Julie’s Response to “Toward Modeling the Social Edition: An Approach to Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media”

In the above article Ray Siemens explores the tensions between the traditional scholarly edition and the social edition, particularly highlighting changes in the role of the editor, and the expansive nature of the social edition. In terms of engaging with the text, the developments made by the digital humanities have broadened the ways in which a reader can access a text, making related documents not only more accessible, but integrated in a more user-friendly and efficient manner. It would appear when it comes to scholarly work, such advancements are advantageous, and lead to a greater pool of information from which scholars can draw on in their work. Concepts such as “the expert reader”, “citizen scholarship”, and the “editor as a single authority”, however, lead to important and interesting issues with the social edition. My main concern is the implications, both positive and negative, of carrying out scholarly work on a text that is not fixed, and is constantly evolving. I question whether an official, professional editor is necessary in order to establish reliability in the context of scholarly work. While I see the benefits of having multiple perspectives on a text, and those perspectives could certainly serve to broaden the way in which a text is read and understood, I am reminded of the idea, which we have discussed previously in terms of digital editions, of whether “more” is necessarily better. Quality and reliability are important in scholarly work. While “citizen scholarship” may include genuinely interested and knowledgeable people, identity is a difficult concept to negotiate in the digital age. For scholarly work to be worthwhile it must be reliable. In a community model, such as the social edition, how is one to establish the reliability of the text? Further, is it a benefit or a hindrance to scholarly work that a text is in a constant state of flux? Is there a benefit to having a “finished” work?

Another concern of mine is the labour market. As a person with career goals in either academia or publishing, I am left feeling somewhat uncomfortable about what the social edition does to the role of the scholar, and the editor. The collaborative model delights the Marxist in me; however, I have self-interest in both the role of the editor, and the role of the “expert reader” or scholar, remaining vital. As those involved in creative work are finding, web culture increasingly encourages people to engage in, what is essentially, “free work”. Editors and scholars are experts, and such expertise should be valued, even in a more collaborative model. Removing the hierarchy of expertise has many implications. I think it is important to continue to value expertise. Simply because everyone has a certain ability to participate in knowledge creation does not mean that everyone’s contribution should be weighed equally. Such model ignores the fact that there exists a hierarchy of knowledge. Those of us who are involved in scholarly work are particularly invested in this hierarchy of knowledge – it is, in fact, our livelihood.

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5 Responses to Julie’s Response to “Toward Modeling the Social Edition: An Approach to Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media”

  1. m3farley says:

    I really feel strongly about your last point, Julie. Here’s a short article on the state of Library and Archives Canada that I think everyone should read if they have a minute. Cuts to library staff have been made in favour of “modernization” while very little digitization has actually taken place. Seriously disturbing.


  2. olivia.harris says:

    Julie, I also share your concerns about the labour market, especially since it may mean that a career track we’ve spent multiple years studying for and thousands of dollars working towards might not exist by the time we fully enter the work force!
    Although the social edition promises wide-spread collaboration and access previously only dreamed about, it also means the distinction between editor and audience is increasingly blurred. The audience dating to pre-social editing (and for that matter pre-digital technology) consisted of strictly viewers whereas now the audience can participate and contribute. In that case the audience is the new editor of content and the former editor becomes a sort of curator of the masses’ contribution to content. Is this a benefit to our generation or a step-back in terms of scholarly value? Stay tuned for my contribution to this week’s posts and hopefully I can expand these ideas more!

  3. laura.chapnick says:

    I completely agree that inaccuracy and extinction of “the scholar” or librarian is a serious concern. In terms of a solution, I wonder whether it would be possible to include a separate section within the scholarly edition that would allow for “citizen scholarship.” Although this might seem like a kind of segregation it would be interesting to observe the juxtaposition between scholarly and non-scholarly contributions.

  4. jason.boyd says:

    Laura’s comment perhaps suggests a solution for the challenges/concerns raised in the post and the other comments on it.

    The choice between a scholarly edition OR a social edition is not meaningful because 1) they are not (and arguably cannot) be identical and 2) one can easily have both in a digital age.

    Also, social editing may be useful in certain contexts, but not in others. Transcription and proof-reading, for example, may be more amenable to social editing than critical editing (we’ll see with the annotated edition!).

    Furthermore, versioning features (which the Wikimedia platform has), the possibility of having various faceted views of an edition, and licences for reuse all point to the potential of a greater diversity of editions being created than heretofore possible, responding to a diversity of aims and audiences.

  5. Pingback: Education and the Digital Humanities Community | The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes

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