Introduction: Co-authorship as Feminist Writing and Practice

From the Series: Co-authorship as Feminist Writing and Practice

Photo by Ryan Anderson, licensed under CC BY NC SA.

Why Co-author in Anthropology?

The dominant and pervasive narrative about knowledge production within anthropology centers around images of the lone (male, white) ethnographer and the solitary writer. This is a trope that, as students, we not only read about in our classes, but were encouraged to follow through well-meaning advice, such as the seemingly common admonition to avoid co-authorship until tenure. But as scholars have increasingly argued, fieldwork and writing are never really things we do alone—we just do not always openly acknowledge the various voices and support that go into our processes of data collection and knowledge production (Holmes and Marcus 2008; Weiss 2016). Collaborative writing is an attempt to be more open and explicit about the many influences that permeate our writing. These influences include the communities we work with, our contemporary colleagues, and the scholars who came before us.

The essays in this collection question how co-authorship has traditionally been framed and practiced within cultural anthropology. Collectively, they push back against the long-held narrative that single-authored publications are the most valued and legitimized form of ethnographic work. The authors in this series present nuanced arguments about the need to reevaluate co-authorship in order to challenge the fetishized value placed on solitary writing, and critically reframe such practices as exclusive rather than exemplary.

This series argues that co-authorship can be seen as a form of feminist writing and methodology because it challenges entrenched power dynamics, promotes multiple perspectives and experiences, and emphasizes reflexivity. In advancing these claims, the essays probe what it means to write meaningfully with others. They ask: How do we write together when we are at different stages of our careers, in different countries, or in distinct types of careers? The varied contributions explore the nitty-gritty of the co-writing process, but do so in conversation with bigger questions in the discipline, such as: Whose voices count in academic writing? What does collaboration mean? How can we strive to become more inclusive, mindful, and creative scholars?

Co-authorship in the Academy

The arguments presented in this collection reflect a change in the discipline of anthropology that is already taking place despite a continued lack of support for co-authorship—especially for junior scholars. A 2016 study of 4.5 million peer-reviewed articles published in the social sciences between 1980 and 2013 showed that co-authorship is trending toward the norm in many disciplines. During this time, the percentage of co-authored articles in anthropology went from under 30 percent to nearly 60 percent co-authored (Henriksen 2016). This rapid change is significant because it may reflect why many senior scholars view co-authorship as less desirable: since they were able to achieve tenure before it was commonplace, they expect younger generations to follow a similar pathway. One explanation for this change is the availability of technology that allows for more streamlined long-distance writing. This dynamic is illustrated specifically with collaborations across borders: within anthropology, transnational co-authorship was below 5 percent in 1980, while it is five times higher today (25 percent in 2013) (Henriksen 2016, 468). Another explanation for the rise in co-authorship may be the increased pressure on junior scholars to publish, which could potentially make co-authorship appealing as a creative strategy for sharing and distributing labor in a demanding academic labor market. Finally, as anthropology careers get more diverse and anthropology graduates move toward institutional and activist or NGO circles and applied work, the trend toward working in multidisciplinary teams and co-authoring also grows.

Why Is This a Feminist Issue?

When reflecting on co-authorship in this collection of essays, we do so within a feminist framework. Disrupting the figure of the lone ethnographer, writing with others allows for the inclusion of multiple perspectives and voices. It also creates an opportunity to render visible and reflexively question entrenched power dynamics in anthropological writing. Lastly, co-authorship calls for an approach that focuses on solidarity, commitment, and cooperation rather than competition. As M. Gabriela Torres (2019) writes, feminist anthropology centers on building and maintaining meaningful relationships as a mechanism to challenge entrenched patriarchal and capitalist ideas of knowledge production. She further argues that co-authorship brings to light how dialogue and teamwork are foundational to knowledge acquisition and production.

