An exercise in free-writing, undertaken at a writing workshop at the Becoming Academic conference at the University of Sussex.

I write to eliminate the clutter in my head, the accumulated debris which emerges within me as I make my way through the world, trying to understand my experiences as I go. If I am free to write, I am free to be within the world and my experience feels most full and most thick when I am externalising my internal reactions to the world. What C Wright mills called ‘the feel of an idea’ preoccupies me and my orientation to the world feels changed in those times when I seize upon that feeling, run with it it and make something new ‘out there’ from a reaction I had ‘in here’ to the world. But what can be difficult is when I can’t run with that feeling, when nascent ideas bubble up inside of me but circumstances preclude my running with them. Contingencies intervene and prevent my exploration of these things I feel moved to explore. If I don’t write, I feel in partial motion, stuck in the early stages of a range I cannot complete. If I can’t write, I feel somehow incomplete, as if my capacity to react to the world is subtly mutilated. I write to eliminate the clutter in my head and without writing I am inundated by mess.

I wonder if there is something performative about my writing, as if I bring myself into being through the process of doing it. I wonder why I feel so compelled to share my writing, as if it somehow isn’t real or can’t become real unless it is out there in the world. It’s a repeated exercise, conducted thousands of times, which has left me feeling extremely comfortable with the prospect of sharing my writing. But I’m still not entirely sure why I do it and at times it feels like a compulsion.

What does social media mean for academic writing? Most answers to this question focus on how such platforms might constrain or enable the expression of complex ideas. For instance, we might encounter scepticism that one could express conceptual nuance in 140 characters or an enthusiasm for blogging as offering new ways to explore theoretical questions beyond the confines of the journal article. However these discussions only rarely turn to writing in a more biographical sense, as a recurrent activity which is both personally meaningful and professionally necessary.

Social media is certainly offering us more occasions for writing. The most obvious form this takes is the personal blog, providing one with a platform for exploration whenever we are taken by the feel of an idea worth exploring. However I suspect that many academics who sustain a personal blog do so because it serves a purpose prior to writing, serving as a common-place book or ideas garden. In such cases, the time spent blogging serves as a preparation for writing, even if it is sometimes an oblique one. There is no necessary tension here between blogging and writing, even if sometimes the former can hinder the latter, for instance when the familiarity of the blog draws us away from more formal writing that might not be going well.

What about online writing that doesn’t serve this preparatory function? In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the challenge of ephemera increasingly confronting academics. I mean ephemera in the literal sense of “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time”. Long-established examples include book reviews, newsletter articles and short pieces in magazines. With the growth of social media, we are seeing a rapid expansion in opportunities to produce such ephemera. Multi-author blogs and online magazines will often be sources of invitations to write, as well as offering opportunities for this to qualified parties who are seeking them out. Such writing rarely constitutes much of a commitment in its own terms. One of many reasons I enjoy writing of this sort is that the usual temporal horizon rarely exceeds a few hours work. For instance, it might take a while to read a book for review but not to write the review itself.

To call ephemera a ‘challenge’ may be misleading. In many ways, I remain convinced this is an opportunity, for the enjoyment of intellectual richness and diversity at the level of both individual scholars and scholarly communities. But unlike blogging in the preparatory sense discussed above, it can often take away from time and energy available for ‘real’ writing. The number of opportunities can itself prove problematic, as invitations and inclinations lead to over-commitment in the face of this abundance. For instance, in the next couple of weeks, I’m supposed to write an article for a magazine, a book review for a blog symposium, a blog post for a newspaper and a piece of sociological fiction for a zine. If I’m being realistic, it seems unlikely I’ll complete them all and thus the writing that was chosen rather than invited is likely to fall by the wayside. Though I think it’s a shame that I experience this as in some sense a distraction, despite my enthusiasm for the planned pieces. Much of this is related to journal articles, as things I should be writing but feel little inclination to, leaving it hard not to see a distance from academia as involving a gain rather than a loss of intellectual freedom.


