Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 4. Nr. August 1999

The changing way of life of scientists in a networked world*

Andrea Rosenauer (Wien)

Within the last decades scientific modes of knowledge production have changed as rapidly as information technology developed. Though many articles in the press, but also in scientific publications might let us think, that the Internet is a medium which changes society (and the scientific community as well), it only supports the changes in what we might call our "research and social life".

Because of internationalization and globalization throughout all scientific disciplines, because of the growing demand for inter- and transdisciplinary strategies and methods to solve complex problems, humanities scholars as well as their colleagues from social sciences and other disciplines have to work together to meet this demand.

Or, as Michael Gibbons formulates it:

A new mode of knowledge production is emerging and it is pervasive. It occurs as much in the humanities and in the social sciences as in the natural sciences, though more pages in the professional literature are devoted to the latter than to the former.(1)

I still wonder, why this is the case. Communication sciences should be engaged in the matter as well as quite all humanities scholars working with students.

Yet, there is literature to be found in the field of the studies of science(2), and also social scientists do publish about the problems of transdisciplinary work. But not too many humanities scholars seem to be engaged in problems of working together with colleagues that do not use the same language as they do, be it the mother tongue or the specialist language that varies from discipline to discipline.(3) Only the linguists carry out a certain amount of analyses on what supports and what impedes the communication of scientists working in different disciplines. Scholars working in the field of literature research do not seem to care so much about what changes their work is undergoing or at least will undergo and what the consequences for them will be.(4)

And communication - in all forms - changed rapidly, supported, as I already mentioned, by the facilities of the Internet.

So we could say, that the Internet opens a new space for something that develops since 1960 and was called by Derek de Solla Price an enrollment "from little science to big science"(5). In my paper I will try to state some examples of how the "Network of Networks" (the Internet) in a networked scientific world changes the way of life of all of us and as well try to present a few outlooks.

Bibliographic overviews and access to information

One of the problems a scholar or scientist doing transdisciplinary research is faced with today is the insufficiency of abstracting journals to keep being informed on a certain topic. If you do not stick to "classic" research topics of your field or discipline, they might not fulfill your need for a biblioraphic overview.

An example: When I prepared a paper on "Austrian literature in the World Wide Web", I looked up information on the topic in the last 4 issues of the "Germanistik", the abstracting journal for scholarly works appearing in the field of German language and literature. I could not find anything, using the keywords hypertext, Internet, World Wide Web, networked literature and reading through the whole section "Allgemeines" where usually everything is compiled that cannot be attributed to a certain section.

By chance I succeeded to find an article on Elfriede Jelineks home-page in a feminist journal which isn't evaluated in the Germanistik. Besides of that article, search engines helped me to find some more information via the World Wide Web.(6)

This is one of the examples, researchers who do not work in common fields of their disciplines are faced with. The common methods of bibliography cannot help anymore (but to state that obviously the field is not yet accepted by the discipline). The methods I have learned in university are not sufficient, though what students learn today doesn't differ much from what I have been thought.(7)

You might have used CD-ROM Databases like the one of the MLA(8) as well, facing the problem, that the citations to be found there are not abstracted and that you have to get the document itself to learn whether it will be helpful for your work or not. So, sooner or later, you quite have to take a seat in front of your computer, get connected to the Internet, start your browser and see what is available via the World Wide Web. Usually students and scholars starts working with search engines not knowing, what they contain or lead them to. Even the biggest ones, like Lycos(9) or Alta Vista(10), do not even show the way to about the 3rd part of what is really available on-line. The rest remains "lost in space" if you are not lucky enough to find it browsing link lists or getting a direct information where it is. Also many researchers - especially humanities scholars - I know (I have held Internet classes in different European countries) do not know anything about Boolean logic - a knowledge that is almost crucial for the work with electronic databases. Usually nobody (be he or she experienced or not) does utilize the help file of the search program to find out how to carry out a search that provides with useful results. What usually happens is people typing a single word in and wondering about a result of 30000 hits or more, consisting sometimes of 90 % trash, making the search for information via the World Wide Web a time consuming and adventurous game.(11) Edmund F. Santa Vicca described this process as follows:

We sail the virtual cyberseas, much like our buccaneer ancestors, searching for undefined yet valuable information booty that we can seize and bring home with glorious and proud satisfaction.(12)