Beyond the theoretical, we argue that co-authorship is a feminist practice because it can even the playing field among diverse academics. Writing together means writing as a community and supporting one another. It means that people who are caring for family members at home, who are lecturing and juggling many jobs, or who are working outside of academia can rely on networks of co-authors to stay motivated, generate ideas, and share responsibilities. It is a strategy for survival that is based on solidarity. While cultural anthropologists claim to value interdisciplinarity, team science, and collaboration with students, publications that “count” still seem to be single-authored. Who counts and how they count is influenced by career path, tenure, and gender. Indeed, recent research in the field of economics showed that men who co-author are more likely to get tenure than women who co-author—though when women co-author with other women, this imbalance disappears (Sarsons 2017).

As each of us dug deeper into what co-authorship meant to us within our own career trajectories, we were inspired by the groundbreaking work of the Latina Feminist Group. This group envisioned how the many forms of collaboration can be a mechanism of resistance and a vehicle for challenging the lack of inclusivity in academia. They emphasized the importance of collaborative relationships through dialogue, solidarity, and friendship. They ended their 2001 book, Telling to Live (Latina Feminist Group 2001), by calling on the coming generation to continue the project of collaboration in its many forms. In addition, we also reflected on the inspiring work of feminist writing pairs that were foundational for our own thinking: Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, and, more recently, Lynn Morgan and Elizabeth Roberts. Their work is tangible proof of the transformative potential of collaboration. Reflecting upon how important their work has been for our own thinking, we were eager to follow the paths they created and add our own insights, lessons, and hopes.

Why an Edited Collection?

Inspiration for this series came from various experiences that coalesced in the last few years. We had just published a co-authored article (Dixon, El Kotni, and Miranda 2019). Instead of walking away and moving on to working alone, we made the decision to expand upon our collaborative project in a different way. This new collaboration was no longer about our common research interests but a reflexive turn on the writing process itself.

During this time of reflection, we organized a roundtable on collaboration between academics at the 2018 American Anthropological Association meetings in San Jose, California. Our main goal was to expand our conversation and learn more from other ethnographers’ experiences. Importantly, we hoped that the roundtable would give us an opportunity to find other scholars who valued collaborative work and were pushing for its acceptance. On that occasion, we found many colleagues had struggled with similar questions while considering the role co-authorship might play in their research and writing trajectories. We asked, collectively: Is it OK to co-author, especially early on in our careers? How do we do it effectively? And, once we had completed our projects, how could we do more? All of the roundtable participants expressed that they found co-authorship deeply satisfying, even if it could be challenging at times. Ultimately, this roundtable proved to be a space filled with solidarity, reflection, advice, and support. As a group, one of the main issues we discussed was vulnerability, specifically the personal and professional risks we faced when writing collaboratively. For example, co-authorship often means letting down our guards and sharing our thinking process as we develop our analysis and theorize our work. We also questioned how our careers might be affected by this work: as junior scholars, were co-authored pieces going to “count” and help us get jobs or move through to tenure? For more senior scholars, how would it contribute toward promotion?

The papers in this series emerge from the conversations and thoughts shared during that AAA roundtable. Collectively, the essays provide a realistic depiction of the challenges and benefits of co-authorship, through detailed descriptions of the authors’ own processes. In their piece, Missy Cheyney, Marit L. Bovbjerg, and Holly Horan illustrate transgenerational collaboration by discussing the pragmatic ways they navigated co-authorship with individuals at different stages of their careers and across disciplines. They argue for the importance of flexibility and the realization that collaboration should be open and amenable to different circumstances. For their part, in their contribution Julie Johnson Searcy and Angela N. Castañeda remind us that collaborative work requires labor, specifically the intimate labor of fostering and maintaining meaningful relationships—which is often discounted or made invisible. Their paper touches upon the importance that intimacy and friendship can play in co-authored work, something shared by all the series authors and roundtable participants. In our essay, we (Veronica Miranda, Mounia El Kotni, and Lydia Z. Dixon) reflect on the rewarding process that co-authorship has been for us, allowing us to grow as scholars while building both friendship and collective scholarship. We also elaborate on the importance of vulnerability, shared responsibility, and communication in building a successful working relationship. However, although co-authorship can encompass many benefits and rewards, it can also produce unique challenges. In their piece Robbie Davis-Floyd and Missy Cheyney, for instance, discuss their experiences working through conflicts generated by different generational and theoretical perspectives. They share how, by staying committed to each other and the project, they were able to work through their conflicts and see them as opportunities for growth that ultimately moved their scholarship forward. Lastly, in her piece, Margarita Huayhua discusses the challenges with representation, legitimacy, and presenting multiple perspectives. Her work as a Quechua scholar creating ethnographic films with Quechua communities highlights the importance of pushing the boundaries of what co-authorship looks like—in her case a film rather than a written document. She emphasizes the importance of creativity and adaptability in the process of knowledge production, and this not only for aesthetic purposes, but more importantly to address issues of accountability and ethics.