A subsequent conversation made me think back to Richard Rorty’s remark about universities enabling one to “read books and report what one thinks about them”. Is the promise of ephemera a matter of keeping in touch with this aspiration within a university system which militates against its realisation?

This is the fifth of Walter Benjamin’s thirteen rules for writing. I would love to know more about what this meant in practice to him. How often did he record his ideas? Where did he record them? How did their quantity and quality wax and wane in different circumstances? My conviction that blogging constitutes a technology of scholarly attentiveness rests on its capacity to habituate this practice.

I saw the science journalist Simon Makin give an excellent talk yesterday on how social and natural scientists can make their writing clearer. He offered some excellent tips to this end, including assuming your reader is exactly as intelligent as you are, but has absolutely none of your knowledge. For this reason, clarity isn’t about being simplistic: aim to clarify without simplifying.

What struck me in the discussion of drafting and redrafting was how likely this is to fall by the wayside when rushing. If you’re working to a deadline, particularly when other deadlines immediately follow them, it’s unlikely you’ll invest the time needed to do this. His description of drafting involved careful tinkering, picking and poking at a text in a way which leads to incremental improvement. As opposed to simply trying to get it out of the door so you can move onto the next demand.

This isn’t simply a matter of time. It also reflects the moral psychology of rushing. When we rush, we close down our engagement with the objects of our attention. Things that might have been deeply meaningful to us instead become obstacles to surmount. We simply can’t care about the clarity of our writing in the same way when we’re rushing.

In the nine years since I first entered a Sociology department, I’ve had a deep interest in academic writing that has only increased with time. In my past life as a philosophy student, writing had never occurred to me as a topic of intellectual interest. Despite having once aspired to be a writer before concluding that I wasn’t good enough at writing political polemics to stand much chance of joining that small class of people who write them for a living. This self-critical concern with the quality (or otherwise) of my writing has perhaps been more of an animating force than I’ve tended to admit to myself. But the other driver was the inspiration I derived from ‘On Intellectual Craftsmanship’, the appendix to The Sociological Imagination, the first book I read as a Sociology postgraduate. As Mills puts it on pg 217-218:

I know you will agree that you should present your work in as clear and simple language as your subject and your thought about it permit. But as you may have noticed, a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences … Such lack of ready intelligibility, I believe, usually has little or nothing to do with the complexity of subject matter, and nothing at all with profundity of thought. It has to do almost entirely with certain confusions of the academic writer about his own status.

I’m fascinated by what sociological writing can reveal because of where it sits at the intersection between sociologists, sociology, higher education and the wider world. In such writing we find an (often unintended) disclosure of sociologists, the discipline they have been socialised into, its status within the wider academy and their conditions of labour within it. All while purporting to be an examination of the world ‘out there’. In fact, it’s through concern for how we can produce knowledge of this world, as well as put it to work in changing that world, that it becomes imperative to address writing in a diagnostic mode. How does actually existing sociological writing impede knowledge production? Can we strive to ameliorate these pernicious effects? As Andrew Sayer has put it, the alienated writing of social scientists reflects their own alienation. In addressing one, we unavoidably encounter the other.

One of the most striking things about contemporary scholarly writing is how obviously rushed some of it is. We can read this back from quantitative measures, looking at the increasing rate at which individuals publish, as well as the aggregate growth of publications as a whole. Though there are other factors at work (e.g. digital technology offering time savings in the writing and research process) the basic trend is clearly one of acceleration. We can recognise it qualitatively in a lack of innovation across publications and the well-recognised tendency towards ‘salami slicing’. But as Michael Billig points out in his Learn to Write Badly, we can also recognise it in the texts themselves. From pg 133:

The trouble is that the specialists do not handle their big nouns with care, but they rush to use them, knocking over verbs in their haste and barging other parts of speech out of the way. In their rush, they fail to tie the big words firmly to the grounds of human actions, leave them flapping loosely, but flamboyantly, in the wind.

