Jennifer Jill Fellows: We live in an age that has been characterized both as an information age and as a post truth era. We have near infinite amounts of information available to us, literally at our fingertips. But paradoxically, the sheer amount of information that we have to sift through makes it harder and harder to discover what is accurate and trustworthy. And this difficulty is only compounded by things like paywalls and jargon and even academic disincentives with regards to public scholarship. And that’s before we even talk about the risks scholars themselves face regarding cyber bullying and harassment when they make their scholarship public.
JJF: Hi everyone, Welcome to another episode of gender, sex and tech. Continuing the conversation. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Fellows. And today I’ve invited Dr. Alex Ketchum on the show to talk about intersectional feminist approaches to digital public scholarship. Dr. Alex Ketchum, is the faculty lecturer in the Institute for Gender and Sexuality and Feminist Studies at McGill University. She is also the director of the Justice Feminist Tech and Scholarship Lab. She’s the author of the open-access book, Engage in Public Scholarship! A Guidebook on Feminist and Accessible Communication. In this book, she seeks to answer two questions. First, what is feminist scholarship? And secondly, what is accessible scholarship? In answering these questions, Alex examines the power dynamics at play in the creation of and access to various forms of public scholarship. In general, Alex’s research integrates food, environmental, technological, and gender history.
JJF: Hi Alex, welcome to the show.
Alex Ketchum: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
JJF: Yeah, thanks for making the time.
JJF: I wanted to take a moment before we begin and remind everyone that digital space, the digital space we are using today to communicate with each other and to share our thoughts with our listeners is physical space. Digital space is created through resource extraction and maintain through energy consumption, which also often involves resource extraction. Digital space also occupies and impacts physical space in the forms of servers, cables, and even satellite overhead. So as I record gender, sex, and tech continuing the conversation today, I acknowledge that I am on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people of the Qiqéytnation. And Alex, can you share where you’re located today?
AK: Definitely. I’m joining you from to Tiohtià:ke Montreal on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory. This territory has been a meeting place for many different Indigenous peoples and continues to be a space for Indigenous groups today.
JJF: I want to begin with a little bit of a background and get to know you. So I was hoping you could share with us how you came to be interested in history, or maybe more specifically in feminist approaches to history or history of feminist movements.
AK: Yeah, Definitely, I love this question. So the roots are, I mean, I guess I can take any kind of starting point in my life. But the way I started to think about feminist history, more specifically, it was during my undergrad at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. I was working on the school’s organic farm. I was taking some feminist studies classes and I was really interested in understanding the connections between food and Feminism, especially women’s unpaid domestic labor. And so that’s when I started thinking about how I could answer these questions historically.
JJF: That’s really, really cool. So it kinda came from a place partially of like hands-on experience, just kinda symbiotically meshing with the classes that you were taking at the same time?
AK: Yeah, exactly. And I was fortunate that I got to go to a university where I could take classes in so many different fields and really mix and match my curriculum. So it gave me the opportunity to explore a lot of different kinds of methods and forms of inquiry. And I really appreciated the way that history as a discipline tended to look at materials and I was really drawn to archival work and using mixed methods in this courses. And it was also a way of shedding light as you talked about on my own experiences of working on organic farms and being really involved in food politics. I also was the founder and manager of a food politics living community at that time called Farmhouse on campus. And it still exists today, which I’m pretty excited about.
JJF: That’s amazing.
AK: Thanks. I mean, it’s really the students at Wesleyan that kept it alive since I’ve graduated. But yeah, I’ve been happy that they’ve been keeping it going.
JJF: That’s really cool.
JJF: I know that you have a background in history and in particularly in feminist history. But what we’re talking about today, will probably touch on some of that, but it’s also about public scholarship. So I was wondering if you can also give us a quick overview of what public scholarship is and particularly how you became interested in this.
AK: Yeah. Okay. So public scholarship for me is kind of an umbrella term that has a few different kinds of components underneath it. So when we hear about research, communication, knowledge mobilization, you also hear about things like science communication. But, I think public scholarship includes all those things, but also can be more. So it’s about making connections with the community from all different kinds of research practices. So it’s not just located in the sciences and it’s not so much just this top down approach where it’s a researcher who has all this knowledge and is just sharing it. But instead it’s about open lines of communication, coming from different community members. And the term here, ‘community’ is doing a lot of work and we can go into that more later. But yeah, it’s about just different ways of kind of opening up research, opening up work that’s done at the university level, and making it so that many different peoples are able to participate. And the term ‘public’ here is also a tricky one. Because who are we counting us the public? Do I count as a member of the public when someone’s talking about biology? I think so. But it’s also folks that aren’t necessarily as connected to the university. People who might live in our same cities as our universities or towns. Like it can mean a variety of ways. So yeah, so I’m really interested in kind of overall umbrella concept of bringing research outside of just peer-reviewed academic articles, peer-reviewed monographs, and conferences that only a few people are able to attend.
JJF: I think that’s a really important thing to talk about. And it’s not quite a distinction, but just maybe kind of broadening the concept. Because it sounds like you’ve identified what some people might think public scholarship is, which is often scholars like talking at the public, whoever the public is. But you’ve also said there’s a deeper engagement that can happen where you do scholarship with members of the public and create a community. And I think that that’s not always recognized as public scholarship. And so I just wanted to highlight that because I think that’s really important. The idea of doing scholarship with the public, rather than like doing scholarship at the public, if that makes sense.
AK: Yeah, Definitely. I appreciate that distinction. And I think the other difference is when you’re starting to think about the process of doing this work. So, when we oftentimes hear terms like ‘knowledge mobilization,’ it often is that the person has done all of their research and then this researcher communicates the findings, right? Whereas public scholarship can actually be that the public is engaged in the work throughout the process. But this isn’t to say that someone can’t decide later on in their process that they want to make this work more accessible. That’s totally great. But I think public scholarship also enables and encourages us to think about the communities that we’re working with rather than on much earlier in the process in terms of picking the questions that we’re asking, designing our research practices, thinking about the communities were hoping to serve.