While the essays included here privilege experiences of co-authorship that ended up working, we recognize that this process may not always have good results, or at least not always result equally for all involved. As Heather Sarsons (2017) has found, recognition of the individual contributions in co-authored works matters for how such work is received and judged, especially by tenure committees. When readers are left to guess, they may make incorrect assumptions about who “did the real work” when multiple authors are named. We recognize that power dynamics within or across our hierarchical institutions may lead to uneven dynamics in writing and credit upon publication. We recognize that sometimes life may get in the way, and the challenges of coordination may at times be too great. In sum, many factors may lead to difficulties in co-authorship. Here, however, we point to the potential it can hold and give shape to the pathways it can take.

To conclude, this series is not just a call for co-authorship; we also want to contribute to changing the evaluation system in our discipline in order for co-authored publications to “count” and be rewarded equally. Otherwise, co-authorship will simply mean additional work, and those who will accomplish it are already in vulnerable positions. The honesty through which authors in the series reflect on their co-authoring journey aims at setting up a path for more open and transparent conversations in our writing and publishing practices. We would like these pieces to challenge and inspire our readers/colleagues to reflect on their own writing practices. If you are a senior scholar, what advice do you give your junior colleagues on co-authorship? How are tenured faculty working toward making co-authored publications count in promotion processes? How can we do things differently? As students, how can we push back on unethical “collaboration” practices that only reproduce power hierarchies? The discipline will not change by itself. It is on us to make it move forward toward inclusiveness, collaboration, and a new way of writing anthropology—together.


We would like to acknowledge everyone who participated in the 2018 American Anthropological Association meeting roundtable in San Jose, California, “Examining the Challenges and Productive Possibilities of Collaborative Academic Writing from a Feminist Perspective.” This includes Angela Castañeda, Melissa Cheyney, Anna Corwin, Robbie Davis-Floyd, Lydia Z. Dixon, Mounia El Kotni, Cordelia Erickson-Davis, Margarita Huayhua, Carmen Martinez Novo, Veronica Miranda, and Julie Johnson Searcy.


Dixon, Lydia Zacher, Mounia El Kotni, and Veronica Miranda. 2019. “A Tale of Three Midwives: Inconsistent Policies and the Marginalization of Midwifery in Mexico.” Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 24, no. 2: 351–69.

Holmes, Douglas R., and George E. Marcus. 2008. “Collaboration Today and the Re-imagination of the Classic Scene of Fieldwork Encounter.” Collaborative Anthropologies 1: 81–101.

Henriksen, Dorte. 2016. “The Rise in Co-authorship in the Social Sciences (1980–2013).” Scientometrics 107, no. 2: 455–76.

Latina Feminist Group. 2001. Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Sarsons, Heather. 2017. “Recognition for Group Work: Gender Differences in Academia.” American Economic Review 107, no. 5: 141–45.

Torres, M. Gabriela. 2019. “Feminist Anthropology Is Teamwork.” Anthropology News website, November 7.

Weiss, Margot. 2016. “Collaboration.” Correspondences, Fieldsights, September 23.