07 December 2015

DIY Publishing and Fat Activism

When I finished my PhD someone asked me about my plans for publishing it. I said that I might publish it myself and they looked at me aghast, this would clearly have been academic suicide. A book published by an academic press would most likely be expensive and would have to conform to an idea of what an academic book is. In my experience, academic books may be full of useful knowledge but are generally very boring to read. I didn't want to produce something that sends people to sleep. I want my writing to help people feel alive and full of possibility.

Somebody else said that the thesis contained some work that would be REF-able papers. REF refers to the Research Excellence Framework, a model for quality research in the UK that many of the academics I know feel is somewhat shonky. A REF-able paper would most likely be published by a journal that would cost ordinary people without access to university libraries quite a bit of money to read. That's if they knew how to use an academic database. It would be quite likely that the paper would not be read by many people, and certainly not the people who could most benefit from the work, or the people on whose lives the work was built.

In both cases, readers would have to know how to read an academic book or paper, to feel that they could handle dense language and lots of jargon. I thought but didn't say: "I have other hopes for this."

These two comments have stuck with me over the last year as I have prepared the book of my thesis for publication. Is my research excellent? I think it is! Early readers of the book also agree. I may be committing academic career suicide but I'm not pursuing an academic career right now and none of this has stopped me engaging with universities, doing research projects, continuing to have a rich intellectual life inside and beyond the academy and getting paid for it.

REF-able papers and academic status would be lovely, but I think of them as gravy, not a publishing rationale. What really matters to me is that people who are interested in fat activism, any kind of people, should be able to read a sophisticated book about it and not need a PhD or a lot of money to do so. I want as wide as possible a readership for this work because I think it has exciting applications for how people do and think about activism. In these conservative times activism is an important survival tactic. I want to be able to say what I need to say in a book that has my name on it. This didn't happen with my first book, the editors had political ideas they wanted to promote at my expense. So having editorial control over my own work is important to me, never again do I want to be pushed around by a publisher. I want to be able to learn new skills and meet new people in the process of publishing a book. I want to continue working collaboratively with other creative thinkers, writers and artists. Lastly, I want a good deal that doesn't rip me off or line the pockets of a corporate owner.

The publishing world is changing and so is academia. They would like to be closed worlds for an elite, especially under this government which wants to deny poorer people the cultural wealth that they enjoy. But people who have been pushed out are finding other ways to disseminate and benefit from ideas. This is why Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is being published by a small independent press. HammerOn has been instrumental in developing ideas about the para-academy in the UK, and is also rooted in DIY values. We both come from punk and are not afraid of experimenting and doing things in unorthodox ways.

From the initial PhD proposal to publication, this piece of work has often been unruly. It resists conventional narratives about fat, about fat activism; it's the product of an irreverent style of research and it challenges academic publishing strategies. It's a disruptive book and I hope it finds readers who enjoy misbehaving. The subject matter is about fat activism but the research and the book itself is also fat activism. So that's why I'm doing it this way and, I have to say, it is very satisfying.

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement will be published on 4 January 2016.

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