Go for it

Go for it: on reaching readers not bankrolling publishers

Back in the mists of time and irritated by something I can no longer remember, and a very temporary junior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester, I started a series of working papers which I edited under the title of ‘Studies in Sexual Politics’. The titles were all research-based, the first ones featuring papers given at seminars and conferences, then others originating in dissertations and oral presentations of research. SSP started in 1983/4 and the last title appeared in 1993. Over this period some 37 titles were published. Initially they were printed by the Communist Party printers in Manchester, Progress Printers; and then by a Rochdale-based printer who had earlier worked for the University, Cedric Hardcastle.

Copies were taken to conferences and seminars, including to meetings of the British Sociological Association study group on Sexual Divisions, word went round about them in various women’s movement and gay groups, students heard about them, professionals working in the organisations that these research-based titles were concerned with also heard. Leaflets were distributed, posters were put up anywhere and everywhere. From printing 25 or 30 copies at the start, by the end the print-run was 500 copies, and for some high-selling titles over 1000 were eventually produced and sold. They cost £1 each, a no-profit amount to cover just basic costs. As well as me, other people became involved in what turned into a time-consuming process of production and distribution (talking, encouraging, typing, editing, re-typing, letraset-ing covers, collecting huge boxes of printed titles, addressing labels, stuffing envelopes, trips to the post), including for varying periods of time Marilyn Porter, Sue Wise, Sue Scott and Olivia Butler among others, all of us associated with the Sociology department at the University of Manchester as staff or undergraduate or postgraduate students.

The SSP working papers morphed into a related series called ‘Feminist Praxis’, which in turn produced an edited collection of the same title published by Routledge. They were intended as an alternative to mainstream publishing, which I viewed then and view more strongly now as creaming off profits from academic labour and giving relatively little in return. This is not to say that I did not publish in the mainstream, or relative mainstream, for I did and do. These were also the days of Virago, the Women’s Press, Pandora, Sheba, and high-profile feminist publishers were also working in mainstream publishing houses. I had productive encounters with them all, not to mention the rise of the academic feminist journals that so encouraged us in academia. But even so, ‘hot off the press’ was not their strong suit, and also their referees could be conventional and timid or just not very knowledgeable. This is where SSP was such a joy, for there were many women (and a few men) with much that was interesting to say, nobody could say no, nobody could say you can’t, other than readers by not forking out that magnificent sum of £1. And the readers kept coming, indeed they increased in number.

Along the way I was told by some feminist academics that energy should not be put into working papers, for this would mean that the women involved would be deflected from publishing in mainstream outlets, which latter would benefit their careers much more. A sensible comment to make. However, when I review the SSP authors now, I can see no sign that any of the people concerned were deflected any more than I was. We all had things to say, and to say loudly, and we were saying these things in an array of outlets. A large proportion of the authors indeed became high profile academics or similar in other organisational contexts. I thought that the comment was misplaced at the time and still do now. And as readers of the WWW blog will be aware, I continue to publish in DIY places as a point of principle.

The SSP project came to a natural end, for its very success meant it became impossible to deal with the ever increasing print-run without it taking on the attributes of a ‘proper’ publishing enterprise, albeit one that did not actually make money, while my commitment was to my day job as an academic and regarding the family terminal illnesses and deaths that occurred at the time. No decision that ‘the end’ had been reached was made, it just became too difficult to do another title. The final title, no.37, was concerned with feminist research in and on the Mass-Observation Archive. But the actual end came with the previous title, 35/36, a double issue about gender issues and the Finnish welfare state. The copy for this never arrived, and I was too exhausted by matters of life and death to continue trying to extract it from the authors. The Mass-Observation set of papers was already in production and so it appeared with its intended number (and see below for the full list of titles).

So what is the relevance of remembering these things now? A mainstream corporate academic publishing empire is still with us and is more rapacious than it was back then. Its dominates the forms that academic publishing takes, in journals and monographs and textbooks, and also it gobbles up anything else researchers might do. There is no high profile pro-active feminist, black, socialist or gay publishing that stands between us and ‘the empire’ anymore, alas. But, there is a larger reading public existing across a whole variety of platforms than ever before. And, there are technologies available that can help prevent energies being siphoned off into the distribution side of things. And, these technologies mean we can do our own thing and not be led by a publisher interested primarily in profit. And, there are still things that can best be said in forms that are not books or articles or chapters, and which have many of the attributes of old-style essays or working papers because they have an open-ended and provisional ‘for now’ character. And, in the UK at least, our academic research assessment framework is neutral about any specific publishing outlet and cares instead about the significance and reach of the work itself. And, readers are more likely be and to remain interested if things are said that are not just the same old yawn stuff that everyone else is doing, but work which takes chances and pushes at the boundaries.

