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April 06, 2022

Creating a metanarrative conversation within a journal issue

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/index.php/exchanges/

How much does creating a conversation between articles in a journal volume rely on luck, authors or the editors themselves?

This morning I was interviewing one of my associate editors (hi Anna!) who had reached the end of her time with the journal. As I’ve probably mentioned in previous posts, I always like to run exit interviews with my editors to explore what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown and perhaps most importantly what were the challenges they faced. All of which feeds into my plans and support for the journal team going forward. The interviews are also a great point at which I can personally thank the editors for their efforts: literally without them we are nothing as a journal, so it’s always worth saying.

While we talked over various issues in our chat, one point today’s editor made concerned not being able to see the ‘whole’ journal as she was only working on a few papers. Hence, for an associate editor how the journal comes together is seen from a very ‘fragmentary’ perspective. I thought this was an interesting point, worth a few minutes’ reflection of my own. I must confess, how collections of articles become more than an assemblage of text and evolve into a conversation, where pieces almost speak to each other, can be an incredibly illusive element of the editorial process. For our regular issues there have been a few glorious, serendipitous moments where articles can be seen to resonate with each other, occasionally even between issues. I say ‘serendipitous’, as our regular issues comprise articles usually submitted and developed entirely in total isolation from each another. I will acknowledge how on a rare occasion we have pieces submitted which are responding to earlier texts, but although these are worthy contributions, they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

For our special issues though, there’s a much greater chance its articles will exist in some form of cogent metanarrative. The articles are often framed as outputs from an event, most notably as in our first three special issues for example, or may instead emerge from a call for contributions. For the former option this means while articles might have been finalised by authors in private, there’s been some degree of interchange and interaction ahead of their creation with their fellow contributors. All of which will have influenced their thinking and writing to a degree, making the appearance of threads of commonality or counterpoint in the prose more likely. For those responding to an open call though, I’ll acknowledge there’s going to be less immediate interrelationship within the texts.

Certainly, though, as editor-in-chief it’s also part of my role to maximise any resonance between individual articles too. This might be achieved through how they are assembled within the running order of the issue, but also most notably within my editorial overview of the issue’s contents too. It’s often when I’m writing this guide, as I am currently for issue 9(2) that I begin to identify some of the common threads of discussion and debate within the pieces.[1]

The benefits stemming from a well-curated and highlighted collection of articles has been one of the stronger arguments for the continuation of the journal as a form of scholarly publication. Rather than expecting readers to only use an article level accesses to specific texts, co-locating articles within a single journal issue, serves to enhance people’s awareness of other works of interest. Hence, a collection of thought from disparate writers, aggregated within a single volume, can potentially offer something more insightful as a whole than the individual components. Or at least that’s how the common argument goes.

I am perhaps in awe, and slightly jealous, of those journal editors who make this work look effortless though. For some perhaps it is easier due to the volume of texts they receive and publish far exceeds that of Exchanges: with more work to pick and choose from, and a likely greater regularity of publication, collating these pieces to form volumes with a stronger central narrative core becomes a less-complex achievement. It also forms a powerful incentive for readers and contributors alike to turn to their journals knowing the volume will contain multiple points of interest.

Then again, attempting to achieve such a narrative for a disciplinary title – rather than one trading in interdisciplinary contents such as ours – is also likely an easier, if not entirely facile, task too.

That said, coming up in the next issue of Exchanges will be a call for papers on a singular theme. I have high hopes this may well offer the creation of such a coherent discourse. Naturally, whether it succeeds or not I suspect will be largely down the coherency of the call that I write, but more than anything on the perceptions and scholarship of the issue’s contributors. Hence, we will have to see what fate, and our prodigious and generous authors, provide!

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[1] Due for publication at the end of April '22


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