In symbolic preparation for the start of another academic year, I ritualistically cleaned out one of the many file cabinets today, one of the several that I haven't opened in what seems like millennia. There are usually at least two or three pleasant surprises to be uncovered during such a process, and this time around I came across my old stash of Lingua Franca magazines. And I immediately had a dilemma. Do I throw them away or not?
The purported rationale for this annual late-summer exercise is just such purging. I'm a packrat, a trait I probably got from my mom, who tosses just about everything that comes across her kitchen table into a cardboard box (to be filed away and subsequently forgotten). Plus, I'm an ethnographer who considers just every bit of material culture ever manufactured potential "data" that might be deployable in some future attempt at cultural analysis, which means that I always have a "professional" rationalization for my hoarding.
Even still, I try to be strong during my September office purgings. But Lingua Franca has a special place in my heart. Maybe it should be granted some kind of special/prileged status amidst the other junk in need of immediate discarding. I mean, this magazine got me through the first couple years of graduate school at Columbia.
Something like The Chronicle of Higher Education meets The Nation (with a little National Enquirer thrown in for good measure), Lingua Franca was a not-so-guilty pleasure for my grad school cohort in the early 1990s. That's where we learned how academic/intellectual debates translated into institutional fault lines and interpersonal squabbles. It covered academe under the guise of in-depth investigative journalism, which meant that it didn't just dish the gossipy dirt (which was always in full supply); they also tried to breakdown complicated theoretical ideas and explain disputes within fields that had implications beyond them.
For the grad students I knew, this was like getting a cheat sheet on contemporary academic life and its conceptual/analytical conflagrations. Of course, the stories always had a slant, and they usually angered as many people as they excited. But this still seemed like a wonderful way to get at least one pretty well-researched (and popularly pitched) interpretation of academic issues with an impressive degree of institutional contextualization of things.
When I found out that the magazine was closing up shop in 2001, I was no longer a graduate student. And though I'd kept my subscription, I'd stopped doing the cover-to-cover readings that had given my years in grad school such delicious pleasure. Even still, I was crushed that future grad students would be denied the same opportunity to enjoy Lingua Franca. What a pity.
(For one take on the end of Lingua Franca, see "Who Killed Lingua Franca?")
Which brings me to my question: In the age of on-line publishing, could someone resurrect Lingua Franca and actually make it profitable? Or does The Chronicle pick up enough of the slack?