Thursday, January 24, 2008
Blogging and Peer Review—Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Experiment
In the January 22 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Young writes about an experiment being conducted by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, a Communications professor at UC-San Diego. Wardrip-Fruin is publishing segments of his book, Expressive Processing, on a blog, with the hope that feedback from commenters might be as effective as traditional peer-review. The book is to be formally published by MIT Press, who are encouraging the experiment, though they are also continuing with a traditional peer-review process as well. Wardrip-Fruin is using the CommentPress feature designed by the Institute for the Future of the Book.
Luckily, quite a number of books have already been written about digital literature, and many more have been written about digital media more generally. However, almost all of these have focused on what the machines of digital media look like from the outside: their output. Sometimes the output is considered as an artifact, and interpreted in ways we associate with literary scholarship and art history. Sometimes the output is seen in relation to the audience and the wider culture, using approaches from fields like education and ethnography. And there are, of course, a variety of other perspectives. But, regardless of perspective, writings on digital media almost all ignore something crucial: the actual processes that make digital media work, the computational machines that make digital media possible.
On one hand, there is nothing wrong with this. Output-focused approaches have brought many valuable insights for those who seek to understand and create digital media. But, on the other hand, it leaves a big gap.
This book is my attempt to help bridge the gap. (link)
After perusing sections 1.2 and 1.3 of Wardrip-Fruin’s book, I must admit I’m not sure I get it. What Wardrop-Fruin describes as “processes” seem to me to be mainly programming artifacts. Why not work out a theory of video game narrative using the logic and idiom of the object-oriented programming languages that are used to create the video games in the first place? (Classes, objects, methods, etc.) But again, I should concede that this is not really my thing, theory-wise or thematically.
Wardrip-Fruin is certainly not the first person to blog a book in progress (see Siva Vaidhyanathan, for instance), but he may be the first humanities/social sciences academic to do so. Do people know of other examples?
And of course: one wonders whether and how something like this might work with a book on a specifically literary (or literary theory-ish) topic. Wardrip-Fruin’s experiment seems to be sustainable partly because he is writing about a digital media theme, and is likely to find readers who are already densely involved in the internet; that is not so much the case for scholarly communities in literary studies.
Incidentally, I brought up an idea for a different kind of experiment in blogging/peer review last year, and got a somewhat mixed response from Valve readers.
Doesn’t this miss a big part of the entire point of peer review? You don’t get respect for publishing with a peer reviewed publisher over a trade publisher simply because a few readers gave you reader reports. The writers of trade books receive editorial feedback.
The point of peer review is really a sort of sanctioning: a great press has great readers in very specialized areas, and if they think a piece of scholarship is important to the field, then it just might be. Peer-reviewed presses still often only offer two readers’ reports. It’s not just about feedback, which is why most scholars thank people outside the press for their feedback: working groups, conference audiences, colleagues, etc.
So sure, I might get excellent feedback from a blog. But that doesn’t mean those blog readers are reliable touchstones for original or interesting work in a field.
Why not work out a theory of video game narrative using the logic and idiom of the object-oriented programming languages that are used to create the video games in the first place?
Sounds like a job for Critical Code Studies.
Speaking of blog peer review: Sarah Boxer in NYRB (wherein she conflates with Usenet & IM, amongst other confusions), ThosJones’ Short Cuts in LRB (O’Hagan on “The World of Andy McNab” and its relation to gamespace is subscription only, alas.)