JJF: Great. I think that’s really helpful. So there are different ways of doing public scholarship and some people may do it towards the end of their research program. But some people, it’s kinda baked in right from the beginning.
AK: Yeah, exactly. And to answer the question you had asked before also about how I became interested in it. I think part of it has to do with my own background. So I’m the first woman in my family to go to university, let alone get a Master’s and a PhD. And I was always interested in sharing what I was learning in school with my family members and friends. And then I also, part of this greater work and the book that came out of it came from a couple of different projects. One was in 2013, I co-launched the historical cooking project with a group of peers and friends and it was a website. It’s still exist today. I don’t post as regularly, but we wanted to make food history more accessible. We were cooking through historical cookbooks to see what the embodied experience of making these recipes would be like. And we were writing about how connected to larger trends in food history, looking at the ingredients, we invited other foods studies scholars to write post on the blog. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of posts. I think it’s almost 300 posts at this point. And so that was one of my early forays into that work through my historical background. Since 2019, I’ve also been running a speaker series called, and bear with me the title is so long because I never imagined it would become such a big thing, it’s called “Disrupting Disruptions, the Feminists and Accessible Publishing Communications and Technology Speaker and Workshop Series.” And today was actually our 75th event of the series. And so, yeah, it’s been really exciting to bring in a variety of scholars, creators, practitioners, researchers, activists who work on issues related to the title itself. There’s been a lot of focus on AI, big data, and all the folks who speak as part of this series are oftentimes folks who voices we don’t hear in relation to these issues of big tech. So it’s women or non-binary folks, uh, trans speakers, many people of color, Indigenous speakers, people whose identities are at the intersections of many of those categories. And so that way we can showcase this amazing research and work and activism in artistic practice. So in running that series too, I was thinking really intentionally about how can I make these events as accessible as possible? Which communities am I trying to serve? How can I use this platform to lift up other voices and so forth?
JJF: I thought that there might be a connection between your interests in feminist history and food and your interest in public scholarship. So I’m happy to see that there is a connection because I was thinking like there probably is. Because like working on an organic farm, there’s a way in which that, that is kind of public work, right? And so engaging with community. And I think that’s really, really cool. I love it when different interests come together.
AK: Yeah, I think one thing with my food work because I have these two different bodies of work with in my scholarship, I have my feminist food history work and my work on feminist restaurants and that book projects that I produced. And then I also have this project around AI and tech history it’s still feminist history, still late 20th and early 21st century time period. And same geographic context of US and Canada. But my public scholarship work, it kind of brings that together. And I do find that my work around food is usually what draws people in a bit more because we all eat, many of us cook, many of us go to restaurants or cafes. So there’s a way that people can feel connected to it. Because even when they asked me, “Well, what’s a feminist restaurant?” they still knew what a restaurant was, right? So they were already kind of intrigued. And that was a really nice place to kinda began these conversations and talk about these activists histories and so forth.
JJF: You might be able to bridge it to like food itself is a technology, right? Cooking food or growing food. And there are technologies that feed into capitalist and corporate empire and make large scale commercial farming possible. And then other technologies that maybe we’re losing in terms of like more sustainable farming or other cooking practices like you talked about, trying to cook, like historical menus and things like that, which I think is really cool. And it isn’t necessarily something we always think of as a technology, certainly not like AI and stuff like that. But there are ways in which this is still technological developments that are happening that maybe we need to be reflecting on.
AK: Definitely, I know it’s not what we were planning.
JJF: I know
AK: I know we’re here for the book. But I do have a piece that’s coming out this spring in Gastronomica about kitchen computers and kitchen robots.
JJF: Smart fridges and stuff.
AK: Yeah, and kind of the cultural imaginations. Rosie the Robot, and different kitchen computers that were put out by Honeywell. And this long history of the cultural imagination since the kitchen robot and whose labor was supposed to be placed and the white supremacist and very patriarchal ideas and what that robot meant. Yeah, so if folks are interested in those connections, it’s going to be out in spring 2023 from Gastronomica, which is Open Access.
JJF: We will put a link in the show notes. Will try and put a link to everything in the show notes.
JJF: Okay. So yes, we’re supposed to be talking. I know it’s fun to talk about all this stuff. I’m very excited, but we’re going to talk about public scholarship. You’ve defined for us what it is and where your interests comes from. Now that we have a bit more idea of what public scholarship is, when I was reading your book, there were a few themes that seem to come up again and again in your work. And I just want to draw some of those themes out before we get into details. One of the themes that came up was, very broadly speaking, the costs that come with public scholarship. So can we talk about the costs of doing this a bit?
