Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gimme some liquid theory

This is probably one of the most intriguing developments in academic book publishing to happen in a long time....


Culture Machine
is seeking open collaboration on the writing and editing of the first volume of its online Liquid Books series, New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader:

The first provisional version of this volume -- New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader (Version 1.0) -- has been put together by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall as a follow-up to their 2006 "woodware" edited collection, New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh University Press and Georgia University Press).

From here on in, however, the idea is for this new online "liquid book" -- to which everyone is invited to contribute -- to be written and developed in an open, co-operative, decentralised, multi-user-generated fashion: not just by its initial "authors," "editors," or "creators," but by a multiplicity of collaborators distributed around the world.

In this way, the New Cultural Studies Reader will be freely available for anyone, anywhere, to read, reproduce and distribute. Once they have requested access, users will also be able to rewrite, add to, edit, annotate, tag, remix, reformat, reinvent and reuse this reader, or produce alternative parallel versions of it, however they wish. In fact, they are expressly invited and encouraged to do so, as the project relies on this intervention.

It is hoped that the New Cultural Studies: Liquid Theory Reader project will raise a number of important questions for ideas of academic authorship, attribution, publication, citation, accreditation, fair use, quality control, peer review, copyright, intellectual property, content creation and cultural studies. For instance, with its open editing and free content the project decenters the author and editor functions, making everyone potential authors/editors. It also addresses an issue raised recently by Geert Lovink: why are wikis not utilised more to create, develop and change theory and theoretical concepts, instead of theory continuing to be considered as the "terrain of the sole author who contemplates the world, preferably offline, surrounded by a pile of books, a fountain pen, and a notebook"? At the same time, in "What Is an Author?", Foucault warns that any attempt to avoid using the concept of the author to close and fix the meaning of the text risks leading to a limit and a unity being imposed on the text in a different way: by means of the concept of the "work." So to what extent does users’ ability to rewrite, remix, reversion and reinvent this liquid "book" render untenable any attempt to impose a limit and a unity on it as a "work?" And what are the political, ethical and social consequences of such ‘liquidity’ for ideas that depend on the concept of the "work" for their effectivity: those concerning attribution, citation, copyright, intellectual property, academic success, promotion, tenure, and so on?

To find out more, please go to:

For a quick and easy-to-read guide on how to collaborate on the writing and editing of New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader, please visit:

Clare Birchall and Gary Hall