interdisciplinary scholarship challenges

I presented a paper yesterday as part of the “Tenure and Promotion Policies” workshop at the Foundations of Digital Games conference. It pulled together a number of issues related to publishing, disseminating, archiving, and discovering work done in interstitial disciplinary spaces like social computing, games, and digital humanities.

Publishing interdisciplinary scholarship has always been challenging; scholars working in emerging fields are typically housed in a single academic unit with colleagues who may not value interdisciplinary conferences and journals in the tenure and promotion process. As a result, these interdisciplinary venues often become what Ian Horswill at Northwestern has described as “the playgrounds of the tenured,” and too much boundary-spanning work ends up locked within traditional disciplinary boundaries.

In fields such as game design, interactive media, and digital humanities, the challenges of interdisciplinarity are joined by the difficulty in publishing creative digital works as scholarship in their own right. While it is certainly possible to publish a paper about a digital project, the paper cannot fully substitute for the project itself. (As Korzybski said, “the map is not the territory.”)

A growing number of academic institutions are recognizing digital projects as a form of scholarship, but only if faculty are able to demonstrate that the project has been externally validated in some way, and that it has had measurable impact. However, many digital projects are ephemeral, are not consistently archived, and are therefore difficult to evaluate and cite–making it extremely difficult to demonstrate impact and critical reception.

In my paper, I proposed two possible solutions for these problems:

The first was the development of specialized repositories to meet the needs of scholars in these fields. Digital game projects, for instance, are made up of much more than just code or executable programs. There are a variety of related resources–from design documents to play-through videos–that can and should accompany the project in order for it to be useful over time, and to other researchers.

The second was the creation of an overlay journal–also known as a “deconstructed journal.” Such a journal would have an interdisciplinary editorial board that would select and compile high-quality scholarship that has already been published. This would benefit junior scholars, who could publish in venues valued by their academic departments, but still have their work disseminated to a broader range of interdisciplinary scholars. It would also benefit senior scholars, who would have access to high-quality curated collections of work outside of their individual areas of expertise.

Those are pretty abbreviated versions of what I wrote and talked about. If you’re interested in the more detailed version, here are some links:

I expect to be spending a lot of time focused on these issues over the next few years, since they bring together three areas that I consider my areas of strength–library science, games and interactive media, and interface/interaction design.