AK: Yeah, for sure. And I’m really glad you asked this question, because universities are asking scholars to do more of this publicly engaged work. At least they say that they want scholars to do this work. That’s another kind of issue. But this work takes a lot of time. Some folks might say, Look, I already am teaching a lot of courses. I’m trying to publish work. I’m going to conferences, I’m supervising students. I’m also trying to have a life. Maybe I have care work outside of my own job, right? You might have children or dependents or older family members who are taking care of, communities that you’re involved with. And then you also, you know, all the daily tasks of just like, trying to move your body and eat and self-care and you might have a disability. There’s all these different things that ask so much of your time. So to be asked to do this task that seems like an extra thing on top of your work that already is going to limit sometimes who is able to participate in this kind of labor, especially when it’s not compensated financially and it’s not really seen as part of our jobs. If it’s not included in hiring decisions, if it’s not included in promotion decisions, if it’s not included in understandings of either your research or your service or your teaching work that might make this kind of scholarship inaccessible. So, I think if universities are going to ask this of us, it’s important that they also acknowledged the labor behind it. Another challenge that can happen, especially for women, non-binary folks, people of color, basically scholars who are marginalized within academia, is when they’re doing public scholarship, especially if they do work related to different forms of oppression, different kinds of marginalization, that sometimes that can lead to trolling or doxycycline or threats. So you can see this, when some scholars published their work, people may engage with ideas. But when other scholars published their work, especially scholars from marginalized backgrounds, they’re going to oftentimes not just have to deal with people challenging their ideas, but making threats to their safety or attacking them personally. And so, not only is that a terrible thing to experience, feeling that your safety is threatened, but also the fact that this itself is another form of labor. And it’s really important that universities actually create systems in place to protect scholars, if they’re going to be asking them to do this work. In 2020. My research assistants and I contacted every university in Canada. Their media relations offices, they all call it something different, but basically their media offices, the ones in which that those offices where they say, “oh, will help get you interviews with the media” or media agencies will contact the university and say like, “Hey, do you have someone who can speak to these issues?” So we contacted those offices and we asked them, what are your policies in place? Do you have any documents like what happens if one of your Scholars is being trolled doxxed, and harassed? Is it just, If you do have these policies in place is it just for tenure-track or tenured scholars, does include non-tenure track faculty does include adjuncts, does include graduate students? And with the exception of one university, none of the universities in Canada had any policies, any particular documentation, anything really on their websites, a few said that they did it on a case-by-case basis. But if you’re a scholar at an institution and there’s no sign that the institution has any plan in place for you. I don’t think that’s really a solution.
JJF: It doesn’t feel very supportive.
AK: Yeah, exactly. I’m just even things like we created also a list of things that individual scholars could do if they experienced doxxing or trolling online cyber bullying and harassment. But it shouldn’t be an individualized issue. We also suggested different things universities could do, such as having on their website, Here’s information of what happens if your doxed or Please contact us, we have a plan in place that, maybe they don’t want all the documents online so that harasser is can see the plan, but that there’s actually a system in place. And UMass Amherst does have, so this is in the US context, but US, UMass, Amherst has set up the policies in order to help scholars out there. I think it’s really important and it also can encourage scholars to want to do this work. Because if you’re fearful of being harassed, even the potential of being harassed. That puts a limit, the kind of scholarship that folks are going to engage in.
JJF: And I think that’s really helpful and I really important point. So we have the costs in terms of labor, that this doesn’t happen without labor. It may depend on what type of public scholarship you’re engaged in, how much labor it is, but there’s labor involved no matter what. And then there’s the costs in terms of whether or not your labor is being recognized and or compensated by your institution or by your place of employment.
JJF: So often, universities and colleges will say, like you said, that they want scholars to engage in this. They don’t necessarily incentivize that engagement.
JJF: Then there’s also the cost particularly borne by marginalized scholars who also already are facing a lot higher costs in terms of service work and other labor to the institution. So marginalized scholars, in case listeners don’t know, are often called upon to serve on more committees and to do more work in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion policies and things like that. So marginalized scholars are already called upon by institutions to give a lot of labor. And we’re also seeing that if marginalized scholars do public-facing scholarship, there’s increased risks of trolling, online harassment, cyberbullying. And the research bears this out right? Like so social scientists tell us that marginalized people, so, women, Indigenous people, Black people, people of color, trans individuals, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face harassment specifically based on their identities and to face more severe egregious harassments. If the institution can’t support you there either, which it sounds like a lot of institutions don’t have policies in place, some are doing it on a case-by-case basis, I can see why there are some barriers to people considering public scholarship.
AK: I think these barriers are important to address. And I also didn’t talk about some of the environmental costs of just any of the work that we’re doing.
AK: As scholars in terms of if involves travel, but also in terms of our digital lives are still always tied to the land, which is why I really appreciated your land acknowledgment in the beginning, the virtual is so tied to the physical. There’s not really this division, but that’s not necessarily unique about public scholarship, but it is still something we should recognize.
JJF: Yeah, that there are environmental costs to this. Flying to conferences or workshops or flying to give talks, obviously has a cost, but even my little podcast is being hosted on a server. And that is eating up resources, right? And it’s occupying space. Yeah.
AK: The materials that are mined for computers and the cooling of data centers and all of that always has a cost. There’s nothing that we’re doing that is just like clean of environmental impact. But I would say that, while, we’re highlighting a lot of the challenges, and I think when we get to this more later, but there are still a lot of benefits of doing this work. For me the public scholarship work that I do tends to be the most rewarding and fulfilling. And it’s important to me that my work doesn’t just sit behind the paywall. I want people to be able to build on the work that I’m producing. I want it to be useful to the communities that I’ve worked with. I want people to be able to do more with the work, especially when we’re coming from taxpayer funded institutions. People are funding this research and then they don’t have access to it and that’s a huge problem.
AK: And access isn’t just putting a PDF online. That’s one step, but it’s also the language we use. And so much more than that.
JJF: Yeah, I really liked that point as well because there are ways in which sometimes people end up paying twice, right? So it’s taxpayer funded research and then the research ends up behind a paywall. Say it’s with a journal or something like that. If you aren’t a member of an institution that is paying for a subscription to that journal and you want access to it, now you have to pay again, basically in order to get it. So yeah, I think that we will talk more about rewards or reasons to do this a little bit later on. But I do think that that is one thing that a lot of people I know who engage in public scholarship are cognizant of and interested in is the issues with this paywall and equitability and all that.
JJF: Which brings me to another theme that comes up quite strongly throughout your book. So we’ve been talking about the public and the communities. And yes, those are doing a whole lot of work. And maybe it’s time to try and dig into that. So one of the things that you stressed throughout your book, regardless of the type of public scholarship that anybody would engage in, is the importance of thinking about public scholarship with an intersectional feminist lens. So why do you think that this is so important? What, what can we see if we think about public scholarship with an intersectional feminist lens?