During the last decade we - humanities scholars and students - have already had to become "computer literate", now there is the need to become "information literate" as well - a quite large-scale undertaking, as we usually have to adapt the knowledge of others to the needs of our discipline. Conferences on the problems caused by that fact are held, like "Digital Resources in the Humanities", pointing at the problems of the organization of knowledge "in an extensively networked digital age". One of the session leaders, Neil Beagrie, points out:

Digital resources of interest to the humanities are extensively distributed across a range of sites (libraries, museums, traditional and digital archives, web sites, etc.). They are also catalogued according to very different practices and standards which reflect in some combination the resources' institutional location, their intellectual content, and their physical form. Presently, Internet accessible resources are located by users who know how and where to find them.
The question that confronts us is how to provide more uniform access to scholarly information resources which are extensively distributed, interdisciplinary, and of mixed media - how to enable the postgraduate and others more readily to locate information about Charles Dickens' life and times irrespective of where or how it is stored."

All of us must know at least enough of this problem to form a community of interests to formulate our needs and desires. If we ignore the changes going on and the requirements that they cause, we risk to be left out, being provided with information, organized according to the needs or conceptions of information engineers or natural scientists (which won't meet our requirements properly).

World wide discussions

Within all this struggle for information on the World Wide Web, another tool of the Internet, e-mail, has become widely used, also within the humanities, making contacts between scholars and students faster and easier, no matter which geographical distance may separate them. Mailing-Lists (also called discussion lists) as a forum of (permanent) discussion form new communities, united solely by their fields of interest.(14) Everybody may enter - without respect of person or position - as soon as he or she knows where the discussion is held and how to subscribe - and as soon as he or she has access to the Internet (which in a range of countries isn't that easy to have yet(15)). But generally spoken taking part in these discussions is one more time a question of computer literacy and the ability to find lists where topics you are interested in are treated. The discussion list "INETBIB" (librarians on the Internet) may serve as an example.(16) There is nearly no problem (as far as the search for information is concerned) that might remain unanswered more than two days. Furthermore participants are pointed at new publications (online and printed) appearing in the field, get comments on new features of the Internet and new software for different purposes (for data-bases and the like).

Electronic Publishing

The Internet does not only open new spaces for the production and the organization of knowledge, new modes of publishing have emerged as well. And they might be a big step forward to a more democratic scientific community as - in the principle - everyone can publish anything online as soon as he or she has a space on the Web where to publish and knows how to prepare documents for online publication.(17) Both presuppositions can be acquired easily, much more work is caused for the advertising of those publications which - if they are not linked to and listed in the so-called "libraries" of search engines - will remain "lost in space" as nobody will be able to find them. Apart from this - to save the time of getting everything ready to be published on-line by yourself - a number of institutions and electronic journals will offer scholars and students the possibility to publish within their pages.

There are some advantages of publishing on the World Wide Web, most of them collected in the publication "Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads"(18), which (by the way) originates from the contributions of a discussion list on Electronic Journals (VPIEJ-L):

To quote one of the contributors, Stevan Harnad (who started the discussion)

What scholars [...] need, is electronic journals that provide (1) rapid, expert peer-review, (2) rapid copy-editing, proofing and publication of accepted articles, (3) rapid, interactive peer-commentary, and (4) a permanent, universally accessible, searchable and retrievable electronic archive.(19)

This contribution to the mentioned discussion list stimulated a debate of advantages of and objections against electronic publishing, which at the end showed, that though the printed book remains more convenient, comfortable, portable and aesthetically pleasing, the electronic publication is to favorize if a text is urgent, of high actuality, and written for a small group of readers (as most publications written by specialists for specialists are).(20)

As an illustration an example taken from the Institute I am working for (21):

In the middle of 1997 we started publishing "TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften" on the World Wide Web. This E-Journal contains contributions in the field of cultural studies, especially (but not only) ones which discuss transdisciplinary methods.(22) From number one to four contributions to our conference on European Literature and Linguistics (held in Innsbruck in October 1997) are released. This way of publishing allowed us to publish number one right before the conference, containing the contributions, that were ready to be published at that time. Number two appeared in the beginning of December, containing about a quarter of the papers held as well as the resumes of all sections that had been reported at the end of the conference. Furthermore it contained the resolution we had made (basing on the mentioned reports) in English and French. The German version of it was available worldwide only 12 hours after it had been resolved. Number 3 of TRANS was published in March, containing more contributions, and Number 4 will be available from the end of June on, but will be "left open" so that colleagues, who haven't submitted their contributions yet may send them until October or November (in the principle: as long as they and the editor like).

