Toward a Theory of Editorialization

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  1. 1. Marcello Vitali-Rosati

    Université de Montréal

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The notion of “editorialization” has a fundamental place within the francophone scientific community as a key-concept for understanding and interpreting the digital culture. The concept has been at the center of theoretical works of the academic community for the last ten years (in April 2015, Jérôme Valluy completed an almost exhaustive bibliographical work on the term, finding more than seventy academic papers that had used it, Valluy 2015). It has been recently the subject of a book in English (Vitali-Rosati 2018). In my communication I will present the result of ten years of work on this concept and explain how the theory of editorialization can help DH scholars to think about the architectural space of the digital environment, and how it impacts knowledge production, circulation and legitimation. More specifically, I will argue that this theory can be a very powerful theoretical framework to take into account the political implications of our practices as dh scholars.

What is Editorialization?

The word ‘editorialization’, in the sense that it is used here, is a neologism in English. It comes from the French
éditorialisation. If, in English the word is a derivative of editorialize, which means – according to most dictionaries – ‘to express an opinion in the form of an editorial’ or ‘to introduce opinion into the reporting of facts’, in French it has acquired a broader meaning and is related in particular to digital culture and to digital forms of producing knowledge (Guyot 2004; Bachimont 2007; Merzeau 2014). This shift in meaning, from an idea that denotes the expression of opinion to one that suggests the production of knowledge in the digital age, is actually quite useful; as we will see, the French version of the term retains its association with the notion of opinion in that it refers to the production of content that expresses a kind of opinion or that offers a better way to see or interpret the world.

In 2008 Gérard Wormser (see Wormser 2010) used the term editorialization in a broad sense, to describe any digital editorial activity and to signify how knowledge is produced in the digital age in general. If ‘the digital’ is not only about tools but in fact refers to a whole cultural environment (see the notion of “digital culture” in Doueihi 2011), then editorialization – the way of producing contents in digital environments – must have a cultural dimension as well. In other words, the difference between publishing and editorialization is not only a difference of tools, but rather signifies a broader cultural difference: editorialization is not the way we produce knowledge using digital tools; it is the way we produce knowledge in the age of the digital, or, better, in digital society. In this sense, the term editorialization expresses an idea quite close to notions like ‘knowledge design’ (Schnapp 2011) or ‘information architecture’ (Broudoux, Chartron, and Chaudiron 2013).
According to a restrictive definition, editorialization is a set of technical devices (networks, servers, platforms, CMS, search engine algorithms), structures (hypertext, multimedia, metadata), and practices (annotation, comments, recommendations via social networks) that produces, organizes, and enables the circulation of content on the web (Gac 2016; Vitali-Rosati 2014). In other words, editorialization is the process of producing and diffusing content in a digital environment. We could say that, in this sense, editorialization is what publishing becomes under the influence of digital technologies. Clearly, this has an impact on the content itself: the concept of editorialization tries to stress how technology shapes content.
The obvious limitation of this first definition is that it considers the digital environment as a discrete, separated space. In this sense it is a web-centered definition that does not take into consideration the fluidity that exists between digital and pre-digital space. Further analysis shows that we can take all the acts of structuring content online – on the web or on other forms of the connected environment, like mobile apps – and consider these acts in their function of shaping our whole reality. In this sense, we can define editorialization as a set of individual and collective actions that take place in a digital online environment and that aim to structure the way we understand, organize, and judge the world. These actions are shaped by the digital environment in which they take place, and so editorialization, just as the first definition makes clear, is not only about what people do but also how their actions are shaped and oriented by a particular environment. But the emphasis needs to be put not only on how we produce content, but also on the fact that these contents are actually the world in which we live. It is important to stress that, if we consider the word digital in a cultural sense, digital space is our primary space, the space in which we live. With this in mind, we can make a distinction between various digital environments – for instance, the web and other forms of connected environment – and digital space as a hybridization of these environments with the totality of our world. These considerations allow us to arrive at a final definition:
Editorialization is the set of dynamics that produce and structure digital space. These dynamics can be understood as the interactions of individual and collective actions within a particular digital environment.
The object of editorialization is not content, but the world itself: we editorialize things, or, better, we editorialize the space in which we live. We could say that the encyclopedic project as it was conceived during the 18th century by Diderot and D’Alambert was realized with the world wide web: the totality of our knowledge has been organized and linked in a unique and huge architectural framework (Melançon 2004). But it goes further: with editorialization we are not only structuring the knowledge, we are structuring the world itself. We can say that editorialization is not only an architecture of knowledge (or, to use Schnapp’s concept, a ‘knowledge design’) but more precisely an architecture of being. This is why the concept of space becomes so crucial: editorialization is a way of organizing space not in a metaphorical sense (as the space of knowledge or the space of information): editorialization is an actual architectural action, it organizes our actual space.

