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The web and the academic divide

April 28th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

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Some blogposts ago I ruminated on what Bourdieu would have said about the Web. Without more concrete sources about his thoughts on which to draw – given that the web only emerged with its social and participatory features after his passing away – I was left to guess what Bourdieu would have said about the web. I based my judgement on his writings, especially those concerning Television. I saw myself tempted to say that Bourdieu would have not appreciated the web as much as I would have liked him to…probably because of my tendency to do so and his inclination to criticize popular media. At the core of his argument was the issue of power and who controlled the publication of knowledge…with him ironically using his own means and channels – the University – to share his message.

Lately, I have been engaging with the writings of other prominent scholars – namely Habermas and Wacquant – who have witnessed the effects of the participatory web on a global scale: the Obama’s campaign and the Arab spring, among others, come to mind. Their take on the web however is not so different from the one I had anticipated for Bourdieu, despite their advocacy for public scholarship. And so, it is almost a case to say that old habit(u)s do die hard.

Habermas, the father of the Public Sphere debate, for instance, has, for several times, declared his lack of understanding, and for that matter, interest in engaging online as a space of public communication (see here and here, for instance).  In a 2012 interview for the Philosophie Magazine, Wacquant also showed his disapproval for social media tools, especially twitter, for replacing reflexivity with immediacy.

I can understand where both thinkers come from given the initial judgement of such tools as superficial. That is often an argument of resistance amongst those who have not experienced the social web first hand. I have been guilty of it too, if I well remember my first reaction to Twitter. Nevertheless, many would argue that social media can be more than a tool or a trend; it can be a new conduit of information and create alternative, if not new spaces for discussion amongst distributed communities and dispersed individuals. Participation in these environments  potentially results in a change of both perspective and practices regarding how social media impacts on and changes the work of academics. Academics’ experiences with social media, or refusal to engage with it, often results in a divide between those who support it and those who discard it.

It could be argued that this apparent doxic approach to the web is a form of protecting their symbolic power as established scholars and thinkers, who ‘act’ in conventional, yet rather exclusive – and so far effective – spaces of academic debate that they dominate, i.e., high ranked academic journals and, especially, books. The classification of conduits of scholarly communication may well result in the misrecognition of the growing impact of the web on academic work. Nonetheless, it is also important to notice that as disposed as we may be to the web, we must not forget that it presents as much positive points as it does negative ones. The tendency to gravitate towards like-minded communities often results in unconscious bias, which could be regarded as yet a competing form of doxa…?

My question then is: to what extend do we take these thinkers’ approaches to the web seriously? And more importantly, how can we use it to engage in more critical debates, which is, to me, the main concern of such critiques in the first place.

The post The web and the academic divide appeared first on Social Theory Applied.

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