AK: Yeah, So I think one thing to begin with is kinda the definition of feminism that I’m using with this book. Because there’s a lot of definitions of feminism and their socialist and liberal and anarchist and radical lesbian separatist feminisms. And here I’m using a kind of broader definition of feminism really connected to social justice, which is about the social, political, and economic equity—so instead of equality, equity there—of people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, class, language, disability, ability and so forth. And also really considering the kind of environmental impacts. Also that feminism isn’t the static thing, but it’s a process. It’s something that we’re working towards. It’s continual. It’s not just an endpoint. This definition of feminism is really important for me in thinking through public scholarship because it helps us think about power in the work that we’re doing. It helps us think about power in the way that we’re communicating about that work. And it helps us think about relationships in terms of the relationship of the scholar to her work, to the communities that they’re talking to. And also in terms of like who has access to be able to do this and so forth. It gives us a lot of ways to think about labor. It gives us a lot of ways to think about what our values are, who we’re trying to be accountable to, and so forth. And also just kinda feminist work. Feminist activism in theory um really shapes a lot of my approaches and practices. And the title acknowledges the importance of feminism because I draw on the work of a lot of other feminist scholars in this work who think really carefully about the kinds of methods that we use to communicate inside and outside of the academy.
JJF: So that’s really helpful. So when we’re thinking about this kind of social justice, feminism, how might that help us think about how to make public scholarship accessible? And maybe this is a general question and it will be more specific when we talk about different specific forms. But just generally, what do we need to be thinking about if putting up a PDF is not enough, what do we need to be thinking about when we decide we want to engage in public scholarship?
AK: For sure. So feminism, like I mentioned with the social justice framework, allows us to think about questions of disability/ability for one, right? So it helps us think about what kind of language are we using? And that can be in terms of are we using English? Are we using French? Are we using Ojibwe? Are we using Spanish, right? Like which communities are we trying to speak with? That’s important. It has to do with using plain language, if that’s important to the communities you’re trying to reach. Perhaps it’s that you have a version in which people can listen to you instead of reading or that screen readers are able to actually read the text. So if you use images using Alt-image descriptions, it can be in terms of the font size that you’re using or having on a digital platform where people can actually alter the font. That’s being Web 3.0 compatible. But part of it is also just like which faces are you making? Not everyone has access to the internet. So we’re talking about broadband Internet access issues, right? So rural communities, for example in Canada, are one place we can think of that don’t necessarily have great internet access. So if you’re having something that requires really great internet access to use, that’s going to exclude certain communities. Are you able to do a print version as well? Or if the community that you want to reach doesn’t have Internet, why would you make a website, right?
AK: It’s also being really specific about the work that you’re sharing. It’s also thinking about where you’re showcasing work. So for example, if you have an exhibit, are there stairs? Who’s that going to exclude? If you are organizing events? What about the loudness of sound? Or they’re going to be captions? Is there going to be a hybrid components? What about space for people? If it’s a long conference, is there going to be space for people to chestfeet or breastfeed? Is there going to be space for people who the quiet spaces to go to a different points, right? There’s so many factors to consider. Thinking about disability and ability. Thinking about the kinds of needs of different bodies, thinking about access to education, as well as thinking about the language that we’re even using within it, right? So in terms of how can we be gender-inclusive with your language? How can you be attentive to issues of racism within certain texts or the kind of language are using. So there’s so many different ways and of course it depends on what platform you’re talking about. If you’re doing online or offline or mixed work, you’re talking about events or publication, or a website or an album, like music or artistic ways of connecting. All of those will have their own specific individualized factors. But it really helps us think about, again, the identities of the folks that we’re trying to work with.
JJF: So as you were speaking, it sounds like one of the benefits of thinking about public scholarship using a feminist social justice lens is that it reorients us in some ways rather than just being like, “I want to do this fun work and put it out there,” it’s like I have to think about “what community or communities am I trying to engage with and what’s the context and what do those communities need?” And begin my planning around my public scholarship from them, thinking about what languages, who am I trying to reach? What languages or wet jargon do they or do they not understand? What needs might they have in terms of accessibility? Yeah, just kind of all that kind of stuff. And I know that in the book when you talk about physical environments as well, and not virtual events, but physical events, you talk about things like, are you going to provide food and what kind of mood are you going to provide? Are you meeting the dietary needs of the communities you’re trying to engage with? So one thing I really liked about this is that it brings it all down to a very contextual place where you have to think about what community am I trying to build or what existing community am I trying to reach and go from there, rather than just being like, I’m gonna do something and put it out into the world. And I really appreciated it.
AK; For sure. I think something that’s important to highlight is that nothing that we do will be fully accessible to everyone, right? We’re having this conversation in English. So people who don’t speak English, not going be as accessible to them, right? But the work that we’re doing, I also don’t want the fact that not everything is going to be accessible for everyone, I don’t want that to lead us to just say, well, if it’s not going to be for everyone, I’ll just focus on what I see as the norm which tends to meet the needs of white, cis, heterosexual, able-bodied men around 30 years old that are English speaking in Canadian society, right?
JJF: And urban and have good broadband Internet.
AK: Exactly, right? So I don’t want us just to, to say, well, okay, if it’s not gonna be perfect and reach everyone, that’s who I’m going to aim for. But instead, thinking again about where are you trying to direct your work to you. And also, you can sometimes do different versions of a similar project, right? So it could be something as simple as you publish it in multiple languages. It could be that you have, as Zine or Handbook you’ve made that people can access online or there can be a printed copy available, right? Even things like that, that opens it up for more people to participate in.
