For several years now, I have been working on the concept of editorialization.
To this day, I have never shared this story, but will attempt to do so here. I came upon this concept somewhat by chance, without truly understanding its full potential. The story begins with my first meeting with Gérard Wormser in 2008, after which we started to study the impact of digital technology on the circulation of knowledge. At the time, editorialization issues had been the centre of Gérard’s research efforts for at least five years as well as the focus of his journal, Sens Public. Back then, I did not fully grasp all of the issues relating to Gérard’s practices and theories, nor all of his inklings. Gérard does not like to lay out his thought process; instead, he prefers to immerse individuals in contexts and practices so that they reach the conclusions he has arrived at themselves. This is precisely what happened to me. The one thing I was certain of at the time was that there was something striking about Sens Public: a network of individuals scattered across the globe, a thematic network – sometimes with differing interests – a network of ideas and practices.
In 2008, Gérard invited me to participate in the establishment of a research laboratory at the Maison des sciences de l’homme Paris-Nord, and I was glad to accept the challenge. When trying to come up with a name for our project, Gérard proposed “Pratiques interdisciplinaires et circulation du savoir: vers une éditorialisation des SHS.” The concept of editorialization seems to be the most accurate way of describing what was happening at Sens Public. The only thing that was crystal clear to me in 2008 was that edition was indeed happening at Sens Public, yet not everything being done could exclusively be described as edition, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. We cannot, for instance, discuss digital publishing without addressing the differences between paper and digital practices, and these differences must, in one way or another, be thoroughly addressed.
Editorialization, first and foremost, addresses this difference: it consists in editorial practices that cannot be lumped together with what we generally refer to as “editing.”
Thus, it was Gérard who pushed me to adopt this concept to describe what it is we do. I am not certain where Gérard came up with the term. One year earlier, we had read a text by Bruno Bachimont where the concept was outlined. This is a chapter of the book L’indexation multimédia entitled: Nouvelles tendances applicatives: de l’indexation à l’éditorialisation (available here.)
In this text, Bruno Bachimont discusses the move towards indexation in what he refers to – I believe for the first time – as “editorialization” (and I quote freely):
The central idea of this article is that digital content indexing introduces a new relationship between content and document. While in traditional indexing the challenge is to find the document containing the information sought, digital content indexing enables the finding of segments involved in the search for information and configures said segments. If the document is present in the search results in traditional indexing and searching, it is not the same in digital indexing. In the former type of indexing, the segments can dissociate from the content from which they are derived, losing their origin and documentary nature. By becoming resources, these segments are remobilized for the production of other content. The goal is no longer to find documents but to produce new ones using available resources. One thus moves away from indexing for research in favour of indexing for publication. Since the latter is carried out according to certain standards and norms, editorialization enables indexed segments to be enlisted in the editorial process for new publications.
The concept of editorialization thus serves to describe an editorial activity that is based upon the indexed fragments of a document. Bachimont employs editorialization to explain an important shift: that of a non-digital document to a digital ‘document.’ It consists in a transfer of information.
By reappropriating the term, Gérard provides it with a broader definition, using it to describe any digital editorial activity as well as the digital native. Two aspects derived from Bachimont’s initial definition beg further investigation:
1. The fact that the digital editorial gesture has its own specificity: techniques condition the structuring of thought.
2. The fact that there is a fragmentation of the editorial gesture in the digital space – a complex relationship between fragment and fragment rearrangement in units of meaning.
In our request for the establishment of the MSH laboratory, Gérard wrote (and I quote freely):
It is important to understand how the aesthetics of new media and cognitive technologies are redefining practices and to share the outcomes of this transformation. Thus the concept of editorialization may be characterized by the articulation of content production, technical and communicative dimensions, and the dynamics of contemporary exchanges in the humanities. This question branches across a range of accessible media and all of their records: accessibility, objectivity, legibility, comprehensiveness, tone, document structuring, links … How should we think about the encyclopedia of digital knowledge?
Editorialization is thus a concept that allows for the understanding of the specificity of the production and circulation of knowledge in the digital age. It is in this sense that we use it in the seminar « New forms of Editorialization » established at the MSH laboratory in collaboration with Anne Laure Brisac at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art. The seminar then shifted to the Institute for Research and Innovation of the Centre Pompidou, where I worked and continue to work on the issue with Nicolas Sauret to this day (in 2012, the seminar became a joint venture of the MSH, the IRI and UdeM, under the name « Digital Writing and Editorialization.”
But what are the specific characteristics of editorialization? I explain this in a recent article in Études françaises (available here) (and I quote freely):
The production of digital content is a complex process that we have dubbed « editorialization. » The latter may be defined as a set of technical devices (networks, servers, platforms, CMS, algorithms of search engines), structures (hypertext, multimedia, metadata), practices (annotation, comments, recommendations via social networks) that can produce and organize content on the web. Thus editorialization shapes and structures content that is not limited to a closed, well-defined context (such as a journal) or a group of predetermined individuals (editors and publishers) but involves an opening up of space (several platforms) and time (several different editors unbound by deadlines). This opening up is one of the key differences between editing and editorialization. […]
The opening up of editorialization in relation to paper editing involves a certain loss of control of the writer/editor/publisher over their content. The writer/editor/publisher becomes only part of the editorial process which has itself become much larger in scope.
This openness is what connects editorialization to a particular form of circulation of knowledge and content in general: a network both disseminated and fragmented. Editorialization produces a kind of network of intelligence – or, rather, a network of intelligences.
The concept of editorialization thus becomes a collective dimension of knowledge.
Recently, my thoughts on editorialization have been steadily progressing. It is important to emphasize two aspects in particular (which were already outlined in Gérard’s original theory – (see this video, for instance.)
1. There is a coming together of the world and information (I discuss this in several blogs – here and here.) There is no difference between the organization of information that occurs through editorial practices and practices worldwide. There is no difference between discourses on the world and the world itself.
2. This fusion implies yet another: that between techniques and the discourse on techniques. Editorialization is also a set of practices and techniques as well as a series of discourses that shape these practices and give them meaning. (In this sense one could develop an intermedial discourse on editorialization.)
Presently, these two aspects are the central focus of my work.