THE MONOGRAPH An old-fashioned publication forum or an ultimate scholarly achievement? Sari Kivistö & Sami Pihlström - PDF

MONO THE MONOGRAPH An old-fashioned publication forum or an ultimate scholarly achievement? Sari Kivistö & Sami Pihlström Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies University of Helsinki

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MONO THE MONOGRAPH An old-fashioned publication forum or an ultimate scholarly achievement? Sari Kivistö & Sami Pihlström Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies University of Helsinki GRAPH MONOG GRAPH Introduction Writing and publishing are, arguably, the most important things academics do for the obvious reason that the results of science and scholarship must be made public in order for them to be subordinated to critical discussion. It is only through such discussion that any results of research can claim the status of academic knowledge. Furthermore, it is generally agreed that university teaching ought to be based on original research. Publishing thus lies at the center of all academic activities research, education, and societal interaction. Without reliable practices of academic publishing, the entire system of science and scholarship, as we know it, would collapse. This exhibition of academic monographs published by current and former fellows of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, a strongly international and interdisciplinary research institute within the University of Helsinki, focusing on the humanities and social sciences (broadly conceived), manifests monograph publication in its academic richness, often in an interdisciplinary fashion. For the research profile and other publications of HCAS fellows, see collegium, as well as our TUHAT profile. Defining the monograph The monograph the focus of this exhibition is of course only one form of scientific, academic, and/or scholarly communication among many. It must be distinguished from the journal article, the book chapter, the textbook, and the general non-fiction book, among others. For the purposes of this exhibition, we may characterize the monograph as an original book-length scholarly study of a focused and unified theme, topic, or issue, with a (broadly) narrative chapter structure, authored by one or several scholars, who may have distinctive special roles within the publication while sharing a joint authorship. All monographs are books (printed either traditionally on paper or made available electronically), but, clearly, not all books are monographs. No article is a monograph, and no monograph is a (mere) article, though one can write a monograph by first writing articles and then revising them into a unified whole, or by expanding an article into book length. The monograph differs from journal articles and chapters in collected volumes in its scope and length. Typically, monographs are at least 100 pages long, and in most cases longer in some cases significantly longer. The monograph allows the scholar to develop an idea or an argument in considerable length and detail. In contemporary academic publishing, 1 MONOG journal articles and book chapters are typically around 20 pages long; hence, the scholarly work that needs to be done for a monograph is much more substantial. One might say that while a 20-page article, or book chapter, enables a scholar to make one novel key point about a scholarly problem, a monograph enables her/him to make several related points about a unified subject matter, and to develop her/his reasoning by means of a systematically unfolding narrative and argument. As a result, the entire argumentative and narrative approach of a monograph is crucially different from that of a journal article. The monograph is not just a large-scale article; it is a different way of approaching a scholarly issue. Moreover, the monograph differs from the collection of articles even from a collection of articles authored by one and the same person. A collection of articles could also address a more or less focused and unified theme, and obviously the boundary between a monograph and a collection may be fuzzy to some extent. But the basic difference is that articles, even when collected into a single volume authored by the same scholar, are self-contained in a sense in which monograph chapters are not. The fundamental unit of expression is, therefore, either the article or the monograph. Articles often originally separately published articles can be, and often are, used as background material for a monograph. In many cases, the author of a monograph needs to obtain the permissions to use her/his earlier articles from their original publishers (e.g., journals). Even then, those articles when turned into monograph chapters need to be considerably revised in order to make them genuine functional parts of a monograph, instead of self-contained publications that could simply be bound together and put between the covers. Clearly, the monograph must be distinguished from the textbook. The latter is written primarily for students and is intended to be used in the classroom. The former is written primarily for a community of other scholars, that is, to the author s academic peers, and though it may also be used as required or supplementary reading in teaching, its use as such educational material is not integral to its nature as an academic contribution, viz., to its being the kind of academic product that it is. Admittedly, however, the distinction between textbooks and original research is very much sharper in the natural sciences than it is in the humanities and social sciences (where, obviously, monographs are typical). In the latter fields, there are books, including some famous books by leading authors, that may function, or may be partially read as, both monographs and textbooks. We might say, perhaps, that a book that can be primarily characterized as a monograph can also be read as a textbook. Obviously, one and the same publication can be used for a variety of different purposes. This is hardly any more mysterious than it is to say that piles of monographs might be employed as self-made stairs needed to climb a few steps to reach 2 GRAPH something one needs from a cupboard located up on the wall, or that a thick monograph could be used to break a window one needs to break. Finally, the monograph differs from the general non-fiction book, even though monographs and non-fiction books can address similar topics and even use relatively similar narrative techniques. Again, the boundary may be unclear in some cases, especially in academic fields that are also of interest to wider audiences (such as history, cultural studies, or religious studies). Generally, monographs are academic publications, primarily written for an audience of recognized