JJF: So we’ve talked a little bit about the fact that your book does cover physical public-facing scholarship. But a lot of what I’m going to ask you today is going to be about the online and digital stuff. But I, listeners, if you’re interested in the physical stuff, please go check that out. There will be a link. So I’m going to focus mainly on the digital aspect today. So I want to talk with you about some of the digital options that exist for public scholarship. And one of the ones you start out with in your book and probably the closest to what academics know as traditional publishing is open access scholarship. So could you talk a little bit about what that is?
AK: Yeah, for sure. So open access means that the reader does not have to pay to access the article or the book or the publication. It’s free for the user. There’s different models of Open Access. There’s green and gold, and we don’t have to go into all the details of the different models, but some of the models are that the platform, so this would be like platinum, is that the author isn’t paying to have her work be open access. And the reader, obviously then doesn’t have to also pay to read the text. This is possible sometimes if a journal for example, is funded by certain grants or has connections to different kinds of University Libraries, then the kinds of fees such as copy editing and hosting fees are covered with that. For folks who aren’t aware, authors of journal articles aren’t paid.
AK: Peer reviewers aren’t paid. Oftentimes, even editors aren’t paid. Really oftentimes the only folks that are making money on journal articles, whether it’s behind a paywall or not, is the publisher, the publishing company. And then copy editors get some money. But they’re not, they’re not bringing in the big bucks.
AK: Again, it’s a model that’s very extractive, exploitative. And then if, let’s say you really enjoy an article that you read through a library access that you had and you’re like wow, I want to compensate that author for their labor. Maybe I’ll just buy a copy of the article. The author is not getting any money.
AK: So, don’t do that. If you want to support folks, open access, this kind of platinum model, it’s free on both ends. There are some journals in which most of their stuff is behind a paywall. But an author can pay money to the journal to have it made available open access. These fees really range, but there’s ones that $600 oftentimes it’s $ 1,000 or $2,000. And sometimes it goes up as high as I think Nature was up to $9,000. I don’t want to misspeak. I know it’s over $ 6,000. For folks who aren’t aware Nature is kinda the one the leading journalists and scientific publishing. And certain grants require that you have an open-access version of your work. So sometimes people feel like, Oh no, I have to pay this. And so that also comes out of grant money. And in Canada, all of our grants are Tri-Council money. So also coming from dislike greater tax apparatus. So then again, it’s also kind double charging people. But then there’s another form of open access in which people can put a version of their articles into repositories. And so I really encourage people to do this. Hopefully, if you are a scholar listening and you’re affiliated with a university, hopefully that a university library has someone who can double-check that you’re not violating any copyright. But usually you can put a preprint version of your work online. So that would be basically the version of the article before it’s been formatted with all the kinda fancy titles and the gray bars on the side that the journal uses and all of that. And usually university repositories, that version will also come up when people are going into Google Scholar or something and are searching.
AK: So they’ll see the official kind of behind paywall version that has the nice formatting and then the unformatted version. There might be a few differences. There may be some typos and stuff like that, but basically, your main ideas are being made available and then also usually satisfies brand agencies requirements.
JJF: So then you don’t have to pay the 600 to whatever dollars.
AK: Yup. Exactly. That way people get a version of it. So some folks also, there’s other places of how people have tried to make some open access which sometimes can be in violation of copyright. So I’m as like a legal thing, I’m not telling you to do this.
JJF: This exists, we’re not endorsing it.
AK: Exactly, but people sometimes will just upload a PDF to their personal website or on ResearchGate or Academia.edu, or to Sci-Hub. And this also shares with the pirating of academic articles. And then some people use things like CanIHazPDF and other kinds of groups in which they will ask for an article in someone who has institutional access will share it. So those are different ways that journal articles can be open-access. Books, it’s oftentimes coming from different grants to make it open access. Some presses have some money. Authors bring in some money from their own grants and stuff like that. So, yeah, Open Access, great in that way that people can not have to pay to access the article. Especially since then that’s access for the author.
AK: But that’s not the same thing as being a fully accessible write. Journal articles are written in a certain way depending on your field and discipline. You’ve got the intro, the lit review, the methods section, the discussion and a conclusion. There might be really intense jargon in it. People might be pulling from theories without explaining them, because journal articles are usually written for a small group of experts. And I think those conversations are important. I don’t want anyone listening to think that I’m saying that it’s not important for scholars to be able to have spaces where they talk to each other. But I think the problem is, is the work just ends there. There are some fields in which your journal article is already might be a little bit more approachable, right? Like if it works kind of like history, sometimes people can kind of understand some of the contexts of the story. But even still there might be jargon or contexts there might be densely written or people don’t necessarily want to know all the ins and outs of your methods. So this is where I encourage people to think about other ways to share aspects of the same research project in different ways, such as blog post, cartoons, podcasts, videos. There’s different ways you can talk about your research. Interviews on other people’s podcasts can be great,
JJF: For example!
AK: Exactly. So open access isn’t the be-all, end-all, but I think it’s an important start here. And I think it’s important that we challenge some of these publishing companies of academic journals because it’s very exploitative.
JJF: I think that’s really helpful, yeah, and the idea that scholars have to pay for open access to, for those models may not be as big a deal for a scholar that has a huge PD pool professional development funds that they can pull from or that do have big research grants. But that’s also a barrier for new and emerging scholars and graduate students and scholars who are underemployed and stuff like that. So I just wanted to flag that as another potential issue. In addition to all the other things you said.
AK: Fefinitely for sure, the lack of access and also even with your grant, even if you have a huge SSHRC insight grammar or something like that, you really want thousands of it to go towards that?
JJF: You probably have other dreams for that money for research.
AK: And it can support student research training. So yeah, I think open access is important. And the other point I wanted to make is sometimes there’s these rumors that open access articles or as legitimate or that the board is paying to have their research published. Open access is just the form of people being able to read it. It has nothing to do with the peer review process where the quality of the research. So I think that’s a really important rumor to dispel.
