Monthly Archives: January 2013

Michael Wesch on Ted: From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able

Dubbed “the explainer” by Wired magazine, Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society.

In his TEDx talk “Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able”, Wesch argues that we live in a present where it is no longer enough to simply be knowledgeable. In other words, knowing a bunch of stuff is not as important today as being able to actively and critically locate and handle strategic knowledge.

Check it out and tell us what you think!

Blog Story: Sharing, Surviving and Academic Instinct

In the early stages of constructing this blog, when we were still brainstorming on what direction to take and how, I was asked by CRS Coordinator, Michelle Millard if I would be willing to meet with the CERIS Knowledge Mobilisation Officer, Raymond Hyma to hear what he might have to say. This was an offer  I couldn’t decline as Hyma is an expert in strategic communications, and if anyone could help me it was certainly him.

I knew very little about KM, but what I did know was that KM’s approach to knowledge was different and more accessible than traditional academic approaches. Rather, in my view, KM seemed less fixated on epistemological questions about the nature of knowledge, and more focused on impact and transmission which are both key issues that are often ignored in academia.

At any rate, I knew that this meeting would be important if I wanted to deepen my understanding of KM. And (unfortunately!) I also knew that it would be expected that I arrive with some thoughtful ideas of my own…

And so, towards these ends, I wrote a rather (excruciatingly) long text philosophizing on the value and meaning of KM, which also described  my grand vision for this blog. Within an hour of emailing this text to Hyma, my inbox showed that he had replied. Not expecting such a speedy response I ( as well as my ego) took it as a sign that he liked my ideas.

As you will see, it wasn’t so simple!

The first line of his email read: “You have introduced a lot of material re: KM”, and this was  followed by “not exactly sure what might be useful to discuss tomorrow… are you developing a strategy?

Of course, I had no intention of developing a strategy, and, besides, how could he not be sure of what to discuss? “What more did he want?” I would say in my head while groaning inwardly and thinking: “sure, my vision was a little abstract, but isn’t that expected when deep academic philosophizing is involved?”

Frankly, akin to most recalcitrant academics, I felt like I was being snubbed. Of course, Hyma was not disregarding my philosophizing or blue-skies mode of thought, he was simply calling attention to the predictable inchoate style in which we graduate students and scholars write.

Let me keep it real; my grand-blue-sky-overt-the-top-inchoate-thinking lacked grounding—it was probably boring (as hell), as well.

My so called ‟vision” was a classic example of how, among other things, we scholars struggle to be effective communicators. I, for instance, was guilty of failing to meet at least two basic KM principles: (a) don’t be too cryptic and (b) get to the bloody point!!

Using myself as example, this anecdote serves to show that while scholars are considered experts in the business of knowledge production, they are, conversely, also experts in complicating their knowledge and making it inaccessible.

I wonder sometimes whether this is not instinctual on our part – rooted in a sub-conscious of self-preservation. What I mean by this is that professionally speaking, scholars rely heavily on their inaccessibility. Scholars and researchers make their living from producing knowledge that is not only difficult to grasp (and which is too often irrelevant) but that’s also removed from public scrutiny. In this regard, we must ask ourselves, what good is publicly funded knowledge if it’s accessible only to a small group of experts who may or may not care about its impact? For instance, what good is it researching immigrant and refugee experiences if that research will not be used by the organizations who serve newcomers? Who privileges from inaccessible knowledge ?

In her recent Al Jazeera opinion piece “Academic Paywalls Mean Publish and PerishSarah Kendzior insists that journals and academic databases like JSTOR are among those benefiting from academia’s insularity. She claims that, for example, JSTOR not only charges exorbitant prices to universities in the form of subscriptions, but that they also make it very expensive for any member of the public who also want access to these resources (Kendizor 2012).

In her opinion, charging the public makes no sense because less than 1% of JSTOR’s profits come from individual article sales. She writes, “[t]he high price is designed to maintain the barrier between academia and the outside world”.

For Kendizor, the underlying problem is not the dichotomy between public and private because many, she argues, fall into a grey zone based on institutional affiliation and personal wealth. In her opinion, the real problem is the “private theft of public culture”. This makes academic publishing a strategic enterprise which is less about open and accessible knowledge, and more about controlling knowledge and manipulating where and how the knowledge fountain flows.

As an example she notes the low acceptance rates (sometimes lower than 5 per cent) at some of the top journals, as a reason for why it is seen as prestigious to publish in such journals.

While, sometimes for academics the challenge has to do with getting one’s work out there (preferably via/in prestigious journals), the reverse also applies. That is, in academia you also don’t want your work to be overly accessible especially early on in your career. As Kendzior puts it, academics’ ability to remain employed often relies on their ability to limit and regulate the circulation of their work, and as such “the ability to prohibit scholarship is considered more meaningful than the ability to produce it”.

In short, academics that want to see their work have a real impact have got some serious thoughtful weighing to do. It means not only being critical about our own taken for granted scholarly practices (as Hyma kindly called my attention to), but it also means challenging some of the very principles that underscore academic scholarship and its increasingly neoliberal project. What’s certain is that we cannot do the latter without stepping out of our nesty comfort zones, something that is perhaps easier for the up-and-coming than for academia’s established vets. On the other hand, younger scholars and researchers, particularly those seeking tenure must resist temptation – i.e., the lure of limiting and regulating the circulation of their work as a means to jump-starting their career.

On this final note I’m reminded of one of Plato’s famous quotes, where, fittingly, he once declared: courage is a kind of salvation.


Welcome note

Welcome to our blog! Finally, after lots of talking we’re up! We are not the most experienced bloggers (but you probably sense this already), nevertheless, we are eager to share lots of information with you! Feel free to help us by posting your feedback, or even emailing us at  Don’t worry about being too critical; we love a hard critic. We would also love to receive any links, blogs, articles etc, that you think may be of interest to us and our subscribers. Thanking you in advance!

The site is obviously still under construction, there’s a lot more here that we would like to do – but for now, what counts is that we have the bones – the rest will follow shortly.