Recent discussion on the role of the academic is under dispute. Should they be more public? Should they be posting their latest work on Twitter and Facebook? Should academic work be more accessible? These questions do not come with an easy answer. However, there is a common trend that links a healthy number of the debates together: they remain in the middle ground.
James Mulholland addresses the topic of public engagement for academic intellectuals, demanding that “It is time for us to reassess what we mean by public scholarship.” In his argument, he explains that “popularizing research” is not the only way to make it more accessible, or more well-known. To support his claim, Mullholland gives a 2003 court case where decades of Queer Theory scholarship finally became useful to the public. Because we do not want thirty or more years to go by before our own academic works gets noticed, he states that “Humanists like myself are regularly forced to consider what the public wants … This is an important strategy that every academic should pursue” However, in the following paragraph of his article, Mullholland declares “But we must be allowed to resist this impulse, too.” Although a case can be made for both sides of the argument, Mullholland refuses to pick a side, and rather places himself in the middle, inevitably contradicting himself. If it is in fact time to “reassess” as he asserts, we need to be clear on exactly what modifications need to be made. In regards to only pursuing projects that the public wants, I feel as if there are a far too vast amount of topics that will forever remain hidden if we limit ourselves to the public scope. Just because something may not be popular, does not mean that it is not important.
Hua Hsu also discusses the work of academics and the question of whether or not their work should be more public and/or accessible. The first half of her article appears as if Hsu is an advocate of allowing intellectual work to become more open to the public through the internet and social media. However, nearing the end of the piece, the author writes, “All that said, there is something valuable about the academy’s fustiness … because it encourages the preservation of what makes scholarship a faintly utopian enterprise” (465). Thus, again we see another example of an argument that refuses to pick a side and remains in the middle instead. What can this trend mean? Perhaps, there are in fact, an equal amount of pros and cons to each side of the argument, thus, enabling the critic to remain too perplexed or frazzled to make an ultimate, concrete decision. Or rather, if a definite decision cannot be made, then maybe the need for a reassessment on public scholarship as Mllholland prescribes is not as vital as we may think it is.
Hsu, Hua. “In the Context of Infinite Contexts.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 461-466. Print.