The day of the hugely selling working paper may be over but its heirs are around us and, regarding my own activities, the Olive Schreiner Letters Online and of course the Whites Writing Whiteness projects do some similar things. But what these activities don’t do is to bring together a large and diverse group of people, all with something to say, all saying something different, and in many cases disagreeing. This is what academic journals are supposed to do but rarely achieve because they strive for respectability and conformability. And so enter here the blog, the vlog, the podcast, and yes, the downloadable working papers that can be published on research websites. Not all blogs need be the length or sub-substance of a tweet, podcasts can act as a useful introduction or addendum to a piece of written work, working papers can presents ideas in progress and encourage debate, and people can agree, disagree and productively coexist while doing so. In short, more interesting and more innovative use could be made of the possibilities presently available – aspects of medical journals and related rapid publishing with peer review commentary being published alongside original articles are of considerable interest here. The now ready availability of the means for DIY publishing should be grasped and made full use of. Go for it! Let a thousand projects bloom!



no.1 LOOKING BACK ed Sue Webb & Clive Pearson. Papers on problem pages, authority and gender in the workplace, race and ethnicity, and ‘the problem of men’

no.2 FEMINIST EXPERIENCE IN FEMINIST RESEARCH ed Olivia Butler. Papers on word ‘lesbian’’, on ageing, on reading, and on open secrets. OUT OF PRINT

no.3 AT THE PALACE by Chung Vuen Kay. Feminist ethnography in a Chinese restaurant exploring ‘work’, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘gender’ in interactional terms.

no.4 BREAKING THE RULES by Fiona Poland. Uses transcripts from a meeting to examine the assessment process of a girls’ project. OUT OF PRINT

no.5 COUNTER ARGUMENTS by Sue Webb. Women’s understandings of ‘women and class’ using ethnographic research in a department store.

no.6 BECOMING A FEMINIST SOCIAL WORKER by Sue Wise. Contrasts feminist critiques of social work with the processes of social work by discussing actual case histories. OUT OF PRINT

no.7 UNDERGRADUATE FEMINIST ESSAYS by Sally Brett, Elaine Hewitt, Julia Horn & Emma Simmonds. Papers discussing feminist organisations, problem pages, grandparents and homelessness.

no.8 FEMINISM AND FRIENDSHIP by Liz Stanley. Essays on feminist friendship networks associated with Olive Schreiner and a textual analysis of a standard biography of Schreiner. OUT OF PRINT

no.9 USING DRAMA TO GET AT GENDER by Vivienne Griffiths. Using drama in classroom situations as a means of exploring the forms gender takes in everyday life.

no.10 THE MASTECTOMY EXPERIENCE by Ann Tait. A detailed discussion of two taped interviews with a breast cancer patient following her mastectomy. OUT OF PRINT

no.11 ON RESEARCHING THE TOPIC OF ‘CARE’ by the Social Care and Research Seminar. Pares dealing with a variety of feminist research on ‘care’ topics.

no.12 ‘LEISIJRE’ by Denise Farran. Research issues in using ‘leisure’ concepts in a project concerned with young people in a water adventure centre.

no.13/14 WRITING FEMINIST BIOGRAPHY ed by Denise Farran, Sue Scott & Liz Stanley. Papers from a conference on Writing Feminist Biography. OUT OF PRINT

no.15 THE DIFFERENCE OF WOMEN’S WRITING by Celia Lury. How the category ‘experience’, as the primary mediating relation between writer, text and reader; has been contradictorily developed in feminist literary practice. OUT OF PRINT

no.16 FEMINIST RESEARCH PROCESSES by the Manchester Sociology Feminist Research Seminar. A photograph of Marilyn Monroe, missionary women, masculinity and gay men, recall tapes, Hannah Cuitwick’s diaries, and fieldnotes on nursing. OUT OF PRINT

no.17 ‘IT WILL MAKE A MAN OF YOU’ by David Morgan. Deals with National Service as a means of shaping and possibly questioning masculine gender identities, and thus the uses and pitfalls of autobiography. OUT OF PRINT

no.18 ESSAYS ON WOMEN’S WORK AND LEISURE AND ON ‘HIDDEN’ WORK by Liz Stanley. The importance of historical sources for understanding women’s work and leisure; and the analytically hidden work that occurs in public places.

