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Modified Access to Academic Disciplines through Online Journals: Downloading a New Metaphor

Journaux en ligne et disciplines universitaires : Le téléchargement d’une nouvelle discipline ?
Bill Bolin
p. 40-49

Résumé

Cet article examine comment les journaux universitaires en ligne ont transmis la recherche universitaire en s’harmonisant avec les nouvelles pédagogies plus participatives et en offrant aux lecteurs l’occasion d’inventer leurs propres stratégies de lecture, ainsi que de dialoguer avec les auteurs d’articles. En s’intéressant surtout aux journaux universitaires en Amérique du Nord et en Europe, cet article traite des avantages et des inconvénients de l’utilisation des journaux en ligne pour la recherche et de la publication dans de tels journaux.

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Texte intégral

1Some years ago, while using a database for articles on teaching, I came across an abstract of an article of mine in Journal of Basic Writing. I was a little disconcerted to find that the abstract was misleading, describing as the principal point in my article something that my article explicitly warns against. Added to this chagrin with the abstract in this database is fact that this particular journal requires all contributors to write an abstract to be included with the article. Why, I wondered for the first time because this affected me, did this database not simply use the abstract provided by the author?

  • 1  See Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe, CCCC Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, 1994, Ca (...)

2I think it is fair to say we have become accustomed to believing that abstracts of articles in databases such as ERIC, Texshare, the MLA Bibliography and others are tools that successfully distill an article or presentation into manageable-sized morsels that we can rapidly taste in order to make decisions about those articles and presentations. Certainly, many databases give us every encouragement to consider them as tools in such ways, even though neither the web pages, the CD-ROM screens, nor the peripheral print materials specifically advertise the databases as evaluative tools. In fact, the handbook for contributors to the CCCC Bibliography explains that bibliographers are to resist the temptation to evaluate the listed works and should provide only descriptive annotations instead. And the bibliography, itself, claims that the annotations “describe the document’s contents and are intended to help users determine the document’s usefulness1”. In this article, I propose to argue that we carefully consider our metaphors for the annotations and our metaphors for the journals they represent. It seems, in fact, that this tool metaphor is often and easily transformed into a gateway metaphor so that the abstracts and annotations become entries into the cordoned-off field of a discipline. I want to spend some time considering metaphors of an academic discipline and then considering metaphors that have been used for the abstracts and annotations which represent the scholarship that, in turn, represents the discipline. I will concentrate on my own area of specialization, writing theory—what is often called in the United States composition studies—as my primary examples. Although, the argument applies to other academic disciplines. Finally, I will make remarks on recent changes in the publishing of scholarly materials and how those changes may or may not call for newer ways of considering an academic field—in other words, new metaphors.

  • 2  See Peter Vandenberg, “Discipline”, inPaul Heilker and Peter Vandenberg (eds), Keywords in Composi (...)

3In Keywords in Composition Studies, Peter Vandenberg illustrates notions of the term discipline in the printed record of composition studies. Most of the examples of discipline, a term which appears to be synonymous with field, profession and community, indicate a spatial metaphor with boundaries that can be entered or exited. In other words, graduate and advanced undergraduate students receive partial introduction to the thinking in their chosen fields through the articles in those fields’ journals. Although medical students first begin learning medicine from their professors’ lectures and from their textbooks and lab assignments, they begin to become members of the scholarly club when they do research and read the field’s journals, such as TheLancet. Furthermore, they will most likely initiate their research by using a database such as Medline with abstracts of the articles in those journals. Vandenberg shows that academic journals are the entities which define the boundaries of a field; these claims seem to reflect perceptions prevalent throughout many disciplines especially as disciplinarity has generally been considered a concept borrowed from the sciences2. Because the humanities are more exclusively dependent on the written word than are the laboratory sciences, which must show evidence of empirical study, the journals in the humanities are even more integral in defining those disciplines. More recently, however, there has been some rethinking about the possible fluidity of such boundaries.

  • 3  See Winifred B. Horner (ed.), Composition and Literature: Bridging the Gap, Chicago, University of (...)
  • 4  Anne Ruggles Gere (ed.), “Introduction”, Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, NewYork, ML (...)
  • 5  James Thomas Zebroski, Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing (...)