Rushing does not create this tendency towards vague, grandiose and depersonalised language. As this interview with Howard Becker rather beautifully illustrates, we can find intellectual roots for these tendencies in the world views of prominent and influential theorists:

“Bourdieu’ s big idea was the champs, field, and mine was monde, world—what’s the difference?” Becker asks rhetorically. “Bourdieu’s idea of field is kind of mystical. It’s a metaphor from physics. I always imagined it as a zero-sum game being played in a box. The box is full of little things that zing around. And he doesn’t speak about people. He just speaks about forces. There aren’t any people doing anything.” People in Bourdieu’s field are merely atom-like entities. (It was Bourdieu’s vision that helped inspire Michel Houellebecq’s nihilistic novel of the meaningless collisions of modern life, “The Elementary Particles.”) …

As Becker has written elsewhere, enlarging the end-credits metaphor, “A ‘world’ as I understand it consists of real people who are trying to get things done, largely by getting other people to do things that will assist them in their project. . . . The resulting collective activity is something that perhaps no one wanted, but is the best everyone could get out of this situation and therefore what they all, in effect, agreed to.”

But we can find the conditions within which these ways of writing and speaking propagate in the academy itself (as as a corollary, in the work of the great theorists themselves). One thing I’d like to explore much further with the Accelerated Academy project is how we can use tempo as a way to understand the organisational influences upon scholarly writing. Billig rather persuasively diagnoses how the intensification of academic labour, particularly in relation to securing a position when facing competition on all sides, incentivises self-promotional writing. This is how do things, it’s better than how they do things, join my club. But in reality, most of us are likely to join someone’s else club… taking shelter from the cold winds of an organisation undergoing rapid deprofessionalisation by huddling together around a camp fire of shared certainties (not to mention opportunities for networking, publication and engagement). I was struck by the contrast Billig draws between how a figure like Foucault innovated and the contemporary realities of scholarship. From pg 148:

There is something very old-fashioned about Foucault’s lectures to the Collège de France. It is not just that he cites obscure writers from the early modern period and that he presents no ‘literature reviews’, in which he positions his own work in relation to the approaches of his contemporaries. His lectures were lectures: he did not seem eager to rush them into print to boost his tally of publications. Nor did he place key lectures –such as that on ‘governmentality’ –in influential sociological journals. Instead, he addressed his audience directly. And most importantly, he addressed them as individuals, who might be interested in his ideas, rather than as potential academic producers whom he wishes to recruit to a new mode of enquiry. In this regard, Foucault was not a Foucauldian, spreading the Foucauldian message and seeking to promote a Foucauldian subdiscipline.

It reminded of David Graeber’s argument about the dead zones of the imagination in higher education. Has rampant scholasticism coupled with inane managerialism destroyed the conditions under which the objects of that scholastic zeal were able to thrive?

The explosion of paperwork, in turn, is a direct result of the introduction of corporate management techniques, which are always justified as ways of increasing efficiency, by introducing competition at every level. What these management techniques invariably end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell each other things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of our students’ job and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors, institutes, conference workshops, and universities themselves, which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors. Marketing and PR thus come to engulf every aspect of university life.

The result is a sea of documents about the fostering of “imagination” and “creativity,” set in an environment that might as well have been designed to strangle any actual manifestations of imagination and creativity in the cradle. I am not a scientist. I work in social theory. But I have seen the results in my own field of endeavour. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have, instead, been largely reduced to the equivalent of Medieval scholastics, scribbling endless annotations on French theory from the 1970s, despite the guilty awareness that if contemporary incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or even Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the U.S. academy, they would be unlikely to even make it through grad school, and if they somehow did make it, they would almost certainly be denied tenure.

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy pg 134

In what I’ve discussed so far, there are a number of distinct (overlapping?) factors which these thinkers have diagnosed as harmful to academic writing:

  • Status insecurity of social scientists, particularly vis-a-vis natural scientists.
  • The time pressures of the accelerated academy and increasing tempos of expected publication.
  • Competition in the academic labour market and the imperative to achieve security through publication.
  • Managerialism and metricisation creating an organisational environment within which marketing and PR have engulfed even scholarship.

