Sunday, November 28, 2004

Spoons Collective Shutting Down; Group blog idea

The Spoons Collective is shutting down. Spoons is a collection of academic "theory" listservs that has been running since the mid-1990s. Here is an excerpt from an email I received from Malgosa Askanas, the sole remaining founder of the Collective -- who is taking responsibility for the decision to shut it down:

Over the years, however, our relationship with our lists gradually changed, and we now find our collective endeavor basically reduced to an indifferent performance of a not-excessively-bothersome piece of labor. The reasons for this are undoubtedly complex - the first and simplest one, perhaps, being that the same group of people has been doing the same thing for 10 years. If our goal had been less the stability of existing lists and more the preservation of our own passion, we probably could have done better. In any case, we find ourselves a bunch of burnt out and apathetic bureaucrats.

I personally find thie prolongation of this situation no longer tolerable or sensical. As a result, I have (1) announced that I am quitting the Spoon Collective; (2) decided to close down a number of lists that I have been responsible for; and (3) declared the end of the Spoon Collective as a certain historic formation, and stipulated that the name no longer be used for whatever the present members may undertake in the future.

I have been a subsrcriber to the Spoons Postcolonial list off and on since probably about 1995 or 1996. Early on (I was just starting my Master's work at Tufts in the fall of 1995), I found the list exhilarating. It was also a little dangerous, as discussions with people from incredibly various backgrounds, many of whom were anonymous, often tended to get out of hand. I know of at least one case where someone's academic career was seriously threatened by a comment posted to the postcolonial list! The flame wars led me to unsubscribe from the list, I thought, for good, about three years ago.

But I relented and re-subscribed a year ago, only to find that the list had become boring and superfluous. At some point a couple of years ago, the decision was made to make the list a moderated one, which is an improvement in that it dramatically cut down on useless posts that cluttered my inbox, as well as the kind of ad-hominem attacks that made me want to mass-delete. But because the moderator generally takes a week to ten days to approve emails sent to the list, it often feels pointless to post anything. By the time an interesting nugget on something actually appears, it is quite possibly fully obsolete.

Why listservs are bad. Now the list is shutting down, and frankly I won't miss it. Listservs at their best are a little frustrating. Information and arguments come at you in bits and pieces; most of it gets read quickly, when it's not instantly delected in the interest of reducing Inbox spam and clutter. And at their worst listservs are the worst kind of "info-noise." Blogs and internet forums are much more useful, first because they are 'pull' resources -- that you only go to by choice. They are also fully public, searchable, and pretty user-friendly. In addition to providing the opportunity to connect with other scholars (professional internet sociality), they are permanent, public resources that potentially benefit all kinds of people. And blog/discussion board comments that can be organized by thread (thematically) are miles above the endless disorganized patter of emails that arrive one by one (chronologically).

Finally, listservs preserve a centralized and overly taxonomic model of academic conversation. They encourage segregation by period as well as discipline. Hyperlinked and search-engine friendly resources, by contrast, are potentially much better at enabling conversations to happen according to elective affinity. Subscribers to the postcolonial list, for instance, are divided between people who are associated (as scholars and activists) with the critique of globalization and "American Empire" on the one hand, and those who are interested in postcolonial literature purely as a professional and scholarly pursuit on the other. There is some overlap between the two, but in my own case I prefer to keep "politics" separate from "knowledge." I'm interested in what the folks whose primary motivation as academics and intellectuals is to fight globalization and "American Imperialism" have to say -- and at some moments I find myself agreeing with their arguments and supporting their causes. But it's not really what I'm interested in using electronic communication on the Internet for.

Rhizomes are better. I believe that Postcolonial Studies is too big. It needs to divide at least in half (politics on one side; historicist scholarship on the other), and probably more than that. At the same time, the ideas associated with it are deeply intertwined with any number of academic disciplines and sub-disciplines. Conversations could be at once less taxonomically determined and more complex and heterogeneous; they could be, in short, more rhizomatic.

Group Blog idea. As my final post to the postcolonial list, I suggested starting a group postcolonial studies blog, with a focus on news and current events of interest to postcolonial scholars. I have some ideas about how this might look, but for now I'm simply thinking of it as something that might evolve following the interests of participants. As a starting point, I went ahead and grabbed

We'll see if anyone bites. Meanwhile, if anyone reading this is a scholar (at any point in your career) who might be interested in collaborating on something like this, please email me or drop a comment below.


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