Week 4: Smith, Q3: Frozen Social Relations
  • Do you agree with Smith’s assertion that “technologies are formalizations or frozen social relations, but in their use, relations can be unfrozen, information unbound, and new tools developed”? Why or why not?
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  • I think Smith makes a very powerful point about the ways in which technology can prevent texts/interpretations from becoming authoritative to the point of being definitive. One visual example would be Mitch Fraas' work on mapping the movement of texts between India and Europe during the late 18th century. In his scholarship Fraas builds upon Stanford's Mapping the Republic of Letters Project, which shows very little movement of text between India and Europe. Instead of accepting Stanford's finding as definitive, however, Fraas develops the connections between India and Europe further. His work can be found here: http://mappingbooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/expanding-republic-of-letters-india-and.html?spref=tw

    One reason I find Fraas' scholarship so significant is that it rejects many of the editing standards advocated in academia. Since his research is posted on a website, it is open to comments by a multitude of scholars (not just anonymous reviewers) and is accessible to a much larger audience than a traditional journal publication. Furthermore, Fraas' findings leave room for further research and development. Thus, his work is "unfrozen" in its relations with future scholarship.

    I do realize, however, that there are some downsides to "unfrozen" scholarship; in particular, its distance the academic prestige of "double blind" publications. This leads us into a conversation we've been having all month--"what counts"? Fraas' work has gained a wide readership, at least according to my Twitter feed, but will likely do little to advance his academic career.

    This leads me to ask: does "unfrozen" scholarship necessarily challenge more conventional forms of editing? I would argue that it does. And while I much prefer "unfrozen" scholarship to more traditional forms, I wonder how to best utilize it my work. After all, I am judged by "what counts" and, it seems, that what counts to me may not matter much to someone else.


  • @clboyles - you raised a great question and important points here. It's interesting to consider the rhetoric of "frozen" and "unfrozen" - I don't think it's a value-free formulation. Taking into account what you write about Fraas, I'm curious whether an "unfrozen" approach might refract back to more "traditional" processes of academic value. I'm not sure what that might look like or whether it's practical but I think it's worth considering. 
  • @rrisam Can you explain the following idea a bit more: "unfrozen" scholarship refracting back to more "traditional" processes of academic value. I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean.
  • I was thinking about how they might change traditional peer review practices - like the open google doc method that Hybrid Pedagogy uses.

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