As someone who is keen on ‘sharing’ to move knowledge forward, I’m all for collaborative authoring …
Collaboration should not be a dirty word in the arts, says Stephen Mumford
Why isn’t co-authorship more prevalent in the arts? At a recent promotions committee meeting, I was struck by the extent to which sole-authored publication remains the norm – even though there can be genuine intellectual benefits when collaboration succeeds. Typically, authors can write something better together than they could have produced alone. Even if the benefit is only marginal, isn’t that justification enough?
Ploughing a lone furrow can make a researcher’s life tough. A single-authored book is an enormous commitment. Even if it delivers a 4* return in the research excellence framework, the author can still struggle to write three other items of equal quality. Perhaps it’s time to consider whether our approach in the arts, humanities and social sciences is self-defeating.
The case for more collaborative work can be made. Indeed, most of us do it already, to some degree. We tend to discuss our ideas with colleagues and seek trusted opinions. We present talks at conferences and seminars, and use the feedback to develop ideas before publication. We solicit comments on drafts. Colleagues share a research environment that, if it is effective, contributes to the quality of all output. Yet when the work appears, the standard model is still sole ownership. A colleague could have given a lot of input, discussing ideas or providing comments on early drafts, yet their accepted reward is only to appear in the list of acknowledgements. This seems a paltry return on what can be a considerable amount of effort, an effort that is obviously a degree of collaboration. Perhaps one tries to mitigate the paltry reward by extracting a reciprocal amount of uncredited assistance in return.
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Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.