At the risk of stating the obvious, what each of these factors have in common is the scholar. Note that when I write ‘the scholar’, I abstract from actually existing embodied persons. This carries the same cost that Billig notes of ‘the subject’:

It sounds much grander, more official, and less personal. The definite article – the ‘the’ – adds cachet. By using ‘the subject’, the authors turn ‘people’ into another theoretical thing. (pg 158)

I’m not trying to write about a category. I’m trying to write about the people who occupy that category. The living, breath, hoping, despairing, finite beings for whom ‘academic’ is one social role amongst others occupied in their lives. Furthermore, within the confines of that role, they might aspire to ‘scholar’ and feel constrained by the realities of the organisations within which they work. Writing offers an interesting route into ‘the scholar’. A way to diagnose what troubles them so. Another way of exploring the ‘deep somatic crisis’ that critics like Roger Burrows and Ros Gill have claimed afflicts the contemporary academy. But this is a much bigger project than one blog post can contain.

The Sociological Review Foundation is delighted to announce that we have commissioned Rowena Murray to deliver a Writing Retreat for sociologists.

Murray has devised and delivered structured writing retreats to support academics by providing dedicated writing time done in a group setting. To find out more about this approach see:http://www.rowenamurray.org/aims/references/

The retreat is for academics at all stages of their career, but we especially encourage early career scholars to apply.

The retreat venue is the Black Bull Hotel in the village of Gartmore, near Aberfoyle, in Scotland. All writing sessions and meals (provided) are in the hotel. Minibus transport will be provided between Glasgow train station and the hotel.

14 places are available. The retreat will be free of charge, and there are a number of travel bursaries available for early career researchers.

As places are limited attendance will be by application. We invite applications via this online form:http://goo.gl/forms/WB2LDFXPa1

Please note that due to the cost of each place, successful applicants will be required to make a refundable deposit of £50 to secure their place. ECR means PhD students or postdocs (within 3 years of award of doctorate)

Contact

For academic inquiries related to this event, please contact Brigit McWade (b.mcwade@lancaster.ac.uk)

For any other queries, please contact Jenny Thatcher (events@thesociologicalreview.com)

Important Dates

  • Call for applications: 1st March
  • Applications deadline: 30th April
  • Notify successful candidates: 30th May

I’m just doing some late stage proof reading for the collection of Margaret Archer’s papers I’ve edited with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler. This passage from the revised introduction to the Social Origins of Educational Systems really jumped out to me, both because of the forcefulness with which it sets out her intellectual project and also the austere clarity which I really value about her writing style:

A social ontology explains nothing and does not attempt to do so; its task is to define and justify the terms and the form in which explanations can properly be cast. Similarly, the Morphogenetic Approach also explains nothing; it is an explanatory framework that has to be filled in by those using it as a toolkit with which to work on a specific issue, who then do purport to explain something. Substantive theories alone give accounts of how particular components of the social order originated and came to stand in given relationships to one another. The explanatory framework is intended to be a very practical toolkit, not a ‘sensitization device’ (as ‘structuration theory’ was eventually admitted to be); one that enables researchers to advance accounts of social change by specifying the ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ and avoiding the vagaries of assuming ‘anytime’, ‘anyhow’ and ‘anywhere’.

A really fascinating reflection by Rob Kitchin on ten forms of academic writing beyond scholarly papers and booksfiction, blog posts, newspaper op eds, email correspondence, policy papers, policy consultation, a television documentary script, powerpoint slides, academic papers, and grant application. What makes this so interesting is that all of these were deployed in relation to the same topic, feeding into each other in the process.

An absolutely beautiful snippet from Brain Pickings: the letter of advice W.E.B. Dubois wrote to his teenage daughter when she went away to school in England.

