Substack is taking the world of academia by storm. In the past couple of years, writers like Rayne Fisher-Quann, Zeynep Tufekci, and others have utilized the platform to publish think-pieces, essays, and articles that have since been instrumental in academic and journalistic discussions. The website, despite having its share of copycats and naysayers, continues to grow. With this growth has come a sense of respectability, especially in terms of its forward-thinking members whose essays and articles have begun to be cited and included in academic discussions.
Substack’s homepage refers to itself as a “subscription network for independent writers and creators.” Launched in 2017, the website was designed to be a platform for writers to post their work and garner a subscription-based, newsletter-style audience of readers. Since then, the site has flourished and evolved into something that has drawn in creators of all kinds. Substack supports the work of writers in a vast range of fields and topics, with its home tab listing categories such as Culture, Technology, Business, Travel, and many more. Its subscription feature allows writers to select which posts they want to be publicly accessible and which they want to make available only to paying subscribers, who contribute a monthly fee for this access.
The internet has a reputation for making worlds once-exclusive accessible to millions, and academia is no exception. The academic field is one with a history often considered pretentious and stuffy, only accessible to a select few and rather narrow-minded in its culture. An article by Armaan Verma for The Daily Gamecock states the following: “Whether it be paywalls, complex or even downright incomprehensible papers, or even historical bias towards upper class men, academia has always found a way to make itself less accessible to the common person.” However, the article shifts to posit that academia can be made more “relevant” through the internet. With the resources the internet provides, academia has the opportunity to widen itself and develop a more expansive and well-rounded culture. Substack and its diverse platform of writers seems to be a promising addition to this effort.
The following are examples of the writers whose works have been part of wider academic discussions over the past few years.
Rayne Fisher-Quann is a Canadian writer and cultural commentator. Her works on feminism, politics, sociology, and other topics on her Substack account internet princess have received acclaim in contemporary academic and commentative circles. She has spoken at universities like McGill and currently has a following of over 70,000 subscribers on Substack. Some of her influential pieces are the following: “standing on the shoulders of complex female characters” (about the glorification and romanticization of depression in young womanhood through the example of aesthetics and fictional female characters), who’s afraid of amber heard? (a think-piece concerning society’s treatment of Amber Heard and other woman who weren’t “perfect victims”), and the pain gap (a breakdown of the dynamics of toxic relationships and how women suffer).
Zeynep Tufekci is a Turkish sociologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has an online news publication known as Insight on Substack, where she posts articles, essays, and think-pieces. She is also the author of the book Twitter and Tear Gas. She is a contributing writer to the New York Times and The Atlantic. Some of her influential pieces are the following: “Long Covid, The Long History Version” (about “complex chronic conditions and post-viral syndromes”) and “On the Alex Jones Verdict: The Very, Very Lucrative World of Lying” (about the Alex Jones trial and its societal implications).
Brian Klaas is an American political scientist and global politics professor at University College. He is also a contributing writer to The Atlantic. His Substack account is The Garden of Forking Paths, where he posts articles and essays about various educational topics for his audience of over 20,000 subscribers. Some of his influential pieces are the following: “The Biggest Hidden Bias in Politics” (about the American political system and its main failings), “It’s the Guns.” (about gun violence and gun control), and “The Evolution of Modern Dogs” (about the evolution of dog breeding and its societal implications).
The internet is a great equalizer. Since the dawn of its existence, online publications have revolutionized the fields of journalism, publishing, and academia. The new influence of Substack in online journalism and publishing in general sets a promising foundation for an era of academia that is more diverse and more informed. Perhaps, as it continues to grow, the platform will establish itself as a giant of reputable publications and educated opinion-pieces.