Rethinking “Impact”: Between the Attention Economy and The Readerless Republic of Letters


Time is in short supply, so my argument will be condensed, and therefore apparently dogmatic. I will sketch seven reasons why we should distance ourselves both from the promotion of “impact” as an appropriate measure of a scholar’s output and from its knee-jerk rejection as a scandalous, oppressive and humiliating form of control of scholarly work.1 My main points will be that we all crave impact (understandably), that the current definition of “impact” tends to hide what it claims to reveal (and should therefore be rejected), but, more importantly, that the very framing of “impact” rests on an obsolete conception of how and why we do research. To put it bluntly: we still hang on to the traditional idea that articles and books are made to be read (by a maximum of people), whereas we should accept the fact that they are mostly made to be written—independently of who does or does not end up reading them.

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