Dear Little Daughter:

I have waited for you to get well settled before writing. By this time I hope some of the strangeness has worn off and that my little girl is working hard and regularly.

Of course, everything is new and unusual. You miss the newness and smartness of America. Gradually, however, you are going to sense the beauty of the old world: its calm and eternity and you will grow to love it.

Above all remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity. You are in one of the world’s best schools, in one of the world’s greatest modern empires. Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything they possess to be where you are. You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance.

Deserve it, then. Study, do your work. Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life. You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will soon be forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin — the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.

Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I shall write each week and expect a weekly letter from you.

Lovingly yours,

Papa

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/02/23/w-e-b-du-bois-yolande-letter/?mc_cid=4559a30cf8&mc_eid=4a88406b25

Recent years have seen the proliferation of what I tend to think of as mini-mongraph formats. In their new book on interdisciplinarity, Felicity Callard and Des Fitzgerald offer a really nice account of the promise of these formats:

The Pivot format is produced within a distinctive (rapid) temporal horizon, and offers a particular length (mid-way between the long journal article and the usual scholarly monograph). We, when writing this volume, were interested in exploring what those constraints would do to our modes of argument, to the register of our writing, and to the kinds of material with which we engaged. The book works with, and mixes up, different kinds of ‘data’ and evidence, and employs diverse styles of argument. Our hope is that the volume functions as a provocation that carries a particular tone –one slightly different from the usual ‘voice’ of a peer-reviewed journal article (from whichever discipline), or of a heavily footnoted research monograph.

I share this sense of their promise. But I also worry that such formats are a function of the acceleration of higher education: an attempt to preserve something akin to a monograph when many rarely, if ever, feel able to read a more traditionally sized monograph in full. 

From Ann Oakley’s satirical novel Overheads. A remarkable rant from a professor who has just been discovered to have fabricated the vast majority of his publications list:

The thing is, Lydia, few people realise how few books or articles are ever read by anybody. The average number of people who read an academic article is 4.6. Do you know how many books are published every year? About a quarter of a million int he UK and the States alone. Who needs them? I ask you! Most people write things just to put them on their CVs. So that’s what I did, only I put them on my CV without writing them. It’s been a kinda test of the moral status of the academy: a research project into ethics and everyday academic life, if you like. It’s been fun.

What we need, I often think, i s something like the set-aside mechanism of the Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers get paid for not growing crops, so we academics should get paid for not writing. As I have been, ine ffect. It’d make things a helluva lot easier. Just think: you wouldn’t ever have to update student reading lists, all those journal editors would stop harassing you to review books, students’d have more money to spend on beer, libraries wouldn’t have to keep expanding, and it’s be good for our eyesight as well.

pg 258

Register here: HTTPS://WWW.EVENTBRITE.COM/E/THE-CHALLENGE-OF-SOCIOLOGICAL-WRITING-TICKETS-19080409017

In this event organised by The Sociological Review’s Early Career Forum, a panel of accomplished writers with a long history of supporting younger scholars reflect on the challenges of sociological writing. Each participant will give a short talk, discussing a particular aspect of the challenge of writing, before the panel opens up for a general discussion with the audience. Building on the previous work by the journal in support of ECRs, there will be a particular focus upon the difficulties encountered in writing by early career scholars in the neoliberal academy, but also upon the pleasures and opportunities which writing offers.

Les Back – Start Writing and Keep Writing:  Notes, Drafts, Proofs, Papers

Les Back is a Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His main fields of interest are the sociology of racism, popular culture and city life. His work attempts to create a sensuous or live sociology committed to searching for new modes of sociological writing and representation. This approach is outlined in his most recent book “The Art of Listening” (Berg 2007). He also writes journalism and has made documentary films. In 2011 he published a free on-line book called Academic Diary (http://www.academic-diary.co.uk/) that argues for the values of scholarship and teaching in the face of austerity and the attacks on the university. His research interests include sociology of youth, ethnography, political sociology, racism and right wing extremism, music, auditory and popular culture, race and social theory, photography and urban culture and the sociology of sport.

