The southern hemisphere’s cold weather is a certain signal that winter conference season is upon us.
In the coming weeks academics – from many disciplines – will be spending freezing nights in student dorms and days exchanging disciplinary gossip on the plight of the universities and on what is new in their chosen field.
But after these issues, the single most important conversation between them will be how to negotiate the regime of publication that pervades contemporary academic life not only in South Africa but across the world.
The obligation that academic staff must publish is invariably presented as a virtuous thing. It is right and proper for academics to expand and extend the boundaries of their respective disciplines by publishing in outlets, as approved by their peers.
Moreover, a public that is often sceptical of the usefulness of universities is often told that academics publish in “the public good”.
But if academic publishing is so significant in the profession, why is it that the young and talented in the academy increasingly resist it, calling it formulaic, at best, and, at worst, a sweatshop? And why is it that old academic hands are simply no longer interested in contributing to the peer-review system that is at the heart of the system and without which the standing of the entire industry will falter?
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