On Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

On Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

In the oft-cited touchstone book Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, Kathleen Fitzpatrick examines the current academic publishing system, and outlines its drawbacks and possibilities. She suggests that the current fixation on the printed book monograph, at least in the humanities, needs to change. For Fitzpatrick, the monograph is part of an undead, zombie logic of the academy, as it represents a mandatory but often dysfunctional system of scholarly communication. Beyond the monograph, Fitzpatrick argues, we need to rethink scholarly communication for the networked world in order to create improved research output. In doing so, the academy will become more relevant to the public it serves, and can also escape from the suffocating publishing system we currently subscribe to. Much of the book reads as a call to arms; Fitzpatrick writes, “we can work to change the ways we communicate and the systems through which we attribute value to such communication, opening ourselves up to the possibility that new modes of publishing might enable, not just more texts, but better texts, not just an evasion of obsolescence, but a new life for scholarship” (14). This optimism, or as Fitzpatrick corrects her readers, utopianism (194) underlies much of the book. Fitzpatrick herself deems such utopianism a response to the fact that “a revolution in scholarly communication is unavoidable” (194). Unavoidable because of the lack of public valuing of humanities work; unavoidable because of the untenable nature of the current scholarly communication system, held hostage as it is by commercial academic publishing; and unavoidable because of a widespread desire to make scholarship more open and accessible to larger publics through networked technologies.

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Work cited
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2011. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York UP.

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