Blog Post

Collaborative Scholarship in the Academy

Lately I've been thinking about the role of collaboration not only in our classrooms, but in our own projects as well. In "Conjectures on World Literature," Franco Moretti discusses how collaborative scholarship is crucial as a methodological necessity in looking at world literature. Other issues with his argument aside (most of which were thoughtfully laid out in Prendergast's "Evolution and Literary History"), collaboration does allow us to view our objects of study from a much more well-rounded perspective. Rather than looking at detective novels in 19th century England, for instance, a English literature scholar could begin to look at how those same novels are translated and distributed to the Indian subcontinent with the help of a scholar of Indian translation in the same period. The problem, of course, is that the way academia is structured really discourages collaboration. Agonism, competitiveness, and stories of plagiarism/intellectual theft run rampant in many if not all of our respective fields, making co-authoring a paper an especially daunting task that we often greet with skepticism if not outright disdain. 

Certainly other projects lend themselves more easily collaborative work than traditional publications. I am currently working on a panel about Geek Culture and Tattooing for an upcoming conference in which my fellow panel members and I decided to eschew the traditional individual presentation format in favor of a more round table model that will also hopefully involve a great deal of audience interaction (both audience-panel interactions and audience member-member interactions). Though we all have different areas of expertise on our panel topic, we are hoping to make our alloted hour more interesting and engaging by really synthesizing our own knowledge with audience members' knowledge and interests. The planning process has not been without anxiety. Speaking as someone who always resented group work in school, I understand a great many of the difficulties and stresses particular to this kind of project; I think, however, that the form our panel is taking at this point is far more rich and original than it would have been had we all proceeded with our individual conference papers. 

It seems clear to me that collaborative scholarship can be rewarding, both for individual scholars and for fields of study more generally. The question becomes, I suppose, how to open more space for these projects. There has been more funding lately that is geared specifically towards group projects, particularly in the digital humanities, but what can we do to foster even more of this kind of work? What kinds of forums should we be using as an outlet for this work? How can we begin seeking out scholars to work with? Are some projects better suited to collaboration than others? The community we have developed here at HASTAC is a great example of how we can begin to engage in this kind of work, but I'm curious to see what other avenues people might have considered, especially once we enter the harsh post-doctorate world of tenure.


1 comment

The format you and your colleagues are using for the conference panel you mention here reminded me of a feminist response to MOOCs, called DOCCs. One assumption of the approach noted in this article from Inside Higher Ed seems to be a shared value for you: "expertise is distributed throughout all the participants in a learning activity." You start your post by situating scholarship as taking place beyond or aside from the classroom. I wonder if it might loop back through, especially if scholarly collaboration can be jump-started in a venue like the conference panel discussion and then extended as a course offering from multiple experts in the topic. To push this process further, one might even imagine recurring conference panels generating new knowledge year to year, adding the voices of students whose participation in the course constitutes a significant contribution to your research as a group.