Genre as activism

Recently I broadcast my publication methodology. I like to use open access tools such as twitter and blogging to develop and hone my thoughts. But do I have to switch my style when I get to the all important papers that “count”? The ones academia care most about?

Laurel Richardson doesn’t seem to think so. In fact she “came out” against the scientific genre for writing social sciences years ago, way before blogging. She argues that qualitative writing needs to be read from cover to cover to understand the meaning. Quantitative writing can be understood through the tables and figures and a quick scan. So, she argues, for the full meaning to come across, qualitative writing could (should) think about more creative, de-disciplined forms of writing.

But before getting all excited about where blogs fit into this argument (because that is something I am still troubling), I think the really interesting, refractory idea behind this, is not to move the reporting of findings away from the journals, but to challenge the journals to publish papers that refuse to budge from the genre created by white men during the Scientific Revolutions. The open access debate can work on making research findings accessible. I want to make writing accessible, wherever it is published.

“Ampelmädchen – Dresden” by Iago4096 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Now I am new to Richardson’s way of thinking so can’t comment on her theoretical groundings with any authority, but when a writer seems to be reading your mind and then gives you a way to explore your thoughts further, I reckon that is something worth pursuing.

Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot career wise by taking this stance, but my thinking is that if people like Richardson and St. Pierre have been writing this way for ages, then they are trail blazers. I’ll start by submitting to journals that agree(d) to publish them.

Also, I’m a bit over trying to be someone I am not. I’m getting to the stage where the academy needs to love me as I am, not as they want me to be. I’ll hang out for the institution that will support me and help me to grow, thank you very much!

Richardson outlines four criteria for rigorous creative social science writing which I will extract verbatim (see pg.964 of this). This will be my checklist as I go forward.

  1. Substantive contribution. Does this piece contribute to our understanding of social life? Does the writer demonstrate a deeply grounded (if embedded) social scientific perspective? Does the piece seem true — a credible account of a cultural, social, individual, or communal sense of the “real”?
  2. Aesthetic merit. Rather than reducing standards, another standard is added. Does this piece succeed aesthetically? Does the use of creative analytical practices open up the text and invite interpretive responses? Is the text artistically shaped, satisfying, complex, and not boring?
  3. Reflexivity. How has the author’s subjectivity been both producer and product of this text? Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the point of view? Does the author hold himself or herself accountable to the standards of knowing and telling of the people he or she has studied?
  4. Impact. Does this piece affect me emotionally or intellectually? Does it move me to try new research practices or move me to action?

I’m going to add a 5th point that was inspired by Neil Gaiman.

Would I like to read it? I will be its first audience, after all, and if its first audience thinks it’s boring, it probably is.


3 thoughts on “Genre as activism

  1. Naomi, maybe it’s because I’m such a novice, but I agree with your additional point: research texts should be readable and even engaging. You might enjoy Cate Watson’s recent paper ‘A sociologist walks into a bar (and other academic challenges)’. It talks about playfulness and imagination in academic texts.


    • Thanks for the tip! Shall follow up. I want to find an academic paper or book that I can read for fun. That is like a leisurely walk. A stroll through someone’s ideas. Eventually, I want to write that book.


    • ….and on being a novice
      I have a marvelous group of colleagues from all levels of academia that all have fears about whether they understand or are understood. Radical intellectual equality. It’s inspiring and great for the ego 🙂


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