Collaboration

Just before plunging back into my chapter this morning, I took my usual tour of the RSS feeds, and discovered DR’s post about collaborative authorship and its benefits. And just in the nick of time: the section of the chapter that I’m working on today is about the benefits of collaboration and other forms of socially-situated scholarly writing.

Most of the time, when scholars (outside rhet-comp, at least) discuss the benefits of collaboration, the first claim that gets made for it is “increased productivity,” a phrase that cannot help but raise specters for me, on the one hand, of some old forgotten joke about the new tractor and the Soviet five-year plan, and on the other, of Bill Readings’s assessment of the Fordist enterprise that higher education has become: “Produce what knowledge you like, only produce more of it, so that the system can speculate on knowledge differentials, can profit from the accumulation of intellectual capital” (164).

So I resist thinking about collaboration as a means of getting more work done. What I’m interested in is the ways that collaboration and other social modes of writing, and particularly those enabled by digital networks, might allow us to get better work done. (I say “other social modes of writing” because I want to include in the category that I’m thinking about not just literal co-authorship but also electronic extensions of phenomena like writing groups, in which the input of respondents can become as important to the process as the work one does in solitude.)

I’d really like to hear about your experiences: if you’ve worked in such a collaborative environment, how did it improve your work, either on the level of process or of product? What were the benefits of working, as DR describes, in a conversational framework? What, if any, were the drawbacks?

(And if there’s particular stuff in the literature about collaborative writing that you would feel a section of a chapter on digital authorship to be incomplete without referencing, I’d really love to hear about them…)

3 thoughts on “Collaboration

  1. I used a lot of Kenneth Bruffee when writing about collaboration. I’ve been working on a collaborative project for a while now. There are 5 of us working together. We haven’t really produced anything yet, but that’s okay, because we’ve spent a lot of time deciding what it is we want to produce and what would have the most impact and benefit the most people. I think if any one of us had just gone out and written the book that we originally intended, it wouldn’t have been as good a project.

    Real collaboration is hard. You have to let go of ego, of the idea that you have the most to say. You have to allow conversations and writing go in directions you may never have intended. And that’s hard to let go that control that one normally has over the writing process. But I think it’s a very enriching process. I’ve learned–and am still learning–so much from working collaboratively with these women. The drawback, of course, is that we haven’t produced anything. 🙂 But we will eventually.

    Oh, and I should mention that we’re reading Better Together. It’s more about community building, but it might be an interesting thing to glance at for collaboration.

    My other experience of writing collaboratively was my dissertation. That was more of the conversational kind, where I got feedback from several blog readers. I really couldn’t have written my dissertation without that network of support.

  2. I’m not sure what “more” productive means in that context, in any case. I suppose that if you’re writing things with other people, and you therefore write a smaller percentage of the words of each of the things, you can write/publish more things — but I’m enough of a humanist to be intensely skeptical of that way of assessing productivity. (Although I did heave a big sigh of jealousy when a major scholar in my field, on the verge of retirement, was introduced as having written “106 articles and many books.” But then, she’s co-authored most of her work, including a book on collaborative authorship.)

    And, do you already know Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford’s Single Text/Plural Authors (SIU Press, 1990)?

  3. Thanks so much for the responses, Laura and dr — they’re really helpful. I hadn’t come across Bruffee, so I’ll look into his work; I did, though, just read Ede and Lunsford’s “Collaboration and Concepts of Authorship” (PMLA 116.2 [March 2001]: 354-69).

    The sense of letting go of ego that you mention, Laura, is a big part of what I’m trying to get at in this brief section, the need in networked writing environments for us not just to theorize the decentered author but actually to decenter ourselves in practice, to let go of some of the individualistic notions we cling to in the ways we approach writing. This is not to say that the should enforce a new collectivist regime of co-authorship — far from it — but that, even where the collaborations take the form of digital writing groups (ranging from blog posts and comments to more elaborated forms of conversational publishing), these forms will necessitate that we find ways to relax our grip on “our” ideas and texts. (But certainly not in order to become “more” productive! The previous section of the chapter focuses on letting go of such bottom-line-accounting-oriented modes of approaching writing, and instead focusing on, and revealing, process and development.)

    Sadly, I think I have to move on to the next section of the chapter today, but I’m looking forward to returning to these ideas when I work my way back through the whole. Thanks again!

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