Anita Hussénius: A Chapter is a Chapter is a Chapter

“Rose is a rose is a rose” is a line in the poem “Sacred Emily” by Gertrude Stein (1922). In that poem, the first “Rose” is the name of a person. The slight variation “A rose is a rose is a rose” is one of Gertrude Stein’s most famous quotations, used and paraphrased by herself and many others, often interpreted as meaning “things are what they are”. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. The thing you call chapter you name chapter and you think that the meanings in your mind that you fill the word chapter with, are the same meanings as everyone else’s; that a chapter is what a chapter is. Originally, the word chapter, an alteration of chapitle, comes from the Late Latin word capitulum meaning “little head” or in writing “a division, paragraph”. Although a very simple and common word, which we might think has universal meaning, it might inhabit more complex meanings and values than just being a specific defined part of a book; that a chapter is something more than just a subset of a whole, where the sum of all subsets equals a book:

Don’t bother about the formula if your mathematic skills are rusty; it is simply another way to say that chapter 1 + chapter 2 + chapter 3 + …. + chapter n, where n is the number of the last chapter, is a book. I put in the formula as an illustration, that depending on our academic identities and our disciplinary backgrounds, we use “different” languages and different ways to communicate topic-specific issues. We can even use and associate one and the same word with totally different meanings.

Using my own academic experiences as a point of departure from, in this blog I will try to highlight what is meant by a book chapter and how a book chapter can be perceived and valued depending on one’s own academic education and disciplinary identity. The specific kind of book chapters that I will reflect on are those that are part of edited collections, that is, a book with several authors where different author/s have each written a chapter. In an edited collection, book chapters can be read independently, separately, in any order. They are like stand-alone short stories with different authors. I can, if I wish, choose to read only one chapter, which has a subject/content that interests me, and ignore all others, although edited collections normally have a guiding or over-arching ‘theme’ which pulls all the separate chapters into it.

My disciplinary background is in natural science; I have my PhD in organic chemistry and have spent most of my academic life within science research and science education environments, in a natural science culture. One way of interpreting culture, in this case a discipline culture, is that our social world, in this case our academic world, is constructed through cultural connections or relations that include or exclude (Schneider, Erhart and Macey 2013). As members of a disciplinary culture, its processes and habits are incorporated into our minds and bodies, they become largely invisible to us, we take its core presumptions for granted. The more we shift from being cultural novice to full members of that culture (Schein 2010) the more the norm becomes the obvious, the ‘right’ thing or way. As a chemist and university chemistry teacher, academically educated and encultured into the chemistry discipline, I became a full member, an integrated part of that culture and as such a carrier of its prevailing norms.

What I came to realise as a member of this particular culture is that how and where scholars are expected to publish their research differs between disciplinary domains. The views on certain types of publishing and how they are valued, which scientific legitimacy they have, differs between subject areas. Within one subject/disciplinary culture, the view of what is “the right way” to publish can be a taken-for-granted core presumption. For example, after my dissertation and during the next 25 years as a member of a chemistry or natural science research environment, I never came into contact with scientific publications in the form of book chapters. I read articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and published my research accordingly. That was the norm, that was the obvious thing to do, that was the right thing to do. Some journals had a higher status than others, and research published in these journals was considered synonymous with high-quality research, “better” research than work published in less prestigious journals. It was upon moving from the “pure” natural sciences environment to an inter- and transdisciplinary research environment (the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University) where researchers from humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and medicine were working and cooperating out of common interest in issues and perspectives covered by a broad gender studies umbrella, that I first came into contact with the academic publication form book chapter.

For many of the researchers at the Centre writing and publishing book chapters was a, or rather the common form of writing and publishing research and the Centre had (and still has) its own book series Crossroads of Knowledge. In the beginning I was sceptical, questioning, uncertain. “Can this be considered research?” was a question that chafed my mind. But at the same time, I accepted the arguments for the necessity of the book series: that it was difficult to find peer-reviewed journals that accepted and published cross-disciplinary research conducted by researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds in close collaboration. I also realized that an edited collection of book chapters on a specific theme can be, at its best, a goldmine that surpasses the scope of many review articles:  each chapter makes a different contribution to the book’s theme, based on different empirical and methodological approaches, grounded in different theoretical perspectives, etc., yet  forming part of a coherent whole and a rich seam of references to dig into.

