Recent Comments

September 19, 2015 - 14:54

David has touched on many of the thoughts I had as I read through your post, Carly. To echo, I appreciate your focus on the unseen labor of crowdfunding. Honestly, though, and not that David draws a direct analogy to any extent, the labor of crowdfunding as relates to academic research versus, say, an artist’s next album is, I think, very different. Regardless, David’s point about the labor of “manufacturing popularity” potentially becoming a distraction, indeed, raises a concern for the academic researcher. 

While academics are technically employed for the labor of their research, and some for their teaching, we know that the compensation for such labor is rarely commensurate with the volume of the labor itself. And, it’s redundant to state, but academia has notoriously glossed over, overlooked, and/or neglected to recognize, credit, and/or compensate all kinds of labor, especially insofar as women’s labor goes.

That all said, I find myself wondering whether or not there’s any probability that (crowd)funding one’s own research becomes an expected part of the methodology of some projects. Just thinking about that is exhausting, as the research process itself, though rewarding in many ways, is also often exhausting and, of course, labor-intensive. 

A related aside…a MediaCommons tweet was just favorited by Crowd Assist, one of the crowdfunding consultants to which David alluded. Hey, I wonder what it would look like to account for marketing and management fees into the overall cost of the research, essentially asking funders to help cover this fee as well. Maybe this would free up researchers reliant on crowdfunding to focus on their work and not be distracted by managing what amounts to another project in and of itself in some cases.

September 18, 2015 - 11:17

Thanks for your post Rebecca, you offer an enlightening account of your experience. My take away from your post reflects what I feel has been a consistent theme developing throughout this discussion…both theoretical and anecdotal. 

"The university process needs to move with the times and accept this new reality. Particularly in an environment where governments hold scientists and researchers to ransomfail to fund university departments adequately, but still expect large research output."

I feel as though the above excerpt from your post emphasizes the most substantial obstacle in the goal of procuring new channels of funding/opportunities (be they methodological, pedagogical, etc.; and which, to be sure, crowdfunding can indeed offer) is the unwillingness of the institutions and universities to adjust policies to reflect the changing landscape in regards to both digital cultures and economic constraints. This cultural dynamic could perhaps be generational, in which case it perhaps requires a new guard to be hired into these advisory positions that more clearly understand the utility of these new tools and can adjust policies accordingly. 

But then still, as Dr. Wittkower spoke to in his post, there is a reluctance of academic culture itself to recognize or engage the public for fear of a negative perception which reveals a problematic self-conception as it regards the role of the academic in a "web 2.0" environment. Gramsci's conception of the organic intellectual and the traditional intellectual is useful as a point of distinction. I think we're in the midst of a paradigm shift in which communicative technologies can work to blend these distinctions based on access to scholarship and the various channels through which people can express their own work or ideas. Concerns arise when we recognize the passing of perhaps less rigorous research and more stylistic forms of scholarship which can lower the bar of what is to be expected, conversely, it opens up lines of discourse that could challenge institutional thinking and revitalize discussions. 

These discussions are truly important as we move forward and continue to navigate our location within a neoliberal culture. 

September 17, 2015 - 11:25

Carly, I think that you are very spot on when it comes to the portions of crowdfunding that most people don't see, how much work that goes into it. I'll admit when I first heard of it that I thought you give them money, you get the perks, whatever it is you've funded gets made. It wasn't until I had participated in a few crowdfunding projects myself that I realized why there is such a push for digital or non-tangeable items are given away as the 'prizes' for the campaign; the cost for shipping as well as potential creation of them. Not to mention, as you have said, the work that goes into the promotion of such projects.

However, as you have also mentioned there is academic value that can come from it. Not only the fact that there are more people you can reach out to who may be able to help more with said campaign or project that is being promoted, but also extending a reach of something others may have not known they wanted to learn more about. There are numerous positives that can come out of it and awareness is certainly one of them.

September 16, 2015 - 10:15

Carly, thank you for your contribution. What I took from your post first and foremost was the reference to the unseen labor associated with crowdfunding which is generally left out of the celebratory rhetoric that often frames the process. Also, you make mention of the actual costs involved in your project versus the amount of money you asked for. I've crowdfunded myself (my project was a personal art project outside of any direct academic interest) and I can attest to what you describe. Although, what should we make of this necessary, but in some ways, unrelated labor? (Unrelated in the sense that it exists outside of the actual goal of the campaign) Does the need to "manufacture popularity" distract from research methods or processes in a meaningful way? I wonder if you found or Allyson found yourself immersed in discussions that had nothing to do (in the direct sense) with the main goal and purpose of this game? The freedom afforded to those who crowdfund and rely on channels not supported by institutional frameworks which uniquely burdens the research process. The combination of marketing and rigorous research certainly necessitates, or substantially benefits from, two different forms of knowledge (crowdfunding consultants are a thing).

