Or: Intellectual Accessibility by Availability and Design
As a sociology graduate student, I sometimes feel like Simmel’s “stranger,” close enough to academia to observe, but distant enough to retain an outside perspective. Like many graduate students staring down a possible academic career-path, I’m a bit terrified at the elephant in the room: is what academics do really important? are they relevant? does it matter?
Who reads a sociology journal? As my former theory teacher Chet Meeks once posed to my first social theory course, how many people look to sociology journals to learn anything about anything? While the occasional sociologist is quoted in the New York Times or appears on CNN, the influence these experts have is vanishingly small. I do not know as much about other disciplines, but the point for most of the social sciences and humanities is that, in my opinion, expert knowledge is largely going to waste.
And to echo folks like Steven Sideman or danah boyd, we have an obligation to change this; academics have a responsibility to make their work relevant for the society they exist within.
The good news is that the tools to counter this deficiency in academic relevance are here for the taking. Now we need the culture of academia to catch up. Simply, to become more relevant academics need to make their ideas more accessible.
There are two different, yet equally important, ways in which academics need to make their ideas accessible:
(1) accessible by availability: ideas should not be locked behind paywalls
(2) accessible by design: ideas should be expressed in ways that are interesting, readable and engaging
To become publicly relevant, academics must make their ideas available to and articulated for the public. (more…)