Mattering Press: New forms of care for STS books

mattersMattering Press is a new book publishing initiative committed to the creation and publishing of widely accessible, carefully produced, and intellectually vibrant books in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Our first books are due to be published
in 2014. In September of this year we had the opportunity to introduce the press at a reception held at the annual conference of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) in London. In announcing the press in this setting, we were supported by both EASST who generously contributed to the funding of the running costs of the press this year, CRESC who offered us the opportunity to present the press, alongside other academic publishers, and two further partners: the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process at Goldsmiths, University of London and the Hybrid Publishing Lab at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University.

Mattering Press started in early 2010 as a publishing initiative of the Flows, Doings, Edges collective: a peer-support group of early career researchers interested in relational research. Sensitive to the relational and material politics of knowledge production, in early 2012 we began to explore the possibilities of alternative modes of engaging with works we find interesting and important. The term ‘mattering’ comes from Science and Technology Studies, and captures at least three important components of our thinking about Open Access publishing.

  1. The first is materiality, that is, the STS insight that all knowledge comes from particular places and its successful formulation strongly depends on the alignment of all kinds of entities, from buildings through laboratory equipment to physical bodies. Within academic life, texts are not only crucial parts of such alignments, but are also often considered to be their most important outcomes. We believe it is fascinating and increasingly necessary to consider their production as experimental interventions in research practice, rather than its afterlife.
  2. The second is that the way academic texts are produced matters – both analytically and politically. Dominant publishing practices work with assumptions about the conditions of academic knowledge production that rarely reflect what goes on in laboratories, field sites, university offices, libraries, and various workshops and conferences. They tend to deal with almost complete manuscripts and a small number of authors, who are greatly dependent on the politics of the publishing industry. This is particularly true in the social sciences and the humanities, where books have a great importance, not only in academic debates, but also in (early) career development.
  3. The third component is to consider publishing as an ongoing process: mattering suggests that working with authors and manuscripts is an activity that doesn’t necessarily start with almost complete manuscripts and hardly ever ends with the publishing of a book. What constitute book-like texts and how they circulate are questions just as important as those related to their commissioning and editing.

These are the concerns that we hope Mattering Press will be able to hold in focus as part of a growing and ever-changing STS community, and as part of an active initiative to reflect on and innovate around our own knowledge production practices. Informed by these points, Mattering Press is organised around the following three sets of practices, each of which in turn draws on our ongoing thinking about what new relations more careful modes of academic knowledge production might produce.

 

  1. We care about open access to academic work. This means that all our books will be accessible as digital texts and downloadable e-books for free on our website. We are committed to sharing both academic knowledge, and the very practical knowledge that we are acquiring over the course of setting up this project. In this vein, we are working on a number of collaborative initiatives that will hopefully benefit not just us, but more widely the Open Access community. We also care for printed academic books, and so will sell high quality, professionally designed copies of all Mattering books, partly as a way of generating revenue for the press, and partly because we value the material tactility of books.
  2. Like all academic presses, we care a lot about quality and academic standing of our publications. Unlike most presses, however, we believe that double blind peer review is not always the best way of ensuring academic excellence. Rather, we believe that academic work in the social sciences benefits from open, productive collaboration of authors and reviewers. We are therefore recommend that reviewers provide open, signed peer reviews where possible. We expect this will help to establish a relationship of care between reviewers, authors and editors, and will eventually also benefit the resulting texts. For some texts, we are also experimenting with more sustained collaborative relationships between reviewers and authors which we expect to be particularly beneficial for early career researchers.
  3. Last but not least, care in open access academic publishing means working towards the financial sustainability of the press and to try to pay those who do not have a stake themselves in academic knowledge production (such as typesetters, website programmers, proofreaders, text editors, and designers). This means trying to develop a financially viable model of open access book production in the difficult institutional and industry funding landscape of academic publishing. This also means engaging potential readers in the practical and financial challenges of open access book production, given that we suspect that many will have very little idea of the work that goes into the production of not simply a book, but a self-sustaining academic press. Getting the press up and running has already taken many hundreds of hours of unpaid labor not just from us, but a range of friends and supporters. We are therefore keen to experiment with ways of making this work visible on our website and possibly in our books, as a way of drawing potential readers into the debate about what it really means for academics to take responsibility for the outcomes of their own knowledge production practices.

Our presentation at the CRESC conference reception marks the moment when Mattering Press announced itself to some of its potential publics. Next year, we look forward to an official launch of the Press. Our first batch of books will include a collection of essays provisionally titled Practising Comparison: Revitalising the Comparative Act, edited by Joe Deville, Michael Guggenheim and Zuzana Hrdlickova, a collection of essays provisionally titled The Empirical Baroque, edited by John Law and Evelyn Ruppert, and an English translation of a book by a major STS scholar, which we hope to be able to announce soon. It is expected that our second batch of books, to be released in 2015, will include several texts by promising early career researchers. In the meantime, you can find us at: www.matteringpress.org

 

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