Something to Prove?: Contemplating the Fake Geek Academic

Curator's Note

Fandom has long treated media texts as “open source,” available to be modified and enhanced, and as an aca-fan I’ve adopted a similarly malleable scholarly identity. I wholeheartedly embrace the ethos of “open source academia,” but media scholars are only now beginning to grapple with the implications of the digital public sphere engaging the academy, rather than vice versa. It’s increasingly important to consider what we, as open source academics, might have to modify and enhance when we make ourselves, and our work, publicly accessible.

Academics are conditioned to defend our work (that “track” is more of a gauntlet, after all), but we should also be cognizant of how the current wave of social media-enabled boundary policing within geek culture might extend to the academy. Although the “fan” in me would like to fully embrace the lyrical sentiment of The Doubleclicks’ video, the “aca” side, like the video’s imagery, is aware that scholars increasingly do have something to prove, and to a wider array of constituencies. While this can be incredibly productive, or provoke important questions about our accountability to the (sub)cultures we study, it can also be precarious.

Though this video engages “fake geek girl” discourses, GamerGate’s recent targeting of scholarly organizations, journals, and academics has made it clear that the qualities of transparency, collaboration, and community that I associate with (aca)fandom and open source academia can be rapidly reappropriated to anonymously police authenticity through harassment. Calls for modifications and enhancements have already emerged from this moment of “open source academia,” including Statements of Community from academic programs and calls to collective action within academic organizations. Open source’s “no discrimination” policy works both ways: scholars cannot discriminatively determine who engages our work, but we also need to be attentive to emergent patterns of discrimination against particular types of scholarship. If the “fake geek girl” and GamerGate movements seek to silence marginalized voices, open source academia needs to collectively ensure that these instances of authenticity policing don’t have a similar effect on scholarly production.


Great insights Suzanne - it's really interesting to see how this thread has developed over the week (and more to come). Your caveats about potential (and actual) discrimination resulting from open source are really important - and we do need to be attentive to that and find ways to respond that aren't defensive, and nurture the best aspects of public engagement. Perhaps there are multiple ways to approach this - I think the questions raised in the Nothing to Prove video, which has well over a million hits on YouTube, make a fantastic start. It's true, as you say, that open source works both ways - and it's true that academics can't have it both ways. If we embrace open source we can't expect to control the outcomes, though we can intervene in various ways. New communities are already emerging as a result of open source, and we shall continue to find ourselves with unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable bedfellows.

Thanks, Pam, I was really pleased that your post yesterday raised some of these issues as well. All the posts and comments on this topic seem to all be grappling with not just the implications of open access, but what it conceptually means to be "open source," which I think is vital, especially because that concept is all about nurturing engagement with our work and "letting go," to some extent, of our ownership over it.

This is a particularly illuminating post, Suzanne. I was actually relatively unaware of the attack waged against game studies in academia that manifested itself in the GamerGate phenomenon. I think the opening line of the Inside Higher Ed article you linked to is telling: "The Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) is under attack by critics who say academe is colluding with the mainstream media to push a feminist agenda in video games." I think part of this authenticity policing that you speak of is compounded by a lack of solidarity among academic and non-academic groups that may share the same values but are wary to come out and say so in fear of Internet backlash. We should be defending this "feminist agenda," not qualifying it or shying away from it, and that takes both academics and fans like those depicted in Nothing to Prove to stand side-by-side. I guess in this sense there is something to prove here, in that we should be proving not our claim to legitimacy in any particular culture but the similar grounds these two cultures (academic and fan, gamer and non-gamer, etc.) stand on and the similar issues we are willing to stand for.

Great post, Suzanne. I particularly liked your "the qualities of transparency, collaboration, and community that I associate with (aca)fandom and open source academia can be rapidly reappropriated to anonymously police authenticity through harassment." Digital public sphere should thrive on differences and welcomes diversity, and yet the implications of open access render the whole idea of "open source" fragile. And yes, the whole concept of "open source" requires careful nurturing the public engagement and I agree with Pam about the uncontrollable outcomes of this engagement process. Great insights!

