Writing Together or (Co)-Writing Together?: Collaboration and Co-Authorship in 10 years of Peitho
On January 23, 2022, the Los Angeles Times published an interview written by pop music critic Mikael Wood titled “For Damon Albarn, Modern Life Is Still Pretty Much Rubbish.” The next day, the Los Angeles Times (@latimes) released a number of tweets highlighting snippets of the interview, revealing Albarn’s disinterest in the anniversary of Blur’s album, his love-hate relationship with England, and his thoughts on today’s most famous popular music artists. This final tweet begins with, “Albarn also spills his thoughts on some of today’s chart-topping music artists,” and then provides the following quotes from the interview: “Billie Eilish? ‘I think she’s exceptional.’ Taylor Swift? ‘She doesn’t write her own songs.’” The tweet ends with a link to the full article (fig. 1).
The article reveals a more complete picture of Albarn’s opinion on co-writing and authorship. When Mikael Wood responds to Albarn’s initial refutation of Swift as a songwriter, he says, “Of course she does. Co-writes some of them.” Albarn responds, saying, “That doesn’t count. I know what co-writing is. Co-writing is very different to writing… there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes.” Not only does Albarn claim that Swift isn’t a songwriter, that she doesn’t write her own songs, but he insists that co-writing is not the same as writing. Less than two hours after the initial tweet, Swift retweeted with a reply to Albarn (fig. 1) stating: “@DamonAlbarn I was such a big fan of yours until I saw this. I write ALL of my own songs. Your hot date is completely false and SO damaging. You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really fucked up to try and discredit my writing. WOW” (Fig. 1).
As many commenters on the twitter thread pointed out, Swift was an odd choice for Albarn to critique as not being a songwriter. As one twitter user commented, “I’ve frequently heard people say that even if you don’t like her music there’s no denying she’s an amazing songwriter” (@juliemsosa). Swift’s identity as a songwriter has been linked to her public persona since early in her career, and she has had to consistently push to maintain authorial control of her songs and ensure the public’s awareness of her ability to write her own songs. While her transition from country to pop was certainly a turning point in Swift’s creative process, resulting in new collaborative projects, to claim that collaboration negates authorship and writerly identity is indeed damaging.
Albarn’s claim echoes traditional notions of authorship, creation, and intellectual property in academia. Coupled with the pressure to publish or perish, the notion of the single author has been particularly damaging to underrepresented faculty such as women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ scholars. Albarn’s claim and Swift’s response highlight the persistent nature of the issue of co-authorship and perceptions of its credibility and reputability, and the public nature of twitter allows for a glimpse at the sort of conversations surrounding authorship and collaboration that are taking place. Although twitter doesn’t necessarily represent the nuanced understandings of co-authorship and collaboration in RCWS, it usefully highlights a critique that feminist scholars have long refuted. Given Peitho’s decade of publishing feminist work and in this way representing feminist scholarship, it is useful to examine this archive to better understand if we have fared any better than Taylor Swift in our work to understand co-authorship and collaboration in nuanced ways. First, I discuss the terms collaboration, co-writing, and co-authorship, briefly describe how they are used in the field, and consider how misusing or conflating these terms can be damaging. Then, I describe my research methods and methodology and consider how flagship journals reflect the values of a given field. After sharing the results of my research, I conclude by highlighting the complicated practice of collaboration and the (in)visible ways it manifests in our scholarship.
Writing Together or Writing Together?
Does collaborative writing assume co-authorship? Are there ways in which scholars are talking about collaboration as the practice of working together on writing projects without actually writing the same piece? In what other ways does collaboration manifest among feminist scholars in writing studies? As a field obsessed with words, it is necessary to consider what we mean when we talk about collaboration, co-writing, and co-authorship. Writing together, or collaboration, is an act between two or more writers who come together to write or work on projects without necessarily explicitly intending to co-author a piece for publication (examples include writing communities, writing partnerships, mentor/mentee work, etc.). Writing together, or co-writing/co-authorship, is when two or more writers who work together on writing a single, cohesive text with the intent of publishing the text as a co-authored piece.
In “Why Write…Together?” Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford describe co-authorship as a blanket term that shifts in meaning contextually, but which they define in the following way: “co-authorship has meant the two of us creating one text–together” (151). How does Albarn’s understanding and articulation of co-writing and writing help us understand collaboration, co-writing, and authorship in the field?