Inger Mewburn – How to blog sustainably

I am a researcher, specialising in research education since 2006. Prior to this I lectured in architecture and worked in architecture offices for around a decade.

I am currently the Director of Research Training at The Australian National University where I am responsible for co-ordinating, communicating and measuring all the centrally run research training activities and doing research on student experience to inform practice.

Aside from editing and contributing to the Thesis Whisperer, I write scholarly papers, books and book chapters about research student experiences. I am a regular guest speaker at other universities and do occassional media interviews. Some details of these other activites are below. For further information, view my Linkedin Profile, contact me by email on inger@mewburn.net or visit my Google Scholar page.

Pat Thomson – Organising your writing

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham. Her research is centred primarily on how schools might change to be more engaging and meaningful for more children and young people. She mostly researches the arts, creativity and other kinds of experiential approaches in school and community settings, including galleries and museums. Much of this research has been conducted with her colleague Professor Christine Hall. She also has a long-term partnership with Tate Learning. She also works in researcher education and, together with Professor Barbara Kamler, researches and writes about the writing that scholars want to, and must, do.

WHEN
Monday, December 7, 2015 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM (GMT) – Add to Calendar
WHERE
RHB Cinema – Goldsmiths. New Cross. London GB – View Map

From the Guardian, via BrainPickings:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/

In this event organised by The Sociological Review’s Early Career Forum, a panel of accomplished writers with a long history of supporting younger scholars reflect on the challenges of sociological writing. Each participant will give a short talk, discussing a particular aspect of the challenge of writing, before the panel opens up for a general discussion with the audience. Building on the previous work by the journal in support of ECRs, there will be a particular focus upon the difficulties encountered in writing by early career scholars in the neoliberal academy, but also upon the pleasures and opportunities which writing offers.

Book online here

Les Back – Start Writing and Keep Writing:  Notes, Drafts, Proofs, Papers

Les Back is a Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His main fields of interest are the sociology of racism, popular culture and city life. His work attempts to create a sensuous or live sociology committed to searching for new modes of sociological writing and representation. This approach is outlined in his most recent book “The Art of Listening” (Berg 2007). He also writes journalism and has made documentary films. In 2011 he published a free on-line book called Academic Diary (http://www.academic-diary.co.uk/) that argues for the values of scholarship and teaching in the face of austerity and the attacks on the university. His research interests include sociology of youth, ethnography, political sociology, racism and right wing extremism, music, auditory and popular culture, race and social theory, photography and urban culture and the sociology of sport.

Inger Mewburn – Title TBC 

I am a researcher, specialising in research education since 2oo6. Prior to this I lectured in architecture and worked in architecture offices for around a decade.

I am currently the Director of Research Training at The Australian National University where I am responsible for co-ordinating, communicating and measuring all the centrally run research training activities and doing research on student experience to inform practice.

Aside from editing and contributing to the Thesis Whisperer, I write scholarly papers, books and book chapters about research student experiences. I am a regular guest speaker at other universities and do occassional media interviews. Some details of these other activites are below. For further information, view my Linkedin Profile, contact me by email on inger@mewburn.net or visit my Google Scholar page.

Pat Thomson – Organising your writing

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham. Her research is centred primarily on how schools might change to be more engaging and meaningful for more children and young people. She mostly researches the arts, creativity and other kinds of experiential approaches in school and community settings, including galleries and museums. Much of this research has been conducted with her colleague Professor Christine Hall. She also has a long-term partnership with Tate Learning. She also works in researcher education and, together with Professor Barbara Kamler, researches and writes about the writing that scholars want to, and must, do.

WHEN
Monday, December 7, 2015 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM (GMT) Add to Calendar
WHERE
RHB Cinema – Goldsmiths. New Cross. London GB – View Map

 

 

The final stages of Social Media for Academics are giving me flashbacks to the end of my PhD. I’ve drunk so much coffee that I can barely sit down, I have Forces of Victory on repeat and I’m alternating between thinking the nearly finished work is brilliant and concluding that it’s utterly shit. Over the weekend, I expect this will degenerate into symphonic power metal and energy drinks as I force myself to do the manuscript preparation & tidying up in one go. This led to a remarkably unpleasant 36 hours during my PhD which was nonetheless a very good idea, given my capacity for procrastination.

