Collapsed publics: Orality, literacy, and vulnerability in academic Twitter

Bonnie Stewart


This paper outlines ways in which scholars build identity and connection on open networked platforms such as Twitter, and considers the risks and benefits of networked participatory engagement. The paper reports the findings of an ethnographic study examining the digitally-networked practices of scholars from a range of disciplines, identity positions, and geopolitical locations, and explores participants’ experiences of care and vulnerability within open, networked academic systems. The paper draws on White and LeCornu’s (2011) visitors and residents continuum, Veletsianos and Kimmons’ (2012) concept of Networked Participatory Scholarship (NPS), and Ong’s (1982) theories of secondary orality and secondary literacy to explore networked scholars’ practices and experiences. It examines ‘academic Twitter’ as a phenomenon in which oral and literate traditions – and audience expectations – are collapsed, creating a public that operates on very different terms from those of academia. The paper’s findings examine the risks of this collapse, yet also show that networked engagement – in which personal identity signals, humor, and expressions of commonality are found to be the dominant means by which scholars build networks ties – can result in opportunities and affinities that institutional scholarship may not offer. The substantive goal of the paper is to offer a portrait of networked scholars’ experiences and practices related to engagement, and to consider the tensions these practices raise within the contemporary academy.


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ISSN: ISSN 2398-5836

Copyright (c) 2016 Bonnie Elaine Stewart