4One researcher who has reflected on the metaphor is Anne Ruggles Gere. In the preface to her book Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, she works with a version of the field metaphor. Gere suggests looking at the relationship between composition and other disciplines as a give-and-take interaction that results in composition’s changing other fields, as well as its being changed by them. She quotes Geoffrey Squires’s notion of restructuring, noting, as he does, that the heretofore popular bridge metaphor3 evokes images of traversing boundaries while not changing the boundaries or the fields. Gere’s use of the restructuring metaphor, on the other hand, evokes images of dynamic areas that interact with one another; Gere calls these “charged sites ‘with’ permeableboundaries4”. James Zebroski appears to concur when he claims that the field is constructed by our language—in other words, by our “professional conferences and journals anddisciplinary deep talk”. As does Gere, he argues that the field constructs us even as we construct it; therefore, it is preferable when the boundaries of the field are malleable5.

  • 6  Derek Owens, Resisting Writing (and the Boundaries of Composition), Dallas, Southern Methodist Uni (...)

5In a vein similar to the field metaphor, Derek Owens offers a geographical metaphor of disciplines which manages to remain fairly faithful to conventional perceptions of geography but which is dependent on discourses. Owens compares disciplines, or what he calls discourse focuses, to chains of islands. One such island, which Owens calls Composition Island, is “home to peopleinterested in the business of teaching writing6” and is part of the chain known as Academic Discourse. On each island, however, are various groups who speak different argots; for example, on Composition Island there are the formalists and current-traditionalists who converse about “product”. There are also others who are “process-oriented” or who promote “expressive discourse”. Although the island is defined by an interest in teaching writing, the various cliques on the island are defined by research interests and methodologies and represented by varieties of academic discourse. Owens notes that there is a significant amount of written and oral discourse produced on this and the other islands, but that very little of it is intended for inhabitants of other islands. In fact, the most prominent cement holding the islands of Academic Discourse together is the armada of administrators which visits each one periodically with pronouncements, memos and the like. Owens observes that beyond the string of Academic Islands are many more strings, and that inhabitants of one island tend to travel with relative ease to other strings, but the problem is that the islands themselves remain insulated so that we tend to view the world as if only our own discourse matters. Even though Owens promotes a refreshing global outlook, his solution is to provide bridges between islands, thus leaving the islands almost unaffected by each other, and this is where his insular metaphor diverges from the more dynamic one of Gere and Zebroski.

  • 7  Barbara Deen Schildgen, “Reconnecting Rhetoric and Philosophy in the Composition Classroom”, in An (...)

6One essay in the collection edited by Gere which exemplifies this rethinking of boundaries is Barbara Deen Schildgen’s “Reconnecting Rhetoric and Philosophy in theComposition Classroom”. Schildgen looks at Hans-Georg Gadamer’s theory of hermeneutics as based on an individual’s need to understand others, through language, in order to maintain communal needs. She traces Gadamer’s understanding of an “’insurmountable barrier’ in the linguistic exchange between people7”. And she reviews three ideas about construction of understanding that Gadamer describes: foreconception, dialogue, and fusion of horizons.

  • 8 Idem.

Foreconceptionis Gadamer’s term for the entire range of cultural and historical attitudes, whether tacit or conscious, that we bring to bear on an object as we scrutinize it. Dialogue is the ideal conversation that occurs when a subject (an inquiring reader) communes with an object of inquiry (e.g., a literary text)8.

  • 9  Barbara Deen Schildgen, op.cit., 40.

7When readers of texts have recognized their biases and conducted dialogue with those texts, then the fusion of horizons can take place. Such a fusion precludes the idea that a truth can be frozen within the text; rather, it encourages the subjectivity of that text and the possibility of biases on the part of the writer and of the reader. As Schildgen puts it: “When a mutual exchange occurs in the interpretive transaction, however, both sides cede authority to the intended object, which they now acknowledge as a subject for whom scientific knowledge is not possible9”.

  • 10  See Barbara Deen Schildgen, op.cit., 41.

