I think the focus on prosumers here is certainly something that should be looked at more. Instead of focusing on those that consuming the product (in this case the videos that are being posted) the prosumers seem to get a bigger sense of accomplishment. Not only are they ones that had put the time into the videos that they create (say mastering a trick) but they're also the ones that watch others take the video they've created and share it amongst their groups or friends over and over again, which shows the idea of weak-ties and social capital very well. This can also be attributed to the 'global village' image that you have brought up as well, both capitalizing on the social aspect.
Their action of displaying "their skills, their place and space, their position in the pecking orders of avant garde sport formations" showcases the broad reach that the social media sites they are a part of can continue to grow that social capital within the 'global village' they've created which can then be studied in various other avenues.
Thanks for your post Tim, as you approach this discussion from a different angle than those previous posts to the question. The takeaway from your contribution, for me, was your mention of the temporal nature of academic study. You rightly bring to mind a salient component of academic research - theoretical critical analysis which seeks to conceptualize phenomena in hopes of better understanding their role in society and culture. Often, as you mention, our interests can't be "marketed." Thus, if we are asking questions about crowdfunding academic research, it's safe to assume that any inclusion of marketing into the research process will influence what we are interested in…and if that influence is solely based on the possibility of acquiring funding outside of the institution, then we risk the "TED-ification" of an environment which, as you point out, benefits from its isolation and insulation from popular interests or questions developed in ways that answer to performance first and rigor second or third.
Although, I am curious as to what threat such an attitude poses to goals of institutional progress in addressing shifting cultures. Ultimately, the responsibility is on the universities to adjust policies which reflect these shifts, but there needs to be pressure from professors and academics in order to better express the need for change. I'm curious about your use of the descriptor "great" universities and wonder what constitutes that qualification. Market-logic infuses university culture because it becomes the foundation by which they are evaluated (i.e. graduation rates, hiring rates, specialized skill sets, programs that answer to current markets)….that is, success it quantitatively measured. Are some universities more immune to this than others? Crowdfunding falls right into the neoliberal trap and offers a way for analysts to see which campaigns garner the most financial support from the public. Unless professors and academics nurture the need for a change that opens up new channels of research funding while simultaneously recognizing the benefits institutions do play in protecting professors and academics from market flux, ephemeral public interests, and research legitimization.
Ultimately, development can't occur without a mutual investment in which both parties recognize strenghts and weaknesses associated with both the institutional framework, as well as the more neoliberal approach of CF. This hope is necessitated by a need to acknowledge similar interests, and this is the difficult part and brings us back to your mention of long term development vs short term profit - the former of which is normally associated with researches and profs, the latter of which is generally associated with advisory boards and university administrations.
Lucy, thank you for such a thoughtful post. A few things occurred to me as I read, and I am particularly interested in the following comment: “[Crowdfunding] may particularly benefit independent or early career scholars who may have no opportunity to apply for research funding at any institution or academic body…” I’m at the dissertation stage, and, being a humanities student, little of my research, though often qualitative in nature, has required the kind of funding for a more large-scale project like the ones discussed in this Field Guide Survey. However, large or small, institutional funding available to grad students for their research is at best scarce but, in many cases, just nonexistent, at least insofar as my experience has been. This is unfortunate given the expectation that grad students turn out a few publications prior to going on the market.
My own personal financial challenge associated with research I’ve conducted refers to fees for transcription and small tokens of gratitude for participants (e.g., $10 Starbucks card). At one point, I hired someone in the Social Science Research Center to help me transcribe rather lengthy interviews. On the surface, the hourly fee seemed reasonable and would certainly free me up to address other facets of the project; however, I—and the transcriber—sorely underestimated the time needed to transcribe my interviews. These things happen, but I was a grad student who incurred what what felt like a very large debt I had not anticipated. Crowdfunding appeals to me because I think I fit the profile of “an early career scholar” with few institutional funding opportunities. Launching a small crowdfunding project could have helped me greatly, though, and in thinking about Carly Kocurek’s post about the labor of crowdfunding, I wonder if seeking this kind of alternative funding would have been more or less work than combing through database lists of research grants for graduate students and then applying within that competitive landscape.
