Kölljing