8In order to discuss Schildgen’s theory, I should like to quote personal experience, I wrote the 25-word annotation, plus key phrases, for a 1994 Journal of Advanced Composition article by Elizabeth Ervin and Dana L. Fox. The annotation and key phrases were for the upcoming CCCC Bibliography, and I asked Ervin her opinion of the annotation, as well as of the key phrases designed to guide researchers to her article. In fact, she seemed satisfied with the key phrases and all but one clause of the annotation. She would have used verbs such as recognizes and encourages whereas I had used promotes and valorizes. Her concern lay primarily with the possibility that the tone of the stronger terms might be misconstrued as advancing an agenda that is not scholarly. Using the gateway metaphor, we might decide that the annotation could inhibit, or at least not invite, some readers who would benefit from the article, perhaps some of the very readers that Ervin and Fox had in mind as part of their audience. However, a rethinking of boundaries—with journal articles still defining the “field”—as Gere and Schildgen, through Gadamer, promote would construct the annotation and key phrases as spaces for dialogue—spaces for the writer of the article, the writer of the annotation, and the readers of either, to recognize the foreconceptions they bring, the subjectivity of the texts, and possible reactions to such interactions. Gadamer’s fusion of horizons does not imply agreement among various ideologies that affect interpretation; it only points them out as agents for comprehension, conversion, or consensus10.

  • 11  See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1989, (...)

9All of the metaphors for a discipline of composition studies reflect spatiality, including, of necessity, boundaries with varying degrees of permeability and form. Thus, scholarship and abbreviated representations of that scholarship will generally be viewed in light of their power to access the space of the discipline. For that reason, gateway metaphors abound. However, the more fluid, active, and reactive we perceive those boundaries to be, the more we note the need for modified metaphors of accessibility. Richard Rorty provides a useful metaphor in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. He spends much of his first chapter dispelling the notion that there is any knowable intrinsic value in reality or in self-expression. He ponders the results of treating language, as well as consciousness and community, as “a product of time and chance”, as “a sheer contingency11. In other words, the external world does not speak or provide us with a language. But the world can give reason to subscribe to a variety of beliefs once we have adopted a language for ourselves. Therefore, there is no intrinsic nature in the external world and no intrinsic nature in ourselves that guides our decision-making. He argues:

  • 12  Richard Rorty, op.cit., 7.

But if we could ever become reconciled to the idea that most of reality is indifferent to our descriptions of it, and that the human self is created by the use of vocabulary rather than being adequately or inadequately expressed in a vocabulary, then we should at last have assimilated what was true in the Romantic idea that truth is made rather than found. What is true about this claim is just that languages are made rather than found, and that truth is the property of linguistic entities, of sentences12.

10It is just this interest in examining truth as a property of language rather than of either external pressures or internal expressions that leads Rorty to work with some of the ideas of language philosopher Donald Davidson in order to discover different metaphors for language. Davidson, Rorty says, dismisses the idea of language as a medium—a mode to represent external realities or express internal thoughts. Language as medium is similar to the bridge metaphor between disciplines that Gere attempts to avoid but that Owens appears to embrace. The bridges allow access but also provide distance, thus keeping, one would suppose, the boundaries of the fields relatively unaffected by the entering or exiting of data. The fields illustrated here have some identifiable intrinsic nature that can be expressed by language and described to other fields.

  • 13  See Richard Rorty, op.cit., 12-13.

11Davidson proposes the metaphor of alternative tools to circumvent questions such as “What is the relation of language to thought?” In addition, he proposes that we question the effectiveness of our tools, by asking “Does our use of these words get in the way of our use of those other words?” To compare vocabularies may mean merely allowing some tools to complement other tools with the end product of some larger picture or reality—a jigsaw puzzle metaphor. Davidson values replacing the former tool with a new one. Thus, the image is not one of adding tools and slouching toward reality or self-expression. Rather, the image is of making something new that did not exist previously13. In a manner similar to Darwin’s ideas of evolution, older metaphors, older tools, die off and are replaced by other tools so that there is a causal relationship between the older tools and the newer. Or, to express it otherwise, there is contingency in language. Important to note here, however, is the absence of any teleological motive. In other words the evolution does not lead to some grand picture, does not build to some end result that can be identified; instead, it allows for formerly useful metaphors to be replaced as needed. An example given by Rorty is the shift from Copernican language to Newtonian, a change which was useful in given circumstances, but does not represent the entire picture.

  • 14 Ibidem, 18.