However I’m actually quite enjoying it, in a masochistic sort of way, which is rather different to how I felt at the end of my PhD. There’s a diffuse sense of nostalgia about it. After all, it’s the second time I’m doing something which I hope to do many times over the course of my life.

I think I’ve written a good book, with some significant weaknesses – most of which could have been addressed by being much more systematic with my writing and reading process over the last year and a half. For instance, it has little to no grounding in the ed tech literature, which I’m sure will irritate a fair number of people, but I’ve never intended it to be a contribution to this literature so I’m not sure I mind that much. I also think there needs to be a disclaimer on it: “warning, does not contain anything substantive about teaching and social media”.

More positively: I think there are a lot of ideas in the book, covering an extremely wide range of topics. I think I set academic social media in a broader technological and institutional context in an interesting and engaging way. I don’t think it lives up to the rather precise pedagogical vision I had at the start, but I’m confident I’ve written a very useful book. I’m also confident people will find it a thoughtful book. But that’s rather the problem. My thoughts on this subject are still changing on a daily basis. It’s why I find academic social media so interesting. Hopefully readers of the book will accept the invitation to come find me on Twitter & read this blog.

This is the only way I can get myself to declare Social Media for Academics finished and send it along to Sage: it’s a crystallisation of a lived engagement, objectifying ideas that are still very much in motion. Otherwise the fixity of a book frustrates me.

<goes to make more coffee>

Harry Quebert: “A book is a battle” 

And I cannot help but hold on
to a handful of times
when what was spoken
was a revolution in itself,
and what we were doing
was the only thing that mattered
And how good it felt
to kill the memory of nights spent
holding your shirt for the smell
I heard you used to cry
when you made love to him
but this band will play on
Because all we can do is what we’ve always done. 
And on and on and on…

Around two months ago I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I no longer had time to maintain two blogs. I won’t go into the reasons here, but the case seemed pretty unanswerable. So I closed down this blog and decided I would focus on Sociological Imagination. Since then I’ve felt the quality of my writing gradually deteriorate. The reasons for this seem obvious to me: objectively I write much less without a personal blog. The recurrent practice the blog helps ensure writing is a taken for granted part of my everyday life, it’s something which I feel no more anxiety about than other mundane daily activities.

I’ve found my creeping sense of dissatisfaction in the last two months extremely worrying. It’s a new experience for me to look at my writing, conclude “this is crap” and to feel uncertain of how to fix it. It’s not that I was always happy with my writing up to this point. I really wasn’t and I have multiple ‘working papers’ which demonstrate this. But when blogging was a part of my daily routine, my response to difficulty was to keep writing. The challenge added to my enjoyment of the process, rather than contributing to my descent into a seething mass of writerly neurosis.

Having a personal blog enables a cheerful optimism about writing. One which I never want to be without again. In the words of one of my favourite punk bands, it facilitates ‘word acrobats, performed with both harness and net’. I feel like I learnt to write seriously in the last couple of years of my PhD, when blogging became a daily activity for me. That’s when I began to take  profound pleasure in writing for the first time. I’m not entirely sure I can be a writer, as opposed to someone who is contingently obligated to write stuff, without having my own blog.

This discussion of the intellectual trajectory of Cornel West includes an illuminating reflection upon the limitations of academic talk. It’s a useful counterpoint to my own enthusiasm for improvisation in academic life. There is a time and a place for it but it’s something which will prove profoundly limiting if we don’t regularly move beyond improvised talk. The difficulties entailed by writing (“The pen is stubborn, sputters – hell!“) are opportunities for intellectual growth: chipping away at our improvisations with sufficient persistence to find the latent insights locked deep within them. I think this is as true of blogging as it is of speaking (both being forms of improvisation) and it’s something I need to remember when my frustrations with long-form writing leave me wanting to retreat into blogging.

