Thursday, July 28, 2011

Edited Volumes

Some thoughts from another discipline on the relative lack of weight given to edited volumes in academic research standards. I think much of what Fabio Rojas applies to the humanities as well, though there are also some culture differences around publishing between sociology and film studies.

But beyond the matters of professionalization, I would pose the question of what role edited volumes and essays in such volumes play. Rojas poses "dumping ground," heterodoxy, and lit review as three basic functions, but I think there are plenty more.

- Applied scholarship. Film studies (and to some extent, I think, television studies) has the peculiarity that one former branch of the discipline - film criticism - is now subsumed into the branches of film theory and film history, which have more prestige and purport to tackle more complex questions. Interpretation and textual analysis are still part of the methodological toolbelt, but for journal articles, the expectation is often for bigger stakes than mere textual reading. Yet there are many, many films that merit close study and edited volumes give rooms for articles weighted more toward the film criticism side.

- Pedagogy. Edited volumes are rarely pedagogical in a way that textbooks are, but they can be organized and edited with an eye toward use in the classroom. Where monographs are too long and specialized and where journal articles are too oriented toward the vanguard of the field, the edited volume allows for a more accessible writing tone and fuller coverage of a topic. Rutgers' Star Decades and Screen Decades series are good examples.

- Agenda setting. Certain volumes capture and even christen scholarly agendas by pulling together work in a heretofore forgotten area or under a new rubric. The recent studies in world cinema are good examples.

- Compilation. I take it the compilation volume is going out of fashion because of the expense of negotiating and paying rights, but there's a real value for the reader to have influential and/or smart essays on a subject together in one book. Examples: Caughie's Theories of Authorship or Elsaesser's Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative.

- Collective work. Humanities scholars are notorious lone wolves. The edited volume, however, can bring together scholars in a larger study, dividing up tasks or parts of the coverage. von der Knapp's volume on Night and Fog's reception is a good example.

- Synopsis. This refers more to individual contributions than to entire volumes, but frequently scholars use volumes as a place for work that condenses and excerpts a larger argument developed more elsewhere. Similarly, they may use the volume to riff off their more established argument in the context of a new subject or theoretical emphasis.

Are there other functions I am overlooking?

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