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Authorship and collectives

Authorship is often understood as the method by which academics are given credit for their individual contribution to a published work: perhaps they did all the research and writing themselves (sole authorship), perhaps they were helped by others but in ways that don’t qualify for shared authorship (but noted in the acknowledgements). Or perhaps there was significant contributions from others at a level that means authorship is shared, with different disciplinary norms for deciding who is ‘first author’ or ‘last author’.

There are lots of good guidelines for being collaborative authors, including policies (like this one from La Trobe University that I really like); and how-to books (including Reframing and Rethinking Collaboration in Higher Education and Beyond by Narelle Lemon and Janet Salmons that I just read and thought was awesome).

But today I want to talk about two strategies that completely reframe our idea of authorship as credit for an individual contribution in the first place.

Camille Noûs

The first comes from an article I just read about ‘poaching’ writing time, that is authored by ‘Renaud Le Goix, Myriam Houssay-Holzschuch, and Camille Noûs’.


We start by introducing our co-author Camille Noûs (Camille “We”); we don’t breach this person’s anonymity by adding that they are affiliated with the Cogitamus (“We think”) research lab. Camille is a fictional, gender-neutral author created by French scholars and activists during the 2019 university strike movement to symbolize the collective and collegial nature of research, scholarship, and writing. This character was specifically designed to counter neoliberal, individualistic metrics in publication and university rankings, all binds endangering universities worldwide (van Houtum and van Uden, 2022). The latter two are crucial drivers of recent higher education reforms in France, which, for example, use mega-mergers (visible in our incredibly long and complex institutional affiliations) to climb international rankings. As a political statement, scholars are called to add Camille Noûs as a co-author. Consequently, Camille has now become one of the most cited French authors in all disciplines, ranging from STEM and health, to the humanities and social sciences.

Le Goix, Houssay-Holzschuch, Noûs (2022)

Jumping over onto Camille Noûs’ Google Scholar profile, you can see this in action. Interestingly, their ORCID profile is “locked”, after all the point of an ORCID iD is to provide:

a persistent digital identifier (an ORCID iD) that you own and control, and that distinguishes you from every other researcher. 

https://orcid.org

A collective action like Camille Noûs undermines ORCID’s whole business model, and the underlying assumption of the need for ‘individualistic metrics in publication and university rankings’.

Bawaka Country

A similar but distinct strategy of collective authorship is used by the authors of Song Spirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines:

The Gay’wu Group of Women is the ‘dilly bag women’s group’, a deep collaboration between five Yolngu women and three non-Aboriginal women over a decade. They are all co-authors of Weaving Lives Together at Bawaka, North East Arnhem Land and a book for young adults, Welcome to My Country.

Song Spirals (2019)

When they publish academic works, this group lists their individual names, but the lead author is Bawaka Country, the Yolŋu Homeland in northeast Arnem Land.

Bawaka Country is the lead author and heart of this paper. Bawaka enabled our learning, our meeting, the stories that guide us, the connections we discuss and has, indeed, brought us into being, as we are, and continue to co-become, today. Bawaka Country is a known place/space, located in northeast Arnhem Land, a large area of Aboriginal land in the far north of Australia. Richly nourished and attended, Bawaka is Country, as encompassed by the Aboriginal English term Country. Country includes humans, more-than-humans and all that is tangible and non-tangible and which become together in an active, sentient, mutually caring and multidirectional manner in, with and as place/space (Rose, 1996Hsu et al., 2014; Bawaka Country including Suchet-Pearson et al., 2013Bawaka Country including Wright et al., 2015).

Bawaka Country et al, 2015

Check out B. Country’s Google Scholar publications.

Sometimes, the Gay’wu Group of Women call themselves the Bawaka Collective.

The Bawaka Collective is an Indigenous and non-Indigenous, human-more-than-human research collective. It includes Bawaka Country, Laklak Burarrwanga, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banbapuy Ganambarr, Djawundil Maymuru, Kate Lloyd, Sandie Suchet-Pearson and Sarah Wright. Bawaka Country is the diverse land, water, human, and nonhuman animals, plants, rocks, thoughts, and songs that make up the Yolŋu homeland of Bawaka in North East Arnhem Land, Australia. Laklak, Ritjilili, Merrkiyawuy, and Banbapuy are four Indigenous sisters, elders, and caretakers for Bawaka Country together with their daughter, Djawundil. Sarah, Sandie and Kate are three non-Indigenous human geographers from the University of Newcastle and Macquarie University who have been adopted into the family as granddaughter, sister, and daughter. The Collective has worked together since 2006.

https://bawakacollective.com/about-us/

Fascinatingly, although there are three non-Indigenous academics as part of the collective, and Song Spirals won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award (one of Australia’s most prestigious awards), the collective find ways to change their name: shape-shifting between a place (Bawaka) and a tool (a dilly bag), making it challenging to find them in online catalogues and databases. Unlike Camille Noûs, who is designed to aggregate disparate knowledge outputs, the Bawaka Collective seems unfazed by their collections of names and identities.

Collection

In many ways, collectives can challenge the status quo. But in other ways, the status quo already includes collectives. As Le Goix, Houssay-Holzschuch, Noûs (2022) note, authors’ institutional affiliations contribute to the university’s global rankings. In Australia, an institutional byeline is also used to rank organisational units and Field of Research codes internally and nationally.

So whether the collective is Camille Noûs, Bawaka Country, a co-author, your department, university, or some bureaucratic code… we all have collectives bound up in our authorial practices.

This post encourages us to think deeply about how authorship debates are part of broader questions of what authorship is for, who it is for, and who benefits from it. The examples in this post help us to see that there are established of ways of attributing authorship that can acknowledge these collectives, and perhaps encourage us to be innovative or accurate in our authorship practices.

Photo by Dylan Luder on Unsplash

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