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Grappling with editing ethics

by Mike Lim AE

IPEd’s code of ethics and the Australian standards for editing practice are mainly about professionalism, confidentiality, copyright, plagiarism and so on. Standard A4.6 of the Australian standards for editing practice talks about flagging ‘biased, non-inclusive or offensive material’. I want to open that out to discuss some ways in which editing ethics have become more important.

2020 has brought a raised consciousness into mainstream culture about issues like race and class. Editors have a responsibility to grapple with these topics because our work impinges on many of these issues. For example, the simple question of whether to italicise foreign words might seem a settled one. But is it othering and exoticising? Or a way of asserting identity?

I see discussions of these issues in the various editing and content groups I’m part of. Among questions about hyphenation and bibliographic style are discussions about deceptive patterns in user interfaces and using sensitivity readers, for example. The previous issue of Gatherings had a summary of a session on decolonising editorial practice.

Editors get excited over style manuals, and some of them can prompt us to think about the politics as well the mechanics of style. A Progressive’s Style Guide deals with detailed questions of grammar and usage, but explicitly in the context of intersectionality, community and social change. The Conscious Style Guide does a similar thing, with guides and essays on a range of topics.

A recent episode of The Allusionist podcast talks about the racist history of the French word for ‘ghostwriter’ and explains the racist etymology of ‘bulldozer’. These topics are a normal part of the show. And they should be a normal part of our work. Someone working with web content, for example, isn’t taken seriously unless they incorporate accessibility into their everyday work. This approach is becoming more a part of broader publishing too. The recent Inclusive Publishing in Australia calls for ‘embedding accessibility into the publishing workflow’.

Language is political and has been used to shore up power and exclusion. I’m not saying we need to start dealing with these issues (clearly we already do), but as editors we’re in a great position to influence the way language is used. I’m also not saying editors are somehow removed from all this. We’re a group made up of people who have disabilities, are women of colour, come from marginalised backgrounds and are caught up in systems of disadvantage.

The American Institute of Architects has, as one of its ethics standards, that ‘Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors’. This year the New York chapter took a public stance against designing prisons. I bring up this example from a sober and serious professional organisation to emphasise that we don’t need to be activists or social workers to have an impact on the world. We can do this by acting as if our ethical obligations aren’t just to clients and our profession, but also to society.

Mike Lim AE is part of the communications team of the EdSA branch committee. Find him on Twitter: @liminalcat


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