While speculative, I could imagine the balancing act needed to run a successful campaign centered on academic goals, together with the increasing difficulty to acquire funding through institutions themselves, could initiate a shift that falls into a neoliberal trap transforming this process into "common sense" or a process justified (constrained) by market logic. To be sure, mentions of neoliberalism underscore this whole discussion and I don't mean to shy away from more nuanced analyses. Although, I do think these developments work against more rigorous engagement that would otherwise be free from external distractions. Thus, should we be concerned that crowdfunding could leave research vulnerable to neoliberalization (i.e. a continued reduction in funding in the wake of new access to funds which remove risk from institutions), a less rigorous attention to methodology, as well as an altering of an approach to research due to the recognized need for "popularity" which is necessary for a successful campaign? 

September 15, 2015 - 09:58

You do bring up a very interesting point with your statement that "…students must often be blackmailed through quizzes and exams in order to force them to read the materials they (or their parents) have paid to learn". As it it something that I have witnessed in my classes throughout my education that there are those that can't be bothered to read the material unless they are being quizzed on it. As such it makes the rest of the class difficult and awkwardly silent when questions pertaining to that reading are asked. It showcases the possible missing link that is letting students connect to the reading or the subject the class is pertaining to; an item of supply and demand if you will.

Adding in your question "What scholarly work do they silently call out for, waiting for an academic to reach proper funding in order to give their academic interests voice?" along with the obvious struggle of the interest it shows that Crowdfunding can be helpful or hurtful in the academic world. Similarly, the same can be said for those that are creating their own albums or inventions with crowdfunding sources but then shows that you didn't know you wanted said product until it can potentially be supplied to you.

The addition of crowdfunding to academics can increase the visibility of the studies that are being conducted, increase interest in those subjects, and continue to reap the benefits from those practices.

September 14, 2015 - 10:00

Dr. Wittkower, thanks for the post. I'd like to briefly address crowdfunding's potentially transformative role in the more broad academic culture.

Your thoughts, along with Robin Wharton's, emphasize the problematic role/obstacles presented by the institutional side of this dynamic. That is, while the ideal sense, can be thought to provide a new opportunity for researches to gain more access to funds, and through this opportunity, perhaps motivate academics to "reform professional expectations in order to valorize public engagement," there is still the need to locate the crowdfunding model in relation to the institutional/administrative millieu which I would suggest plays a large part in the need for  large scale reform in the first place. There seems to be a recognition amongst my peers and colleagues of an obstinate, slow to adjust, bureaucracy, which you address in your entry: "The barrier here is in academic incentive structures: tenure and promotion processes do not usually highly value public engagement, and publications for a general audience are usually tossed out of the research into the service category, clearly the least valued column in faculty portfolios." Further, and no less important, the culture alluded to in the above statement also has a hold on academics themselves which works against an ideal institutional environment of which crowdfunding could be a productive part.

Thus, there seems to be a multi-layered dimension which potentially serves to work against an institutional/cultural reform which seems necessary if crowdfunding is to become a viable, and more importantly, recognizable form of academic production which can be added to a student's C/V or professor's tenure file. I'm afraid this response might come off a bit too pessimistic, and to be sure, the fact that are having this discussion is perhaps a initial step in the right direction. As Deb Verhoeven's post points out, there can be success via crowdfunding academic projects.

Although, perhaps academics need to recognize a common goal in moving forward, whether it be one that seeks to utilize crowdfunding model within the institutional framework and adjust that model to meet the demands of universities, or, a perhaps a more radical goal…to use crowdfunding as a tool to bring a disruption to the culture which you and Robin Wharton recognize, that is, to use crowdfunding as a step in substantially altering the landscape in hopes of, as you put it, "support(ing) progressive research in political philosophy in the same sort of way that conservative and religious foundations support philosophers who work on moral character and family values, but this seems to be something we should strive for, both in the name of academic freedom and diversity, and in the service of the good of society." 

September 12, 2015 - 08:26

Thank you for a thoughtful post, one that offers perspective from a humanities-oriented position. I appreciate your point about research in the humanities and much of the social sciences not being profit driven; further, such research doesn't typically have a monetary impact on the public. The disconnection between academic scholarship and public engagement to which you refer is so engrained in the culture of the academy and tenure, etc., that it feels nearly an insurmountable effort to shift the tide. But, rather than bemoan the situation further (no need to rehash a "what counts" conversation), I want to focus more on your call-to-action to "facilitate the public’s realization that they do care about the work we are doing, and that it does have value for life and not just for research." 

