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Walls and Boundaries: Academics and New Media

In a recent article with the Times Higher Education, journalist Chris Parr gives a thoughtful, respectful treatment on the debates around tweeting at academic conferences.

I make a point of how respectful and thoughtful it is because, frankly, most of the debate around this issue has lacked both thought and respect. Your experience may vary. Mine is pretty clear.

As I told Chris, many academics conflate the accessibility of the medium — twitter — with the value of the discussions being had about twitter. If it’s social media then it must be trite and mocked. Many academics are also being elitist, racist, and sexist. It is no accident that those marginalized in traditional academe have taken so well to social media as a means for building community, visibility, and careers. If there are a lot of brown people and women doing it then it must be silly.

Chris took a different approach and the analysis and writing are better for it. This is really a conversation about access and boundaries and I maintain that those remain pertinent, serious conversations for all of academe.

Erin Templeton, the Anne Morrison Chapman distinguished professor of international study and associate professor of English at Converse College in South Carolina, took part in the debate, and she advocates a cautious approach. It is presumptuous to assume that it is acceptable to share other people’s work without asking them first, she argues.

“It is important to recognise that a conference presentation is not necessarily a public presentation,” she says. “It requires delegates to pay entry fees and wear name badges to get to certain places. It is not just open to anyone who wants to be there.”

However, Tressie McMillan Cottom, a doctoral student in sociology at Emory University in Georgia, sees live tweeting as a route around the attendance fees charged by many conferences. These are a barrier not only for the general public but also “for students and adjunct/contingent academic labourers”, she argues.

“I consider tweeting at conferences a means of sharing the privilege of attending with the public – who, directly and indirectly, make the work we do possible – and the colleagues who cannot attend,” she explains.

Although she would honour any request from a speaker who wishes to keep a presentation private, McMillan Cottom admits to having “serious issues” with scholars who make such a demand.

“I caution them that they can control only what happens in that room, in that moment. As was true before the advent of social media, speakers cannot control how an audience receives and shares their impressions of a talk… I may not tweet during the talk, but I think discussing my impressions of a talk (afterwards) is as much my domain as a tweet ban is the domain of a speaker.”

She believes that many of the academics who decide to discourage live tweeting do so because this makes the discourse around their presentation invisible to them. “For some, that is comforting. I’d argue it is a false comfort.”

And, yes, I’m in the story. But that’s neither here nor there…much. :)

Read it all here.

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2 comments on “Walls and Boundaries: Academics and New Media

  1. rglw
    December 28, 2012

    Live-tweeting at conferences keeps me engaged with the presentations and connects me to other scholars in the the discipline. By live-tweeting the hell out of ASA, I’ve made e-colleagues all over the country. And by following them on Twitter, I benefited from their live-tweeting of other conferences or academic gatherings I could not afford to attend. It’s so sad that especially in a discipline like sociology where we decry institutional inequality that we don’t democratize access to new knowledge.

  2. chris gargan
    December 20, 2012

    I’m not much for conferences, but I’m curious what opinion you have, if any, about people recording your lectures/presentations in the classroom.
    As for tweeting, are you concerned that what you say is being misrepresented unless it is being transcribed verbatim? Does shorthand interpretation result in misinterpretation? Like emails, is there a difficulty in conveying tone?

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This entry was posted on December 20, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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