I’m co-editing a book series at present. I’m not sure why, since I swore after the last one I would never do it again, but there you go. Just a slow learner or weak-willed, I guess.
Last week one of my co-editors and I were discussing acknowledgements. Should we thank our publisher in our series introduction, or just leave it up to each author? They would obviously have their own people to thank, us for starters we joked, and what would we do if they didn’t thank us? But more importantly, what would we do if they didn’t thank the publisher? And did it look stupid for a series introduction to have acknowledgements? What was the unwritten rule we should be following?
Because I have a bit of time on my one hand at present – a shoulder injury makes me temporarily left handed and stuck at home – I decided to have a bit of a look to see if someone had researched acknowledgements.
Well, of course they had. That’s the wonderful thing about academia. If it’s out there, someone’s researched it. And in the case of acknowledgements, not just one person had looked at them but a whole host of people. I was gob-smacked by the sheer number and range of foci. I clearly hadn’t even begun to think about all the possible ways acknowledgements might be researched.
I had the same openmouthed reaction when I saw Grafton’s book on the footnote. It wasn’t the same jaw-drop as the one I had when I encountered someone who seemed to have made an entire career out of studying APA violations. But that’s another story. With Grafton it was more – Wow – you can write an entire book about the footnote? And actually, I bought the book, and it’s not only a good read but also an interesting lens on the history of academic practice. But I digress.
You probably wont be surprised, if you think about it for a moment more than I had, that people have looked at when acknowledgements were first used, their length and changes and variations in length, and their disciplinary inflections. Acknowledgements have been critiqued for their Uriah Heap ingratiating qualities, and there’s been public clashes and private hurts about who gets thanked and who doesn’t.
And, of course acknowledgments can be analysed as networks, and circles of influence – for better or worse. I realized, as I was scanning what was out there, that I always read acknowledgements in a book in just this way. No I’m not looking for my name, but for names I recognize, so I can place the author/s in a scholarly context. I want to see which scholarly community/ies they are closest to, where they have their intellectual home.
I finally remembered a pioneering piece of research about acknowledgements in dissertations by the linguist Ken Hyland . He argues that acknowledgments are more than just expressions of gratitude. He says
Acknowledgements are almost universal in dissertation writing where they provide
writers with a unique rhetorical opportunity not only to convey their genuine gratitude for the intellectual and personal assistance they have received in completing their research, but also to promote a competent scholarly identity by displaying their immersion in scholarly networks, their active disciplinary membership, and their observance of the valued academic ideals of modesty, gratitude and appropriate self-effacement. p 303, my emphasis.
A gift economy always works both ways. I thank you, but the thanking does something for me too.
The combination of actions that Hyland describes – this text work/identity work as Barbara and I would say – also of course applies to our possible series introduction acknowledgement – we want to thank our publisher for taking a punt on a series that may well get more critical acclaim than profits, but we will also signal that we are appropriately cognisant of academic dependence on publishers in general and, if we perhaps add an adjective or phrase or two, that we know our publisher in person, and maybe well enough to make an in-joke.
But back to Hyland. He analysed a corpus of dissertation acknowledgements, written by English L2 doctoral researchers and Masters students, across several disciplines. He suggests that they typically consisted of three moves.
Move 1. Reflective comment on the writer’s research experience. eg doing this piece of research has been stimulating, hard work and a great experience…
Move 2. Thanking – in which individuals, institutions are introduced and mapped, their contributions – academic assistance, resources and moral support – are named
Move 3. Announcing – public statement of responsibility for thesis contents, including flaws, and possibly a personal dedication.
Moves 1 and 3 are where the scholarly attributes of modesty, gratitude and self-effacement are performed, through the text. Move 2 is where the doctoral researcher connects themselves to networks and shows they have been worthy of the assistance of significant others and sources. If Move 2 mentions scholarships or prizes for example, it indicates a degree of ‘quality’ in the candidate as well as their thanks. Move 3 is where the authorial identity/ies of researcher, not student, is realized.
Hyland argues that understanding acknowledgements as a genre, a text-type which does specific work, could help doctoral researchers to understand what to do, and what not to do, when they come to the task.
Food for thought. Not a straight answer to my question of whether to have a series acknowledgement, whether to thank our publisher or not, but certainly a few clues about what we would be doing if we did.
Hyland, Ken 2004 Graduate’s gratitude. The generic structure of dissertation acknowledgements. English for Specific Purposes. 23, pp 303-324.