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by Alison Shaw
13th November 2020

This article is part of the Association of University Presses Blog Tour to celebrate University Press Week, 9-15 November. Each day on the blog tour brings a new theme that reflects different aspects of this… today’s is Active Voices. You can read all the articles featured in the tour here.

When I realised the theme of this year’s University Press Week was #RaiseUP – highlighting the role that the university press plays in elevating authors, subjects and disciplines to bring new perspectives and ideas – I was taken back to the launch of Policy Press, which would eventually become Bristol University Press, 25 years ago this month.

We created Policy Press with the sole aim of making a difference by publishing on the key social issues and problems of the day. With social justice at its heart, Policy Press would provide solutions as well as critique, challenge discrimination in all its guises and provide a progressive agenda for social change by publishing the highest-quality content that bridged the gap between academia, policy and practice.

This ‘publishing with a purpose’ mission held strong, and those original values were integral to the launch of Bristol University Press 20 years later. We moved Policy Press to an imprint keeping its roots in social policy and aligned subjects that focus on progressive social change, and we launched Bristol University Press to allow us to actively expand our mission to encompass global issues across a wider range of disciplines. A bold new university press that challenges the status quo.

The first Policy Press book, Beyond the Threshold, focused on social exclusion, and a review in Sociology praised it for marking ‘an important attempt to shift focus and break with tradition’. As we have blossomed into Bristol University Press, our lists have continued to do exactly that, disrupting current thinking and reframing ideas for readers around the globe.

Bristol University Press’s core focus is to address the global social challenges we face. Drawn from both the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as our own priorities, our key areas of focus range from the global to the local including climate change and sustainability, health and wellbeing, technology, data and society and poverty, inequality and social justice.

As a publisher that actively strives to publish world-class scholarship and social commentary that advances knowledge and learning within and beyond academia, the 2020 #RaiseUP message rings true. We not only publish renowned scholars and journalists, we bring new perspectives and fresh voices to a wider audience. Publishing early career researchers, social commentators, policy makers and practitioners is core to our work. We help authors to hone their ideas, refine their language and clarify their messages, publishing across a variety of engaging formats to maximise impact.

It is important to me that we publish with, not just about, those experiencing social challenges, and we have a proud history of publishing participatory research as well as content from users of health, welfare and other services themselves. We are the publishing partner of the Connected Communities programme which brings together some of the most innovative writing on collaborative and co-produced research methods funded by UK funding councils. New methods and modes of research are explored in our blog stream Transforming Research, including our emphasis on inter-/transdisciplinarity, impact and the decolonial turn alongside co-production, supported by books like Creative Research Methods and the three-volume digital Researching in the Age of COVID-19.

#RaiseUP is also about diversity. Publishing on equality, diversity and inclusion issues has been central to our work since our inception 25 years ago. Journals such as the Journal of Gender-Based Violence and European Journal of Politics and Gender and book series Ageing in a Global Context and Gender and Sociology are just a few examples.

We have always worked with those who have been marginalised or discriminated against, for their gender, race, sexuality, age, disability or class. Our new series Key Issues in Social Justice: Voices from the Frontline works with authors from historically marginalised and minority communities to address these issues, as does the US-based series, the Sociology of Diversity, which includes discussion-provoking titles like Beer and Racism. Despite engaging with this since our inception, our learning curve as an organisation continues as we further develop our own EDI and sustainability strategies, elevating these issues within both the organisation and the wider publishing industry.

I believe that bringing excluded voices to wider attention is an important role for a university press. Books such as White Privilege and The Class Ceiling have been bestsellers, shifting the issues up the agenda, but have also increased the profile of their authors as they move into positions as respected social commentators. As a publisher, we also give voice to those from backgrounds that are usually hidden from view, with photo-documentary books like Invisible Britain and the Real voices section of our Transforming Society blog. The reason for doing this, and key to our philosophy, is to explore ways of bridging divides, as exemplified in Terri Givens’s exploration of structural racism, Radical Empathy.

For research to be truly able to make a difference, it has to be disseminated at the precise time it’s needed. In times of crisis, being able to spotlight work that’s going to impact policy in the now is more important than ever. Our Shorts, many of which feature in our COVID-19 Collection, are topical, peer-reviewed books published in 12 weeks to contribute quickly to debates. As the full extent of the impact of coronavirus began to emerge earlier this year, we knew we needed to do even better, so we launched our Rapid Responses – digital-only quick interventions published in just six weeks. 25 years of engaging with social challenges meant we knew better than anyone that, as a university press, it is vital to find ways to actively commission, curate and disseminate new ideas at times of massive social, economic or cultural upheaval. By offering peer-reviewed, fast-turnaround products that offer innovative ideas underpinned by evidence, we can contribute to policy and practice change as it happens.

In a previous article on the importance of university press publishing, I concluded that:

‘University presses are a community to be treasured – old or new – and should be enabled to flourish so they can continue to make a real difference to scholarship, to the translation of ideas, and to policy, practice and cultural change. We can challenge the current anti-expert populist stance, promote diversity and inclusion of content, ideas, authorship and readership and through the quality of our scholarly contribution make a real difference to our world.’

This is what University Press Week, and its theme #RaiseUP, is celebrating: our active role in bringing into the world a wide range of perspectives and voices to help change how we think about key questions and to facilitate positive social and cultural change.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Bristol University Press here.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Image Credit: Dominic Robinson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)