On writing provocatively

Cunninghams law

From xkcd under CC BY-NC 2.5

I’ve had my arse handed to me a few times online. Won’t go into detail, but enough times to realise that writing provocatively (whether intentional or not) is often worth the activity.

Strong backbone required

 Writing as inquiry is about clarifying your thinking. Publicly writing as inquiry challenges your thinking. Autoethnographic public writing as inquiry can be a bit brutal but also an extension of the methodology.

I recently submitted a piece to The Conversation AU. It was very well received sparking “a conversation” about public schooling in Australia. I wrote autobiographically about why I was making a certain choice. People agreed, disagreed, accused and accepted. I took a deep breath (especially when one commenter brought the mental health of my child and quality of my parenting to task) and thought about the situation. Here are my thoughts:

Blogging as method

A blog post for The Conversation is only allowed to be 800 words in length.

It is impossible to explain the complexity of an issue in so few words so I wrote my personal take on the issue.

I wanted to say that education was way more important than the binaries: more tangled than private versus public schooling; more thorny than standardised versus inquiry based assessment; more labyrinthine than direct versus play based pedagogy. I wanted the conversation to come back to education as a social institution shaped by society and shaping society. Education is bigger than an institution.

Boy did I start a conversation. Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki said (and I love there is a t-shirt):

This has become my pop-theoretical-framework-that-we-all-need.

Comments as data

The comments came in thick and fast for several days afterwards. I gave up trying to respond and let them just develop. If I shut up, the readers would develop a complexity of their own.

 If you read the blog post and the comments as a whole, you might develop some sense of how complex the value of education is as an issue.

Analysing the data

I still think that is it important to engage with the data. Some symbolic interactionists might argue that it is best left as it is. I disagree. I think that there is still a place for something like thematic analysis (with whichever method you choose — I use a form of phenomenography I have developed for sociological online work).

So there you go. I reckon writing provocatively, using autoethnography, has potential.


2 thoughts on “On writing provocatively

  1. The problem with promoting writing provocatively is that people might focus on provoking, instead of actually delivering content.

    There is a difference between asking questions that start discussions, and just pissing people off. Unless you have some question you want to see discussed, you can provoke all you want – it will just make for more spam.


  2. I take your point. But what if an issue needs some thought and reworking ie, something ingrained in society that most accept as normal but isn’t useful. Do you think there is a place for this approach in activism?


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