Utilizing the common ways of publishing proceedings between book covers, we - on the first hand - would have had to publish about four volumes because of the number of contributions, which would have been quite costly. On the other hand we also would have had to wait at least until March to collect the contributions, we would have had to lecture and organize them, to make them ready for a print publication. It would have lasted at least to October or November 1998 to have the publication ready for shipping or handing it over to the contributors. With no possibility of releasing anything sooner and without the chance for late contributions to appear ...

Also, when a new number of TRANS is published on the Web, all contributors are invited to have one more look at their articles, to correct whatever mistakes might have been left in. Of course TRANS is reviewed and proof-read before it appears on our web-pages, but, as looks into printed publications can prove easily, you will, for example, never manage to exclude all typing errors. In a printed work you are only able to correct them if there is a second release. A web-page can be corrected as often as you want.

There are still more advantages of publishing on-line, connected with the possibilities of Hypertext: It opens the possibility to link to comments (be it the ones of the author him- or herself or that of fellow scholars or other readers). As we used to work until now, scientific publications are always a discussion of views and analyses made by others. In the past, this work had to be retrospective only. We could quote someone, comment out his or her view, put his or her work in context to others. Hypertext offers the possibility to keep documents "living", to link to comments to the text, which appeared after publication, we can even realize an interactive publication with quite as many co-authors as we like.(23)

Examples for that practice can already be found on-line: The Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age is based on the thoughts of Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth and Alvin Toffer. But it also contains comments and remarks of David Gelernter, Gary Chapman and a few others. The document, dealing with the nature of cyberspace, the nature and ownership of property, the cyberspace as a marketplace and the freedom of "cyber-society", has produced a lot of criticisms from its release on. Those critical remarks can be found just by clicking at the terms that are criticized. And - as far as I know - you are still able to have your own remarks added to the mentioned document.(24)

Of course, not every scholar in the field of literature will be interested in a document on cyberspace and its impacts, but "The Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age" shows a new way how scholars and scientists could organize a publication and - a fact we should not forget thinking about - this new means of publishing also opens new fields of research. The Internet, (especially the World Wide Web) is a space, where for example literature scholars’ "research objects" (as far as primary literature is concerned) are to be found right beside the lots of data on them: Be it a single author turning the electronic possibilities to account to build for example a literary machine (as the Austrian writer Martin Auer did with his "Lyrikmaschine": 50 poems connected to each other forming a quite sophisticated network of lyric text(25)), being it communities of authors working on one text together: People are on-line, experimenting with new ways to present themselves and to communicate with each other.

Changes and requirements

The new space clearly changes our way of life: Spending more and more time in front of our computer screen, we are of course still expected not to neglect the also still growing number of scientific, scholarly, and/or literary works that are released in printed form. The parallelity of publishing our results in printed and electronic forms also won't decease the time we have to spend with... As Joseph Weizenbaum said, it is only a myth that the use of the computer simplifies and speeds up everything.(26) And I have not mentioned yet the growing need to read still more publications that are not to be found in what we might call our "disciplinary canon", to meet the need of transdisciplinarity. Do we just have to work a few hours more each day to fulfill all those requirements and wait for the situation to become better by ameliorated access to data bases and documents, maybe saving us a little time in the future?

I have to leave this question open without even an attempt to answer, as I am convinced that a further specialization to cope with the problem cannot be the solution.

Summarizing, what new spaces the Internet has opened, meeting the needs of a new way, scientists have to organize work and life, the following is to state:

  1. New modes of forming communities help overcoming geographical distances and hierarchical and disciplinary boundaries.
  2. New modes of publishing allow quicker, more interactive, more democratic ways of presentation of knowledge.
  3. New modes of knowledge production require a new way of access to databases and of communicating with each other.
  4. New modes of knowledge organization require stronger interaction with the developers of databases on the one hand and growing information skills on the other.
  5. The Internet as a space for publishing scientific, scholarly and literary works and new ways of communicating opens new research fields that should not be ignored.

