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Big Data, Mechanical Turks, and the Excess of Textual Circulation

  • Girard, Didier
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2017
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This paper will not exactly deal with literary issues but with Intelligent Technology and cultural sociology, although the very thing known as a book probably remains the epitome of what intelligent technology can be at its best: a compact device opening up to unlimited possibilities. Ten years of intense intercultural and transcultural activities across five continents with three postgraduate or doctoral programmes1 give us today the opportunity to take some critical distance and a broader view on what we have been doing and witnessing in cultural and research practices. After all, we now have the necessary amount of expertise with just over 300 postgraduate students (between 20 and 38 years of age), about 150 co-supervisors around the world with every possible academic background, 2 dozen international universities on every continent except for Asia and Africa, and their countless research centres. So we are in a position to assess, in relatively objective terms, what global textual mobility means in the academic sphere today, and how it might affect academic research in the next twenty years. Our international students (composed of just under 50 different nationalities, roughly one third European, one fourth South American, one sixth Asian and Indian, just as many from Russia and the West Balkans area, 8% North American and a more limited number of students from Africa, the Middle East or the Pacific) have produced academic papers in 6 different languages, and in just as many fields of study: comparative literature (39%, including 6% in classical literature), cultural anthropology (25%), visual cultures (14%, mostly cinema studies but also the Fine Arts), contemporary philosophy (8%), translation studies and socio-linguistics (7%), and finally "Other", including musicology in particular (7%). The mere issue of transporting, carrying, and "crossing" borders with texts and documents, either virtually or physically, is in itself a giant metaphor for what this conference is to tackle; I often have this mental image of young researchers smuggling, peddling, or hawking texts from one part of the world to the next, from one semester to another, and in itself this is going back to the origins of what maedieval universities and sodalitates litterarie were, in other words what I would coin as le colportage de la connaissance. Linguistically speaking, and given the worldwide structure of the programme and the selection of our candidates, it is remarkable that only 60% of the theses defended were written in English, whereas 18% were written in French, 10% in Spanish, 5% in Portuguese, 4% in German, and 3% in Italian. Impressive and innovative as they might be for the still prevailing campus-based academic workshop, those statistics should not overshadow the great lesson of global multi-site further education.

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