Social Narrative Makers: Storytellers, Researchers, Publishers, Platforms

Authors of fiction tell tales, but always with a grain of truth; they write imaginative refractions of actual social lives and history. Researchers seek to understand the past; they investigate the present and try and predict social futures. Equally, they become social narrative makers—interpreting, mediating, and defining what and how we know. It is the role of publishers to produce, distribute, and maintain the longevity of these narratives.

Current mainstream public discourses have made us more aware of the "filter effects" of digital media and algorithmic processes on the production of social narratives. We have seen how digital platforms maintain a distance and resist the definition, "publisher." In relinquishing this responsibility, the incidental result is the emergence of frequently dysfunctional social narratives animating anti-social approaches to politics, science, and history.

At the same time, we are beginning to realize that the publisher has never been an agonistic partner in social narrative making. Print material logics have, and still, define what stores get told. The move to digital publishing has not substantially widened the gates of access to more creators. And when it has, it is often in a parasitic way where platforms leave creators in a precarious position. At a systemic level, we have also begun a reckoning with the lack of diversity in the industry – who works in editing, acquisitions, marketing, design, management, and technological infrastructure – all of which shapes what stories get told and for what audiences.

At Information, Medium & Society: The Twentieth-first International Conference on Publishing Studies, we want to reflect on the production of social narratives. What lessons can we learn from the past and present? And what kind of processes do we need to imagine, construct, and support to increase participation in the production of social narratives? In asking these questions, we to address the core question of what is (will be) "the publisher"? What role can the publisher can play in fostering democratic discourse, supporting equitable societies, and telling stores that inspire us all.