Mark C. Marino
One of the appeals of HASTAC as a collective for me is the sense that it provides venues, such as the HASTAC Scholars forums, for conversations that span institutions. Traditionally academic conferences have served this function. More recently bulletin boards, listservs, and blogs. The former played the role of the annual concentrated infusion of intense exchange, that periodic reminder of the vitality of the discipline and the hassle of travel reimbursement, but the latter, these online collectives epitomized by HASTAC, are creating fields of study through continuous synchronous (via Twitter) and asynchronous conversational exchange (and coveted monetary prizes).
On the one hand, the collective addresses some of the isolation of academia. By necessity, sholars are often the only specialist in their area in their department. Graduate students, working under them, can experience a similar, and more vulnerable, feeling of separation and isolation. The online collective is that perisistent community.
But something else appeals to me about this particular collective — even though it seems to be moored at Duke, its membership goes far beyond any institution, especially when looking at the shear amound of traffic the site receives (http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/becoming-public-intellectual) and the extensive participation in its forums. I saw this most acutely in the Critical Code Studies forum (http://www.hastac.org/forums/hastac-scholars-discussions/critical-code-s…) which reached 12000 reads and over 100 challenging and thoughtful comments. Keep in mind, CCS is an area of study only a few years old with no particular institutional ties, no particular university setting. It is a collective called forth by venues (the CCS Working Group, a blog,the CCS @ USC conferene, ebr, HASTAC, Thoughtmesh). Similarly, the so-called “digital humanities” is emerging, as far as I can tell, through the nuturing of these trans-instituional online communties. Again, perhaps this was always the way with emerging fields, but I can’t help but think the rate and strength with which DH is forming is deeply tied to these online collectives — whether self-organizing or more structured.
When I think about the future of academic institutions, these types of online collectives strike me as vital both in their transformative nature and in their invigorating energy. The conversations rival (and often surpass) the seminars offered at most institutions. And while I don’t desire moving to online-only eduation or even the dissolution of the organizations that employ or educate us, I can sense a way in which these collectives are becoming sites where new kinds of seminars emerge (e.g. this DMLcentral webinar http://bit.ly/ebSIzV), reading groups spontaneously autogenerate, flashmob focus groups flourish, and curricula forms through the power of the exchange of the minds who show up, login in, and post up, attending this ethereal un-university via iPad, smartphone, laptop even as they sit on benches on campuses dreaming of a space beyond ivy and brick and tall metal gates.
Sometimes I tell my students that when smart people leave school, they continue their studies at TED Talks. I should add online collectives. These collectives are emerging into new kinds of educational structures, not as easy to map as the college campus, and perhaps more akin to microclimates or trasnational fads or global waves of musical styles. It’s more than memes, more than tools, more than the institutions we grew up wth. It’s reggae, ripped jeans, Etsy, and open, wide open.