I’m at the beginning of what may turn out to be an academic career (or when the results and changes seem far away, I think I’m on my way to setting up a woodshop and making furniture). A question that keeps popping up in my mind, is that of what my role as an academic is, should, and can be. What is my responsibility as a geographer, as a researcher, as an academic, or put together; my role as a citizen who belongs to an environment in which knowledge is produced? The times when you are trying to write a presentation for a conference where you will share your research within the academic community – and wonder what good it will do and for whom? Or the time I sit at my desk trying to write up material for an article – which may end up being published in a journal that charges for access. Why am I not just out there doing stuff to push for change – instead of just writing about it?
This is when I turn to Don Mitchell’s (2008) article in Antipode, “Confessions of a Desk-Bound Radical”. In short, Don Mitchell encourages the thinking of academic work and activist work as “…different aspects of revolutionary praxis (2008:450)” – and not two activities which should be divided. He talks about a ‘People’s Geography’ where critical and radical scholars work to make critical and radical geographical knowledge available – available in the sense that it needs to be translated into a more everyday language which makes sense (or at least is understandable) beyond the world of academia.
My personal opinion is that one of our greatest responsibilities is to share knowledge – to make it available. We have access to a large amount of knowledge production by being members of university work – not only scientific journals but more importantly we gain access to the everyday life of people through our research. We can expose power relations and the mumble jumble of politicians. We can enable social movements and change by undertaking research which can give force to the words of activists (Mitchell 2008), or people critical to the political structures of our societies, or people protesting the centralization of the public sectors or whose experiences are seldom recognized as legitimate. It may not be enough to bring change on its own – but it can lend a hand to the people who are out there doing stuff.
For this to be realized we need, amongst other things, time, resources and academic freedom. We need time to be thorough in our research and instead of having a goal to publish as much as possible, we should aim at publishing work that has been given the proper time to be developed. After all, what will happen with knowledge in the future when publishing is about quantity – not quality? Did you know that our departments get rewarded with funding according to the number of publications the staff produce each year? Each year there are published around 1 million articles world-wide, which makes it impossible to keep up within your field and arguably, is not in itself a good measurement of improvements in science . We need resources but less time spent on applying for resources in a neo-liberal system where money (and with it research) follows the market. This time-consuming activity also directs time away from other potentially more useful and important activities – we could spend more time in making knowledge available in different ways (public meetings, workshops, writing pieces in more accessible mediums, or making comic books about the topics). We need academic freedom to, in collaboration, figure out what should be researched.
I have a final reflection and proposal. I am puzzled by the half-way engagement in pushing for an open access to knowledge produced within university work. If you really start to think about it – why have we not demanded that this takes place (which I would answer with directing attention towards the power that journals hold and take advantage of to demand money for knowledge)? I propose, like is happening in the Netherlands , that we demand that every scientific paper should be published open access and that we boycott journals that refuse to shift to an open access model. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s main vison in the Strategy plan for 2011-2020 is “Knowledge for a better world”. With this vision there should also be a demand for knowledge available for all.
After all, knowledge is worth nothing if it is not shared.
Silje Aurora Andresen (24 September 2015)