At any rate, I’d argue that given the expectation that grad students publish, institutions should provide at least some small opportunity for funding grad student research—even for those of us in the humanities. Thanks again for talking about the implications of crowdfunding for shifting responsibility.
Crowdfunding for academic research grants and assistantship is something that should be addressed in some areas. As you had posed the question of whether it will allow or possible encourage institutions to go that route, the question that should also be asked is will it still be affective. Crowdfunding mostly runs on social network and you social capital within those networking spaces. If one student comes to a university and figures out they have to crowdfund for their assistantship that may be something that won't be completed depending on the social capital that has been created. Furthermore it would bring up the question of whether or not the institution would be in charge of then giving the student an assistantship afterwards or not.
It had come to my attention recently at Columbia College of Chicago that there have been a few students that were given positions to work for the campus in a department, some having gotten through the payroll process others hadn't, before then being told that they were not to be hired by the school and the program's funding had been cut, allowing only two students to be hired when countless others had been promised jobs. Would this have been avoided if they could have crowdfunded? It's hard to say. Not only is there the risk of alienating those around those that are consistently being bombarded with messages to donate to their crowdfunding campaign but it is also something that should be looked into as well. It would be going to a good cause in funding for a student but would also increase the reach of the topics they may be searching as well.
As you have said, it serves for closer examination.
Jennifer deWinter’s post calls on us to “think through the risks of crowdfunding and think through ways to mitigate or address these risks ethically and in the interest of everyone’s wellbeing.” I’d like to start that thought process.
Risk #1: Burning Social Capital
When deWinter uses the term “burning” to represent the expenditure of social capital during crowdfunding efforts, she nails the problem. In academia, social capital reflects the ethos of scholars and students, whether expressed in social media posts, books, chapters, articles, or papers. Crowdfunding platforms rely on that capital to be successful, but an academic ethos seldom seeks funds outside the more formal grantwriting process (where protection of ethos is built into the process and isolated from its social capital). When crowdfunding’s use of social capital collides with academia’s carefully curated academic ethos, social capital gets burned. Perhaps alternative methods or audiences for crowdfunding could be explored or developed that rely less on social capital and more on the professional networks in which scholars and students circulate. As we teachers and our students consider potential donors for our crowdfunded projects, tapping like-minded scholars and students for funds might mitigate the burn. Tapping our own professional and scholarly networks might not yield big bucks, but doing so would help our students find ways to raise funds without burning their — or our — personal social capital. Supporting academic crowdfunding opportunities might even be a way to contribute to, rather than burn, our social capital in our academic networks.
Risk #2: Long-term Time Investment
As I consider more traditional fundraising processes like grantwriting, I’m reminded that writing a grant is only the beginning of the process. Managing the grant is the far more time-consuming and long-lasting project. When we teach grantwriting, we don’t focus solely on composing an effective proposal; we write into the grant the time and remuneration required for managing the grant once awarded. As we consider crowdfunding efforts, similar composing strategies might be employed. The management of funds raised is equally important to the raising of the funds itself, and our rhetorical approach to both can be integrated into our crowdfunding pedagogy and praxis. Rather than viewing the long-term time investment as a risk, perhaps we can reframe the investment as an opportunity for teaching and learning. When de Winter describes the “time needed to record and send rewards” as “a time sink with little educational value,” I wonder if the time and effort could be rewarded, even remunerated, as an educational and professional experience. The process of following up on gifts given is a key aspect of philanthropic management and provides a unique opportunity to teach the skills of fundraising and fund management over the life of a project. Fundraising, whether crowdfunded or otherwise, is a project that requires time and effort over the life of the project, from planning the proposal to raising the funds to completing the project and reporting on its success (or failure) to donors. At stake are issues of value: to what extent are donations valued, and the donors behind them? To what extent are the efforts of fundraisers themselves valued? And what about de Winter and the value of her work sponsoring this group, work that should be recognized by an employer? Crowdsourcing is not a simple act of getting people to give petty change. Rather, it’s the tactical implementation of a combined academic and marketing strategy, a quasi-professional fundraising activity with all the ethical management and reporting responsibilities — and time and money required to accomplish those tasks — written into the fiber of the project.
