Collective writing

We are writing our first collective text since putting together the proposal for the DOC-team application back in 2014. Written for the AVPC2016 conference, the text is a reflection on our work since June, taking on board new readings and feedback. The only caveat is that it will not contain any data from our field research since we are only moving to the field towards the end of the summer. It is, however, a chance to get some (very) early clues as to how we might organize our final presentation of the project in a few years’ time. Finally, and this I would like to meditate a bit on here, it is a chance to experiment with collective writing and explore linkages between our works.

Our project is effectively three distinct research fields connected through a common methodological (visual ethnography) and theoretical (social movement theory, visual culture and performativity) framework. At a glance this gives the appearance of a disjointed project. It is certainly not a frame in which our data sets will be building on each other directly. The common work is thus less systematic. Instead, the flow is more like a separating and coming back together. We are constantly floating between our individual research and the common frame.

Our challenge is to find a balance. We don’t want to be too preoccupied with individual components that represent our personal interest and research passions. And yet, we want to have our own voice in the project, not getting lost in the common theories and methodologies. Our voices are our own, but should harmonize as well. This means, of course, that the collective part is transformed through our individual works, and vice-versa, our individual work is transformed through collective work. Importantly, our individual voice is also transformed through the influence of the others’ voices. The distinction remains, we do not become “one voice”, but the interaction changes things – new arguments, approaches, styles, etc., come into the mix.

We want the paper to reflect the same flow as our project, bringing forth this tension between individual and collective dynamics in the research. Our first paper thus takes shape: a common intro (theory, methods), three distinct examples, and a return to the common via a final reflection on the examples we have, and the questions this brings forth for our project. Our writing process has been similar. Common discussions on what we need, individual writing, common review and polishing.

Of course, it was not so linear or so smooth. There was much back and forth, changes to earlier decisions that were not materializing as we hoped, or we just forgot what the agreed approach was, no-one wrote it down, etc. This constant correcting is also a key part of the process of writing the paper, and even the slow cooking of the whole project.

This is, in a sense, an important process of reflection on all levels of our work. “Reflection” is also a key tool in our methodology. Douglas Macbeth (2001) writes: “reflexivity is a deconstructive exercise for locating the intersections of author, other, text, and world…”. We just pluralize all Macbeth’s aforementioned categories, particularly the first one: “authors”.

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