Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Constructing an academic life

Last week Professor Laurel Richardson came to give a free public lecture at Melbourne University. I would have loved to have gone but I’d already been out two nights that week so I decided not to. Then I picked up her 1997 book Fields of Play: Constructing an academic life. I am enjoying it immensely and thinking I should have gone to hear her speak. Oh well. Her defence of experimental writing including the writing of narrative and fiction to explore academic knowledge is boundary defying. She asks questions like: How do the specific circumstances in which we write affect how we write? How does what we write affect who we become? Her connection of autobiography and theory has resonance with me both as a blogger and in my Masters work where I am investigating my own practice in the classroom and reflecting on it. It is amazing how what she writes in 1997 (before blogging) has so much relevance now when bloggers do this work routinely. But there is still a disconnect between what bloggers think we’re doing and what many academics think of blogging. The lack of editors and other gatekeepers, and the lack of peer review make the knowledge production of edubloggers suspect in some people’s eyes. This is strange I think since blogging is not so much a technique, as a space where people write and are read, where readers can comment and writers review. Isn't this what learning is about?


  1. Yes, although I think any type of writing involves technique. An awareness of what we are doing when we write and how we do it is important anytime, and particularly if we are writing as a form of research. In fact, Laurel said in her presentation (I wish you had been there- she was wonderful)that she is not interested in viewing writing as a "mopping up" activity that we do after the research is completed, but that writing is a research activity itself. (I couldn't agree with her more). And, whenever you are starting a new practice (I guess we could use blogging as an example, in terms of a writing practice that could be used in research in the way you seem to indicate in this post), "it has to be aesthetically worthy, as well as research worthy" (in her words). In order to be taken seriously by the 'doubters' out there, I suppose (that's one reason, anyway). And that suggests crafting and rewriting to me.
    During her talk she suggested '5 postmodern writing strategies' that perhaps facilitate a kind of 'critical' writing:
    1. Contextualisation- placing your situation in a larger context.
    2. Personal narration- considering the 'self' as 'active' and 'thinking', connected to the research process.
    3. Reflexivity- reflecting, looking back with critical eyes.
    4. Alternative writing 'genres', eg. poetry, fingerpainting, whatever. Writing in different ways means that you get to know your subject in different ways.
    5. Collaboration- working/writing across boundaries.
    What do you think? Is the writing process/crafting one of the things you think about when you are writing narratives for your masters? (I think the activity on your research wiki already answers this question.) And what difference does it make to what you get out of blogging/narrative writing when crafting is one of the things at the forefront of your mind?

  2. What fantastic questions, nb. There are a few things that I’m trying to do when I’m blogging. I am trying to communicate so I try to write clearly, although I recognise that blogging is, by its very nature, tentative and open to improvement (it can be edited). I agree with you (and Laurel) that writing is a way a research, a way of learning. I have been asked if I draft my blog posts and I do; often I write a post and think about it overnight before I post it. I love the idea of collaboration and writing across boundaries – I can see myself writing a play script one day or more poetry. I suppose I haven’t consciously used many literary techniques on my blog and have only recently consciously started writing narratives. What I’m trying to say is that while the blogging space is open and invites many different types of writing the kind of writing I see on my favourite edublogs (have a look at http://borderland.northernattitude.org/) is crafted, aesthetically pleasing and thought provoking, and I don’t see blogging as inconsistent with good writing.

  3. Some of the best writing I have read recently has been on blogs. Bloggers sincerely want to communicate; it isn't just about displaying knowledge. It is engaging. To me, that is the height of good writing.

    I don't know that we would ever be able to get administrators to view our blogging as the equivalent of being published in a peer-reviewed, edited journal. I wonder, though, if we couldn't make an argument to have it accepted as the equivalent of a conference presentation. Those aren't edited or peer reviewed. Showing comments and links to a blog could be the equivalent of attendees. Hmmm... I think I will have to explore this idea.

    Sorry, I think I got pretty far from your post, but I wanted to comment on it, and this is the direction my thinking went as I did.