The New Encyclopaedia Project, co-edited by Ryan Bishop, John Phillips, Mike Featherstone, and Couze Venn, is an attempt to merge globalization and digitalization processes in relation to the history of encyclopedias and their projects. This explicitly interdisciplinary, collaborative project attempts to map knowledge production, legitimization, and circulation at the beginning of the 21st century. The NEP is a critical engagement with encyclopaedia production, history and genealogy as the 21st century blooms with an abundance of such references works while remaining simultaneously suspicious of the authoritative, monologic qualities they reinforce. The project links several institutions and regions of the world to query global knowledges in the global public sphere. The first volume “Problematizing Global Knowledge” appeared in Summer 2006 as a special double issue Theory, Culture and Society (23:3-4, 2006) -- running over 600 pages with more than 150 entries and supplements by contributors from over thirty countries. It is currently being converted into a book to launch a new NEP series for Sage (2007). The first volume is already being translated into Chinese, Turkish and Japanese, with discussions of translations into Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, and Korean underway. Forthcoming volumes include Media, Megacities, Food, Money, and Religon.
|The New Encyclopaedia Project is an outgrowth of the Theory, Culture & Society journal and centre, and results from an exploration of the potential impact of globalization and digitalization on knowledge classification. Increasingly, academics are asked to take into account the impact of globalization, the intensification of communication flows which bind us together in “one world.” Yet these globalization processes do not necessarily give rise to one account of the world. To theorize an expanding world -- one in which there is the increasing awareness of different accounts of world history and alternative visions of modernity -- creates extraordinary demands, ones the editorial board and contributors to the project have been working through together for the past four years. The Western account of the rise of modern times and the classification systems used in the social sciences and humanities are becoming increasingly challenged by counter-knowledges. The process of knowledge formation and circulation is further made more difficult to map, through the impact of digitalization, the capacity of new information technologies to store and retrieve vast amounts of data in vast databases which can be traversed through hyperlinks and search engines. Indeed, the speed and diffuseness of information flows can be seen to have already taken us beyond questions of classification. They also provide new opportunities to problematize existing disciplinary classifications by providing new spaces for counter-examples, dialogue and critical reflection. In effect they can encourage de-classification moves and challenges to the authority of existing knowledge.
Yet who should take the responsibility to code-up and maintain the databases, hyperlinks and search engines: the state, the corporations, the university? We therefore have a problem, about how to classify, handle and access digital culture, which has become increasingly linked with the problem of the awareness of the diversity of global knowledge.
The aim of the NEP is to develop a critical encyclopaedia of the social and cultural sciences. Encyclopaedias are ordering devices for handling large amounts of diffuse material and are particularly relevant at times of rapid social change. Yet, they are necessarily the product of a time and place, and carry the imprint of a particular form of intellectual and academic authority. The challenge of the NEP, then, is to produce volumes sensitive to these limitations while also trying to meet the challenges posed by them, and at all times understanding that each volume is but a snapshot, a gesture toward the larger issues at hand.
In terms of formal structure, the NEP seeks to innovate on a number of levels:
The NEP is designed to address academicians and graduate students in almost all the humanities and social sciences, as well as other disciplines such as law, architecture, and business. The intention is to produce prototype cluster volumes in a Theory, Culture & Society New Encyclopaedia Project Book Series. Ultimately the goal is to develop a digital version of the project to produce a highly functional website with hypertext links and extensive use of visual and aural material, which permits wider public access. Such a potential encyclomedia will explore the space between the encyclopaedia and the archive. Indeed, it is the enlarging global archive that stands behind and disturbs existing scholarly classification, but also offers the potential of creative rethinking and refiguring of knowledge. Others involved in the NEP and with the first volume include Shunya Yoshimi, Mark Hansen, Scott Lash, Bryan Turner, Paul Rabinow, Aihwa Ong, Li Shiqiao, Ulrich Beck, Naoiki Sakai, Barbara Adams, George Marcus, Michael M. J. Fischer, Jeffrey Alexander, Pheng Cheah, Jonathan Friedman, Sean Cubitt, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Shiv Visanathan, Chua Beng Huat, Rajeev Patke, Brenda Yeoh, Robbie Goh, Ismail Talib, Tania Roy, to name some.
Instead of compiling an exhaustive A-Z list, the NEP is focusing on trans-disciplinary cluster topics such as: megacities, media, religion, food, money. These are relatively circumscribed areas of interest to a number of disciplines, but by no means reducible to any one of them. Each cluster is being thought through theoretically via a series of colloquia and workshops to produce a series of separate cluster volumes. These colloquia are held all over the world, including Singapore, China, the UK, Japan, Korea, and the US, with future ones planned for India, Brazil, and South Africa.
These are written in a more open and dialogical way than standard encyclopaedia entries in order to de-authorize them. In this fashion, the contested process of knowledge formation is made visible.
Each entry is framed by and embedded within a series of supplements, the number of which is virtually limitless. The use of supplements is central to the critical logic of the project. They emphasise alternative genealogies and the incomplete and unfinished nature of entries to operate a productive tension with the entries.