Planned Obsolescence: Peer Review

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the first chapter of Planned Obsolesce, Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses peer review. She begins with a summation of its history, tracing it back to seventeenth-century censorship; knowledge production was relegated to various “societies” (such as the Royal Society of London) which were funded, in part, by the state, and therefore peer review was a tool that allowed the state to police what could and could not be considered “knowledge.” However, this isn’t, according to Fitzpatrick, how peer review functions in the present:

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Gradually…scholarly societies facilitated a transition in scientific peer review from state censorship to self-policing, allowing them a degree of autonomy but simultaneously creating…a disciplinary technology, one that produces the conditions of possibility for the academic disciplines that it authorizes (21).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Peer review is now a self-policing enterprise, meaning that academics create and perpetuate the conditions that determine what is and is not “scholarship.” They are, in essence, slaves to their own system, a system which, as Fitzpatrick points out, is no longer sustainable. This unsustainability has been caused by numerous factors: academic publication is no longer profitable, more and more work is being done online, and, perhaps, most importantly, the very nature of “authority” is being undermined by the Internet, where the production of knowledge is often crowdsourced.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 This creates the following problem, as Fitzpatrick notes: “The production of knowledge is the academy’s very reason for being, and if we cling to an outdated system for establishing measuring authority while the nature of authority is shifting around us, we run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to contemporary culture’s dominant ways of knowing” (17).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 This notion of relevancy is, at least for, me, where one could provide some pushback. Doesn’t privileging relevancy imply that academia had/has some sort of ongoing relationship with the public? I don’t believe that this is necessary true, at least historically, nor, dare I say, in the present. Isn’t it rather the case, as we’ve discovered by tracing the beginnings of peer review to “societies,” that academia has always been a space cut off from the rest of the world? We may, in fact, be arguing for a relevancy that never existed, which isn’t to say that Fitzpatrick’s proposals are worthless. But wouldn’t it be more honest to say that embracing alternative methods of knowledge production is first and foremost a way for academia to gain a relevancy it never had?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Fitzpatrick also often uses the terms consensus and dissensus, buzzwords taken from the philosophical project of Jacques Rancière. The internet is a site of dissensus, which means that no one opinion (theoretically) can ever gain precedence over all other opinions. This, according to Fitzpatrick, benefits peer review, in that it can provide multiple perspectives from which the writer can draw, essentially democratizing scholarship. The problem with dissensus, however, is that it can just as likely lead to a terrible consensus (one can think of the dissensus of a portion of America, which led to the consensus around a presidential nominee: Trump). Fitzpatrick seems to acknowledge this:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 As we think about peer-to-peer review, it will be important to consider the ways that network effects bring out the both the best and the worst in the communities they connect, and the kinds of vigilance that we must bring to bear in guarding against the potential reproduction of the dominant, often exclusionary ideological structures of the Internet within the engagement between scholars and readers online.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Doesn’t this imply, however, that all dissensus isn’t created equal, that what Fitzpatrick is actually advocating for is in fact a dissensus with certain limitations, i.e. consensus? Can there be a truly sustained dissensus, one which leads to a fully democratic scholarship? Wouldn’t such a sustained dissensus be the end of scholarship?

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 WORKS CITED

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Peer Review.” Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York University Press, 2011. 15-49. Print.

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