JJF: So you just mentioned too, that open access maybe a good place to begin. But we may need to do other work to make our research more accessible. In terms of thinking about speaking to communities that aren’t primarily made up of the same type of scholar that we are, right? So I’d have to personally think, oh, maybe, how would it people who don’t have PhDs in philosophy, for example, think about this. So you said a potential solution is to put some or all of your scholarship in another format for people, things like for example, social media. I’ve seen people, scholars use Instagram, TikTok, and especially Twitter as ways of sharing their research. And so I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about how someone might choose to do this on social media and what are some of the challenges there?
AK: So I think choosing a platform, there’s different ways to make the determination. So it depends on what your research literally looks like. Is it really visual? Are they’re important, images you could share or graphs or something that might be visually appealing. And maybe a platform like Instagram would work really well for you. Twitter is really a word space. You can have images. But again, Academic Twitter, which I actually have really enjoyed despite all of the hullabaloo going on since Elon Musk has purchased Twitter.
AK: But I benefited a lot from that platform of being able to connect with other scholars and also folks who are interested in similar areas through the use of hashtags and stuff like that. Then things like TikTok right, it’s really a video format. So are visuals and sound working together useful for you and so forth? So just thinking about kind of what your research looks like and how it might work. That’s an important thing. People sometimes consider YouTube a social media platform. I would say it’s more of a publishing platform for film. But again, if your work works in film format.
AK: Though we will see changes in social media platforms. There’s always new ones coming out. There’s trends and user using them. I know people don’t really use Facebook as much anymore. But I think the kinds of lessons I talk about my book will still be useful, how to navigate those relationships. And social media can be a great way to connect with other folks that you might not have met otherwise. It’s a nice kind of crossover appeal where people can kinda dip their toe into your research, work with charts that you might have or infographics that can make it really, like digestible. Now there’s risks and drawbacks of using social media. And a big one is you don’t really control the platform.
AK: Right? Like I mentioned, Musk buying, Twitter. Well, there’s a lot of fear instantly. Are we going to lose all of our community. We’ve spent years building this here for different kinds of communities on Twitter. Platforms are beholden to their shareholders. They’re not beholden to you. They can make changes. They can kick you off of them for no reason. You could lose your account and lose all that work that you’ve done. So if you are going to do this kind of social media scholarship, it may be you’re going to create Instagram account with lots of images. Please make sure you have a backup of that work somewhere else. That’s really important. The other issue with this is that while it does open up a space to chat with lots of people, it can also open up a space, again for forms of harassment. So again, kind of speaking to how to navigate that. But I do recommend if harassment starts to build up, just immediately locking in your account and just keeping it locked for 24 to 72 hours can already make a big difference. But again, navigating that kind of trolling and cyberbullying and can be a lot.
JJF: That’s another place where it would be helpful if universities could just tell people, like just lock your account, just so that you know what to do. Because people don’t always know what to do once the once the harassment starts piling up, right?
AK: Exactly. And perhaps we can link in the ShowNotes to the initial report that I released in 2020 because it has some really practical steps right away of stuff to do. But also my book is open access and there’s a section on it in there. So if you want the bullet-point version
AK: Go to the quick report, but the book kind of goes into it.
JJF: Sounds good. I also think that yeah, it’s not just that you might lose. All of your work, for example, if Instagram or Twitter kicks you off, but also like you said, you could lose access to your community, right? So if you’re building a community, it might be worth thinking about whether there are other ways for the community to connect, which I know might involve for example doing other forms of public scholarship as well. So in addition to using Twitter, Do you have something else where people can connect? This might bring me to another digital option that you talk about, which is this kind of self-published digital scholarship. And this would include things like websites, blogs, ezines, which we’ve talked about before on this podcast and podcasts, which we’ve talked about before on this podcast! But just as an idea that you could have, I don’t know, Twitter or Instagram, but also have for example an ezine or a blog or a website that you do control to try and maintain some of the community space. So can you talk about why someone might choose these forms of public scholarship and what to be aware of when doing this kind of public self-publishing.
AK: Yeah, definitely. So I do think it’s really wonderful to have both a website and the social media for, as you said, you didn’t even have just the URL for your website on your Twitter account, right? That way also, people will know another place to find you. It will help people if they’re looking for. You can kinda link between the two of them. It’s a good way to showcase research to different communities because people might not know your website exists If they haven’t heard about it through social media. I think sometimes people get nervous about some of this self-production because it requires skill sets that you have to learn. Yeah, I mean, maybe if people already are expert podcasters and they run a Dungeons and Dragons podcasts on their own time. So they’re like, I already know how to do this. But for other folks, it might be a new thing that they’re trying now. And I think as scholars, we oftentimes feel like we have to be so perfect or know how to do it really well before we even experiment. So here I might encourage people to be open to playfulness and learning new things. Which again, you might be rolling your eyes at because you’re thinking, I’m exhausted. I have all these things on my plate and now I need to learn how to build a website. I don’t know how to code or, Oh, I need to do a podcast. There are workshops available. There’s also ways that you can also guest on other people’s podcasts. You can write blog post for other people’s blogs. You don’t always have to start everything from ground zero. You can work with others. There’s ways to collaborate with people. So if you’re not interested in learning all the skills that it takes to do audio-editing. There may be podcasting wouldn’t be the form for you. Then maybe you already know how to take photos. And you can use some websites where you can literally just essentially just drop the photos on it that control it, right? There’s different options available, so we’re pretty fortunate for where the online world is now that some of them you don’t need that kind of initial hurdle at the same degree. But I recommend people try things out and they don’t always have to be these huge commitments. If you’re announcing, I’m going to start a podcast and you’re planning out 50 episodes. That’s huge. But if you’re doing something like writing a blog post for someone else’s website, that’s something that you can experiment with, see if you like it, and then maybe go from there.
