To the Editor:
As disabled scholars, we are dismayed by Gordon Fraser’s recent tirade against social media (“The Twitterization of the Academic Mind,” The Chronicle Review, March 22), a familiar tirade which reveals much about the ableism of the academy. The “particular registers” which Fraser values uphold a status quo that is inherently exclusionary. Moreover, we do not recognize the collective “we” who “provide a bulwark” against misinformation because it assumes a “we” that excludes us. We have written recently about how enhancing access in academic conferences invites more people to participate in scholarly conversations, and in so doing offer a distinctive approach from what Fraser advocates. For disabled people, participation — in academia, or in the public sphere — has traditionally been fraught due to the inaccessible character of the communities and institutions which we navigate.
Participation, as a result, has had to take more creative forms. For disabled people, social media platforms like Twitter offer a democratizing means by which communities can be formed and sustained through dialogue and collective thinking. Fraser’s mockery of social media strikes us as yet another form of gatekeeping that frames these alternative modes of engagement as having not “earned” their place at the academic table. Informal conversations that begin on Twitter very often produce the foundations of the peer-reviewed scholarship Fraser valorizes. Twitter, if anything, has enabled communities, especially those of marginalized groups, to work against and beyond the calcified institutional barriers upon which Fraser insists.
Accessibility offers curb cuts for people to navigate such barriers. Accessibility also informs how we build our classrooms and how we approach our scholarship. We want to invite more people into our conversations, as opposed to expecting them to conform to already problematic standards of “distinctive rigor” and “habits of mind” that continue to keep marginalized groups out of academic spaces. Enhancing access for more people feels especially pressing now as we grapple with a social milieu that is hostile to intellectual engagement, one that already devalues our labor and experience even if we are “constituted” as “legitimate scholars” by equally imperfect practices like peer review.
Fraser values “complexity.” We do, too. We engage in the markers of the profession that he says contain “rigor” and “longer rhythms” of thought. But why should these closed conversations be the only kind of intellectual labor that matters?
Of course, Twitter can be “cruel” and “vicious,” but this is not the community that we recognize in our regular use of the medium. On Twitter, we are part of communities that sustain us at a time when the profession is incredibly challenging to graduate students and early career academics. On Twitter, our ideas are enriched by scholars in other disciplines and fields, as well as by the communities and greater publics whose lived experiences underpin and animate our scholarship. Increasing access — including on Twitter — is a means of enabling ethical scholarship. It is also a means by which we hope to build a more inclusive academy. While Fraser is busy gatekeeping, we’ll be finding ways to let more people in.
Jason S. Farr, Marquette University
Travis Chi Wing Lau, University of Texas at Austin