Approaching academia and academic publishing differently (or at least trying to): curating a themed issue of a journal on separated childhoods

ESRI researchers Su Corcoran (CYES and Enabling Education Network) and Helen Underhill (STEPD) are collaborating with three colleagues, Lopa Bhattacharjee (Family for Every Child), Joanna Wakia (Maestral International), and Eddy Walakira (Makerere University) to organise a webinar series focused on Separated Childhoods. This series celebrates the launch of the most recent edition of the Global Studies of Childhood journal, focused on the same theme, which they have edited over the last 18 months.

The recruitment of this editorial board was a starting point in realising a cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary and diverse representation of skills and experience related to the topic. As individuals, we all have practice-based experience of working with young people in schools and/or as part of civil society organisations as well as research experience in practice-based and/or academic settings. We represent two universities, and three civil society organisations, and it is from this starting point that we aimed to develop a publication that challenges the ‘values that privilege the expertise gained through academic training above that derived from personal insight and experience in community settings’ (Bell et al. 2021:3). We wanted to bridge the divide between research, practice, and lived experience to develop a themed edition drawing from all these areas. As our editorial describes, this was not a straight-forward process.

We recognise that practitioner knowledge is critical to understanding lived experience, and we aimed to include their voices in the articles as well as the peer review process. However, there are challenges associated with supporting knowledge production, especially across multiple languages, within the time frames asked of academic publishing and traditional notions of knowledge production. Such issues were further compounded by the pandemic. We attempted to develop frameworks to enable practitioner voices to be heard, but found changes are required at a higher, more systemic and structural level for this to happen. For example, practitioners require space and time to develop their contributions that seldom exists. Whereas an academic job comes with the expectation that we write journal articles and engage in a degree of peer review, it is very rare for practitioners to have writing for academic publication factored into their ‘workload’: put simply, knowledge production remains the preserve of the academic world and has established processes that maintain the division. The process of editing this themed issue highlighted that, as academics, we need to adapt the systems around academic publishing so that a more diverse range of voices are heard, facilitating a more horizontal process of knowledge production.

In our experience, a more understanding and inclusive approach to deadlines and editorial expectations is necessary and would benefit the practitioner-authors, editorial team and subsequent readership. Within this process, there were a number of authors who were unable to meet the deadlines set, even though we relaxed them a little, partly because we were also up against a difficult search for academic reviewers amidst the additional pressures of the pandemic. Some of these authors have been encouraged to continue with their papers and we continue to mentor them through the submission process, even though they missed the deadline for the themed issue. We have also attempted to provide spaces for these voices, and some of the unpublished voices, within the webinar series so that their experiences of separated childhoods are included.

As an editorial team, we set out to think about knowledge from a collaborative and inclusive perspective. Given the significant work practitioners do on a daily basis with children and young people, their voices were critical to the themed issue. We hope the upcoming series of seminars continues this theme and we invite you to join the conversation and continue the collaborative learning. 

If you are interested in finding out more about separated childhoods, the themed issue can be found here and the information about the webinar series (running from May-June 2022) can be found here. One of the papers not included in the themed issue but published by the journal can be found here (the second is still in peer review).

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