DH scholars as architects

Now, the fact that editorialization is a way of producing the space we inhabit raises an important problem: who are the actors of editorialization? Who is producing this hybrid space? This problem is the main political issue when we analyse our digital culture; addressing it is the first step towards developing what Geert Lovink calls ‘Net criticism’ (Lovink 2002).
As Morozof points out (Morozov 2012, 2013), digital space seems to be completely driven by a small number of private companies. Morozov’s analysis of the role of Silicon Valley corporations starts from the idea that what should be public on the web is actually private. The domains of public interest are owned by big companies, and the services that should be granted by public authorities are instead organized and provided by private corporations. The problem is thus twofold: private corporations own most of digital space and they impose their ideologies on the whole social space, leaving no room for a public sphere. Private corporations decide what the structure of digital space is and what values it holds.
But according to the theory of editorialization, what we do as digital humanists is also a way of producing and organizing the space. In this sense, as digital humanists, we play the role of architects of our actual world. Our ways of organizing and structuring contents and information should be interpreted as an architectural gesture. Editorialization is the action of organizing the world, and this is why our academic practices have a huge political implication. Producing tools, platforms, data visualizations, and proposing different epistemological models to produce, organize and disseminate knowledge means to allow the existence of a plurality of spaces and to avoid the risk of a monolithic space produced and managed by a small number of companies who share the same values and the same visions of the world.
As DH scholars we should be the producers of a public sphere - heterogeneous and plural (on this subject see McPherson 2018) - a space where commons (for a definition of commons see Ostrom 2015) are possible and where democracy can take place. The theory of editorialization can be a useful theoretical framework to drive our DH practices and projects, because it allows us to understand that dealing with digital objects (texts, data, information of any kind) means also being an architect who organizes and structure a living space.
My presentation will be structured as follows:

A history of the term editorialization.
Different definitions of the concept.
Editorialization as a way of producing space.
DH scholars as architects.

Some examples of DH projects as forms of editorialization

Bachimont, Bruno. 2007. “Nouvelles Tendances Applicatives : De L’indexation à L’éditorialisation.” In
L’indexation Multimédia. Paris: Hermès.

Broudoux, Évelyne, Ghislaine Chartron, and Stéphane Chaudiron. 2013. “L’architecture de l’information : quelle réalité conceptuelle ?”
Études de communication. langages, information, médiations, no. 41 (December): 13–30.

Doueihi, Milad. 2011.
Digital Cultures. Harvard University Press.

Gac, Roberto. 2016. “Éditorialisation et Littérature.”
Sens Public, March.

Guyot, Brigitte. 2004. “Sciences de l’information et activité professionnelle, Information science and organization.”
Hermès, La Revue, no. 38: 38–45.

Lovink, Geert. 2002.
Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture. Electronic Culture–History, Theory, Practice. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

McPherson, Tara. 2018.
Feminist in a Software Lab: Difference + Design. MetaLABprojects. Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London, England: Harvard University Press.

Melançon, Benoît. 2004. “Sommes-Nous Les Premiers Lecteurs de L’Encyclopédie ?” In
Les Défis de La Publication Sur Le Web : Hyperlectures, Cybertextes et Méta-éditions, edited by Jean-Michel Salaün and Christian Vandendorpe, 145–65. Lyon: ENSSIB.

Merzeau, Louise. 2014. “Éditorialisation collaborative d’un événement.”
Communication & Organisation n° 43 (1): 105–22.

Morozov, Evgeny. 2012.
The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Reprint edition. PublicAffairs.

———. 2013.
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. First Trade Paper Edition edition. PublicAffairs.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2015.
Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Canto Classics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge Univ Press.

Schnapp, Jeffrey. 2011. “Knowledge Design.” In.

Valluy, Jérome. 2015. “"Editorialisation" (Recherche Bibliographique, Avril 2015) -.”

Vitali-Rosati, Marcello. 2014. “Digital Paratext. Editorialization and the Very Death of the Author.” In
Examining Paratextual Theory and Its Applications in Digital Culture, IGI Global, 110–27. Nadine Desrochers; Daniel Apollon.

———. 2018.
On Editorialization: Structuring Space and Authority in the Digital Age. Theory on Demand 26. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Wormser, Gérard. 2010. “Banco !... L’espace Public à L’heure Du Numérique.”
Sens Public, December.

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