Thursday, January 04, 2007

Democratizing the Ivory Tower...

There's an unspoken idea that no one in academia wants to address. Professors and university researchers across the nation who study Web 2.0 and espouse the ideals of a democratized internet remain extemely cool to the idea that the "ivory tower" of academia should also be opened up to the masses. This begs the question, should the "ivory tower" of academia be democratized?

As a PhD student who has spent what often seems like multiple lifetimes in graduate school, I can say firsthand that professors and university researchers for the most part scoff at the idea that non-PhDs can contribute ideas and research on par with their own. They take an elitist view of the world in the same way that professional journalists shrug off bloggers, as traditional media ridicules podcasters, and as professional photographers put down the contributions of ordinary people to sites like Flickr.

The underlying issue is the importance of expertise. Should you have to be a recognized trained expert in your field in order to participate in a dialogue among experts in that field? Bloggers have repeatedly demonstrated that the ideas of so-called amateurs are often just as good, if not better, than those of professionally trained journalists. In this way, some argue, the web has helped democratize the media, and consequently improved the free exchange of ideas so vital to a democracy. Following the same logic then, if the academic debates among America's scholars were also opened up to the masses, wouldn't that lead to the inclusion of new ideas, an enhanced dialogue, and better scholarship? Isn't this the ultimate goal of academia in the first place?

Discussing the power of amateurs in the Web 2.0 era, columnist Steven Johnson states that "for some, [this] has power-to-the-people authenticity. For others, it signals the end of quality and professionalism". As an aspiring member of the "ivory tower", I, for one, do not share that fear of including non-academics into academic debate. Democratization of anything surely has its drawbacks, but ultimately improves things more than its destroys them - and scholarship should be no exception.

Then again, maybe I'll feel different once I get tenure.


Post a Comment

<< Home