The idea for liquid books came about as a result of a publisher asking Clare Birchall and I to produce a follow-up to our 2006 woodware volume, New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press). This follow-up was to consist of a Reader gathering together and making easily accessible a number of important texts by some of the theorists discussed in that earlier print-on-paper volume: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Friedrich Kittler, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Slavoj Žižek and so on.
While we could appreciate that such a reader might have a certain usefulness, it seemed to us that to turn the idea of 'new cultural studies' into some fixed and stable concept or brand like this would be to miss the point of what we and our fellow contributors were trying to accomplish with that 2006 book. It felt like it would be out of keeping with the spirit of New Cultural Studies, its dedication to a performative cultural studies, and emphasis on the necessity for cultural studies to experiment with generating events and new forms of practice, action and organisation. So we decided to put together what we’re calling a liquid book instead.
What we’ve done is collected texts by the theorists discussed in the first volume, together with some by those we’d include if we were to produce a second: writers such as Maurizio Lazzarato, N. Katherine Hayles, Jean-Luc Nancy and Isabelle Stengers... In lieu of publishing this as another print-on-paper book, however, we’ve published it online as New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader.
There are at least five additional reasons why we wanted to experiment with publishing a book in this way. First, doing so allows us to challenge the physical and conceptual limits of the traditional edited codex book, not least by including more (and less) than book chapters and journal articles. We also have the freedom to include whole books in our liquid book. It is also possible to include short extracts and samples from books, along with pages, snippets, references, quotations, annotations, links, tags, even podcasts and YouTube clips, as well as different versions and drafts of our Liquid Reader.
For another, this experiment in publishing a book online enables us to circumvent many of the problems scholars almost invariably encounter when trying to publish a research-led book with a conventional print-on-paper press at the moment. For economic reasons, comparatively few academic publishers are particularly interested in research monographs or even edited collections, let alone work that seems ‘difficult’ or 'experimental'. For the most part it’s accessible textbooks, introductions, course readers and reference works they now want to see in print.
Producing a book electronically in this fashion also has the advantage of allowing us to creatively explore some of the limits and possibilities of the general move toward publishing and disseminating academic work online. It’s an issue that has become particularly relevant in the light of recent developments that include the introduction of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK and the possibility of bibliometrics, open access, Google Book Search (most of New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory is already available to read online for free via Google Book Search), Scribd, and the increasing popularity of hand-held electronic book readers such as Amazon's Kindle, Sony’s Reader, and their multi-use rivals, not least among them Apple’s iPad, with its possibilities for embedded interactive audio and visual content.
Making our ‘liquid book’ available open access is another way this project is creatively experimenting with new forms of practice and organization. This means New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader is freely available throughout the world to anyone who is interested in reading it, providing they have access to the internet. This includes not just other researchers, but also teachers, students, investigative journalists, policy makers, union organisers, NGOs, political activists, protest groups and the general public. It is thus hopefully playing a role, however small, in breaking down some of the barriers between countries in the so-called ‘developed’, 'developing' and ‘undeveloped’ worlds, and so helping to overcome the ‘Westernization’ of the research literature. Indeed, at the time of writing the Liquid Books project has over 100 registered ‘users’ from Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, the Lebanon, the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among other places.
But the main reason we wanted to experiment with publishing a book like this is because we can make it available not just open access, but under open editing and free, gratis, libre content conditions, too. So the New Cultural Studies Reader is ‘liquid’ in the sense that not only is it open and free for anyone, anywhere, to read; its initial iteration is also open to users on a read/write basis. This means users can continually help compose, add to, annotate, tag, edit, translate, remix, reformat, reinvent, reimagine and reuse it, or produce alternative parallel versions of it, however they wish. In this way, the ‘book’, along with any subsequent versions, can be produced in an open, collaborative, decentralised, multi-user-generated fashion: not just by its initial 'authors', 'editors', 'creators' or ‘curators’, but by a multiplicity of often anonymous collaborators distributed around the globe. In the process it is hoped that this book will raise – and encourage others to raise - a variety of fascinating and challenging questions: for ideas of the book, academic authorship, the proper name, attribution, publication, citation, accreditation, fair use, quality control, peer-review, copyright, intellectual property and content creation; and, in the case of the New Cultural Studies Reader, for the intellectual formation of cultural studies, too.