During the month of December the Focus Series will explore ways researchers, writers, academics, and students collaborate to conduct and write about research. In this guest post, Melissa Nolas and Christos Varvantakis discuss their collaborative project: starting a new scholarly journal.
In being invited to contribute this post we both had to think long and hard about whether there was a single moment that brought about the journal
entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography, which we edit together. Most new ventures have a ‘founding’ story, but try as we might we weren’t able to pinpoint any particular moment in time when we decided that launching a new scholarly journal would be a good idea.
A lot of the work that has emerged from our collaboration has done so through conversations, and so safe to assume that entanglements might be located in one of those discussions sometime in 2017. Maybe the lack of a story of origin is befitting of a journal with a name such as entanglements and indeed befitting of a practice that we understand as being about making connections between modes and media, finding meaning through those enmeshments, always in the process of becoming, and as such, often incomplete.
We are, however, much clearer, about what our purposes and motivations were, and much of that stems from our experiences of working on the ERC funded Connectors Study, as well as our own methodological formation and deformations in different social science disciplines.
We set up entanglements as an open access online space in which to write about stories of experimenting with multimodal ethnographic practice, as well as more developed attempts of making sense of different topics multimodally.
Experimentation is inherently messy yet we rarely talk about the mess of it.
For example, our récits section of the journal came about from reflections on the ways in which we teach and learn about research methods, including multimodal ethnography.
What seems to be missing for us, in the ways we had experienced research methods training, our own practices of doing research before Connectors, and what we experienced as a team on the project, are the many, many conversations we had amongst ourselves, where we reflected on our fieldwork experiences, our understandings of what we encountered, how we felt about the fieldwork, and the sense we were making of it. The content of many of these conversations revolved around challenges, failures, anxieties, headaches, as well as wonder, surprise, pleasure and, occasionally, a sense of achievement that comes with doing research.
The knowledge that emerges from these discussions, which we might call phronetic as we’ve argued elsewhere, is very rarely found in textbooks, lectures, or other training opportunities and yet is vitally important in the creation and transmission of practice.
There is something of the incomplete in such knowledge, which entanglements celebrates in both its sections (récits and expériences) at a time when it feels that we are increasingly pushed in teleological directions, towards every journal article representing a ‘final’ statement, instead of just being the essai (a ‘try’ in French) that it is.
This is also why we chose to adopt a ‘peer feedback’ instead of ‘peer review’ model of evaluating quality in our submissions; because feedback resonates with the idea of work-in-progress, without undervaluing the ‘in-progress’ and even suggesting to us that insights might well reside in that fluctuating and uncertain process we call ‘in-progress’. Peer feedback is also a way of having a conversation with submitting authors.
The journal has been open access from the start as a way of making contributions accessible to colleagues and interested communities across the world, irrespective of institutional affiliation and financial capability.
Other ways in which we are seeking to nurture the readership of the journal is through the twitter account, and by inviting contributions from early career researchers, doctoral students and practice colleagues in the arts and those working outside of academia. The nature of multimodal ethnography means that we stand to learn a lot from emerging researchers, as well as from those in the arts and humanities, outside the academy as well as within, who have long standing experiences of creating knowledge using different media.
On a more practical level, we are also learning a lot about online publishing. We spoke to a number of colleagues who either presently or in the past ran similar publishing endeavours. These were useful conversations to help us think about current as well as future dilemmas we are likely to encounter.
We made sure to secure an ISSN number from the journal, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where we are currently based, supported our application.
We work with a production editor, our wonderful colleague Robyn Long, who does magic with the blog and publishing software to produce the journal’s look, feel and functionality.
We are in the process of establishing an editorial board, which will be announced shortly. We have sought out colleagues with experiences of different forms of multimodal ethnography, who research different topics, who work in academia as well as in practice settings, and who will help challenge, extend and support multimodal ethnographic communities of practice through the journal, as well as elsewhere.
Key consideration in what we have been doing and thinking in the last year are resources, financial as well as time and energy. It’s a fine balance, and one that we are always fine tuning, between everything we’d like to do with the journal and what is actually possible in a given moment in time, with other commitments, professional and personal, needing our attention too. Nevertheless, limited resources (as is our case) also means being creative, thinking about what is essential and/or what could be done differently, in order to make editing the journal possible. Many things can be done differently, and talking about this is a great way of finding out how.
Thinking ahead we would love it if the journal became a vibrant online, and why not face-to-face, space for the debate of what it means to practice multimodal ethnography. While multimodality has been around for a while, and probably has a much longer history than what we currently give it credit, it is still a ‘young’ practice within the academy and one which we are still grappling to describe, learn about, and understand. It is also the case that contemporary practice of multimodalities are very much shaped by the technology available and this is changing all the time, offering both new possibilities as well as new headaches. We hope that entanglements will be part of this joint endeavour to create a language and space for the debate, practice and experimentation in multimodal ethnography.
Christos Varvantakis is an anthropologist, working at Goldsmiths, University of London, carrying out research in Athens for the ERC funded Connectors Study. His research areas are: childhood, politics, contested urban environments and visual and multimodal research methodologies. He is the co-editor of entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography and the Head of Programming of Ethnofest, the Athens Ethnographic Film Festival.
Melissa Nolas is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research areas include: human agency and lived experience; childhood, youth and family lives; civic and political practices across the life course; multimodal ethnography; publics creating methodologies. She is the Principal Investigator of the European Research Council-funded Connectors Study and the co-editor of entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography.