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On the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective

Jim Collier

21 January, 2015

Technological enthusiasts promote an enchanting notion of technology as best destiny—a progressive, more democratic world. For some digital enthusiasts in the academy, this world signals a “new paradigm of research communications” (http://bit.ly/1upEwfq). Like many in STS, I am wary of technological determinism and I instantly recalibrate my expectations when someone invokes a “new paradigm”. Still, despite my hard-won skepticism, I admit to finding myself moved by the call for a new day—if not a new paradigm—for research communications. These proposals, beyond the gee-whiz of new toys, appear in keeping with the normative dimension of social epistemology. Social epistemology, after all, understands knowledge as a principle for social organization and action, and welcomes the reformist impulse. In that spirit, as the Executive Editor of Social Epistemology, I initiated and participate in the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (SERRC), whose ideals and practices express the promise and potential of common purpose.

 

 

SERRC in Brief

The SERRC is both an immediate and extended community that shares an interest in how we should organize and pursue knowledge. Our immediate community consists of 58 members—with an extraordinary range of backgrounds and interests—representing 20 countries. Our extended community consists of the willing—people participating in exchanges on articles published in Social Epistemology and people taking the time to read, and comment on, our work.  

The SEERC incorporates two overlapping public forums. One forum brings together scholars who publish in Social Epistemology with interlocutors who critically address their work. The other forum brings together SERRC members who explore, through multi-faceted initiatives, collective knowledge practices. Both forums encourage overcoming the ordinarily inhibited expression associated with epistemological and normative matters through experiments with the structure, performance and varied use of scholarly thought and voice.

Critical Replies

For each article, or special issue, that Social Epistemology publishes I seek “critical replies”. I ask peer reviewers—who frequently invest considerable time and care in evaluating manuscripts, sometimes through two or three revisions—to use their referee reports as a basis for their replies. The replies lead, hopefully, to an exchange that extends over and includes several interlocutors. For examples, please refer to http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Mb, http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1PI, http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Rn and http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1A2.

Critical replies speak to at least three principles of the SERRC’s approach to the digital ecology of scholarship.

1. Bringing one’s attention to—or, more strongly, one’s obligations to—the reception of their work.

What responsibilities follow after a scholar publishes an article? Scholars often rely on vague notions of the requirements of disciplinary citizenship. However, in seeking critical replies, and by inviting authors to respond accordingly, the SERRC asks scholars to consider how they, and representatives of their audience, should participate in the reception of their work.

2. Developing a process for public peer review as peer reply.

Articles submitted for publication in Social Epistemology undergo the traditional process of blind peer review. However, in requesting referees revise their reports into critical replies, the SERRC provides a public stage for the author and the reader to exchange ideas. In so doing, we promote the broader, perhaps more worthwhile, aim of scholars refining and expanding their ideas and arguments. Absent time and space constraints a blog, like the SERRC, puts into practice principles for enhancing scholarship by promoting revision through peer engagement. Such practices may also lend a particular benefit to early-career scholars and scholars wishing to sustain a long thought in the face of the productivity imperative.

3. Giving evidence of, and “credit” for, review and reply.

When blind, peer review leaves little trace of being performed as substantive scholarship—existing as a “service” to the scholarly community. In the contemporary academy, accountancy increasingly substitutes for the meaningful judgment of scholarly work. Turning a peer review into a public reply makes explicit and elevates easily ignored scholarly work. More than garnering credit for one’s work, and attending to the reception of ideas, public replies might well underscore the inadequacy of academic counting schemes.

 

 

SERRC Initiatives

SERRC members propose, initiate and participate in numerous directed and long-term projects. Among other ends, these projects stage experiments in expressing ideas and arguments in different keys—keys that also might be transposed into traditional forms like journal articles and edited books.

  • Reviews

As, in part, a “review collective”, the SERRC hosts exchanges about books, exchanges that include many voices. The e-mail based question-and-answer session on Bob Frodeman’s book Sustainable Knowledge: A Theory of Interdisciplinarity included seven members of the SERRC. In a round-robin exchange, three members of the SERRC took turns offering thoughts on Curtis White’s The Science Delusion. In the paperback edition of the book, White mentions the “passion and elegance” (in a lengthy quote on page 216) with which one of the exchange participants would articulate and critique his program. And a review by Ebrahim Azadegan of Stefano Bigliardi’s Islam and the Quest for Modern Science germinated a sustained, ongoing discussion of Islam and science.

Taken discretely a group review of a book, or a review that led to an extended dialogue, may speak little of a “new day for scholarly communication”. Still, these variations suggest possibilities for how scholars, at different career stages, might significantly engage one another and, in so doing, reconsider and repurpose an undervalued form of academic work such as the book review.

  • A Collective Vision

Enacting the principle of knowledge as social action, the SERRC forwards innovative scholarly practices. To that end, we constructed the “Collective Vision” page (social-epistemology.com/collective-vision/) to which members of the SERRC contributed their ideas on issues related to social epistemology—visioneering, trans- and post- humanism, public philosophy, collectivism, human extension—in helping to realize, in part, a shared sense of what we believe.

These incredibly insightful and thought-provoking posts will be revised and extended in as the chapters of a book The Future of Social Epistemology: A Collective Vision to be published by Rowman and Littlefield. The book will launch a book series—“Collective Studies in Knowledge and Society”—growing out of SERRC activities.

The Collective Vision project demonstrates a tangible, vital and important outcome resulting from a broadly guided effort, engaged by scholars of varied backgrounds, reflecting the principles and practices of social epistemology. In the SERRC, we have begun hearing the profound resonances of voices combined, then deftly combined anew.

A Continued Past and Future

I am enthusiastic about reimagining research communication because it aligns with social epistemology’s commitment to knowledge reform. The digital technologies enabling the SERRC offer promising platforms and tools. But the SERRC also connects directly to social epistemology’s beginnings, with the terribly ambitious and curiously innovative approach taken by Social Epistemology when founded by Steve Fuller in 1987 (see the original statement of purpose). The journal asked authors, and commenters, to re-examine the specific conditions and processes by which knowledge becomes accepted and distributed. Scholars would consider how, or if, local practices enacted shared principles—principles dealing particularly with how one reads, interprets and applies texts. Through collaborative efforts authors and interlocutors might, among other aims, reconfigure or dissipate disciplinary strictures on the reception of their work. The collaborations encouraged by the journal in 1987 took many forms that sought a continuous dialectical exchange—even then, a new day.

As the SERRC takes up and transforms Social Epistemology’s commitment to open dialectal exchange on subjects related to knowledge, we invite you to join us, either formally, as an SERRC member, or informally, as a contributor or reader. We desire, in particular, to go beyond the hierarchies of academic rank and position to foster consequential exchanges among all who are interested.

If you are interested please contact Jim Collier (jim.collier@vt.edu).

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Backchannels / Projects

Descriptions of current work—the makings and doings—of STS scholars across the globe. This includes individual work, as well as collaborations between / with academics, practitioners, and policy makers.