The Tricky Topic of Collaborating

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

Kalamata–27 August 2005

I’ve mentioned the complexities of collaborating before. We idealize teamwork in our society, and we decry those who prefer to be loners. In academia both coexist. Both are necessary. Much work in the laboratory could not be done without teams of faculty, postdocs and assistants working together. We see this in the costs of scientific work.

The humanities and social sciences sometimes use teams on projects, eg, national dictionaries of biography or encyclopaedias of methodology. But I suspect the majority of research is done by individuals. Certainly, the authorship of journal articles would indicate this.

My involvement with the Bremen University Transformations of the State project sees me as collaborator and member of a team while also being a solo researcher for my own project within the general one. After our recent workshop where team members discussed their findings, we wondered how coherent a book these papers would make. They appeared to break into two segments: one on lawyers and another on codes of standards. A single book would not be feasible, two could work. However, when we looked at the lawyer papers, other problems arose.

We had, we surmised, five good papers. This was not a sufficient number for a book. A book would need another four or five papers at least to be attractive to a publisher. To find the contributors and encourage them and give them time top produce the necessary papers would need at least another six months, probably more. Coinciding with this was a feeling of responsibility to the overall Bremen project that we should produce some output soon. The alternative that came to mind was to take the original five papers and collect them as a special issue of a journal. I had done this once before with a set of papers on UK lawyers for the International Journal of the Legal Profession in 1996. It was a successful high-quality issue. Another with our papers also had the potential. The added advantage was that a special issue could be produced relatively quickly, especially compared to a book. Being democratic, we put the alternatives to our original contributors. I guessed they would go for the special issue. With the advantages of speed and wide distribution, it was the natural choice.

Our contributors thought otherwise. All preferred the more extensive longeurs of the book. And to be honest, I don’t know why. Is it that we all prefer deadlines to be on the horizon rather than immediately before one’s nose?

The choice has been made and now involves the search for additional contributors. We think we know who they will be. Now it is time for the gentle art of persuasion/coercion to ensure the papers come.

But the immediate problem of producing something timely for the Bremen project persists. My fellow contributor, Fabian Sosa, and I, who both research transnational lawyers, think we can write a joint article by selecting from our two workshop papers.

At least Fabian and I have already written our individual papers, unlike the Training Framework Review article where three of us wrote three segments from scratch. Fabian and I write in greatly different styles, so my task is to pick the relevant sections for inclusion and produce a single voice for the joint paper. This can be tricky as it involves those sensitivities that are deeply embedded within us, but not fully understood until they are forced to confront themselves.

As it stands, I look at the papers and think, “Not easy”.

2 Responses to “The Tricky Topic of Collaborating”

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