[OPE-L:6907] [OPE-L:397] whither conferences and books, etc. ?

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 11:12:21 -0500 (EST)

As we are about to enter the 21st Century, how will Marxist (and other)
scholars communicate with each other in the decades that are to come?

Let's consider the current alternatives:

A. Conferences

B. Books

C. Journals

(all of the above are "traditional" forms of scholarly communication).

D. Cyberspace

A. Conferences

Who can and will be able to afford the cost of attending conferences?
Let's consider some of the component parts of that cost. They include:

a) transportation. If we are talking about an international conference,
then this can be a *very* significant cost indeed -- so much as as to be
prohibitive for many.

b) housing. Unless individuals are put up at no cost by area residents
(which sometimes happens) then the cost of 2-6 days in a hotel (especially
if it is in an urban area in the North) is also *very* expensive.

c) food, etc. If we are talking about a major international city like New
York, London, or Paris then this also can be a significant expenditure.

d) conference fees. Not generally so cheap either. Nor are copies of
conference papers, etc.

Add it all up -- it's a lot of $.

Now who can afford the above?

In many cases *in the past* many of these expenses *for academics* were
paid for by one's employer (i.e. the university).

Will this continue to be the case in the decades that come? I have my
doubts. As colleges have sought to lower costs, this part of the budget
(or grant funding) has and will continue to evaporate.

Do you disagree?

Moreover, this type of funding is only an alternative for (some)
academics. What about all of those scholars who are not academics?

Don't they have to pay for those conferences out of their own pockets? How
many can afford to do that? How many don't attend conferences for that

This cost of attending conferences, moreover, falls most heavily on those
from countries with lower wages and standards of living. Attending a
conference in another part of the world may be probitively expensive for
many individuals.

Now consider what happens at conferences:

-- you travel a great distance (generally) and are consequently tired at
the outset.

-- you present a paper, participate on a panel, or just attend a few
workshops per day. More fatigue. Little time for eating and socializing.
Yet, it is the socializing (i.e. the opportunity to talk to individuals
one-on-one that many find the most rewarding part of going to

-- time to leave. How much time did you have to tour the city (that many
of you may never have been to before)?

Furthermore, let's consider what typically happens in a panel or workshop:

-- there are presentations. Meanwhile, everyone else sits. (often this is
the most boring part of a conference). The presentations, though, are
generally very poor imitations of the papers themselves.

-- there is discussion. Generally this means that there is time for a few
brief questions and a few brief responses. Little opportunity for real
(and on-going) dialogue.

-- time for (an all to brief and late) lunch or dinner. Then come back for
some more punishment.

What's the point of this cruel and unusual punishment? Couldn't the papers
themselves have been circulated and discussed without going to all of the
bother and expense of organizing and attending a conference?

(Moreover, if the best part of a conference is seeing people, then why not
organize conferences where there is real time to do this?)

For all the above reasons, I think that scholarly conferences -- at least
in the traditional sense -- are becoming obsolete and will only be
affordable to a small elite.

*At a minimum* it seems to me that if we as Marxists want wider
international participation, then we will have to lower the costs of
attending conferences and arrange for subsidies for individuals in need.
Even if this is done, though, one wonders if there are not better forums
for communication ....

B. Books

Who can afford to continue to buy scholarly books?

Can you?

$US20 might be considered (currently) to be a cheap price for a paperback
book. Often, paperbacks are sold at over $US40.

That's a lot of money (especially when we consider opportunity costs).

Moreover, most of the scholarly books are only sold as hardbacks --
frequently costing $US70 - 90 !!!

A traditional alternative to a personal library is for public and or
college libraries to purchase these books.

Given budget cuts at universities around the world, many libraries have
already seen the amount of money allocated for new book purchases cut
sharply. Don't you think this trend will continue? I do.

Moreover, even if there are library purchases, unless one is a fortunate
academic one probably doesn't have access to those libraries?

There is, of course, the possibility that books which are printed in the
traditional way are also made available on-line for free. Yet, this is
something that most publishers would discourage (understatement) or
prevent. And it might be an alternative that many authors, including
Marxist ones, might not be in favor of.

C. Journals

Again, what is the cost (of subscribing)?

Who can afford it?

How many journals can you afford to subscribe to?

Does your library subscribe to the journals that you require for
scholarly research? Will they continue to do so?

No, it is my feeling that traditional conferences, books, and journals are
all going to become less important (and less affordable) in the decades
that come.

What does that leave us with?

D. Cyberspace

OK, there are problems with this alternative as well.

To begin with, most areas of cyberspace don't have a "culture" appropriate
for scholarly communications. Yet, we know from our experience on ope-l
that this does not *have* to be the case.

Then there is the cost, which currently includes the cost of access to a
personal computer, hardware, and software necessary to go on-line. Phone
bills also frequently go up as well !

*Yet* is it not reasonable to think that these costs will go down over
time? Won't many more be able to afford to go on-line?

This is especially the case if current plans to hook-up televisions to
cyberspace goes through as planned. Already, there are free e-mail
connections for those who use the www (e.g. hotmail).

So costs for getting on-line are going *down* while the costs for the more
traditional forms of communication discussed above are going *up*.

Also, there is a lot more opportunity for on-going *discussion* on the

E.g. instead of the discussion being limited to a few hours (or less) at
conferences, these discussions can continue for weeks, months, years, on
the Net. Indeed, we have seen this happen on ope-l.

This, in my opinion, allows for a much richer conversation.

We really can have the opportunity to *talk* to each other on the Net.
Isn't this a more empowering, inclusive, and democratic process than the
more traditional alternatives?

Would anyone care to put up a defense for the traditional forms of

btw, Happy Holidays!

In solidarity, Jerry