Recently, my friend and colleague Ruth Pearce wrote a beautiful blogpost on her experiences with co-authorship. In her post, Pearce recounts how writing can be a radical site for coming together with each other, as well as how we can do the work of coming together across temporalities and methods. She writes about the process of co-authorship as full of feeling, and in doing so, invites her readers to feel alongside her. In some senses, then, she is inviting her readers into a co-authoring experience that perhaps even traverses what was done in the past (e.g., scholarly pieces were written), and to think about how we can touch one another to form new ideas, lines of inquiry, and critical reflections (e.g., that which has yet, but could one day, be written). And it is here where I want to begin this blogpost, taking as a starting point Pearce’s reflections on her writing process (could this then mean Pearce and I are co-authoring this post?).
Over the past several months, I have begun working on my materials for my 3rd year review portfolio. For folks unfamiliar with the tenure process in the United States, academics undergo a mid-point check-in of sorts, usually in the third year of their tenure-track appointments. This serves as a way to see if one is making the progress needed for a successful bid for tenure in three years time. The process is a bit harrowing for a variety of reasons, but that is not really the point of this post. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of putting together these materials that has peaked my own curiosities: scholarly collaboration.
Two elements of my portfolio include consolidating all of my scholarly publications (including that which is out for review and in press) along with updating my CV. I have also been tasked with writing a statement about my scholarship, which should be a narrative that weaves a coherent tapestry regarding my research agenda. As I have been doing all of this, I have been struck by one thing, and that is the importance of writing with and alongside my people.
This became so present for me, in fact, that I even addressed it in my scholarly narrative. I wrote,
Finally, collaboration has been a particularly important value to me throughout the development of my research agenda. As a scholar, I have a commitment to working with and alongside transgender communities, and as such, it would be antithetical—and I may argue unethical—to only do this work in a vacuum. Not only is my collaborative approach to research and scholarship a reflection of my paradigmatic orientation, but it also recognizes that equity and justice-based work—which I consider my work to be—is best done in concert with others, both within and across identities and experiences, as well as at all educational levels. Maintaining my value of community as central to my research agenda, I have been intentional to research and publish alongside students at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels. I have also researched and published with a variety of early, mid-, and senior scholars, including several colleagues at Northern Illinois University. I have also been intentional to work alongside other queer and transgender students and scholars, as well as students and scholars of color, students and scholars with disabilities, and students and scholars with multiple marginalized identities. Far from being a form of “tick box diversity” (Ahmed, 2012), my choices reflect a desire to live what Spade (2015) called “trickle up activism,” or the belief that we must work alongside those who are the most vulnerable in order to realize transformative justice. In other words, I find it imperative, as a scholar with multiple marginalized identities, to research and write alongside fellow marginalized students and scholars as a way to build the types of connections that help us as people with marginalized identities thrive in postsecondary education.
Now, this isn’t a “how to” blogpost where I elucidate 5 Strategies to do Collaborative Scholarship Effectively. This sort of post has its value, but mine isn’t that sort of post. Instead, what I am keenly interested in, and what Pearce’s post reminded me of, is thinking about scholarly collaboration as an ethic. In other words, I have become increasingly preoccupied with what it means to engage in collaborative work, even if one is writing a “solo-authored publication.” Yeah, that’s right, I just wrote that – I want to think about collaboration, even in regards to solo-authored publications.
But what all does this mean? Let’s try an example or two, yeah?
Folks familiar with this blog are likely already familiar with the fact that a book with my name as the “solo author” was recently published. However, people who are familiar with my work, have seen me speak about this book, and/or follow me on Twitter also know I am reticent to call this “my book.” In fact, I often discuss this as a book that the participants and I wrote. This is far from a cute ploy or simple choice in wording. Instead, it is a recognition that I did not write this book on my own. Yes, I get that I was the only one who typed the words that were printed on the pages of the book. However, the content (e.g., the data, the analysis, the people and experiences and implications) was all done with the participants. Moreover, my noting of the book as collaborative is a reminder that we as scholars and academicians who do human subjects research can never do anything without the investment (even in minimal ways) of those alongside whom we research, analyze, and write. As I have said over and over again, the book would have never happened were it not for the participants, and to suggest this is “my book” would smack of hubris.
