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The Public Philosophy Journal project has been animated from the beginning by the attempt to cultivate excellent habits of scholarly communication in a digital age. This does not mean, however, that all communication associated with the PPJ is mediated by digital modes of communication. Indeed, we’ve had some of our most meaningful and important conversations about the shape and direction of the project in face to face meetings with our colleagues at MATRIX, at the Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and in conversations at many professional conferences.

In all of these cases, of course, our face to face encounters have been and continue to be enriched by the ongoing online community we have created. Recognizing this, we have integrated face to face writing workshops into our planning for the next two years of the project in order to afford authors opportunities for deep and sustained collaboration over a number of focused days together.

These workshops will be one way we hope to infuse the PPJ community with a spirit of thick collegiality.

There has been, of course, no end to appeals to collegiality in discussions of online communication and behavior. I very much share the concern that talk of “civility” and “collegiality” amount to little more than, as my colleague Leigh Johnson puts it, the injunction to “Be Nice Or Leave.” Often this insistence is couched in terms of “tone” and invoked to exclude or undermine the authority of a particular position. The “collegiality” to which such rhetoric appeals is thin: it is neither rooted in a relation of mutual respect nor animated by a shared endeavor.

The thick spirit of collegiality the Public Philosophy Journal ecosystem of scholarly communication will seek to cultivate takes its queue from the etymology of the word itself. “Collegiality” comes from the Latin collēga, one chosen along with another, a partner in office, etc. It derives from the prefix, “col-,” together and “legĕre,” to choose. In the context of the PPJ, what is together chosen is the shared attempt to develop and improve the scholarly artifact under consideration, be it a written article, a video documentary, a podcast, or another mode of scholarly expression.

To paraphrase Aristotle, one comment or one review does not thick collegiality make. Collegiality thickens over time as partners chose one another again and again in their shared endeavor to create something rich in meaning.

The challenge, of course, will be how to cultivate the thickening of collegiality in the PPJ ecosystem.

We’ve already gestured to the contours of thick collegiality. It is rooted at least in three dimensions of scholarly encounter:

  1. Hermeneutic Empathy: the ability to accurately describe what animates the scholarship under review;
  2. Hermeneutic Generosity: the willingness to invest expertise, experience, insight, and ideas to improving the scholarship under review;
  3. Hermeneutic Transformation: the ability to engage the community in ways that enrich the scholarship we are producing together.

Drawing on the important work done by the team at ELI Review to create a helpfulness score in peer assessment at the undergraduate level, we are developing ways to computationally identify phrases and formulations that signal that one or another of these dimensions of thick collegiality is at play in a given review or comment. When the machines identify moments of possible collegiality, human members of our community will focus their attention on those sites of exchange, bringing their own judgment to bear on the dynamics of the interaction.

This is the important role our review coordinators will play in cultivating community; depending on what is unfolding, they might decide to contact the author for feedback, or ask for further clarification from the reviewer to determine how best to facilitate a conversation that will develop the scholarship further.

Finding ways to allow collegiality to thicken and people willing to help stir the roux will be the biggest challenge of the Public Philosophy Journal project, and its most exciting opportunity.


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