Category Archives: dissertation

Participation in 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting

I have been invited to give a paper at the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes, organized by Medialab-Prado (in Madrid). The meeting will focus on “an analysis of ‘peer-to-peer’ networks and network processes, highlighting the social potentials of cooperative systems and processes based on the structures and dynamics inherent to these types of networks.”

I’ve heard good things about this workshop, and it looks like an interesting selection of papers. My own contribution is titled Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly. The proposal is below.

In theory, P2P networks embody a model of collaboration that spells out the end of monopolies of communication. Like the Inclusiva-net Call for Papers states, P2P exemplifies principles like “equality of power among participants, free cooperation among them, putting into circulation or forming what are considered ‘common goods’, and participation and communication ‘from many to many.'” While all this has been empirically confirmed in isolated cases, we need to question the ‘goodness’ of these premises at a large societal scale.

Even if we are to accept the claim that P2P network architecture engenders publics instead of markets, we should not put aside Kierkergaard’s critique of publics as nihilistic systems intended to facilitate the accumulation of information while postponing action indefinitely. While Kierkergaard was putting down newspaper media, his critique couldn’t be more fitting in the age of Web browsers, RSS aggregators and bitTorrent clients. Another way of putting this is to say that while P2P networks may indeed democratize access to cultural contents, we still need to ask: Whose cultural contents? The whole piracy debate revolves around the fact that the statistical majority of ‘pirates’ are using P2P networks not to disseminate radical countercultural products, but to share the latest Hollywood blockbuster or teen idol musical hit. We need to question how network processes normalize monocultures, and to do so we need to theorize what form of resistance is embodied by existing in the peripheries of networks.

In my work, I argue that digital technosocial networks (DTSNs) function not just as metaphors to describe sociality, but as full templates or models for organizing it. Since in order for something to be relevant or even visible within the network it needs to be rendered as a node, DTSNs are constituted as totalities by what they include as much as by what they exclude. I propose a framework for understanding the epistemological exclusion embedded in the structure and dynamics of DTSNs, and for exploring the ethical questions associated with the nature of the bond between the node and the excluded other. Contrary to its depiction in diagrams, the outside of the network is not empty but inhabited by multitudes that do not conform to the organizing logic of the network. Thus, I put forth a theory for how the peripheries of the network represent an ethical resistance to the network, and I suggest that these peripheries, the only sites from which it is possible to un-think the network episteme, can inform emerging models of identity and sociality.

This is important because we are perhaps entering an age when deviation from social norms will only be possible in the private, non-surveilled space of the paranodal (the space beyond the nodes), away from the templates of the network as model for organizing sociality. Subjectivization, as Rancière argues, happens precisely through a process of disidentification: parts of society disidentify themselves from the whole, and individuals and groups recognize themselves as separate from the mainstream. Thus, to paraphrase Rancière, the paranodal is the part of those who have no part; it is the place where we experience—or at least are free to theorize—what it is like to be outside the network. Articulating this form of disidentification, of imagining and claiming difference even in relation to ‘democratic’ P2P networks, is an important step in the actualization of alternative ways of knowing and acting in the world.

Networked Proximity – Full PDF


Here it is: PDF of the full dissertation. Right-click and choose Save As…

mejias__networked_proximity.pdf (1.2 MB)

I’m removing all previously posted drafts from this blog.

There are important differences that make this final version much better.


Networked Proximity:
ICTs and the Mediation of Nearness

Ulises Ali Mejias, 2007

The network as a map of interconnected elements or nodes has become a favored metaphor for describing a wide variety of social systems in our age. But the network is transitioning from being merely a way to describe social realities to serving as a model for organizing them. The large-scale adoption of information and communication technologies is producing new architectures of networked participation in which the social subject becomes a decentralized node, unbound by location or physical space. Nearness (in terms of social proximity) acquires a new significance, since the distance between two nodes—regardless of their physical location—is practically zero, while the distance between a node and something outside the network is practically infinite. Thus, physical proximity is replaced by informational availability as the basis for experiencing social nearness, resulting in a form of networked proximity characterized simultaneously by a sense of renewed connectedness to the local (hyperlocality), and a sense of distancelessness that makes any point in the network readily accessible. Hence, critiques of networked sociality need to account for the fact that the network is neither anti-social nor anti-local: it thrives on making social connections, and is indifferent to where nodes are located in relation to the social subject (physically near or far). Instead, critiques need to focus on the epistemological exclusivity engendered by the fact that nodes are only capable of recognizing other nodes. In other words, the network imposes a nodocentric filter on the social, and only elements that can be mapped onto the network (the nodes) are rendered as real. This model is then used to institute a paradigm of progress and development in which those elements outside the network can acquire value only by becoming part of the network. The social becomes subordinate to the economics of the network, and the network becomes a model of subjectivation that prepares individuals for entrance into this form of sociality. In this context, the paranodal—the space between nodes—becomes an important site for disidentification from the network, correcting the nodocentric tendencies of networked sociality and providing alternative models of social engagement.

[cc photo credit: striatic]

More on Dissertations, Blogs, Knowledge, etc.

In case you missed the excellent comment thread, both authors of the article and rubric I used in my recent post about the blog as literature review replied (within days!) to challenge some of my assumptions. Thank you, David and Penny!
David pointed out that, in fact, my post was not so much about the literature review per se but about the process of scholarly communication in general. It’s true that what I am really interested in is how the ‘typical’ dissertation fails to facilitate this communication process, and how new technologies can recover some of the benefits of this process. Ultimately, however, I think we are all in agreement that this has more to do with how the affordances of the technology are being realized through certain actions in certain contexts than with any intrinsic properties of the technology or the process.

