I was just searching around for some materials on music and I came across this old post on Progressive Geographies. It’s a post that opens with some reflections on the practice of music production and then uses this for thinking about collaborative writing. Here collaboration is described by Stuart Elden as being something he does on the side. His criteria for taking on collaborative projects require the project to be something he couldn’t achieve alone and for it to be something he wants to work on. These, he says, are the two criteria that the potential collaboration has to satisfy. He effectively points out that collaborating just to save time or to churn out more articles is probably not worth it because the acts of collaboration themselves take extra time and work (he adds to this a note about the problems of submitting collaborative work to research assessment exercises in some disciplines, collaboration is not seen negatively in sociology for instance).
I’ve been asked to give a talk on collaborative writing at some point later this year, so it was great to stumble across this old post. I’ve been wondering what to say. I found that I broadly agreed with Stuart’s points about collaboration. I’ve done quite a bit of collaborative writing and it’s usually worked out well. In fact I’ve found collaboration to be really enjoyable and productive. If it’s managed well and there is some sort of shared vision it really can be more than the sum of the parts – some collaborations just seem to click. In fact it can be really lively and lead to some vibrant writing. I’ve found that the best collaborations have been quite organic. So I have my own research plans and then the collaborations tend to just come along in a quite unstructured and ad hoc form. They often emerge out of some shared enthusiasm for a topic. As a result I’ve found that they tend to interface with my plans but at the same time they point the work in new directions. It’s nice to have a plan but I also find it quite enjoyable to be responsive to some of the opportunities that come along. These unforeseen moments, I’ve found at least, are really interesting and liberating.
So far I’ve collaborated on an authored book and on a few articles and book chapters. I’ve got a few planned collaborations lined up and they all satisfy the two criteria set out by Stuart. So these are an important filter. But I would probably place collaboration more centrally in what I do. It’s good to balance collaboration with my own stuff that shows my own direction (and gives me the space to take my own risks). But I quite like the way that collaborations come along and disrupt the plans a little bit. I’m thinking that if the draw of the collaboration is able to pull your attention away from your immediate plans then it is probably well worth the effort, if only for a short period.