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How Does a Format Make a Public?

Robin de Mourat, Donato Ricci, Bruno Latour

“Journal,” “monograph,” “conference proceedings.” These are just a few names of formats that evoke the institutions and practices of the academic world. On the one hand, they summon a shared framework for thinking, reading, and writing; connecting specific institutions, infrastructures, and activities. On the other hand, they contain diverse and differentiated expectations depending upon disciplines, countries, and schools of thoughts. Moreover, if we compare them with the contemporary objects to which they relate, a certain cognitive dissonance may arise. Is an “academic journal” still a “journal” when it is less and less affected by its periodicity, and more and more distributed and manipulated at the level of granularity of its articles or citations? Is the expression “conference proceedings” still relevant when it stands for the online publication of audio or video recordings? What is an “academic book” when this expression designates artefacts spanning from collections of diverse fragments and excerpts found on the web, to e-reader oriented .epub compositions? If one acknowledges that the materiality of an academic text significantly affects the communication functions and practices attached to it, these displacements between names and experiences take on some significance. Names are far more stable than the actual practices and purposes that they imply. How, then, to qualify these displacements and the persistence of a format’s names? How do they affect the formation of scholarly communities in contemporary open and transdisciplinary collectives? How does a format make a public?