Great post, Suzanne. That Inside Higher Ed article was fascinating. And stupefying. This quote about the criticism of Ada struck me: "They have no real knowledge of how academia works, how research works, how things get published, how colleagues in academia relate to each other, know each other and cite each other." When we bring our work into the public sphere, we also bring our academic status with us. Even if we actively attempt to make our work and our content accessible, how do we go about making our institution accessible? How do we counter the stereotyping of academia? The accusations leveled at certain scholars in this instance remind me of the broader distrust-through-misunderstanding of the humanities in general, both within and outside of academia. To be fair, though, the seemingly genuine accusation about controlling media is like my greatest, most absurd fantasy as a scholar: "If only I think really hard, misogyny will go away!"

Thank you for your post Suzanne. As a gamer of color and someone who is heavily invested in online public space as an academic research area, this post brings up issues very dear to me. One of the great opportunities that the web provides is to serve as a platform for the voices of those targeted by discrimination and maltreatment to speak up and be heard, as we see exemplified in the "Nothing to Prove" video you have shared here. The issue of GamerGate is one of access. So far, only one voice's story has been heard predominantly in video games and the culture surrounding it. Most of us access games through this lens. With the call for different voices, there can be a real opportunity to access multiple viewpoints and diverse stories. As of now, these other voices are being drowned out by the loud and readily available opinion of conservative gamers. Open source academic research can play a crucial role in making these marginalized viewpoints visible and available to the public. If there are more opportunities to access this research, perhaps there can be a greater possibility for change.

Suzanne: Thanks for a thought provoking post and like Jake, I had not heard of the attacks on scholarly organizations such as DiGRA. This is the dark side of those “unintended consequences” that does need to be addressed in thinking through the implications of public scholarship. What is encouraging, however, and may be another benefit of “Open Source Academia” is that those of us whose work engages with diversity might, through the actions of public and accessible discussion, make direct (not theoretical) alliances with a network of fans, who are often marginalized and silenced by mainstream culture. We might also connect with other scholars, who might have otherwise been isolated or seen on the “fringe” of their research area. The opportunities for a broad coalition for change within and outside academia seem more robust with an “open source” model.

Hi Suzanne, I like your post! It's original and exotic! I am still confused by your assertion that "digital public sphere engaging the academy, rather than vice versa". I mean, does it really matter though? To me, as long as academy and digital public sphere are somehow interrelated or incorporated, it doesn't matter who engages who in the first place or who takes the initiatives. sometimes i think we are just oversensitive to some trivial stuffs and have overlooked bigger pictures. Maybe what we should do is trivialize some concerns and care more about the how the digital skills can better serve the academic purpose.

Thanks to all for the wonderful points and feedback. To address a couple of specific comments: Heber and Vicky: I think you're both spot on about viewing this not just as an "unintended consequence," but an opportunity to coalition build and intervene (or simply contribute to) broader cultural debates around these issues. This post was fairly gloom and doom, I realize, in order to raise awareness about the "dark side," but I'm in full agreement that we should see this as a moment to seize rather than shy away from it. Bo: To clarify, obviously both have always been in conversation, but I think for a long stretch of time we've been (justifiably) focused on what could be gained for us, as academics, entering and engaging the digital public sphere, in large part to justify that digital work and the issues around it, such as open access, which are often devalued within the academy. So, you're totally right that it doesn't matter who engages who first, it's how we engage that's the question, and my point was mostly that we're just now having a conversation about how the digital public sphere might engage with us and our work. As a junior faculty member, or if I was in an even more precarious position as a grad student or adjunct, I know that if my work (or my personal identity as a scholar) was coming under collective attack, I wouldn't find that trivial, and I don't think being concerned about that is a mark over oversensitivity as much as it is a "teachable moment" for all of us in this exchange, members of the academy and the digital public sphere. The point being that the "academic purpose" of something will inevitably change when we brand it as "open" in digital spaces, and I think that's the bigger picture of this whole theme week.

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