Ede and Lunsford’s work on collaboration has been a staple text among graduate students in the field for decades, steadfast in its influence, and feminist work within rhetoric and composition has maintained a sustained interest in collaborative writing—how we teach it in our classrooms (Eodice & Day, Kennedy & Howard), the ways in which new technologies pose new challenges and opportunities (Duffy, Schendel et al., Selfe, VanHaitsma & Book), questions of authorship and intellectual property (DeVoss, Kennedy & Howard, Kirsch, Lunsford, Lunsford et al., Lunsford & West, Ratliff, Robbins) to name a few of many ongoing conversations. In a piece titled, “Deep Doldrums: On Loving (and Learning from) Lisa Ede,” Jessica Restaino shares a conversation she had with Ede where Ede insisted that graduate students shouldn’t be reading her work anymore. Restaino postulates that, “Lisa’s impulse to cross her own work off the canon of grad student reading lists…was rooted in her deep resistance to any sense that she or anyone had conceived of anything that might be somehow totalizing or immutable.” What seems to be immutable among feminist scholars is the value of collaboration. I am certainly not suggesting that Ede and Lunsford’s work should no longer be read or even revered by graduate students, quite the opposite: I do suggest that we resist immutability by re-evaluating our values and how we project them out into the world.
Scholars in the field of composition and writing studies are all too aware of the power of flagship journals in reflecting the intentions and priorities in the field (Buck). As I began developing my research methodology for this study, I found echoes of my own research question in Neal Lerner’s 2014 article, “The Unpromising Present of Writing Center Studies: Author and Citation Patterns in “The Writing Center Journal“, 1980 to 2009,” which traces authorship and citation patterns in The Writing Center Journal (WCJ). In his study, Lerner explains that the topic of co-, or multiple, authorship is important to investigate for two reasons: first, “the writing center field’s ethos is built on collaborative learning (Bruffee) and collaborative knowledge building” and second, “the notion of single authors pursuing work alone seems anathema to writing center notions of the social construction of knowledge (Lunsford) and to composition studies as a whole…” (Lerner 73). Lerner then reveals that 82% of all articles appearing in WCJ from 1980 to 2009 were single authored. Therefore, if scholarly journals are meant to be representative of a discipline’s values and keep record of critical conversations, then calling attention to the ways in which the feminist project of collaboration is taken up in feminist academic journals can serve as a method of self-assessment.
Methods and Methodology: A Study of Peitho Authorship Practices
Although Peitho began in 1996 as a newsletter, its history as a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal began in Fall 2012. Digital archives are available for the full ten years, with a total of 25 issues. My methods were straightforward. I created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with four columns: issue number, number of articles in the issue, number of articles with multiple authors, and number of authors for each collaborative article. The first time I went through the archive, I only included pieces included under the header “Articles” (this excluded book reviews and editor’s notes, for example) as the number of total articles. However, the number of co-authored articles based on these criteria was incredibly low; several issues would pass without a single co-authored article. So, I decided to create another spreadsheet, this time tallying the number of total pieces in any given issue as every single entry type. I was much more interested in the trends that this data revealed, noting milestones like the first co-authored book review; thus, this is the data you will find in my results. Finally, I relied on Excel functions to create the visual graphics in my results section.
Results: Peitho & Collaboration as a Feminist Practice
Ten years of Peitho provided me with a dataset of 316 articles. Of these 316 articles, 58 were credited with more than one author. Only 18.35% of published pieces in Peitho up to the present day are co-authored (Although sometimes understood as two people, I use co-authorship to describe any piece with more than one author). This statistic mirrors Lerner’s findings: 18% of the articles in his dataset were co-authored, 82% single authored. What might this finding suggest about how feminist collaborative work is recorded in our journals? As figure 2 indicates, the most recent issue of Peitho is the first in the journal’s history that does not have a single collaborative piece.
