I stumbled over the following, rather sweeping, statement about the genre of academic conference proceedings in a recent book review by Anke Timmermann, formerly historian at Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia:

The genre of conference proceedings is a dying one, and in many cases for good reason. Too often they stage a cacophony of scholarly voices — some of them playing their discipline skillfully, others following a solitary, slightly offbeat tune far away from the crowd, and yet others missing the tone of the orchestration altogether.

(in Technology and Culture, 50: 687-688, 2009)

My immediate reaction is nodding agreement. Proceedings from big conferences are probably the last kind of collected volumes I would expect something exciting from. They are usually almost as bad a Festschrifts.

However, it depends on the kind of conference. Proceedings from world congresses are dying dinosaurs, agreed. But a volume of selected papers from a well-planned workshop on a well-defined topic at the research front is a different affair. So I don’t think you can generalise as Anke does.

Her remark was one in passing only. It opens up for a more systematic study of the rise and fall of genres of academic writin — and of the concept of ‘genre’ in academic publishing generally.

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