, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 341–362 | Cite as

The ‘Economy of Memory’: Publications, Citations, and the Paradox of Effective Research Governance

  • Peter Woelert


More recent advancements in digital technologies have significantly alleviated the dissemination of new scientific ideas as well as the storing, searching and retrieval of large amounts of published research findings. While not denying the benefits of this novel ‘economy of memory,’ this paper endeavors to shed light on the ways in which the use of digital technologies may be linked to a distortion of the system of formal publications that facilitates the effective dissemination and collaborative building of scientific knowledge. Through combining three different strands of discussion that are often left separate – those pertaining to the cognitive effects of new technological memory systems, those pertaining to citation and publishing practices, and those regarding the effects of formalizing modes of research governance – it is also shown that this distortion is not merely a consequence of technological developments alone. Rather, such a distortion is inseparable from and potentially aggravated by the spreading of increasingly dysfunctional, formalizing research governance mechanisms. It is argued that these mechanisms run the risk of fostering the proliferation of knowledge practices that are characterized by an increasing degree of superficiality as well as the strategic publication of research that is of a decreasing degree of originality. If left unaddressed, this may pose a serious threat to the efficiency and effectiveness of the formal record of scientific knowledge as a tool for the dissemination of original research. By extension, this may in the long run seriously undermine the capacity of the publicly funded research system more generally.


Citation behavior Digital memory Electronic publishing Information overload Knowledge practice Redundant publication Research governance Research policy Research communication Scientific culture 



I wish to acknowledge Australian Research Council funding support for the research project ‘Knowledge Building in Schooling and Higher Education: Policy strategies and effects’ (ARC Discovery Project 2011–13, DP110102466, Chief Investigator Prof. Lyn Yates). I would also like to thank Lyn Yates as well as the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback and suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne Graduate School of EducationUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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