Monday, November 08, 2004

The function of scholarly journals

Chrisopher Tomlins writes:

"The function that scholarly journals perform is the provision of authoritative sites for the production of knowledge--knowledge that is certified, that is in the form presented unchanging, that is archived, and hence that is debatable and worth debating across whatever the available spectrum of forms of argumentation may be." (Tomlins, Christopher L. Wave of the Present : The Scholarly Journal on the Edge of the Internet, ACLS Occasional Paper, No. 43. New York, NY: American Council of Learned Societies, 1998.)

He argues not about the technology (print vs. electronic) used to disseminate the information, but against the "commodification" of the scholarly journal. He warns against the impact of electronic aggregation and dissemination of journal articles, suggesting that the very functions that are most valued in scholarly journals are diminished by such aggregation. The integrity of the journal itself is blurred, allowing it to become simply a collection of articles.

His warning is interesting in light of Christensen's observations about the impact of modularization on businesses. When the product begins to be manufactured in a modular way to take advantage of "off-the-shelf" components, the product itself loses its competitive edge and begins to be treated as a commodity.