The First Rule of Judging Club…: Inside the Saltire Society Literary Awards
Book awards are a pervasive aspect of contemporary book culture, attracting both substantial media and scholarly attention. They confer prestige, create marketing opportunities, push sales, and contribute to the early stages of canon formation. Yet, beyond occasional media splashes when judges break ranks and disagree, there is little insight into the administrative and decision-making processes inside book awards. This article draws on the autoethnographic experiences of two academic researchers, who were simultaneously participants (as administrator and judge) for the Saltire Society Literary Awards. In so doing, the article gives insight into particular moments within the administration and judging of the awards, such as changes instigated by research findings and debates surrounding gender imbalance in Scottish literary award culture. It also examines some of the challenges of operating as embedded researchers. The article analyses what autoethnographic methods can bring to an understanding of the Saltire Society’s Literary Awards and other cultural awards, and the implications of embedded research and collaborative autoethnography for 21st century book culture scholarship more widely. It reflects upon modes of embedded research by making evident the challenges and dilemmas of researching from the ‘inside’. The ethical framework for such research is far from simple, but in exploring particular moments with perspectives from both inside and outside the judging processes, and in interrogating the practices of literary consecration, the article casts light upon this particular ‘judging club’ and its practices, and illuminates ways in which researchers might consider, orientate, and carry out further research into processes of cultural consecration.