Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Writing badly - the key to academic success?

There are few academic works that I would actually claim to have enjoyed reading.  Michael Billig's book "Learn to write badly: How to succeed in the social sciences" proved to be one of the exceptions.

The iSchool researchers' discussion group has talked about academic writing before.  However, armed with new perspectives from Prof Billig, I thought I would raise the subject again.

Of the various points that Michael Billig made in his book, one was particularly relevant to the iSchool, i.e., the argument that much of writing in the social sciences requires information to be removed. He discusses at length the passivisation that occurs in the process of writing for academic publication.

As someone who has spent many years working in the social sciences, that last sentence came naturally.  It is however, exactly the sort of sentence that Prof Billig criticises.  When I converted a process to a noun (the process of turning active verbs into passive ones), I stripped out a lot of information (about who was doing what, to which verbs) to produce an academic-sounding word (passivisation).  By such means, social scientists bring things into being (Massification, Normatization, plus other ...izations, ...and ...ications),  A social scientist whose new thing is discussed and analysed has the makings of a good career.  However, the people who do the ...izing or ...ify-ing are all too often removed from the discussion.  The focus tends to be on hypothetical processes rather than real people.  Perhaps the social sciences are at risk of being de-societalized.  

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