For another example, I want to think about this very blogpost. I am currently typing away at my dining room table. Later, I may move to my office at Northern Illinois University, where I may finish up the post. However, there is no one here typing with me, nor will there be. In this sense, I am not talking about the sort of collaboration Pearce wrote about in her blog, where multiple people write together, sometimes taking turns at a single document, or perhaps even writing together in a shared virtual platform. This is, indeed, important, is something I have done, and is something I will continue doing in my career. But it’s not really what I am talking about in this blogpost.
Instead, what I am writing about is that these words I am typing now are not purely “my own.” What I am writing about is how this post was influenced by years of working, thinking, and being with other people, work, and thinking. What I am writing about is how this post grew not just from Pearce’s post, but also from the years of thinking I have done with and alongside other scholars. Whether we met through books, in person, or both, we have been thinking together, and that thinking has always already influenced “my” writing of this post. In fact, I could even stretch this concept to think about how I have been collaborating with my former selves across times and spaces. So, in a sense, I am indebted not only to Julia Serano and Susan Stryker, who I remember reading while smoking cigarettes on my small patio in Tucson, Arizona as I came into my own trans becoming, but also to the me who picked up those texts, thought through those texts, and continues to engage in the process of my own trans becoming. In a sense, I am thinking about collaboration as an ongoing, genealogical practice. In a sense, I am queering notions of collaboration such that it may not always matter whose name is first…or even on the page.
Now, there are some caveats here that must be written. I completely understand the implications of our current neoliberal moment and its effects on knowledge production. I get that the commodification of what is “my” scholarship (or “yours,” for that matter) is used as a symbol of our “productivity,” which is used to determine our ability to remain in our posts. I also understand quite palpably the implications of plagiarism. As someone who has had to confront the taking of my ideas without proper citation, I understand this viscerally, and need to state quite clearly that I am not arguing for people taking work because, “Well, Z said this thinking is mine, too, so I don’t need to cite it.” Nope, this is most certainly not what I am saying, and if that is what you are coming away from this post thinking, I would encourage you to invest some time processing through how whiteness and coloniality permeates your misconceptions.
Instead, what I am suggesting is that to collaborate can be material and affective (as Pearce wrote about in her post), and it can also be an ethic, or an ongoing moral practice that one engenders (a pun for the crowd) in epistemological and genealogical ways. What I am suggesting is that recognizing collaboration as an ethic reminds us from whence we came, and to whom we have always already been with, should we decide to recognize such. What I am suggesting is that understanding collaboration as ethic makes visible all of the invisible lines of thought that get us where we are…and where we may go. It is not that one’s thinking is mine for the taking, but that what is “mine” has always already been influenced by others, and that to suggest otherwise is, for me, incongruent with who we have been as a community, and how we must continue to be if we truly believe in the liberatory potential of the work we do.
And while the names of the participants with whom I wrote don’t show up on the front cover of “my” book, I make them present through all of the public scholarship and talks I do.
And while the people who I have thought alongside and with don’t show up on the front cover of “my” book, I view literature reviews through a citational practice where I elucidate who my community has always been (a practice I have learned from Sara Ahmed, who wrote about not citing white men in her latest book, Living a Feminist Life).
And while the people who I continue to come into my trans existence with don’t show up on the front cover of “my” book, I use the acknowledgements and dedication spaces to bring to the fore those people—past, present, and future—for whom “my” work exists, and without whom “my” work would not be (again, this is very similar to the way Ahmed has dedicated Living a Feminist Life and On Being Included to the communities with whom she researches and lives).
And yes, as I have written about alongside others, the choices we make about epistemologies and methodologies, and the affective aspects of our work all have implications regarding how we (don’t) embody collaboration.
And still, I find the need to explore how collaboration as ethic is a both/and that both recognizes these important dimensions of collaboration, and also invites us to think in new, interconnected, and communal ways.
As I wrap up this post, I would like to take a moment to publicly thank Ruth Pearce for her blogpost. Ruth, I miss you, and think fondly of the time we spent together in our workshop at Warwick a few summers ago often. Please know that despite the distance, I continue to find a home in the your writing, tweeting, and in our ongoing connection. I can’t wait to read your forthcoming book, too, as I know it will spur further thinking we will all do together.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.