experts in the field. While the recognized expert may also read a general non-fiction book with great interest, and such books may contain (relatively) new academic knowledge about their subject matter, the primary purpose of a monograph is to formulate a genuinely novel idea, thought, or argument to an academic community whose key goal is the systematic and critical search for new knowledge that is, to an audience or community that can be expected to play a crucial role in the critical evaluation and testing of that new idea, thought, or argument. In contrast, the non-fiction book is written with a significantly broader educated audience in mind. It communicates already existing knowledge, rather than producing or critically testing new knowledge claims (though, admittedly, this boundary, again, inevitably remains somewhat fuzzy). The significance of the monograph in different disciplines: usefulness and creativity Today, academics young academics in particular are increasingly encouraged to publish the results of their research in high-impact journals. Journal rankings have been produced, both at the European level and nationally in various countries, including Finland. The funding of universities may partly depend on the ranking status of the publication forums in which professors, other academics, and doctoral students publish their work. These developments are in many ways positive, and there can be no denying of the importance of journal articles for the dissemination of new scientific and academic knowledge. Leading journals in all academic fields undeniably publish first-rate work that significantly advances human learning and understanding. However, the leading journals may also be, and in many cases are, mainstream journals. It may be difficult to really present essentially novel scientific or scholarly ideas in such publishing forums. In some cases, the monograph form is truly needed to present genuinely original and creative research ideas. This may be because the creativity and originality of such ideas may only be intelligible with reference to both the past (i.e., originality in relation to what has been 3 MONOG done earlier in the scholarly community) and the future (i.e., significance to what may be done later). Arguably, a temporal context that a narrative structure can make explicit is needed to adequately indicate these characteristics of research. The long perspective of the monograph ought to be taken very seriously. The basic mission of universities, and scholarship generally (with a perspective of several centuries) should not be buried under the more and more widespread business-like demands of immediate impact and relevance in the contemporary academia. This is one reason why scholars, especially in the humanities and social sciences, still ought to be encouraged to publish monographs in addition to (not instead of) journal articles. The special and irreducible value of the monograph in comparison to all other forms of producing academic knowledge ought to be recognized by the academic community, as well as those who provide its funding. We should definitely not give up monographs, nor should we too dramatically redefine their tasks in the contemporary academic world (e.g., by reducing them to mere textbooks or popular books); on the contrary, we should appreciate the irreducible plurality of academic publishing, realizing that merely producing immense numbers of journal articles will not compensate for the lack of publishing deeply reflective, narratively argumentative, unified yet comprehensive studies on issues that are too substantial to be adequately dealt with in a single article, however intelligent and impact-producing. The notion of impact inevitably invoked in journal rankings is itself problematic. 1 A book that gets only limited attention during its author s lifetime, is buried in the library for a couple of centuries, and only then gets read by someone might turn out to have more impact in the long run than a fashionable book or article with thousands (or millions) of readers that will be forgotten after the fashion has changed. (Not to speak of the hype branding of the university and its various spin-offs.) Moreover, measuring impact is notoriously difficult, if not impossible especially in the humanities. It is difficult to underevaluate the impact of Plato s, Aristotle s, Descartes s, Kant s, Peirce s, or Wittgenstein s ideas, although some of them may not immediately have received much attention (or the right kind of attention). This doesn t mean that we shouldn t publish in high-impact journals or aim at social relevance. What it means is that we shouldn t overhastily give up traditional forms of publishing, such as the monograph. It might still be asked what the use of publishing monographs is. How are they useful, if they are? The impact of journal articles may be much greater, and monographs are typically rather slow to get written and thus also slow to reach their intended academic audience. Given the increasing expectations of efficacy, usefulness, and relevance, the 1 On impact factors and on the evaluation of the quality of research output, see, for example, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (2013), 4 GRAPH humanities and the social sciences perhaps more than the more obviously instrumentally valuable and socially relevant natural and medical sciences constantly need to consider the value or benefit they are able to produce for the environing society. While this concern has always been relevant to scholars writing monographs, this form of academic publishing can be said to primarily advance basic research that is not necessarily expected to directly benefit society but is motivated out of purely academic interests. The scholar who is writing a monograph should primarily seek the truth pursuing critical discussion and reflection instead of practical utility, even though her/his research results may turn out to be strongly relevant to society. Research in the humanities, in particular, is a value in itself, and it may be useful or beneficial in highly unexpected ways. Indeed, best research in these fields can demonstrate that the dichotomy between intrinsic value and instrumental value is often extremely misleading. At the same time, it is important to continue critical discussion of what can be meant by usefulness in this context. This issue has been on the agenda of not only the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies but of all institutes for advanced study since the beginning: when the internationally leading institute of this kind, the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, was established in 1930, its founders argued that basic research pursued not out of any immediate concerns for usefulness but out of pure intellectual curiosity turns out to be the most useful in the long run. We may refer back to the words of the first director of the Princeton IAS, Abraham Flexner, who urged the then newly founded institution to be a free society of scholars free, because mature persons, animated by intellectual purposes, must be left to pursue their own interests in their own ways. In his 1939 essay, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Flexner further argued that institutions of higher learning are the more likely to contribute to human welfare the less they are deflected by considerations of immediacy of application. This spirit still animates not only the IAS but the practice of writing, publishing, and reading monographs in the scholarly communities that exist today. 