However, it is important to note that there is no real pattern to the number of collaboratively written works in Peitho; it is clear by looking at figure 2 that the fluctuation is fairly random. And, despite this most recent statistic, a look at Peitho’s archives reveal a number of milestones in terms of collaboration and co-authorship. While the first two issues both had one co-authored piece, the Editor’s Note, the third issue included a second co-authored piece: “Celebration of Life”: Memorials for Linda S. Bergmann (1950-2014).” The sixth issue (vol 17.2) reveals the first co-authored piece under the header Articles: “Mapping Topoi in the Rhetorical Gendering of Work,” co-authored by Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith. The seventh issue (vol 18.1) includes the most co-authored pieces, as visualized in figure 1. Published in Fall/Winter 2015, nearly half of the pieces in this journal are co-authored, including the editor’s note, three articles, three key concept statements, and a digital insert titled “From Installation to Remediation: The CWSHRC Digital New Work Showcase.” The ninth issue (Vol 19.1) includes the first co-authored book review.
It is worth noting that this dataset is incomplete and can only tell us so much. By looking at this data alone, I don’t know what percentage of submitted pieces were co-authored, or what percentage of co-authored pieces were accepted. I don’t know if past Peitho CFPs utilized language that welcomed and/or encouraged co-authored, or collaborative, pieces. I don’t know if young scholars in the field were discouraged by mentors from co-authoring pieces they hoped to submit for publication.
This is also just one dataset from one journal, and promising statistics regarding the status of collaboration in feminist rhetorical scholarship do exist. Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch’s Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies proclaims that
Feminist rhetorical scholarship (and other work as well) is being done quite regularly by colleagues working together rather than alone…thus defying a dominant image in the history of rhetoric, that is, an individual genius at work alone and often in solitude. In contrast to the solitary figure, the vibrancy in rhetorical studies with which colleagues are working together is creating a much-enlivened space in scholarship for various forms of collaboration. (43)
To support this claim, they cite the number of Braddock Awards (for the best article in College Composition and Communication) that has been given to co-authored work: twelve out of thirty-five awards from 1975 to 2009 (43-44). It is also important to recognize that much of the collaborative work done by feminist scholars is invisible. An analysis of the Peitho journal archive authorship patterns, for example, does not reveal data on mentorship, Coalition Advisory and Executive Board meetings, sponsored informal meetups, or collaborative conference presentations. What it does reveal, however, is collaborative practices manifested in ways that encourage a reconsideration of traditional assumptions of co-authorship. For example, out of 130 articles listed under the “articles” sub header of each issue, 35 of these include acknowledgements by the author(s). These acknowledgements range in recipient(s), but a number were directed at anonymous reviewers, graduate student researchers, and mentors.
Lerner’s study suggests that collaboration manifests as co-authorship, or at the very least, that the two terms are fairly interchangeable. However, the practice of collaboration is nuanced, and the process and product of collaborative work takes different forms. While co-authored pieces likely cannot exist without collaboration, collaboration exists without published proof of existence. When collaboration occurs that doesn’t result in a co-authored publication, it is more difficult to assess how feminist scholars are upholding the commitment to collaboration.
As I conclude this piece, I think back to Albarn’s damaging claim, and Taylor’s public defense of her own ethos as a songwriter who also co-writes. Here are the facts: Swift has at least a co-writing credit on every single one of her songs. She is credited as the sole songwriter on fifty-four tracks, including her entire studio album Speak Now, but she also collaborated heavily on her later albums (Reputation was entirely co-written). She both writes her own songs and co-writes her own songs. Is she a songwriter, a co-writer, or a collaborator? Or is she all three? What’s at stake with each label? Time and time again, Swift protects her identity as a songwriter who collaborates. She sets the record straight, asserting that she writes all of her own songs, and to suggest otherwise is false. As a field, we can learn from this, and take a cue from Taylor.
So how can we set our record straight? If our journals, and perhaps co-authorship more generally, are not the spaces we need to look at to understand feminist collaboration, then where, or what, is that space? Swift’s defense serves as a timely reminder of just how damaging certain unexamined perceptions of (co)-authorship can be. In asking ourselves honest questions about our values, how we show and enact them, my hope is that we can enter the next ten years of Peitho with generative, productive conversations about collaboration and co-authorship as a feminist practice.
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Melancon, Julie (@juliemsosa). “She has a whole album that she wrote entirely on her own. Oh, and an award from the Songwriting Hall of Fame. Also, I’ve frequently heard people say that even if you don’t like her music there’s no denying she’s an amazing songwriter.” Twitter, 25 Jan. 2022. https://twitter.com/juliemsosa/status/1486036480472535044?s=20&t=FZTTsWUiQgYu2Ayg_pzv1w.
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