New ways of co-operation: an example

Taking this into consideration the INST, called in English Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies(27), seeks to explore the new forms of scientific organization, new methods , such as transdisciplinary techniques, new ways of expanding data-access and more, as well as the restructuring of the relationship between cultural studies and the general public, with respect to the role of these processes in cultural studies.

The INST was founded in November 1994, with the goal of emphasizing the theoretical, practical and objective analysis of literature and cultural studies from the standpoint of history, communications, and logistics, in addition to the impact of internationalization.

As about 350 researchers and institutions from 50 countries are members, the INST and its members are organizing their cooperative work mostly via e-mail and the World Wide Web. So, one of the first phases to allow that way of organization to work, was to offer Internet classes to the members, providing them with what they needed to know to participate. Partners of the INST are made accessible via a list on one of the web-pages of the INST, which usually leads to their home-page or at least shows their contact faxes and phone numbers as well as their fields of research to allow quick cooperation.(28) Contents of the partner’s home-pages are indexed by a search engine that allows a full-text-search in the INST´s and its partner’s pages.

The INST tries to use the Internet as a medium to provide the public with works that complement scientific and mass media presentations to certain topics. For instance, a "virtual exhibition" on "Cultural Studies and Europe", which will be accessible via World Wide Web from October 1998 on, to point out that culture will play an eminently important role in future developments (as far as, for example, the agreement between the nations is concerned). The exhibition is also to show that factors, such as data-bases, methodology, forms of scientific organization, the relationship between cultural sciences and the public must be re-evaluated if internationalization processes are to be accompanied by assertive cultural research.(29)

Another project, which is quite large-scale, is to work out and compile a history of Austrian literature on the World Wide Web taking into consideration all features of this medium, avoiding selection, putting contributions on the same topic into contrast to each other, making it searchable and handing out the competence of selection form the editor to the user. The project will be completed until the year 2024, after that date it will foreseeably remain open for further contributions.

Though the utilization of the Internet simplifies working together, the INST organizes at least one conference each year to give scientists and scholars the possibility to speak to each other face to face, to work together in sections on the problems cultural studies are faced with and to discuss the results and possible solutions at plenary meetings. The 1998 conference will be held in Debrecen, Hungary on "Cultural Studies, Data Bases, and Europe"(30) and will be structured in 10 sections, amongst them "Research into Austrian Literature, Texts and Databases", "Science and Information Systems" and "International Science Communication". With the mentioned conference as with many others of its undertakings, the INST aims to ameliorate the contacts between different scholars working in the various fields of cultural studies (in their broadest sense) and those who provide them with information or make the knowledge produced by them accessible: The conference will be attended by informaticians, librarians and web-designers as well as by scholars and scientists of different disciplines.

Requirements for Universities

Within the changing world of an "information society" also a reaction of universities will be necessary. One of the reasons, some (mostly European) universities do not even seem to have realized that need, may be their unflexible structure. The defense of material and intellectual "achievements" (no matter how undated they might be) is pointed at as another inhibition of innovation.(31)

Norbert Gabriel states that besides of different ways to mediate knowledge that have emerged but seem to be ignored in many classes, it is crucial to learn to cope with uncertainties of knowledge. What becomes increasingly important as well is the multiplication of knowledge by networking and organizing it.(32)

As well as graduate researchers have to meet the need of team-work with colleagues form various disciplines and cultural belongings, the educational program for students has to include inter- and transdisciplinary co-operations to prepare them for the needs of professional life.

Another point that applies for education and research alike is the need for co-operation as far as the construction of multi-medial presentations of knowledge (learning software, presentation of distance education programs, ...) is concerned.

Re-organizing their structures, universities could take into consideration the integrative function of cultural studies as far as the use and implication of new media are concerned. Also the fact that cultural studies offer a new way of bordering the frontiers between the disciplines should not be neglected.

© Andrea Rosenauer (Wien)

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* Paper, presented at the SAVAL Conference "A Sense of Space", held at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2-5 June 1998. This paper contains a further development of the theses presented in Innsbruck 1997.

(1) Michael Gibbons: The Emergence of a New Mode of Knowledge Production. In: Ulrike Felt and H. Nowotny: Social Studies of Science in an International Perspective. Wien, 1995. Pp55-66. P. [55].

