Accepted Paper:

Anthropological authorship confronts new uncertainties from copyeditor hackers turned ghostwriters  


Judith Okely (Oxford UniversityUniversity of Hull)

Paper short abstract:

Outsourced, mechanistic copyediting, especially without track changes, violates the anthropologist’s unique authority. Ghostwriters’ errors and overbearing ethnocentricism defy the fieldworker’s grounded experience. Independently authored and culturally specific texts are central to writing anthropology

Paper long abstract:

Barthes' Death of the Author critiqued presumptions that the conscious intentions of the author were primary. Multi-layered texts float independently of mono interpretations. Nonetheless, the writer's devices were free from advance, external tampering. Mutilations were confined to foreign translations; de Beauvoir's Le Deuxieme Sexe being a celebrated scandal.

Recently, mechanised computer writing has enabled copyeditors to transform textual minutiae before publication. Unless the author is vigilant, rogue hackers may operate without consultation. Previously, authors were sent paper pages with hand written suggestions. Certainly, computerised editing offers constructive track changes, to accept or reject. Recently, however, outsourced copyeditors have been working covertly, highlighting only explicit queries. Finger/trigger happy, they impose banal, de-contextualised meaning on texts, soon devoid of multi-faceted interpretations. With emerging uncertainty in academic publishing, this simplifying agenda is wrongly believed to be a marketing necessity.

Global outsourcing imposes howler errors and alien styles disconnected from grounded experiences. The anthropologist, not the hacker, has lived the ethnography. Original because unique, it cannot be second-guessed by ghostwriters. More than other social sciences, the anthropologist has multiple engagements as participant, analyst and writer. 'Out-sorcerors' even delete every 'I' or 'My'. Such classical anthropological tropes, confirming presence, are censored by disembodied strangers. Knowing only spread-sheets, they have never 'been there'.

Simultaneously, publishers peddle lucrative, celebrity autobiographies where the 'I' is predominant; even faked. No scandal, if ghost written. By contrast, independently authored, culturally specific texts are central to writing anthropology. Computer-facilitated hacking proclaims scientism while mechanically reproducing ethnocentricism. Cross-cultural discovery is destabilized.

Panel W092
Anthropological writing in a time of uncertainty: career, control and creativity