(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Books: how do they ever get published?


I love books, I love reading. I love the feel of them, the smell of them. I read almost anything and everything, in any format: I love audiobooks and kindle books for various reasons (mainly accessibility, portability, time efficiency, and my toddler can’t tear them apart) but still like turning pages. But I do have problems with the idea of print. I will share a few anecdotes now, then write a more reflective post later.

It is my thesis defense. The external examiner asks a fundamental question about what critical thinking (the subject of my thesis)means to me. I hate the question because I say explicitly in my thesis that I think it should be contextually conceptualized in a participatory manner. But I answer it anyway. The examiner looks at me quizzically and says, “but those ideas don’t come through very strongly in your thesis”, and I say, “yes. That is because I submitted the thesis before these ideas crystallized in my mind… These are ideas based on Egypt’s recent context, which I wrote about later (between thesis submission and defense time) in my critical citizenship article). And that’s the point. We submit a piece to be read by others, but our thinking does not stop there. It goes on, it evolves, but we lose control over it once it is published. That is a lot of control to give up.

Many scholars write books with ideas that contradict each other. It is good that they are able to retract, modify,etc., but many readers will not have access to all these newer ideas, not older ones. I find Edward Said cited for Orientalism (which I believe he felt misunderstood about) than Culture and Imperialism which was supposed to be a follow-up.

Social media changes that. I know recently of someone who went back and edited a blogpost because of some backlash/misunderstandings parts of it had caused. That is power. I also reminds us of the uncertainty of impermanence of the web… As a researcher, I am now frustrated that I cannot go back and find that part of the blogpost again and refer to it as part of shat had happened at the time.

Two more thoughts: in FutureEd, Descartes is cited for having saying “books cloud the mind” – i wonder if he said it or actually wrote it in a book! Ironic?

Also, I have a very strong view against sanctity of any body of knowledge to be taught/read in edu settings are inherently more valuable than other writing. I also think it is our engagements with text as readers that can result in learning, not simple reading.

I read the Quran often (almost daily) and static though it may seem to be, it speaks to me differently every time. It is the same words and letters. It is not the same meanings each time.

And so it is with all forms of speech/writing… They are all words, they can be interpreted in various ways (e.g. Terry elliot’s impedagogy word!) whether they be oral or written. The problem with books is they seem set in stone and less dynamic than e.g, social media and more formal than e,g, speech, but words represent ideas, and those are never static. We only make mistakes in treating them as such.


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

8 thoughts on “Books: how do they ever get published?

  1. Books (non-fiction) are out of date the day after the book is printed.
    Changing a blog post when your opinion has changed, is that honest to your readers? You could write a new post, add a link to the old one. Same with books, write a new book when your ideas are changed.
    learning to know that books are products of authors with changing ideas is a topic in teaching critical reading.

    • you know, Jaap… I think you’re kind of right… that editing a blog post (without indicating on the blogpost) might be dishonest (as I said, I’m actually a bit frustrated by the practice) – maybe a better practice would be to write a note at the bottom about something you would have changed, or a link to an updated blogpost. I think non-fiction books are out-of-date before they are even printed!

  2. I hate books. There are too many of them. Mainly poorly written.

  3. Yes, “[b]ooks (non-fiction) are out of date the day after the book is printed.” I think that, as it becomes faster and easier to exchange information (opinions, information, artefacts) in many different media, our practices are becoming more conversational. We don’t yet have the tools to allow us to converse as naturally as we do when physically co-present. Regarding erasing or revising previously-published text, I am reminded of The WELL, an early online community. They had a rule: that You Own Your Own Words (http://www.well.com/yoyow.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YOYOW, http://goo.gl/aVnZ33). One member used the “scribble” command to erase all of his posts in the community forums — before committing suicide. It’s a very sad story, and one that Katie Hafner wrote about (see links in third link above). Online, we are what we write (or draw, build, etc). We exist to the extent that we upload and share our work. I better go, as I feel a tangent coming on, and this is already too long for a comment. Thanks for an excellent, thoughtful post. The linked articles are very good — especially your piece on “Critical Citizenship for Critical Times”. We desperately need more “intercultural dialogue to widen empathetic understanding of diverse world views”!

    • thanks Mark, and thank you all for your comments. This will be an interesting week of discussions, won’t it?
      RE: your story about the person committing suicide: do you then think that anonymity or ability to change what you write *should* be kept or not? There is an interesting discussion on Twitter about this (#FutureEd) and some of us prefer naming BUT I also feel it’s only fair to allow some anonymity for ppl who need it… not sure why they need it, but some do. There is also a twitter link for an alternative honor policy to Coursera’s current one.

      • I recently attended a local conference on “Surveillance, Copyright, Privacy: The End of the Open Internet?” (#scpcon). One of the keynotes, @vikram_nz (Vikram Kumar), said that “Privacy is the right to control your own information”. Anonymous email is impossible, he said, because you can’t encrypt the metadata (the header info contains sender details). It is difficult to see why anyone participating in #FutureEd would need anonymity, but I can imagine that whistleblowers, political activists, people who pass info on to journalist, etc. might need to be anonymous at times.

        Once something is published online, it is very hard to erase. In any case, it could be argued that, depending on the terms and conditions of a site, something is contributed to a public place online (in as much as any space is REALLY public with so much corporate ownership), an individual no longer has exclusive rights to what has been posted or uploaded. If you say something to someone else on the street, knowing that others will hear you, can you “take that back”?

  4. I’m still working through this topic myself. I love books. I have a huge bibliophile obsession with books. At the same time the written word and publishing does create an expectation of objectivity and knowledge that may not really exist. The difference between belief and knowledge is misrepresented in print.

  5. Pingback: Books, Internet & Campfires = Revolution | Exploring Digital Culture

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