Another reader, pedagogic (apprentice), referred me to an earlier (pre-blogs, or at least before the time when blogs were mainstream) article that corroborates some of the things I suggested were broken, and that social software could help fix (if the will was there). The article is Education Should Consider Alternative Formats for the Dissertation (Duke and Beck, 1999).

These authors begin by establishing what we expect the dissertation to be:

…the prevailing view of the dissertation has alternated between that of the dissertation as a “training instrument” and that of the dissertation as an “original and significant contribution to knowledge” (Berelson, 1960, p. 173). Presently, the consensus seems to be that the dissertation should be both of these things. (Duke & Beck, 1999, p. 31)

One could add another goal, fostering scholarly communication, to that list. It is in relation to this goal that Duke and Beck identify two major shortcomings of the dissertation: limited audience and dissemination, and lack of generalizability.

They begin by pointing out (as I did in relation to the lit review), that the audience for a dissertation is extremely small:

Theoretically, the dissertation is a public document, usually available from a University library to anyone who requests it. But in fact, the readership of this “public” document is small in number and intimate in character. In most cases, the only readers of a dissertation are the three or four members of the writer’s committee… Even if technological advances in the future facilitate more rapid retrieval of dissertations, there is no guarantee that the documents will have a significantly larger audience… In order for dissertation material to be received by a wider audience, it must be reworked and altered from its original dissertation form. (Duke & Beck, 1999, p. 32)

They also point out the failure of many dissertations to result in published work:

Indeed, many dissertations in our field, as in others, are never published, in the sense of being distributed widely in a public forum. We do not have current statistics as to the number for which this is the case, but as of 1973 from one quarter to one half of dissertations across fields never resulted in a published paper. (ibid)

As I suggested in my earlier post, blogs (and other social software) could foster scholarly communication by facilitating the dissemination of dissertation materials.

The second obstacles relates to the lack of generalizability of the dissertation writing process: “except for the very rare case of someone who has multiple doctorates, one writes (at most) one dissertation in one’s life. (Duke & Beck, 1999, p. 32, emphasis in original)”

Why not, Duke and Beck suggest, write something in a manner or format similar to how the scholar will conduct her research in the future?

With an ungeneralizable genre comes a missed opportunity for transfer of knowledge and skills that will actually be of benefit to students in the long a term. Indeed, for some time, many scholars (particularly those in the sciences) have argued that the dissertation provides poor training for future academic writing. (Duke & Beck, 1999, p. 33)

To the extent that research will increasingly happen within an open/distributed framework, and be distributed online, I think it makes sense to recognize blogging as a potential environment for writing and sharing a dissertation.

Duke and Beck ask those who would evaluate the format and content of a dissertation to consider two questions:

  • Will the format of this dissertation make it possible to disseminate the work to a wide audience?
  • Will writing a dissertation in this format help prepare candidates for the type of writing they will be expected to do throughout their career? (Duke & Beck, 1999, p. 33).

Accordingly, one possible alternative for the traditional dissertation is the one that Krathwohl (1994) suggests:

write the dissertation as an article (or series or set of such articles) ready for publication, [using] appendices for any additional information the committee may desire for pedagogical and examination purposes” (p. 31).

Are we that far from blogging when considering such approaches? Couldn’t blogging serve as the preparation process for generating those articles that will (hopefully) be accepted for publication, that final step of vetting and validation?

But scholarly blogging has the potential to be more than just a publishing process. Like Latour suggests, “textual accounts are the social scientist’s laboratory” (2005, p. 127). My blog is my lab, in a sense, where developing my arguments is an iterative and open process. Yes, it’s embarrassing when some experiments (some arguments) fail miserably, but overall I think the benefits of conducting research in the open outweigh the risks.

I would like to think that this discussion of blogging and dissertations is merely one of form v. content, but somehow in the back of my head I can’t help but hear Lyotard’s questions: “who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what is to be decided?” (1984, p. 9).

David ends his comments by posing a set of questions to me, which I turn would like to pose to you:

  • What additional design features would a blog have to incorporate for it
    to become truly scholarly communication?
  • How can you design it to
    encourage selectivity of sources and warranting of selections?
  • How can
    you encourage blog authors to move beyond providing mere summaries of
    the literature they discuss?
  • How do you design to encourage critical
  • How you design to encourage robust, critical discussion of
    scholarly and practical significance? Or are these even things that you
    can design? Or are they beyond your control?

I’m sure some of you out there have interesting ideas about this. Please share them with us!


Boote, D. N. & Beile, P. (2005) Scholars Before Researchers: On the
Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research
Preparation. Educational Researcher 34(6), p. 3-15.

Duke, N. K. & Beck, S. W. (1999). Education Should Consider Alternative Formats for the Dissertation. Educational Researcher, v. 28, no.3 (Apr., 1999), p. 31-36.

Krathwohl, D. (1994). A slice of advice. Educational Researcher, 23(1), pp. 29-32, 42.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Lyotard, J. F. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


The Blog as Dissertation Literature Review?

(See Updates at the end of the post. See also this subsequent post)


Can a certain type of academic blogging be a more adequate form of literature review than the traditional chapter in a dissertation? In this post, I employ the rubric proposed by Boote & Beile (2005) to determine whether blogging can be considered a form of literature review. I also make some suggestions for how blogging may be incorporated formally into the research and writing activities of some doctoral students, although it certainly might not be useful to others. I am not suggesting that this single post is my literature review; I am merely providing a map that outlines how my blogging during the past years constitutes a form of ongoing literature review.

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