söndag 15 februari 2015

Critical Alternatives 2015

I just submitted a paper to the 5th decennial Århus conference. That is in fact a conference that is only organised once every 10 years and the first conference was held 1975. This year's theme is "Critical Alternatives" and the conference homepage states that:

"the decennial Aarhus conferences have traditionally been instrumental for setting new agendas for critically engaged thinking about information technology. The conference series is fundamentally interdisciplinary and emphasizes thinking that is firmly anchored in action, intervention, and scholarly critical practice. ... The fifth decennial Aarhus conference, Critical Alternatives, aims to set new agendas for theory and practice in computing for quality of human life. ... We call for papers offering new agendas for alternatives with computing technologies — methodologically, theoretically, or through new forms of societal or otherwise critical engagements."

This blog has many functions and one of the most important is to serve as my academic diary and my extended memory. I use the blog to keep track of what I do professionally (a private function), but I have also chosen to make it accessible on the web and let others follow what I do (a public function). I've come to realise that such a dual function can at times be problematic. Let's say - as in this case - that I submit a paper to a conference that uses a double-blind peer reviewing system; the author is not supposed to know who has reviewed his paper, and, the reviewer is not supposed to know who wrote the paper she is reviewing. If I submit a paper to the conference and then directly turn around and publish the title of the paper and the abstract on this blog, a reviewer can, through a quick web search, easily find out who has written the paper. The double-blind peer review process will turn into a single-blind process. I don't know exactly how bad that would be - it is oftentimes not very difficult to figure out who has written a paper (references to previous/own work etc.), but perhaps the process of figuring who has written a paper should not be made easier? In this particular case, the paper was preceded by an open call for fictional abstracts (the topic of the paper) that has been disseminated to probably hundreds of people and that was furthermore published on this blog some 10 weeks ago. Also, the reviewing process for this particular conference will for some reason take more than three months and I will thus not know if the paper was accepted until June 1. It feels very demotivating to wait until June to write a blog post about having submitted a paper and I'm not sure I would write such a blog post at all should the paper be rejected. That would mean the blog would fail its function as a private/public diary and as my extended memory on the web...

I have thus decided to try to balance these two conflicting demands by publishing a blog post about our submission but by not publishing the title of the paper and by not publishing the paper abstract in this blog post. While it's possible to connect the contents of this blog post to the paper, it is at least not immediately evident and searchable in the same way the title of the paper would be. I might at some later point (in June) go back and change the title of this blog post, or I might follow up this blog post with a new blog post should the paper be accepted. Even without publishing the title of the paper or pasting in the abstract below, there are still many things I can say about the paper and the process of writing it:

The paper is a full paper (11 pages using the ACM template - 8800 words) and it concerns design fiction, fictional abstracts, computing and sustainability (again see the call for fictional abstracts). Our call resulted in (only) 20 submissions of fictional abstracts. I honestly have to say that I had hoped for and thought we would get more submissions - especially from my colleagues at KTH. A quarter of the submissions were accepted directly and another quarter were rejected because the didn't fit the call/paper, or for some other reason were problematic and seemed "un-fixable" within the scope and the time frame we had to put the paper together (no time for extensive "coaching"). Half of the submissions were "conditionally" accepted under the terms of more or less heavy revisions, and, most of these abstracts did in the end make it into the paper. We ended up with 13 accepted fictional abstracts comprising around 40% of the running text of the finished paper.

All first (but not second or third) authors of accepted fictional abstracts were invited to become co-authors of the full paper together with the four "principal authors" (me, Elina Eriksson, Vincent Lewandowski and Josefin Wangel). That means the final paper has no less than 15 authors! Last week all co-authors had the chance to comment on a draft of the paper for the better part of two days and we got a lot of really good feedback and comments from a majority of the co-authors. Someone even rewrote more or less the whole introduction of the paper and we happily accepted his suggestion as it was much better that ours. We also got a couple of hundred of comments on things both small and large - there was a serious lag within the google document we were working in and just accepting a proposed change took several seconds to propagate into the document. Still, it was a really cool process and a really interesting experience and through that process we got just the right feedback at just the right time. Looking back at the process of writing this paper, I feel that I have just as much been a "project leader" as I have been "first author" of the paper. Having worked intensively with the paper having just submitted the paper there is now a small vacuum, like waking up and wondering where you are. I have now set the paper aside and I hope the reviewers will like it and will think the paper fits the conference.

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