October 26, 2009

Field Building and Scholarly Publication

Category: Digital Learning
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As a new media researcher, I’ve struggled to find appropriate venues for publishing and disseminating my work. In the late nineties, when studies of online communities, cyberculture, and electronic gaming were still in their infancy, and when I was launching my scholarly career, my work was never accepted into the journals of my discipline of anthropology. Educational journals didn’t recognize my work on new media and play as part of their charter. This reflected my personal failures in translating my research topics into the established idioms of my discipline and field, but I expect my experience is not unique for those who work in new and emerging areas of inquiry.

Certain book series and presses were beacons for me during this period and showcased new and radical forms of scholarship, inspiring me to persevere in the untested arena of the anthropology of new media and learning. Cambridge University Press’ series on Learning in Doing represented for me the most exciting work in sociocultural learning theory. Books from MIT Press in new media and science and technology studies were my models for interdisciplinary scholarly practice. Edited collections from Routledge on cyberculture studies convinced me that I was not alone in my interests, and Duke’s cultural studies list convinced me that the study of popular media culture was legitimate for an anthropologist and an educator. Most of my own work has appeared in edited books that chart new areas of study, rather than in more established venues and genres of the scholarly journal, and Doug Sery at MIT Press signed my first edited book on Japanese mobile phone use.

I’m happy to announce that my next two books have been published with MIT Press this fall, again under Doug’s guidance, as part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.  This series was inaugurated in 2007, with the publication of six edited volumes. These two new books represent the first of a series of monographs that will extend the series in new directions. Together with the International Journal of Learning and Media, the series represents a key component in the foundation’s effort to support the infrastructure for field-building in the area of digital media and learning. MIT Press is a key partner in our efforts at the Digital Media and Learning Hub to support and coalesce scholarship in this area.

It’s an honor and privilege to have my work represented in this effort. Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software reports on work that I did as part of my graduate work in Education and Anthropology at Stanford University, in collaboration with the Fifth Dimension Project at the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at UC San Diego. The book looks at how educational, entertainment and authoring genres of children’s software were developed and hardened through linkages across sites of play, software production, and distribution. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media is an outcome of the recently completed Digital Youth Study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The book was co-authored by fifteen scholars, with contributions by seven additional team members. It represents the results of a three year ethnographic study of youth new media practices, and a collaborative analysis that looked across over twenty different ethnographic case studies.

Reflecting on this moment, it’s hard for me to fathom how far things have come and how quickly the terrain has shifted since that period when I was struggling to get my first work published just over a decade ago. My hope is that this book series will function as one important piece of a publication infrastructure to set our new field on more solid ground.