(c) Ell Brown

(c) Ell Brown

Just published: The habitus of digital scholars. Research in Learning Technology, 21(0).

The paper is based on my PhD research. The article looks at academic researchers’ perceptions of scholarship practices in the context of the Participatory Web. For the purpose of the findings presented in this paper, the Participatory Web was regarded as a space of active involvement, presence and socialisation of knowledge, with the potential of introducing significant changes to scholarly practice and to diversify it.

Using a narrative inquiry approach, I investigated the habitus of 10 digital scholars, and used some of Bourdieu’s key concepts – habitus, field, and social and cultural capital – as a research lens. This resulted in an understanding of research participants’ approaches to digital scholarship practices and the dispositions that characterise those same approaches which consequently tend to inform, and change, their practices.

Research participants’ accounts highlighted the influence of their online social capital (the online networks in which they participate) on their thinking and outlook on scholarly practices, especially with regards to their advocacy of openness and transparency of academic practice (in the case of this research, focusing on their research activity). In so being, research participants made apparent a set of value and beliefs that unveiled a distinct mind-set that allowed me to describe them as “digital Scholars” in light of contemporary digital technological advancements and related practices (See Weller’s work).

There are a couple of ideas that I hope to have been able to convey in this paper:

  1. Academics highly committed to using the participatory web in the context of their research practice (as the ones featured in this research) develop, or at least make visible, a set of dispositions and values that informs and/or transforms their academic habitus. The focus of this research is not on digital habitus, but rather on  how engagement on the web changes/transforms/makes visible research participants’ academic habitus, even if the participatory web becomes a prominent tool in supporting it
  2. This paper does not mean to claim that academics less visible on the web do not make use of the digital medium. What it means to say, is that academics with an active presence on the web, and continuously engaged in emergent debates in the context of knowledge/academic work, seem to develop a different (perhaps innovative?) approach as to how the participatory web can be used to maximise, network and open their research activity to a wider audience
  3. This research aims to assert that research participants’ engagement online and in knowledge networks (their online social capital) encourage the adoption of (or confirms) a set of values and principles (embodied cultural capital) which results in a new mind-set. Hence, digital scholars are more than users of the web; they display a set of dispositions and beliefs that they aim to apply to their practice to introduce meaningful change in academic work
  4. Lastly, this article looks at research participants’ habitus in the context of the web environments in which they participate and engage. Seeing the participatory web as a social space means to portray the “field” as a space fairly free of tensions and institutional regulations. This gives research participants a greater degree of freedom when putting their habitus into practice. Hence why the participatory web is portrayed in this article mainly as a space of empowerment, change and innovation. Placed in a different social context, or field, however the habitus of digital scholars might be interpreted in a different light and the participatory web might not be portrayed in such a positive way. That is what I hope to do with my next article!

Meanwhile, I would like to start a discussion around this topic via this post. I am keen to learn more about your ideas, and even critiques, provided they are constructive. The idea is that we all learn a bit more about this area as we move this debate forward.

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