2 The monograph and the Finnish Publication Forum rankings Over the past years, increasing attention has been paid to evaluating the channels through which we academics publish our research. For an individual scholar, the most important 2 For discussions of the usefulness of useless knowledge in Flexner s spirit, see Wittrock (2002) and Pihlström (2011b). 5 MONOG criterion in choosing a potential publication channel for example, a journal, a book series or a publishing house is presumably the hope to reach the relevant audience. However, other criteria are also recognized when publication channels are compared and ranked, as in the on-going national Publication Forum project organized by the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies (for details, also in English, see Analogous national projects had previously been completed at least in Australia, Denmark, and Norway, and their results were utilized in the Finnish ranking. The European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH) prepared by the European Science Foundation was also part of the background information of the project. 3 Largely in order to enable the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture to allocate public funding tax payers money to Finnish universities not only on the basis of the results of education (such as the numbers of doctoral and master s degrees produced annually) but also on the basis of the quality of research, publication channels used in different academic fields were ranked into three categories. Accordingly, the primary motivation for the entire project came from the need to emphasize the quality of research more than previously. A quality factor had to be built into the funding allocation model used by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The result is a three-category ranking. The basic level 1, according to the instructions of the project, comprises the most important domestic and foreign publication channels in the various disciplines meeting fundamental quality control criteria such as peer review. The more demanding level 2 covers the leading scientific publication channels [ ] with the researchers from various countries publishing their best research outcomes. Finally, the highest level 3 is intended for publication channels that comprehensively cover a certain discipline or area and are most highly regarded by the relevant international research communities. Approximately 10% of journals and publication series have reached level 2, while only 3% have reached level 3. In addition to journals, book publishers were also included in the ranking; however, for publishers there were initially just two levels instead of three. In the update ranking in 2014, the third (highest) level was introduced for publishers, too. Only 7% of all ranked publishers are on level 2, and only 1% on level 3. (See For the 23 disciplinary panels with expert members representing different Finnish universities, at least in principle covering all academic fields, it was and still is a highly demanding task to classify the thousands of journals included in the initial lists prepared by the secretariat of the project, based on the previous rankings in different countries, as 3 The website of the project, contains a number of relevant links to these previous rankings, as well as comprehensive background information and other documents. 6 GRAPH well as Scopus and Web of Science classifications. The total number of 19,481 journals or series and 1,210 academic publishers were included in the first official Publication Forum classification, completed in fall The rankings were made public at the website of the project (see above), and starting in 2015, the Ministry of Education and Culture will use this information as a factor in its funding allocation model. In between, an update was provided in 2014, with as many as 23,712 journals or series and 2,184 academic publishers included in the revised rankings. Hence, the results of the classification the hard work done by the panel members representing the Finnish academic community will have a genuine effect on how Finnish universities in the future receive public funding. Already the first round rankings in 2011 were a matter of several compromises, some of which were easy, some more difficult to make. The lines distinguishing the levels were inevitably somewhat arbitrary. Even more severe forms of arbitrariness have been feared, however. According to the user instructions of the Publication Forum (see again the classification is suited for evaluating large publication quantities, such as the entire production of universities or research institutes, rather than individual researchers, and for comparisons between publications in the same discipline, instead of interdisciplinary comparisons. The classification is a discipline-dependent quality indicator only predicting the average quality and impact of large publication volumes. Accordingly, the rankings cannot be used to argue that publications in, say, medicine are better than publications in, say, philosophy. They cannot even be used to argue that publications by philosopher X are better than publications by philosopher Y. But they could, in principle, be used to argue that university X is producing, on average, better research than university Y, or that field or discipline A at university X is producing, on average, better research than field or discipline A at university Y. The fear is that the rankings will be misused in these respects. For anyone interested in publishing monographs, it is important to have book publishers not only journals included in the Publication Forum rankings, but it is still unclear, for instance, whether the relative weight of a journal article (possibly in a highranked journal) and a comprehensive monograph (published, for instance, with a national press) can really be compared in an objective way. It seems that in the funding calculation model, one monograph wi
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