“Opening Up Access to Knowledge Beyond Paywalls is Great” — An Interview with Lee Grieveson

“Opening Up Access to Knowledge Beyond Paywalls is Great” — An Interview with Lee Grieveson

Monali Ghosh
Deeptanshu D
Monali Ghosh, Deeptanshu D

Typeset Interview Series on Connecting Global Authors, Researchers and Publishers

We had the opportunity to speak with Lee Grieveson, Professor of Media History, Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry, UCL, London.

We talked in great detail about his upcoming book Prediction Machines, his career, first research paper, the current scenario in the publishing industry and much more. Besides, he offered some stellar unconventional advice for young, early age researchers. His words reflected the wisdom he gained through years of hard work and determination and is a great example for someone who strives for more success and repute in the academic world.

1. Tell us about your journey from a scholar to a well-respected researcher?

I was lucky enough to have generous intellectual mentors. This is a big help. I joined a generous scholarly community, who were kind enough to young scholars. Over time I grew to be more confident. I kept working hard, trying to learn and understand, and trying to share that learning with others.

2. It's really humble of you to acknowledge other people’s contributions in grooming you as a researcher. However, you’ve been in different roles throughout your career.

Could you share with us any specific role that helped in shaping you?

One role that really helped me grow as a scholar and researcher was the co-director of a large research grant (on British colonial cinema). I learnt a lot from my co-director – how to keep projects on track, moving forward – and from the research team assembled. One always learns from useful models. I have been particularly shaped by a number of people who are passionate educators.

To think again about teaching as one of the most useful things we can do. I have sought in my career to focus on the things I value – teaching/learning; creating spaces/programs for young people to learn and grow from; and on research and writing. Balancing those is not always easy.

3. While switching, juggling and balancing between various tasks, what is the key ingredient behind your success as an author/researcher?

I think hard work. Keep on going. Sticking at it. When getting stuck, reading and learning. The only way forward is through gaining more knowledge. I try to remain curious and interested in learning. I keep pushing myself to learn more, about different things.

4. Please, share the experience of your first journal article.

What were the challenges you faced due to the lack of technology, and how did you manage to break through?

I don’t know if technology was the problem. The first journal article I wrote (for a journal called Screen) was edited by a senior scholar in the field (Annette Kuhn) and I was enormously grateful to her for the help and support she gave me in shaping and editing the article.

Generous scholars are really great! I think one “breaks through” by writing and rewriting and rewriting. Keep going.

5. Being consistent is one of the important aspects of no matter what we do!

Moving ahead, can you tell us about your latest work? What spurred you to work on this?

Yes, I am working on a short book about recent history. It’s centred and surrounded by the events that emerged due to the use/abuse of data, media and how all this try to shape political realities. I started writing it during the Brexit referendum and the Trump election. The book explores the way data and media was and is used by political and economic elites. The book is called Prediction Machines.

I got interested in the project for lots of reasons but mostly because I wanted to understand how media and information are used to generate and sustain power. The book explores a recent history, then – of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Trump, Brexit, psychological operations – and historicizes this, asking: where did this new formation of data and media come from, how was it established, and how is it used?

6. Brexit and the US elections are already over. The results are out and how it is influencing the other parallels of the society, is also broadly visible.

In such a scenario, how do you view the importance and real-world application of your book?

It is important because it is about how power operates. In concrete terms. How does a political group gain power through information and media? How has this formation of power been constructed? (It is tied to imperialism, to counterinsurgency, to groups seeking to bypass democracy to serve their own interests, and so on.) It seeks to intervene in the world. To explain how power uses media and information, and to think about what we might do about that.

7. You have authored many journal articles to date.

Can you tell us how today’s publishing domain is different from the time when you started?

There are a lot more places to publish nowadays. Lots of online spaces. Things are more fragmented. The fields have gotten much bigger so there is a very long wait time with most journals.

8. Discussing fragmentation, what are your views on Open Access Journals?

I think opening up access to knowledge outside of paywalls and beyond the walls of the university is a really good thing. The taxpayer (somewhat indirectly) pays for a lot of research, but often it is published in journals that most people do not have access to. It is a good idea to make knowledge accessible to all.

9. You’ve been in this domain for a very long time now. What are the general mistakes that authors, very often, make?

Forgetting they are writing to communicate. Often they get wrapped up in their own complex arguments and forget they are trying to communicate to a reader. Often writers make things harder to understand than easier.

“Writers: don’t try to appear smart. Try to clearly articulate what is important about what you are exploring.”

10. What advice would you give to early-career researchers to avoid common mistakes while writing research papers?

What tech platforms do you generally refer to, use or suggest to fellow authors and new scholars for writing journal articles?

I am too old for tech platforms. Sorry. I am allergic to giving data to companies like Google and Facebook (who are subjects in my book Prediction Machines). I am not sure I have great advice.

Broadly: be clear; think of writing as communication; build on other work (don’t try always to destroy it or prove it wrong: scholarship can be a way of connecting and building); polish your introduction a lot; tell your reader why any of this matters; get distance from your writing so you can direct it and orchestrate it better.