Risk #3: Emotional and Physical Risk in the Public Domain
As deWinter notes, “This one’s a doozy.” The ad hominem attacks flung across multiple channels during this very active and early national political season are evidence that crowdfunding is hardly unique in the vitriol it can attract. Neither our students nor we deserve the deeply insulting and violent responses de Winter depicted. One path that might prove less daunting relates to tapping our scholarly and professional networks for crowdfunding efforts. While the social aspect of crowdfunding implies, even relies, on the unpredictable ways that word of the effort get passed around our close and extended networks, starting within a perceived safer, more restricted social circle might be a starting point. Recognizing that funds are likely to be fewer from such circles becomes part of the planning and strategy for the fundraising effort; perhaps the projects sees fewer dollars raised, but the academic circles that raised the funds might be more supportive of the effort in ways that build on, rather than burn, social capital.
What we do in the social sphere gets out and beyond our immediate control. That’s the experience of a social life, hardly unique to social media or crowdfunding efforts. Using a crowdfunding effort as a teachable moment for audience identification and selection, for drafting a fundraising plan that includes implementation costs and fund management through the duration of the project, and for developing ways to recognize valued efforts and reward them through implementation, are ways to mitigate some of the risks that arise when using crowdfunding platforms for academic fundraising.
On the other hand, given that academics are already performing many labour for free, and the increasing precarity of academics in higher institutions, would a turn to crowdfunding for academic projects give university institutions further excuses to not support academic research?
How can crowdfunding insert itself productively into the insitutional frameworks which legitimate academic work? Can crowdfunded research outside of insitutional frameworks legitimate itself via other means? There already seems to be a very selective (if not arbitrary) character to what academic journals are considered "worthy" of CV's, and digital publishing (something the MediaCommons is specifically interested in) has an even more difficult time being recognized as a new platform for rigorous scholarship. Indeed, there have been many questions swirling about regarding how to navigate this environment and utilize these technologies for academics. Although, I feel that what needs to be in place is an institutional recognition and embracing of new modes of research and funding. Importantly, this has to involve finding a way to incentivize academics to remain inside the institution while still exploring new ways of pursuing academic goals that can revitalize the process. The excerpt I pulled from your post, I believe, is an important aspect of this discussion. The music industry was very slow to acknowledge and embrace what peer to peer file sharing symbolized, i.e. a shift in how music fans consumed and experienced music. Universities should not make the same mistake. Perhaps universities should match crowdfunding up to a certain point and still sponsor the research which would allow for it to remain embedded in the peer review process? Ultimately, academic culture (Universities and those who teach, research, peer review, etc.) should welcome crowdfunding into the fold and utilize it as a tool that can reach new publics, all the while continuing to provide the support that nurtures a secure space (i.e. job security and financial support) where attention can be focused on academic work.
Rebecca, when I read the statement "Thus, it can be counter-productive for promotion to explore the topics I look at and to use alternative funding sources," I thought of how difficult it is to work within the parameters of a dual disadvantage as relates to more traditional conventions and expectations for publishing and funding academic research. In reference to this, I agree with David's point about the usefulness of Gramsci's "organic" versus "traditional" intellectual as a possible framework for collapsing boundaries and perceptions of what constitutes acceptable, worthwhile, and "rigorous" research. However, I think it's worth clarifying that we are, as demonstrated in your case, dealing with institutional misconceptions about digital culture and practices, (such as publishing in open access journals or availing oneself of crowdfunding platforms to pay for the tedious labor of transcribing) and not less rigorous research or methodologies. Your example illustrates the methods of a concerned, thoughtful, and ethical researcher whose methodologies were carefully charted in order to navigate the various concerns you delineate. I also wonder if the notion of "stylistic forms of research" also falls within the area of institutional misconception. Does research become "stylistic" by virtue of existing within what's now, arguably, more than an emerging set of "conventions" of digital culture?
On a distantly related note, several years ago I did some empirically-based work on how women academics use the same social media to curate professional and personal selves. The IRB process was interesting. My college's committee was clearly hesitant as they stepped lightly into new digital terrain where determining issues of public versus private and how best to protect the identity of participants, especially when part of my research relied on visual self-presentation. And, I believe I was lucky to work with a committee who was, for the most part, open minded in their attempts to provide me institutional support (permission not money) for my project while also ensuring that participants were protected and the university, of course, incurred little risk of liability.
