“Only on the margins does growth occur.”

Joanna Russ

Studio Julien McHardy
Makerspace Contact - Studio 68
Contactweg 47, 1014 AN Amsterdam NL

[email protected]
twitter @hardyjuls

On the same page/screen: Making books, making collectives.

Books, are but the visible tips of densely infrastructured knowledge-scapes; binding multitudes of pages, people, politics.

In preparation of the workshop Verlage Selber Machen (DIY Publishers) organised by the chache.ch publishing platform, I pitched in a lengthy Twitter thread sketching some of the connections between books and collectives.[1] Books, I tweeted, are but the visible tips of densely infrastructured knowledge-scapes; binding multitudes of pages, people, politics. I will share some tweets from the thread and build on the outline I sketched on Twitter, and my impressions from the discussions during the event, to ask how the making of books might help bring heterogeneous positions and people onto the same page.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-conversation=”none”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>3/<br>Books contain multitudes (pages, people, politics); they are but the visible tips of densely infrastructured knowledge formations. <a href=”https://t.co/71tqPioMUS"&gt;pic.twitter.com/71tqPioMUS&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p&gt;&amp;mdash; Julien McHardy (@hardyjuls) <a href=”https://twitter.com/hardyjuls/status/1314347577060532225?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw"&gt;October 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8”></script>

Given my interest in how collectives make books and how books, in turn, take part in the making of collectives, I took note when Jan Wenzel and Wolfgang Schwärzler from Spector Books spoke about screen sharing and bookmaking. Here my notes on their presentation:

A complex book in the making, rich in materials and articulations; the graphic designer is arranging images and texts in tentative constellations on the virtual page, screen sharing with several editors. On the same page/screen, together/apart, there is collaboration and friction, ideally granting all participants something like autonomy in connection. The distance, Jan and X said, actually helps to bare the tensions that are part of the emotional labour of bringing things into conversation – on the same page – together.

Most books take a lot of people to make, so there it is, a collective that grows further still if we invite non-humans too: materials, ink, pages, glue, bytes, servers, printers, software, subscription services, paper mills, trucks, soil, water, power and trees; and there are infrastructures and standards of course that make a book a book, such as those that enable production, discovery, categorisation, distribution, archiving, and sales.[2] Further expanding the acknowledgements, we must not forget the few references and the many unnamed texts and sources that constitute it. What interests me here, and in my bookmaking practice, is not that collectives make books, or to consider books as networks or multiplicities, but rather how the process of making books is making or br-e-a--k---i—n——g collectives. This shift in emphasis at once small and big might be in part, what sets scholar-led publishers apart.

I am currently exploring what books can be if they are Open Access, digital and online as part of the Experimental Publishing Working Group (with the goodly Gary Hall, Janneke Adema, Rebekka Kiesewetter and Samuel Moore and Marcell Mars).[3] The group is working on several experimental publications around the reuse of existing texts and the mashing of big data and text. Here I want to touch on a publishing project coming out of this group, that is looking quite explicitly at the political potential of processual publishing.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">4/<br>Cutting books from bookmaking collectives yields books that can be finished, authored, owned, loved, sold and paywalled. Without cuts no books, but it matters who cuts, which relations, how and when?</p>&mdash; Julien McHardy (@hardyjuls) <a href="https://twitter.com/hardyjuls/status/1314347578788638720?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Marcell and I have come together around a shared interest in the power of books to articulate collective politics. Marcell co-runs https://pirate.care and is the developer of Sandpoints, the project’s software backend. Pirate Care is an online publication addressing the criminalisation of Solidarity. Growing through collaborative writing sessions, it is providing a network and resource for people who are getting into trouble while caring for others, such as housing activists or those rescuing refugees at sea.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">13/<br><br>F) Publishing collectives<br><br>Processual publishing – led by diverse knowledge makers – can help articulate new collectives, shared politics and practices in and outside the academy. <br><br>see <a href="https://t.co/dPPJ2KHetM">https://t.co/dPPJ2KHetM</a><br>or <a href="https://twitter.com/PirateCare?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PirateCare</a>&#39;s <a href="https://t.co/VWCO0Oo4XX">https://t.co/VWCO0Oo4XX</a></p>&mdash; Julien McHardy (@hardyjuls) <a href="https://twitter.com/hardyjuls/status/1314347592671793152?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Drawing on the work Marcell and his team are doing with Pirate Care, we, as publishers, are starting a collaboration with a group of anthropologist and lawyers. They are working on the European struggle to reckon with the member states’ colonial pasts and its continuing impact, for example, in the form of structural racism. The focus is on Belgium, where an official commission, endorsed by the government, is tasked with leading this process. Engaged with several diasporic communities in Belgium who take issue with this commission, our collaborators are looking for a way to link the different groups. They aim to collate and articulate positions, concerns and claims, towards different audiences and actors in Belgium, and allied groups in other member states to call for a deeper and more daring engagement. What brought us together is the potential of publishing to articulate collectives and politics.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">8/<br><br>Publishing as research (method)<br><br>Scholar-led publishing can make publishing an integral part of research; taking serious and working with the fact that publishing–far from being an afterthought–thoroughly conditions analysis, writing and reading.</p>&mdash; Julien McHardy (@hardyjuls) <a href="https://twitter.com/hardyjuls/status/1314347584480325638?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

