Thursday, June 7, 2007

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Citation protocol

In a strange confluence of blog streams, Ross Cameron and Brian Weatherson debate the propriety of posting papers online with the "Do not cite without author's permission" caution. The comment thread on Weatherson's post is particlarly interesting, and does highlight a growing problem. Since working paper versions of published journal articles are often easier to access online, they might generate citations when the final paper is an improved version.

At the same time, Eric Rauchway and Brad DeLong discuss the fears of non-blogging academics that anything they do or say on the web will come back to haunt them. DeLong believes the fear of having one's ideas stolen from an online paper is vastly exaggerated (this is a phobia that seems particularly concentrated among graduate students).

I agree with DeLong, but Rauchway makes an interesting point about disciplinary divides:

I expect [DeLong's belief] derives from the difference in scholarly discourse between History-Department historians and Economic-History historians: History-Department historians tend to operate individually, cooking up ideas slowly over time, until we can publish a book bristling with defenses, counterarguments, and qualifications; Economic-History historians tend to work with each other, to toss ideas out in working papers, conference papers, and articles long before they get committed to books (if indeed they ever do). Ideas in the latter form of discourse enjoy a more experimental status; one need not fully commit oneself to their defense; one can even play with them, scattering them like paper boats to test the wind and currents.

In this respect, History-Department historians, and practitioners of other disciplines that emphasize books over articles, may be especially unsuited to derive benefits from blogging. We don't do brisk give-and-take. We lay the keels of large vessels slowly, load them with our ideas and evidence, and launch them deliberately. Thus projected, they rarely meet direct objection. A review cannot supply a counterargument of sufficient weight to scuttle them (and, perhaps acknowledging this, few reviews really try for a fair fight). Other historians' books follow their own paths, and normally avoid direct contact; engagements if inevitable usually occur briefly and inconclusively.

With one possible exception, political scientists tend to fall in with the economists when it comes to sharing work -- we get a lot out of workshops, conferences, and the like (if you doubt this, consider the following hypothetical -- if Mearsheimer and Walt had actually presented the academic-y version of their "Israel Lobby" paper at a few public and private conferences, how many subsequent errors, omissions, and brushfires would have been avoided?).

The possible exception is political theory, and here's why. In my experience, political theorists devote the greatest amount of energy to making their prose as precise as possible in their written work. For example, when theorists present their papers to an audience, they tend to read the actual text rather than riff from notes -- a practice shared by historians but not by other political science subfields. With these kind of practices, it would not be surprising that theorists act more like historians when it comes to questions of online publishing activities.

posted by Dan on 06.07.07 at 09:08 AM


theorists read their papers because they're generally the geekiest geeks of the bunch, so unused to social interaction with other human beings that directed unmediated communication with other people would scare them out of their wits...


posted by: lamont cranston on 06.07.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Cute, Lamont, but not so much. After all, the standard presentation in the other fields is hardly unmediated interaction with the audience, but rather interaction with one's power-point-projecting laptop. You really think we're geekier geeks (not that there's anything wrong with that) than methodologists?

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 06.07.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

But this description makes it sound as if History department Historians are self-absorbed fools, engaging in a set of professional norms that makes it impossible for them to learn from one another. Can that be right?

Sure, political theorists and philosophers aim for a lot of precision in their writing/speaking (and why not?). But they engage in exactly the sort of give and take/mutual learning/etc that you describe other political scientists engaging in at workshops/conferences/etc. So the means of delivery is the only real difference.

posted by: Harry B on 06.07.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]


Jacob, cynical twits like me think methodologists are just another sort of theorist. We used to have four subfields, three of which treated the real world and one of which was off contemplating its navel. Now we have five subfields, but no more than a quarter of the individuals in the discipline as a whole do anything real-world-related: the theorists have been joined in space by the methodologists (I still can't figure out how methodology ever became an independent field), most of the Americanists, and not a few of the comparativists and IR folks.

lc (who left it all behind a while ago and feels grateful to be out)

posted by: lamont cranston on 06.07.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

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