My first experience of writing a book chapter started in 2010. I had met Professor Kate Scantlebury the year before, during a visit to the University of Delaware, and invited her to the Centre for Gender Studies. Kate had noted a call for contributions to a collection to be published in 2011 celebrating the 100th anniversary of Marie Sklodowska Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and wondered if she and I should write such a chapter together. Kate has a background in chemistry, a PhD in Science Education and has since the very beginning of her research career been doing research with gender perspectives and a feminist agenda. At first, I felt doubtful about her request to write a chapter together, but at the same time I was challenged. However, our similar backgrounds and research interests made me feel quite comfortable in anticipation of the challenge. Our collaboration worked and resulted in the chapter Witches, Alchemists, Poisoners and Scientists – Changing Image of Chemistry (Hussénius and Scantlebury 2011). Although pleased to have accomplished a book chapter, to be honest I did not value this publication to the same extent as my journal articles. One reason might have been my disciplinary cultural backpack, another might have been that I did not regard this text as a result of my own research – it was a side-track, but nonetheless I valued the experience.

Time passed, Kate went back to Delaware but later returned and has continued to return for shorter and longer stays at the Centre, which she calls her feminist paradise. Our research collaboration has grown and in addition to scientific journal articles a number of co-authored chapters have resulted as well. Through Kate, I have realized the potential of edited collections and the pleasure of writing book chapters. The breakthrough was again a request from her to contribute to a collection: Science Education for Diversity – Theory and Practice (Mansour and Wegerif 2013). She sent a draft abstract to me and two other colleagues, asking if this was something we could consider being involved with. The beginning of the abstract was:

A Chinese proverb observes that women “hold up half the sky”, yet often in science education we have ignored the knowledge generated by feminist researchers about how females engage and participate in science. Further, science education has often failed to consider the implications from feminist critiques of science on science education. This chapter will provide a feminist perspective on who generates knowledge in science education and what knowledge is acceptable as ‘scientific’ by the field. …

The short passage caught my attention and I felt that this was a chapter I would like to read! But the chapter was not there (yet), it was not written … and I was invited to contribute to its content. I was thrilled. Now this chapter exists, with the same beginning in the introduction as the quoted abstract above (Hussénius, Andersson, Gullberg and Scantlebury 2013).

There are differences in terms of types of publication, depending on or at least partly explained by researchers’ disciplinary backgrounds. Today, articles in peer-reviewed journals are highly valued everywhere, irrespective of disciplinary domain. In some contexts, edited book collections or anthologies are more highly valued than in others and are taken as a sign of collaborative competence, and afford opportunities to bring researchers together. This is especially true within contexts where the “publishing norm” is sole-authored monographs. Moreover, books/chapters in edited collections go through peer review and as such are not so different from peer-reviewed journal articles. Another aspect that might influence the perceived status and legitimacy of chapters is an effect of print-on-demand technology, i.e. publishers to an increasing extent give scholars the option to download separate chapters from a book.

My own view of book chapters as a way to publish research has therefore changed. Today, I highly value the chapter as a writing form. As a researcher and author of research texts, I appreciate the increased freedom that chapter writing offers compared to the often very strict form demanded for articles by research journals. An edited collection can provide a space to write in a more playful and joyful way, to challenge the norm of academic writing. Today I prefer this form of writing. With my chemistry background that means I have taken off my cultural backpack and stepped out of my former comfort zone, but realize that I constantly need to be aware of my own constructions.

References

Hussénius, A., Andersson, K., Gullberg, A., & Scantlebury, K. (2013). Ignoring half the sky: A feminist perspective on the missing standpoints in science education research. In N. Mansour & R. Wegerif (Eds.) Science Education for Diversity in Knowledge Society. (pp. 301-316). Rotterdam: Springer Publishing. doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4563-6_14

Hussénius, A. & Scantlebury, K. (2011). “Witches, alchemists, poisoners and scientists: Changing image of chemistry”. In M-H. Chiu, P.J. Gilmore, & D. Treagust (Eds.) Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Madam Maria Sklodowska Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. (pp. 191-204). Sense Publishers. Rotterdam, 2011.

Mansour, N. & Wegerif, R. (Eds.) Science Education for Diversity in Knowledge Society. (pp. 301-316). Rotterdam: Springer Publishing. doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4563-6_14

Schneider, B., Erhart, M.G. and Macey, W.H. (2013). “Organizational Climate and Culture”. Annual Review of Psychology.  2013, 64, 361-88.

Schein, E. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th Ed. Jossey Bass., San Francisco, 2010.

Stein, G. (1922). Geography and Play. (pp. 178-188). Four Seas Co., Boston, 1922.

 

Anita Hussénius is Director of the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Associate Professor in Chemistry at the University of Gävle. In her research Anita applies gender and feminist perspectives on science activities and science education. In an on-going project financed by the Swedish Research Council (2015-2018), she and her colleagues study how science epistemology, content, and practice is reproduced and transformed when biologists, chemists and physicists take part in teacher education.