Collaboration is a highly desirable and, increasingly, often a mandated element in many modes of research, creative and business practice—and a factor on which successful and innovative outcomes, as well as funding, often depend. While there is a growing literature on collaboration (and especially teamwork) in business settings, there is little material to consult regarding how individuals or organisations in the spheres of media and culture collaborate when they work together. In many cases, moreover, participants in collaborative projects have a limited understanding of collaboration (in theory and practice) beyond that of a general concept, tossed about with nods of approval but rarely unpacked. In other fields of DIY content production, from open source software development to the large-scale distributed collaboration on projects such as the Wikipedia, collaboration often happens more intuitively, but nonetheless produces results that can usually stand up to serious professional scrutiny. So how, and why, do we collaborate?
This issue of M/C Journal features general and theoretical studies of collaboration as a working practice together with case study articles from the point of view of practitioners and researchers who have worked together, and survived to tell the tale of that practice. These articles also offer readers wider insights into the apparent human need for interaction, collaboration, and what World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has called ‘intercreativity’ together with case-specific best-practice examples of successful collaborations across communities, disciplines, media forms, space and time.
The contributors to this issue also confirm what we, as coeditors proposing this theme, already knew and believed—that collaboration is not always an uncomplicated or straightforward working process. In offering new and innovative research about collaborative practice, a number of the contributors to this issue do not shy away from examining some of the difficulties arising in collaborative work such as authorship credit (‘Who goes first on publications?’) and copyright issues. Nor are all collaborative ventures entirely, or even partly, successful, and a number of contributors offer examinations of the most pressing problems that can arise in collaborative work and how they have (or have not) dealt with these. Some articles also examine how collaborations may not necessarily require the task to be shared, and even how all contributing members of a team do not always want to take an equal part in the endeavour—either of input and/or responsibility for the output. Other collaborations are framed with an attempt to override institutionally or culturally constructed hierarchies, and have egalitarianism as part of their purpose as well as working method.
A number of our contributors have addressed whether the outputs produced by collaborative practice are different, increased, enhanced or even superior than those produced when someone works on their own. Writing about collaborative authorship, theorist Wayne Koestenbaum has suggested that collaborative works are
intrinsically different than [sic] books written by one author alone … the decision to collaborate determines the work’s contours, and the way it is read. Books with two authors are specimens of relation, and show writing to be a quality of motion and exchange, not a fixed thing. (2)
In many different ways, many of the authors in this issue attempt to unravel these complexities of relation, motion and exchange. In this, we hope to have removed the notion that the success, or not, of any collaboration is dependent only on the personalities involved and/or luck rather than on coherent, generalisable and reproducible, working methods and ideas. Indeed, we hope that these articles not only profile work on how the various stakeholders (individuals, enthusiasts, artists, university/research institutions, industry and non-profit organisations) successfully find each other and build working partnerships but, when taken together, begin to build new definitions of collaboration and collaborative practice.
Working on this issue was also, of course, a collaborative endeavour. Apart from obviously collaborating in our shared editorial task, we also had the privilege of working closely with a very talented stream of authors (note what a bumper issue this is), who included a number of pairs, and even teams, of coauthors. A large number of referees gave generously of their time and energy and the articles in this issue reflect their expertise and insight. Then there is, of course, the input of the copyediting team who made this issue of M/C Journal possible—Meggan Vann and Donna Paichl, and their supervisor Peta Mitchell. QUT supports M/C’s production, the National Library of Australia archives all issues, and both our institutions have recognised the editorial effort that went into the production of this issue. All of which would, of course, remain silent type in cyberspace without you—the readers—to consume and consider that work and, hopefully, offer feedback to us.
Donna Lee Brien & Axel Bruns, ‘collaborate’ editors