Jennifer, thanks for this post. You reference Carly Kocurek and Allyson Whipple's crowdfunding campaign and echoed Carly's own experience with verbal abuse that occurred as a result. And certainly, Sarkeesian's story has been well publicized which has only drawn more threats from the male gaming community. While this registers as a high, if not the highest, concern associated with crowdfunding academic projects which may aggravate particular segments of society simply by virtue of the research question explored, I wanted to discuss your risk #2.
I like that you bring to light the pedagogical opportunities and difficulties which can arise, such as time constraint. Digital culture is a deserving topic of study and I think assigning students to establish crowdfunding campaigns is a great way for them to learn the realities of navigating a landscape which is becoming increasingly more ubiquitous for various professions. The task of increasing visibility across multiple platforms and inspiring would be donors to donate is applicable on many different fronts. I could easily imagine such assignments becoming more common for public relations classes, as we all as business, marketing, and the digital humanities of course. I think it would also be useful to address neoliberal culture which certainly necessitates the need for crowdfunding in academic culture, and other areas as well. Letting students be exposed to the various cultures through the process of crowdfunding would be very useful. What positives came out of this process for your students? What do you think they learned?
I want to thank you for a great post trying to unpack some of the issues with the concept of crowd funding and academia. I think that your post and Jennifer de Winter's both look at the ways that academia and crowd funding are not natural companions in similar ways.
As I was reading your post I was really interested in the idea that if we as academics must turn to these popular avenues for research, how does that affect the kinds of research that can happen at the university. On a platform where attention is integral to getting one's message across for more monetary support, projects cater to popular topics and marginalized research can become even more marginalized. Not to sound overly optimistic, but this seems to run counter to what academia is supposed to do.
I am likewise interested in how platforms like Kickstarter benefit from the fact that many fans see themselves as experts who would be able to discern what would be a good project. In many ways, Kickstarter might be a good way to gauge public opinion on pet projects, in the way that Lego Ideas does.
All this is to say that I do not have a lot of answers either. I've seen several fan and academic projects come out of Kickstarter, but more projects that were either failures or much more work than the creator imagined.
Thank you both for your thoughtful responses. I don't know that I have any answers, but I am interested in exploring the questions both of you raise. As Tim points out, one of the reasons we've developed intellectual property agreements, and IRBs, and publication contracts is to identify and clarify the rights, responsibilities, and potential liabilities of researchers, faculty, institutions, and research subjects, for example. For the most part, because these contracts and agreements have been negotiated in a context—especially in the humanities—where things like cross-institutional collaboration, crowdfunding, and commercialization of research work product weren't present or accounted for, the contracts and agreements are completely silent about and maybe even actively discourage them.
Taking a fresh look at, and if necessary renegotiating these instruments would hopefully result in agreements that are clearer about whether they are even intended to cover situations involving crowdfunded research, and if so, how rights and responsibilities are to be distributed among institutions, faculty, and researchers, even if they don't necessarily provide much guidance with regard to public participants from outside the institutional setting. Institutions and professional organizations also might consider how to identify best practices in crowdfunded research. Getting to one of David's questions here, best practices might address questions of when IRB approval should be required—e.g., for publication in professional journals, or when the project is going to be used as part of a P&T file, or maybe in every case in which human subjects will be involved, are just some possibilities. Best practices guidelines might also discuss how project contributors will be credited, what access to and rights in the research output they should have, what information must be disclosed to potential backers, and how much control—if any—those backers have over the project once it's funded.
Institutions need to begin a conversation that begins with the question of whether it's a good or bad idea to allow institutional resources to be used in crowdfunded academic research. For those institutions that decide the answer to this first question is "yes," then the conversation should turn the question of what can be done to ensure that crowdfunded academic research is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. Part of answering this second question involves creating an environment on campus in which people understand the rights, responsibilities, and potential liabilities involved in crowdfunded academic research as well as recommended best practices for apportioning the legal and ethical risks and benefits of the project.