12Furthermore, Davidson does not see metaphor as having meaning. Like a facial expression or some other physical gesture, metaphors produce effects on the speaker/writer and on the audience “but not ways of conveying a message14. Unlike the Platonist and the positivist, Davidson does not see language as reproducing some external reality. Unlike the Romanticist, he does not see language expressing a deeply-hidden truth. Language is an evolutionary series with no higher purpose or end result.

13Application of Davidson’s, and Rorty’s, views of language to the uses of abstracts and annotations of scholarly writing therefore involves dealing with metaphor at two levels: the discipline defined by that writing and the access to that discipline. First of all, their ideas of alternate, evolved tools work well with the metaphor of the discipline offered by Gere and Zebroski. If the discipline can better be characterized as a set of charged sites with permeable borders and with changes reciprocated between those sites and those who “read” them, then the former metaphors of bridges or gateways become sadly inadequate. Bridges and gateways provide access but do not address the dynamics occurring within the sites and within the scholars when the two interact with one another. And it is here that we can think more broadly and inclusively about all academic disciplines.

14The recent phenomenon of on-line journals—those that are completely on-line and do not have printed siblings—has encouraged scholarly discussion about the ways the publishing industry might and should be affected. On the one hand, on-line versions of print journals provide the added convenience of accessibility and economy. Scholars with Internet access can find and read articles even if they or their libraries do not subscribe. One example is the Ivey Business Journal, described as the journal of one of the top business programs in Canada. In the autumn of 2002, the journal became available only on-line and it is free to anyone with Internet access.

15A quick tour of the site (http://www.iveybusinessjournal.com/​) reveals that the articles are in pdf format and that they lend themselves to linear reading, exactly as do traditional print journals. Most scholarly journals, in fact, are on-line in this way: electronic versions of their printed selves whose primary benefit is that they can be accessed without a subscription or a trip to the nearest academic library. All the journals for the American Society for Microbiology use this definition of “on-line journal”, as do a large number of scientific sources. On the other hand, an on-line journal can take advantage of its place on the Internet by encouraging writers to use hypertext. On-line publications, for example, can be updated and can even allow for (electronic) dialogue between the author and an interested audience.

16One example is the on-line journal Enculturation (http://enculturation.gmu.edu/​index.html). The electronic medium permits—indeed encourages—the writers to link other sites to their articles so that the readers have some flexibility in how they read the articles—perhaps working straight through the text or perhaps, if they prefer, utilizing the hyperlinks. One particular issue focused on music, allowing readers, as they wanted, to click over to sites at Columbia records and so on. Another example is John Barber’s piece in academic.writing (http://aw.colostate.edu/​), an on-line journal out of Colorado State University. Barber’s article is a work in progress. Presumably, the publishers at academic.writing will allow him to update and revise the piece as he feels inclined. Presumably, too, readers of the piece can send questions and suggestions to Barber through the personal contact information, thereby pointing to the possibly negotiated properties of the boundaries around the text. If we return to our central argument, such negotiation would be too complex for the gateway metaphor and would necessitate something like the charged field metaphor that Gere describes.

  • 15  See Michael Jensen, “E-Books and Retro Glue Protect the Vested Interest of Publishing”, Editorial (...)
  • 16  See Dan Carnevale, “House Members Approve Language Easing Some Copyright Rules for On-line Courses (...)

17Much discussion has centered around possible changes in copyright and intellectual property. According to Michael Jensen in the June 23, 2000, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Association of American Publishers, working with Microsoft, has promoted software like the Open E-Book Standard to help ensure that publishers still control access to research. This control seems contradictory to the nature of the World Wide Web, which, as Jensen describes, “presumes open access and encourages the free exchange of ideas, the linking ofother sites, and the connection of carefully presented content with more informal material15. One would think that the proliferation of electronic databases and publications of the past few years would encourage a view of more interactive boundaries between a researcher and the research. Moreover, there is a bill wending its way through the US Congress that will, if it becomes a law, allow more latitude in using dramatic literary musical works in on-line classrooms without first securing permission from the copyright owners16. If a society as keenly aware—some might say obsessed—about copyright rules as is the United States passes such a law, there will be even wider access.