no.19 WRITING FEMINIST BIOGRAPHY 2 by Vivienne Griffiths, Rebecca O’Rourke, Janet Batsleer, Fiona Poland & Sue Wise. Papers from the second Writing Feminist Biography conference. Adolescent girls, autobiography and ‘bell pins’, biography in elderly people’s homes, the ‘daughters of uneducated men’, and ethical issues.

no.20 MORE IN HOPE THAN ANTICIPATION by Kate Purcell. Fads for fortine telling discussed around ideas concerning the fatalism of women factory workers using ethnographic fieldwork research.

no.21 DOING FEMINIST SOCIAL WORK by Sue Wise. An annotated bibliography of writings on and about feminist social work, with an introductory essay setting these in context.

no.22 FEMINIST ETHNOGRAPHY IN ROCHDALE by Fiona Poland & Liz Stanley. Essays on research issues concerning feminist ethnography on ‘economic life’ in its widest sense.

no.23 ‘NEGOTIATING TARGEV by Chung Yuen Kay. Ethnographic fieldwork in a Singapore factory assembling disk drives, discussing ‘negotiating target’ on the shop floor and the role of gender and ethnicity in this.

no.24 THE TRIAL OF RUTH ELLIS by Denise Farran. A discussion of the trial of the last woman to be hanged in Britain, using the trial transcripts, available to no other researcher.

no.25 WOMEN AND COLONIALISM by Jane 1-laggis. A feminist analysis of models and theories of colonialism produced within sociology and related disciplines.

no.26/27 THE WRITING I, THE SEEING EYE ed by Liz Stanley. Papers from two Writing Feminist Biography conferences on: ‘the witches’, Mary Wollstonecraft and Fanny Blood, biographies of women surveyors, If/poi1raits, using video, Wandsworth Working Women’s Lives project, and time and photographs.

no.28 ‘NOT DROWNING BUT WAVING’ by Marilyn Porter. A research project on the diaries of women who went to sea in whaling ships in the 19th century.

no.29 REFLECTIONS ON THE MAKING OF AN ETHNOGRAPHIC TEXT by Anne Williams. A feminist look at the ‘new ethnography’ and, relatedly, an analytic account of a feminist ethnographic text on aspects of nursing.

no.30 ANTI-DEPRESSION DIALOGUE by Teresa Iies. The relationship between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ in research on the use of antidepressants, presented as a dialogue between researcher and researched.

no.31 DOING, BEING, WRITING: RESEARCH ON HOME CARE FOR OLDER PEOPLE by Lorna Warren. Ethical and other issues involved in an ethnographic research project concerned with home care for older people, including in writing the project up.

no.32 CHILD ABUSE THE NSPCC VERSION by Sue Wise. The NSPCC deals with a minority of child abuse cases yet gets maximum credit for its work; this paper looks at some of the causes and consequences of this, and is part of a larger project dealing with local authority-based feminist social work with child abuse.

no.33 RETHINKING by Judy Aldridge, Vivienne Griffiths & Anne Williams. Papers from a BSA ‘Sexual Divisions’ conference in which the contributors reflect upon various aspects of recently completed research projects: on a quantified study of feminist epistemology, on ethnographic research on adolescent girls’ friendships, and on the textual analysis of fieldnotes concerned with nursing.

no.34 A LESBIAN EPISTEMOLOGY? by Liz Stanley. Discusses a range of philosophical and other literature which argues for the existence of a distinct lesbian feminist epistemology.

no.35/36 THE ‘UMBRELLA PROJECT’: GENDER ASPECTS OF THE FINNISH WELFARE STATE edited by Liisa Rantilaiho. Papers about a large-scale Finnish Academy funded feminist project concerned with gender aspects of the Finnish welfare state, and an introductory overview of the umbrella project by Lisa Rantilaiho, its national coordinator.






Last updated:  28 March 2019