Again and again we hear about the democratic deficit – leaving aside the half-hearted debates on contemporary issues: der EU and the lack of democratic accountability, the oppressive demands by the IMF when it comes to national policies answering the crisis – the main critique is directed against so-called totalitarian theories, in particular Marxism. On the other hand, however, we find not less frequently the emphasis of a need of holistic approaches, aiming on overcoming the separation between different areas of science and even recognising the problematic issue of drawing a fundamental division between “science” and “social science”. Of course, much had been written about it – and as much as the “totalitarian character” of Marxism as theory had been wrongly equalised with undemocratic as obvious had been the failure of an open society of Popperian stance.
And also we hear again and again the problems of academic work and academia – seemingly being trapped by elitism on the one hand and opening universities on the other hand (see on this issue the recent posts).
Leaving this aside I experienced over the last days again an interesting issue, seemingly not linked and nevertheless so obvious part of the same issue: writing a dictionary.
In actual fact, i received the three volumes of a dictionary to which I delivered the texts of some entries – published by a “major publisher”, and buying it will ask for a major “contribution” . The same day I received incidentally the same day a mail from a colleague: a reminder to deliver the promised contributions to another dictionary, its second edition – another “standard dictionary” which you can buy for a price that is standard too, sadly high (the author’s “income”: the opportunity to buy the final opus for a reduced price or even getting a free copy of the complete work). Working on such projects usually means one gets at most finally a a “review” – some comments which are sent on a draft – I say comments though I probably could also say demands and orders to change. No names – the name of the author is not known to the reviewer and the reviewer is the one frequently publicly mentioned in a footnote: My thanks go to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on a first draft; and frequently they are talked about privately: there had been somebody making some requests as s/he had to show the importance of the review process but actually the comments clearly show that s/he didn’t even read the text let alone showing any insight of understanding – this is especially obvious when two reviews are completely contradicting each other).
Trinity – I am currently again more involved in the elaboration of a less standard dictionary – the HKWM, Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. The entire group – be it during meeting face to face meetings, be it via e-mail exchange around the globe – thinks about the key words that are worth to be considered to written about, a draft is circulated, commented, different people take initiative, decide themselves if they feel competent, engage in discussions, are criticised and even rebuked …, a second draft, discussion, the work across different languages as somebody may have submitted for instance a text in …, Italian (this happened recently where language caused difficulties during the debate and commenting) … – somebody who volunteered to write in the first instance is “kindly” pushed out … – yes, discussions can be hard at times. And of course there are hierarchies etc.. but it seems to me that the work is truly academic in the sense of a social science: social not least by recognising the social process of elaborating “knowledge”, academic as well by way of an open process, indeed: producing not an open society in which decisions on truth are then made by the top: managers, efficiency planners, organisers. Instead here it is about producing a comprehensive knowledge in the best way: bringing different perspectives together, making up for a “totality” that then allows developing knowledge based on reflecting the totality of reality – as a complex identity with its various reifications. – And here, everybody has a name rather than remaining covered by a veil of anonymity.
To me this seems to be a more workable model than that one that pursues the permanent re-invitation of the wheel by individuals: contributing to the building of a railway of which the single wheels may look perfectly constructed, where every screw fits neatly and where the public rail-transport nevertheless remains a disaster.
Coming to a forth way then: WIKIPEDIA seems the worst conglomeration of these different moves: “democracy as arbitrary coming together” of knowledge, commitment and political orientation – control left to arbitrary activities, underlying the control of randomness. The look good factor, put over the factor of being good: total, comprehensive and disputatious.
Surely, personally for me it is exciting being part of all this.