18In conclusion, if language is contingent and not a conduit for existing meaning, the annotations and abstracts designed to give glimpses into a discipline must be reconsidered. There is no intrinsic truth in the annotation that we all can agree on; there is no intrinsic truth in the article that is reproduced in the annotation. There is only the meaning that is made through the reaction with the annotation and with the article. The annotation or abstract becomes, not an object of inquiry but a subject as Schildgen describes. We who use abstracts and annotations to access the discipline as defined by scholarly works will see those abstracts and annotations as points of contact rather than ports of entry. These points of contact are not fixed but are found at varying areas in the discipline; further, they react to us just as surely as we react to them. And they react with contact to other disciplines, as well. With such a metaphor of access to the discipline, it does us little good to complain, as I did, about how our work is represented in databases. It does us quite a bit of good, however, to use those databases with the understanding that the abstracts therein hold a complex configuration of other work—that which we have internalized and that which we have not yet encountered.  

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Bibliographie

Carnevale Dan, “House Members Approve Language Easing Some Copyright Rules for On-line Courses”, 27 September, 2002, http://chronicle.com/free/2002/09/2002092701t.htm, 7 October, 2002.

Gere Anne Ruggles (ed.), “Introduction”, Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, NewYork, MLA, 1993.

HAWISHER Gail E., and Cynthia L. Selfe, CCCC Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, 1994, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.

Horner Winifred B. (ed.), Composition and Literature: Bridging the Gap, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Jensen Michael, “E-Books and Retro Glue Protect the Vested Interest of Publishing”, Editorial Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 June 2000, A64.

Owens Derek, Resisting Writing (and the Boundaries of Composition), Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1994.

Rorty Richard, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Schildgen Barbara Deen, “Reconnecting Rhetoric and Philosophy in the Composition Classroom”, in Anne Ruggles Gere (ed.), Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, New York, MLA, 1993, 30-43.

Vandenberg Peter, “Discipline”, in Paul Heilker and Peter Vandenberg (eds), Keywords in Composition Studies, Portsmouth, NH, Boynton/Cook, 1996, 62-66.

Zebroski James Thomas, Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing, Portsmouth, NH, Boynton/Cook, 1994.

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Notes

1  See Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe, CCCC Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, 1994, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1996, xiv.

2  See Peter Vandenberg, “Discipline”, inPaul Heilker and Peter Vandenberg (eds), Keywords in Composition Studies, Portsmouth, NH, Boynton/Cook, 1996, 62-63.

3  See Winifred B. Horner (ed.), Composition and Literature: Bridging the Gap, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1983.

4  Anne Ruggles Gere (ed.), “Introduction”, Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, NewYork, MLA, 1993, 1, 3-4

5  James Thomas Zebroski, Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing, Portsmouth, NH, Boynton/Cook, 1994, 257-258.

6  Derek Owens, Resisting Writing (and the Boundaries of Composition), Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1994, 4.

7  Barbara Deen Schildgen, “Reconnecting Rhetoric and Philosophy in the Composition Classroom”, in Anne Ruggles Gere, Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies, New York, MLA, 1993, 32.

8 Idem.

9  Barbara Deen Schildgen, op.cit., 40.

10  See Barbara Deen Schildgen, op.cit., 41.

11  See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1989, 22.

12  Richard Rorty, op.cit., 7.

13  See Richard Rorty, op.cit., 12-13.

14 Ibidem, 18.

15  See Michael Jensen, “E-Books and Retro Glue Protect the Vested Interest of Publishing”, Editorial Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 June 2000, A64.

16  See Dan Carnevale, “House Members Approve Language Easing Some Copyright Rules for On-line Courses”, 27 September, 2002.

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Bill Bolin, « Modified Access to Academic Disciplines through Online Journals: Downloading a New Metaphor », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. II - n°1 | 2004, 40-49.

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Bill Bolin, « Modified Access to Academic Disciplines through Online Journals: Downloading a New Metaphor », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. II - n°1 | 2004, mis en ligne le 18 novembre 2009, consulté le 10 juillet 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/3032 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.3032

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Auteur

Bill Bolin

Dr., (Texas A&M University-Commerce, États-Unis)
Bill Bolin earned his doctorate in English, with a specialization in composition studies and rhetoric, in 1993 from Texas Christian University. He has taught at both the high school and university levels in the United States. At Texas A&M University-Commerce, he teaches courses in writing theory, classical rhetoric, modern rhetoric, and pedagogy. His publications have appeared in English Journal, Composition Studies, Journal of Basic Writing and Unisa English Studies.

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