We decided to use Sandpoints, the software backend behind Pirate Care. Sandpoints offers a non-cloud, collaborative writing environment that provides automated output to HTML/website, print quality PDFs, and exhibition ready large format prints. Automating the usually labour-intensive translation of content to a specific format enables low-budget processual publishing, where there is no fixed point of publication, but different versions for different points in time and different outputs for different audiences and tactical needs. It is worth noting that one-content, many-forms, messes with assumptions about what a book is, and how it might be shaped, copyrighted, versioned, and packaged. For this text, I want to stay with how such processual forms of publishing shape the becoming of collectives and books.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">15/<br><br>New kinds of books change the role of scholar-led presses; asking for facilitators and instigators of book projects, as well as for makers and providers of infrastructures that make books circulate, findable, and preserved.</p>&mdash; Julien McHardy (@hardyjuls) <a href="https://twitter.com/hardyjuls/status/1314347596073312259?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The exploratory conversations between Marcell and I, as publishers of sorts, and our collaborators, as editors of sorts, made me think about the role of the book and the publisher. What we offer as publishers here is access to tools, craft and infrastructures that, if it works, provide space for engagement and a publication in the making serving as a shared object, catalysing, or giving form to viable constellations.[4] The notion of the book, in these very first conversations, already had power. Still wholly unformed, it served as a constraint perhaps, that allowed us to express, share, and start to make sense of wide-open possibilities, concerns, and imaginaries.[5]

Far from putting final touches to pages the emotional labour of bringing people onto the same page in constellations that always also contain difference, had already begun. The publication here is not merely a medium. Far from simply allowing a collective to announce itself or to author its politics the publication participates in the articulation of new collectivities.[6]

The following notes on the making of books and collectives are reflections on the workshop Verlage Selber Machen. The publishing initiative chache.ch run the event to share experiences with the making, running and sustaining of independent publishers. The event took place in Berlin-Zoom on 27 September 2020. I presented mattering press, in conversation with Andreas Kirchner (meson press), Florian Lamm (Lamm & Kirch), Anna Echterhölter und Rebekka Ladewig (ilinx) and Jan Wenzel (Spector Books). I would like to thank the cache-Team – Nils Güttler, Niki Rhyner and Max Stadler – for the invitation to the event and for co-posting this on the cache blog and the COPIM blog.


[1] Janneke Adema kindly commented on this post, pushing to say a bit more about the kinds of collectives I was considering here. Collectives of academics, publishers? And is there a difference between collectives/communities/publics (publishing/publics) here, she asks? These are good questions. For now, I just want to say that it is the blurring of boundaries between collectives/communities/publics that interests me.

[2] See also Tahani Nadim, “Friends With Books” (2018) in The Commons and Care, edited by Samuel Moore, Joe Deville and Tahani Nadim https://hcommons.org/deposits/objects/hc:19818/datastreams/CONTENT/content where she explores books as Books as affiliative objects.

“Friends with Books” was published in The Open Access Pamphlet series published in the framework of the Radical Open Access Collective. The Radical Open Access collective provides another example of the kinds of publishing collectives I am interested in here.

The emphasis in infrastructures comes from the insight that digital books without infrastructures are just files online, and the urgent conclusion that scholar-led, independent publishing is not possible without infrastructures for book making, publishing, and distribution that provide alternatives to thee monopolistic, commercial solutions that dominate the industry. We founded the association of scholar-led publishers https://scholarled.org to address this need.

[3] Our work is part of the project Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM).

[4] Susan Lee Star gave Science and Technology studies the term boundary objects, to think of the ways in which infrastructured objects bridge the boundaries between different regimes of knowledge and practice. Following this stream of work, we can think of books as boundary objects. All books might be considered this way, but the move to processual publishing does offer book objects that speak quite explicitly to boundary making work.

(Susan Lee Star and James Griesemer, "Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39," Social Studies of Science. 19 (3): 387–420. doi:10.1177/030631289019003001

[5] In a different context Kat Jungnickel have made Enquiry Machines; objects to think with. We are interested in how making things changes the trajectory of knowledge production, radically questioning divisions of knowledge production and distribution, thinking instead of knowledge transmission. You can download our Enquiry Machine chapter on the MIT website of the Transmissions: Critical tactics for making & communicating research book that Kat edited.

[6] Janneke Adema and Gary Hall have argued elsewhere that “The medium of the book plays a double role in art and academia, functioning not only as a material object but also as a concept-laden metaphor. Since it is a medium through which an alternative future for art, academia and even society can be enacted and imagined, materially and conceptually, we can even go so far as to say that, in its ontological instability with regard to what it is and what it conveys, the book serves a political function.” Citing Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books, they conclude that, “[…] the book can be ‘rethought to serve new ends’. Janneke and Gary here speak about all books, and it is important to note that processual and experimental books are not more open, ontologically. What sets them apart is the deliberate effort to make this inherent instability productive. Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013). The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical open access. New Formations, volume 78 (1): 138-156 http://dx.doi.org/10.3898/NewF.78.07.2013