Writing collaboration

a ‘work in progress’

4. conclusions / top tips?

with 2 comments

Shona asked me to talk to day because we’d worked together 5 or 6 years ago on an MA Social Science module at Birmingham, in which completing PhD students – she was one – shared their writing and experiences from proposal to completion with people thinking of doing PhDs. As this was the first year this module had been taught, she had been instrumental in its design and delivery. I remember that we had enjoyed working together, so it was great to be back in touch. A lot of what I’ve talked about today is about the contacts, knowledge and trust that can come out of – and lead to future – successfully collaborative work. It was nice to be invited to talk about something by someone who really knows what you do. She said she…

was hoping that you would be able to talk around the stuff that you have done on the structures of the academy, its inclusions and exclusions etc. and mostly concentrating on your recent interesting sounding experiences of the difficulties pleasures etc. of joint writing etc. … Content is really up to you though, these are just ideas so that you know the sort of things I was thinking of. if you could look to talk for 45 mins absolute max that would be good, less if it suits. The idea is to get some good discussion going after you’ve spoken so it would be good to have some decent time for that.

I should probably be encouraging people here to do this – if they haven’t – and to experiment with how to do it, once they get going. It has, for me, been hugely rewarding. I’ve probably underplayed the structure of the academy more than you might expect. But this is because, in my experience, these structures aren’t monolithic. There are spaces and connections to be made – quite legitimately – which justify and encourage this kind of academic work: not least the new REF with its emphasis on Knowledge Transfer, the growing literature on collaborative working practices in public sociology / geography / anthropology / understanding of science / the list goes on, and the principle of ‘academic freedom’. Most of the problems that I/we have had have been fiddly and annoying. For example, copy editors handling (citations of) Ian Cook et al papers always ask who these et al people are. You have to list them all. So I usually have to have an asterisk next to my name with a footnote saying why I use this name (‘see Cook et al 2004′), and I ask them to treat ‘Cook et al’ as my surname (i.e. in reference lists, it’s ‘Cook et al, I.’ not ‘Cook, I. et al’).

Before I started working on this paper, I would probably have said that there isn’t a formula, or a template, for the kind of collaborative work I’ve been talking about. But, having been forced to reflect on an approach to working that’s longstanding, has developed organically, and is ‘just what I do’, some patterns do seem to be there. Maybe I should now be able to give some top tips…

This is where you could help out, now. Our conversations and ideas today could be added, where appropriate, to the website pages. Those already there are – to me at least – really interesting (from early confessions of crap collaboration to lovely comments about that cat thing). This is an open-ended paper about collaboration that’s trying to be collaborative. And what’s weird already has almost 600 hits, without any advertising. This may be an interesting experiment to get involved in…

Last updated 6 March 2009

to be continued…


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Written by Ian Cook et al

September 5, 2008 at 10:48 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I am finally writing this in response to Ian’s general reminder email that arrived in my in box today – that’s just under a month after Ian initially came to spend the day with us at Leeds and nearly six months since he initially asked if I’d like to comment! There are a number of ironies in the time lapse here…of course I could say that I’ve been so busy doing collaboration that I haven’t had time to write collaboration, or perhaps equally if not more likely, that everything else ‘gets in the way’ of my desire to do/write collaboration (of course we could say here that’s its impossible to do anything without being in some form of relational collaboration…but more of that in a minute). This brings me to wonder how much collaboration I could do whilst dreaming about doing it, what is it that I am really dreaming about when I think about collaboration, what is the fantasy (phantasy) that I am constructing around collaboration as an ideal? And what does this fantasy stop me from doing?

    I also remember working with Ian on that MA module really fondly. Rereading this conclusion and thinking back to that time, I’m reminded about one of the things I really started to understand through that and the many other (formal and informal) collaborations I’ve been involved in since; the necessary relational character of academic life the importance of interdependence, care, responsibility and accountability in all collaborations. I think one of the things I really wanted to get to grips with in the session was how we can work with and through our relational autonomy and how we recognise the academy as a relational space where emotions and affect constitute the discursive, cultural/social nature of our working contexts, something still rarely acknowledged in academic institutional spaces. How do we work with this rather than always working against this grain, competitively rather than cooperatively? I think we started to get to thinking about this in the January session, but it also reminded me about how difficult it is to think through power and inequality and speak about them without seeming trite, or without wondering what these sort of events do in terms of separating out (the inseparable?) speaking about and the doing? What does it mean to talk about doing collaboration and what is its relationship to the doing? (Of course that’s really I suppose what I was talking about in the above here!)

    Anyway I didn’t want tied-up endings, check lists, formulas etc. It will probably not come as a surprise Ian that (and I mean this as a big compliment) I would not have invited you if I did! I love this blog, the comments and the idea (and reality) of cook et al. I want to see what happens to them and where this beginning goes…

    Just a final word on ‘just doing what we do’ I don’t think that this can or should ever be innocent in the sort of social and institutional contexts we work in constituted through the sorts of profound gendered, raced, classed, sexualised etc. inequalities we talked about the other day. BUT and it is a big but, we can’t let the realisation of a lack of innocence stop us from the doing (I find I’m returning again in another way to my starting/ending point). And I think for me the value of the session, the blog and all of these other bits of comment etc. is that they remind us that we’re not innocent but neither are we impotent in the face of seriously enduring unequal social structures! Anyway at the risk of starting to sound seriously ridiculous I’ll be off now, but am sure I’ll be popping in again! Thanks for this

    shona hunter

    February 9, 2009 at 5:14 pm

  2. A student’s perspective: Dear Ian et al, I’ve stumbled across your site whilst “studying” for an essay on the topic of ‘collaborative research’ for my undergraduate Geography degree. Ok, so I’ve haven’t read all of your site; though it looks impressive. In reality I’ve done what most students do – skimmed through selecting a few punchy quotes that might lift the drabness of my half-constructed essay. But whilst I was reading through your site (and as I find myself sat among a packed library full of students just like myself tossing through chapters, bashing out essays, and downing a good dose of coffee) it just occurred to me: perhaps one day when I write an essay I won’t be piling up academic text books and googling yet another academic journal article of one man and his argument. Perhaps, like now, when for a moment in my degree my passion for shared experience and geographical interest overtakes the urge to write well for a good mark, this blog (as I write) will be the future of what we now know as the “academy”. Perhaps I am participating, as an ‘under’-graduate (a “not-yet” in the meritorious world of Western professionalism), in a future where the monopoly of ‘ivory tower academia’ has been smashed, and where debate and dialogue, unity and tension, and credibility and risk, all find a home beside one another.
    In solidarity,
    Sam and co.
    Level 4,
    Main Library,
    Durham University

    Sam Slatcher

    May 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm


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