JJF: I like that. One of my friends and scholars who I interviewed last year, Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray, often calls public scholarship like making public mistakes. And it’s both in terms of you put out your ideas and your research. And people may challenge you and you may learn new things like, Oh, I hadn’t considered this perspective or from this community. But it can also be things like, Oh, my first episode is not very well edited or something like that, right? And it’s just kind of making mistakes in public I think is, is something that we should be more accepting of because mistakes are chances to learn, I guess would be my little plug for that.
AK: Yeah, exactly. And also, I mean, Brenna has her long-standing HKHS podcast.
AK: And so but that’s a huge project that comes out weekly pretty much. And it’s a big commitment. But you don’t have to go to that degree, early on? Sometimes it could be an afternoon projects and say, I like this, maybe I’ll do more. I don’t like this. Maybe, there’s a thing that I talked about how people do sometimes cartoons or graphic novels of their research. And one of the people I saw him a book is Nicole J. Georges. And she does a lot of workshops on comics and cartooning. And she tells people not to just make their first project a giant graphic novel, because that’s a multiyear project, is a huge endeavor and even your drawing style might change over time. So it’s good to kinda figure out what your style is going to be and test it out early with a couple of panels that you’re drawing or seeing what you like, seeing what’s working for you.
JJF: Like make your first pancake.
AK: Exactly, Exactly. Not everything has to be your grand opus. And the thing was public scholarship to, is, it can also be a place where I can experiment with ideas earlier on. I know sometimes it’s that I’ve done a big project and then I’m communicating about it at the end. But I had mentioned earlier in our interview the historical cooking project. Well, that was a way I could test different ideas out. See what interested me. See if I really wanted to devote years of my life to a giant project and think, “Nope, I’m satisfied with this blog post.” And so that was really nice.
JJF: I’m also thinking of like my first podcast for a, which was me and a scholar friend of mine, Dr. Kira Thompson’s, and we still have it going. It’s very small. It’s a Dragon Age and philosophy podcast, and it basically only appeals to people who liked the video games. We have a very small audience, but it’s a good place to play and it was a good place to learn skills of podcasting in a way that was quite low pressure because we just did one episode and then we’re like, okay, that was fun. Let’s do another one and we don’t have a schedule and it’s just very chill. So I think those kind of public scholarships are available too for people to get their feet wet like one blog post or guests staying on one episode or maybe just put out one episode yourself and see if it’s too much work and it’s still fun.
AK: Yeah, exactly. I, I really liked I use the word “Fun” there because I think sometimes as scholars, we don’t think that fun is serious business. Everything that we need to do has to be very intense and professional. But fun as a good thing. Fun is joyful, it can lead to creativity, it can lead to connection. And it also is a serious emotion. And so I want us to re-center on in our lives because I think that can bring us back to the joy in our work that brought us here in the first place. I don’t think many of us got into this line of research and into our careers because we wanted to be in committee meetings all day. So where can we find the fun and the joy and bring us back to what got has enter fields in the first place. That’s awesome. I’ll also add that sometimes I find writing academic papers fun, but sometimes it’s not the right format and it doesn’t feel fun to churn out another paper. And that’s another place where I think these other avenues of scholarship, like making a Twitter feed or trying to do a TikTok, or writing a guest blog posts can just give you new avenues for engaging with and sharing your research. And that can just respark fun for people maybe.
JJF: So your book, as we said, is called Engaged in Public Scholarship! And there’s an exclamation point at the end of that.
AK: There definitely is.
JJF: Much of the book offers really useful tips and observations, some of which we’ve shared today on how to do the work of public scholarship successfully. So I really encourage listeners to check it out. There will be a link in the show notes for people to follow. But we’ve mentioned this a couple of times, there seems to be in your book and in the title with that exclamation points, a real call to action here, an urgency asking more people to do this work. And in your concluding chapter you say, and I quote, “In the post truth era, it is all the more important to hear from specialists with a depth of thought and substantiated arguments.” So I was wondering if you could talk about this call to action and this urgency a little bit more.
AK: Yeah. So I think it’s important to remember that when people are searching online, a lot of the first hits that they see from free websites that they, nothing is behind the paywall, so here I’m also talking about like many newspapers articles are paywall, right? So the easiest things to access are going to oftentimes be of questionable journalistic integrity. They might not be citing experts, it could be propaganda. And so I think it’s important to make the kind of thoroughly researched, thoughtfully conceived research to be available to people, whether it is in the form of those open access versions of articles, not everyone is going to want to read your scholarly work in the article format though. I hate to break it to you! It’s useful, it’s great if people can look at the studies that you’ve done, see where the statistics are coming to you. That can be something that’s linked to. But just that people can actually get at this information in a clear and concise way of speaks to them so that they can make informed decisions. And not just find those kind of shock jock early, easy to find hits online and to stop there. I think it’s important for functioning democracy. It’s important for them to make informed decisions about their own lives that come from really the work that you’re doing because your scholarship is valuable and people need to be able to read it.
JJF: I think a few generations ago and everybody had a subscription to newspapers or things like that, but that isn’t so much of a thing anymore. Physical newspapers in general aren’t so much of a thing anymore. And so now that we all have our phones and our pocket and Google with us everywhere, I think that people are more and more just you look up something in your search engine. And first of all, we know Google already has some biases with the results it will return. But you’re going to look for the results that aren’t behind a paywall that are in language that you can understand. And already that means that a lot of the research that tax money is funding is not getting back to the people who are paying for it. And instead they’re reading whoever’s blog post or watching whoever’s video. And yeah, we’re not really part of that conversation. We, I say as scholars here, because our work is often behind the paywall and inaccessible in other ways. I think that’s really a good thing for people to reflect on. And when you have this call to action and this urgency for public scholarship in this kind of post-truth era where anybody can put up a website or anybody can make a YouTube video or a TikTok or what have you. The call to action, as we’ve talked about, isn’t just focused on Scholars. You’ve already called upon universities and institutions for example, to have plans to protect people from harassment and cyberbullying. But is there anything you’d like to see our academic institutions do in order to support or promote public scholarship.