I want to think about this idea more concretely in terms of how crowdfunding can be leveraged to persuade the public that academic scholarship has "value for life and not just for research." In her contribution to this Field Guide survey, Deb Verhoeven mentions just briefly the "attribution of agency to the public" and "community relevance" as relates to crowdfunding academic research. Not that anyone is arguing this, but I don't think that by virtue of positioning the public to play a role in deciding what humanities-based project is relevant and of interest will automatically equate to increased public interest. Though, researchers may, indeed, "be surprised to find how much of the public will choose to come in" if given the opportunity to participate. I guess I'm still hung up on how we make this persuasive case and how crowdfunding factors in beyond giving the public a role in the research process.

I find myself coming back to this question of which "public" are we talking about? It's such a large, all encompassing word word. Does it not bring us back to the question of "who are the fans?" There are obviously contexts and audiences to be considered. If an artist wants to produce a new album, she'll probably have a pretty good idea of her target audience and what they care about and what she needs to do/say to generate interest, value, buzz, and, ultimately, funding. Humanities-based research might not be profit-driven (in the most literal sense of what we mean by profit), but it certainly produces a product. When we say public, do we simply refer to non-academics who might be the same people who'd, say, pick up a copy of Open Court’s Popular Culture and Philosophy series? I wonder if that public, that audience, isn't already persuaded of the value of the philosopher's work.

I'm also wondering how we prevent a consumptive model where the funder "stands to reap no return on her investment." Clearly this returns us to the assertion that humanities research isn't profit-driven; in other words, the researcher(s) doesn't crowdsource funding for a project with the end goal of profiting off it. However, I wonder if there are different ways of defining profit that should be acknowledged, and how can we ensure that what is produced and contingent upon crowdsourced funds does, actually, provide value? How is that measured?

September 11, 2015 - 10:39

Robin, thanks for your post. I think that the questions you raise are important because they bring to the forefront the more complex, and in certain ways problematic, institutional practices and structures against which the crowdfunding process comes into contact. Not only do questions arise which seek to more clearly understand the nature of involvement from donors within the academic culture (i.e. What do researches owe donors? What degree of involvement should donors have? Is research vulnerable to the influence of who is funding the research?), assuming the project is successfully funded, how then do the institutional frameworks legitimate the research according to those rigid and often outdated restrictive guidelines? A professor of mine has recently discussed how even now, as digital culture becomes a researched artifact and a space in which research is conducted, institutional guidelines cause restrictions or obstacles which reflect a fundamental misunderstanding with digital culture. As such, the restrictions become arbitrary, but remain in place which leads to what you mention, “Unclear or draconian intellectual property policy and unwieldy bureaucracies can give rise to a "better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission.” 

Unfortunately, the crowdfunding model is dependent upon a public which, in most cases, exists outside of academic settings. How does the goal of establishing a new set of guidelines which more accurately reflects the contemporary landscape, of which crowdfunding is quickly becoming a part, deal with the wild card represented by the public, specifically related to how the public functions within the crowdfunding model, i.e. the funders of the project? Does funding represent ownership similar to the role of a say “executive producer?” Should academic crowdfunded research include a disclaimer which sets out terms of involvement? Should these projects be submitted to an institutional review board before being launched? 

This seems to be familiar problem for the digital humanities, one informed by intersections of ownership, access, ideology, ethics, and institutional recognition and procedure. 

September 10, 2015 - 15:28

I think it was a good point for you to mention "Academics as Analysts” vs. “Crowds as Content-providers” as they certainly are two separate things. Especially as most of what is seen in terms of crowd-funding is going towards the creation of something that people didn't know they wanted (ie. hoverboards or the invention that makes filling up water balloons that much easier) or to helping others visualize dreams (such as publishing a book, making a film, or aiding the medical bills of those that may not be able to pay for treatment of something). There is a distinct sense of the sorts of things that are typically crowdfunded and academics aren't ones that are usually attributed to it at first thought.

Though that's not to say it's not possible. As you have mentioend academic reserach has been crowdfunded as well as there being those that are crowdfunding to raise enough money for tuition into differing schools of medicine, such as veterinary school. There is no limit to what it could be used for and it can serve a proportional aid to academics when the time comes.

September 10, 2015 - 13:33

Since all of my publications have either come in the form of blogs or under traditional publishers, a mixed institutional arena of support feels not only new but scary to me. When I sign a contract with a publisher I have an agreement about issues of republication, liability and remuneration. In this mixed mode where investment and ownership are dispersed, who claims responsibility if something goes wrong and there is a legal question? I ask this because this is what rights owners use contracts for and if I am being funded through a university, a crowd and with my own labors, how are legal responsibilities negotiated in the first place. I know this is the reverse of the question, however it may help get a handle on your point above, which is interesting in and of itself.