(2) Cf. for example: Ulrike Felt e.a.: Wissenschaftsforschung. Eine Einführung. Frankfurt/Main: Campus, 1995.

(3) One of the exceptions is f.e. Medien Journal - Zeitschrift für Kommunikationskultur (the entire issue of No. 4 of Vol. 21/1997 is devoted to Cultural Studies, No 1 of Vol. 22/1988 collects contributions on Jobs@Multimedia).

(4) Another exception: Hartmut Böhme: Zur Gegenstandsfrage der Germanistik und Kulturwissenschaft. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(5) Derek de Solla Price: Little Science, Big Science ... and Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

(6) Andrea Rosenauer: Österreichische Literatur im World Wide Web. Paper, presented at the Conference Modern Austrian Literature in Transition,. New Authors - New Themes - New Trends; held at the University of California, Riverside, April 16 - April 18, 1998 (will appear in TRANS No. 7/1999).

(7) Andrea Rosenauer: EDV-gestützte Literaturrecherche für GermanistInnen. Möglichkeiten und Perspektiven der Suche nach Information für den literaturwissenschaftlichen Bereich in elektronischen Datenbanken. Wien: Diplomarbeit, 1997. P. 73ff.

(8) MLA International Bibliography. CD-ROM. (without statement of the place of publication): SilverPlatter International, 1994.

(9) Lycos. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(10) Alta Vista Advanced Query. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(11) Günter Kickinger und Andrea Rosenauer: Intelligent Information Retrieval. Ein Seminarbeitrag unter Berücksichtigung einiger Aspekte der kulturwissenschaftlichen Forschung [Seminar: Knowledge Engineering im WWW, WS 1997/98]. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(12) Edmund F. Santa Vicca: The Internet as a Reference and Research Tool. A Model for Educators. In: Robin Kinder (ed.): Librarians and the Internet. Binghamton, NY: Haworth, 1994. P. 226.

(13) Neil Beagrie: Discovering Humanities Resources in an Extensively Networked Digital Age. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(14) "Lernen, damit umzugehen". Howard Rheingold im Gespräch. In: Stefan Bollmann und Christiane Heibach (eds.): Kursbuch Internet. Anschlüsse an Wirtschaft und Politik, Wissenschaft und Kultur. Mannheim: Bollmann, 1996. Pp. 255-262. See p. 255f.

(15) World Commission on Culture and Development: Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. (Without statement of place of publication): World Commission on Culture and Development, 1995. Pp.104ff.

(16) The list-archive (containing mostly german postings) may be found on-line: Archiv: "INETBIB" Mailing-Liste. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(17) Norbert Gabriel: Kulturwissenschaften und Neue Medien. Wissensvermittlung im digitalen Zeitalter. Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 1997. P. 128.

(18) Ann Okerson and James O´Donnell (eds.): Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads. A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing; an Internet Discussion about Scientific and Scholarly Journals and Their Future. Washington, DC: Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing Association of Research Libraries, 1995.

(19) Stevan Harnad: What Scholars Want and Need from Electronic Journals. Abstract of a paper presented at ASIS 1992 sessions on: "Full Text Electronic Access to Periodicals". Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(20) Roy Johnson: [Review of Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads]. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-05-20.

(21) INST - Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und Internationaler Literaturprozesse. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(22) TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(23) Ed Krol: Die Welt des Internet. Handbuch und Übersicht/ translated to German by Holger Lubitz e.a. - Bonn: O´Reilly /Int. Thomson Publishing, 1995. P.XXf.

(24) The Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-05-21

(25) Martin Auer: Lyrikmaschine. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-07-01.

(26) Joseph Weizenbaum: Wer erfindet die Computermythen? Der Fortschritt in den großen Irrtum./ed. by Gunna Wendt. - Freiburg (e.a.): Herder, 1993.

(27) INST - Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(28) INST: PartnerInnen. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(29) Kulturwissenschaften und Europa. Via WWW: Visited: 1998-08-25.

(30) Contributions to the Conference maybe found in TRANS, No. 6:

(31) Norbert Gabriel: Kulturwissenschaften und Neue Medien. Wissensvermittlung im digitalen Zeitalter. Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 1997. P. 190ff.

(32) Norbert Gabriel: Kulturwissenschaften und Neue Medien. Wissensvermittlung im digitalen Zeitalter. Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 1997. P. 194.

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