AK: Yeah, I think putting their money where their mouth is to put it gently. Maybe that’s not so gentle. Right? Their budgets reflect what they’re actually valuing. So as they want people to do this work, they’ll make sure that it’s considered part of our job description that will be compensated for it, that they’ll hire based on it, that they will offer trainings for people, right? So having workshops part of professional development. I know some universities do have professional development workshops. But oftentimes it feels like, again, it’s this other thing being added onto your workload and it’s not being recognized. Not that everything needs a certificate, but I do know that there are some people who, if they’re maybe doing training of how to build websites, how to do podcasting, that if there is a way to designate that on their CV could be really useful for folks. I think having this earlier on in graduate student training, encouraging the incorporation of some of these methods in undergraduate training as well could be really useful. I think it’s more on the structural side beyond just the PR stunt. Saying, we care about our local communities. There are institutions that do offer rewards, are paid rewards for some of this work. But I think there’s, there’s ways to build it into the job in a way that’s more sustainable. I really don’t want it to be like “your job is exactly the same, but you also need to show you’ve done all these other things.” I want us to take seriously this kind of work as also research and also service and also teaching. The designation that we had between teaching research and service is already a problem. And Hannah McGregor has talked about this on her podcasts, Secret Feminist Agenda. But aren’t we doing teaching and some of our research? Are we doing service work with our teaching? Like all these different things. But having this be part of the category of work is really important and also having supports for scholars that are being harassed.
AK: That’s, that’s important too.
JJF: For listeners who don’t know, yeah, academics, if you get into kind of a traditional job position and you’re hired as an assistant professor at a research institution, then usually your CV is judged on these three areas. There’s the teaching commitments that you have, whatever you’re teaching load is, however many courses you have to teach every year. Then there’s your service work, which is supposed to be serving on committees and things and that kind of stuff, that other side. And then there’s your research. And from what I can gather people who engage in the kind of public scholarship like I do, so people who are doing podcasts or zines or things like that, this kind of self-publishing, usually institutions put that under service work, which is often the type of work that A) marginalized groups are already disproportionately doing, which we already talked about. And B) often a type of work that gets devalued when you’re up for promotion. Like they’re really interested in your research when you’re coming up for promotion. And they often don’t count your public scholarship as research. And so people find it very challenging because then you’re taking time, as we said, you’re taking time that you could be doing, getting a peer-reviewed article pulled together or doing a monograph. And instead you’re doing this. And then your institution says it’s important to do this because, knowledge mobilization and we care about communities and public outreach. But then it often doesn’t really get acknowledged or counted when you come up for tenure review or promotion. And of course, things are worse if we’re talking about adjunct and sessional, precariously employed scholars.
AK: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I should make clear that I’m also not a tenure track professor. I’m in non-tenure track position right now. I’m on year five of being a faculty lecturer at McGill. But I also see this to this ranking, both in how I’m expected to format my CV goes a research and grants, number one, then my teaching that my service. And then after that is this public work and that kind of hierarchy and what the institution is valuing is also reflected in even just our merit unified report we have to submit every year, showing all of our activities. And it is in that same order of research, teaching, service, other.
JJF: Yeah. Yeah.
AK: I don t think that this is not necessarily another category. I think it is just part of our work and is an important research contribution.
JJF: So universities have to put their money where their mouth is or practice what they preach.
AK: Exactly, exactly. And there’s some really great work by Juan Pablo Alperin in studying and actually what universities are rewarding and stuff. And I talk about his work in the book.
AK: If you, if you want the data behind it.
JJF: I want to thank you so much for talking with me today, Alex, and sharing your research and your hopes for public scholarship for the future. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners regarding feminist approaches to public scholarship.
AK: I would say that I hope you check out the book, like I mentioned, it’s available Open Access. I make an Open Access version of pretty much all of my work, whether it’s my books or I have things on E-repositories as well. But the book, if you’re thinking, Oh, well all this sounds like maybe play theoretical. The book is actually broken into two parts. The first part is kind of talking about these challenges and these benefits. And the second part is called toolkits. And there are steps to help you learn the skills that you need to do this work on something, and something I also didn’t mention, but there’s also toolkits and how to work with journalists, too. So if you want, you media interviews, if you want to be on TV, or also if you want to write op-eds, there’s information on that as well.
JJF: Yeah. The book is really well laid out that way such that if you already kind of know what tools you want to use for your public scholarship, you can just go straight to that chapter. And it’s comprehensive and it deals with kind of what you need to think about if, if you’re gonna do for example an op-ed, here’s here’s what you need to think about when you’re doing it from a feminist point of view. So I found it really accessible that way as well.
AK: Thank you so much for saying that. Yeah, I hope people feel encouraged to hop around as it works for them. It’s not about that you’d have to read coverage to cover, although you’re welcome to return to it at different stages. thank you so much for having me. This isn’t such a fun discussion. And I hope that listeners feel encouraged to experiment and try some thing new.
JJF: This episode of Gender, Sex and Tech continued a conversation that began when I was introduced to Alex’s comprehensive open-access book on public scholarship. I’ve provided a link to the book in the ShowNotes and I highly recommend you check it out. I want to thank Alex for sharing her research with us today. And thank you listener for joining me for another episode of Gender Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. If you would like to continue this conversation further, please reach out on Twitter @tech_gender or leave a comment on this podcast. Or maybe you could consider creating your own essay, podcast, video, or other media format to continue the conversation in your own voice. And maybe Alex’s book could help you do that. Music provided by Epidemic Sound. This podcast is created by me, Jennifer Jill Fellows, with support from the Marc Sanders Foundation for Public Philosophy. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider buying me a coffee. You’ll find a link to my Ko-Fi page in the show notes. Until next time. Bye.