In Brother West, West admitted that he is “more a natural reader than natural writer,” adding that “writing requires a concerted effort and forced discipline,” but that he reads “as easily as I breathe.” I can say with certainty, as a college professor for the last quarter century, that most of my students feel the same way. What’s more, West’s off-the-cuff riffs and rants, spoken into a microphone and later transcribed to page, lack the discipline of the written word. West’s rhetorical genius is undeniable, but there are limits on what speaking can do for someone trying to wrestle angels or battle demons to the page. This is no biased preference for the written word over the spoken; I am far from a champion of a Eurocentric paradigm of literacy. This is about scholar versus talker. Improvisational speaking bears its wonders: the emergence on the spot of turns of thought and pathways of insight one hadn’t planned, and the rapturous discovery, in front of a live audience, of meanings that usually lie buried beneath the rubble of formal restrictions and literary conventions. Yet West’s inability to write is hugely confining. For scholars, there is a depth that can only be tapped through the rigorous reworking of the same sentences until the meaning comes clean—or as clean as one can make it.

The ecstasies of the spoken word, when scholarship is at stake, leave the deep reader and the long listener hungry for more. Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121550/cornel-wests-rise-fall-our-most-exciting-black-scholar-ghost

This looks really interesting. If I had less on in June, I’d be tempted to submit a paper for this in order to try and develop some of my thoughts on design fiction and sociological writing:

Biography and/as Experimental Fiction

5 June 2015
Goldsmiths, University of London
Richard Hoggart Building, Room 137

This one-day conference deals with intersections of biography and/as experimental fiction in the 20th and 21st centuries. While for scientists an experiment is a common way of proving or disproving a hypothesis and thus of arriving at certainties, fiction writers have long been demonstrating that literary experiments tend to have the opposite effect: they open up alternative and multiple ways of reading and pose new epistemological challenges. Similar experimental tendencies can be identified in 20th and 21st century biography, which has seen a proliferation in narratives that disrupt conventional generic expectations and question, or even satirize, traditional modes of representation, often overtly crossing over into the domain of fiction as they tell a historical character’s story. From Woolf’s and Stein’s modernist experiments in biography to Amia Lieblich’s Conversations with Dvora written as imaginary dialogue, from A.J.A. Symons’s meta-biographical Quest for Corvo to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s self-searching Autobiografía del general Franco and Janice Galloway’s typographically conspicuous biofiction of Clara Wieck Schumann, writers have extended the range of the biographical through formal innovations commonly associated with the fictional mode. If experimentation has been a staple diet of fiction writers and a defining criterion of much canonical fiction for centuries, the “battle for ‘experimental’ biography”, Carole Angier argues, “has to be fought anew in every generation” as positivist Victorian values prevail to this day (The Arvon Book of Life Writing 58).

This conference will look at narratives about historical characters that constitute innovative explorations of biography’s formal possibilities in their respective cultural and historical contexts. We welcome papers that explore the insights generated by such texts, consider what is gained by specific biographical-fictional experiments and where – as experiments are sometimes prone to – they fail or fall short.

Organisers:
Dr. Julia Lajta-Novak, University of Salzburg
Prof. Lucia Boldrini, Goldsmiths, University of London

Keynote speakers:
Janice Galloway
(Scottish novelist, librettist, poet, author of short fiction)
Prof. Max Saunders
(Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London)

Please email your abstract (250 words) + brief CV and academic affiliation to Julia.Lajta-Novak@sbg.ac.at by 13 April 2015.

Delegates will be informed whether their paper has been included in the programme by 16 April 2015.

We plan to publish selected papers from the conference.

Attendance will be free of charge. Light refreshments will be provided.
Programme, travel and registration information will be published at
http://www.gold.ac.uk/ecl/events/biography-and-as-experimental-fiction/.