Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Stuart Elden has a number of particularly interesting posts on academic writing on his blog Progressive Geographies. Recently he put up a post offering excellent advice on preparing for journal publication and then another on his own writing practices which has prompted the following reflections on my part.

Stuart notes that his book:

The Birth of Territory is almost completely new material, rather than reprinting previously published work. In fact, though it might not appear so, in the last few years I’ve actually submitted very little to journals, concentrating on the book…
I currently have no articles in review, due, or awaiting revision. I don’t owe any book chapters or other pieces, apart from a short dictionary entry on ‘Foucault and Space’ for the end of the year. I just have three book projects – one authored, one edited and one five-volume collection for which I’m managing editor – to complete in the next three-six months…

This may not necessarily be where Stuart’s comments were leading, but my own personal view is that journal publishing is not really where it’s at if you want to make a real contribution to the field that people actually read – at least in the humanities area. Many journal articles I find turgidly unreadable and not tractible for use as lecture or teaching fodder either.

Journal articles are something the institution has fixated on as being a quantifiable measure of academic performance. Who cares whether anybody actually reads them? I would argue that those who measure such things are in the rear guard in relation to new developments in how academics actually do their work as academics (as opposed to their work as employees of an institution). It’s rather like Bourdieu’s point that those who are not part of the educated elites think that impressionism is great modern art and a sign of culture – whereas the educated elite are all looking at bleeding edge contemporary art..

It’s a different situation in science – well perhaps not – as the publishing lead times are too long and scientists are resorting to online publication to get their work out before somebody else beats them to it in their chosen research areas.

Journals articles are, in my view, the impressionist art of academe for those not quite in the cultural know.

3 thoughts on “Academic publication

  1. BioGal says:

    Dear Clare, I have been wondering about academic output that is directed at undergraduates. Whilst working within a University I can clearly see those students who are paying fees to spend three/four years experiencing life in a new way, taking some examinations and hopefully getting a qualification that lands them at a higher rung on the career ladder earlier. The others are ‘wannabe academics’, who are excited by their subject, what to learn more about it for the pleasure of learning more, and may be more likely to choose a path into post-graduate education, research or academia.

    Do you think there is value in channeling different teaching strategies to these two groups? Can we segregate or do we deny those who latterly find their love of the subject and want to pursue it further?

    If books are better than journal articles for UG, maybe there are some practices that are better for the ‘tick-the-box’ students who treat Uni as a finishing school and others that are better for those that relish learning for its own end?

    I’m thinking scenario and project work more suits those that want to apply what they have learned in the work environment and that seminars with invited speakers might be more appealing to those that want a broad research view and might be excited that a Harvard professor had flown in to talk with them.

    Does this sound too dispiriting? Or a natural direction for modern higher education institutions catering for increasingly divergent groups?


  2. Clare says:

    Thanks for your comments Biogal. I have decided to change my reply here. There has always been a tension in universities between their function of providing vocational training and their research function. The reality is that the huge majority of students who go through are mostly interested in just getting the degree and gettig a job. A few will want to brave the rather dire current job conditions for academics and pursue a research and teaching career. Undergraduate teaching, much as academics bemoan the situation has to deal with this practical reality.

    Some undergrad degrees are structured with pass and honours to allow those who are interested to take a more research orientation. In other areas, the research component doesn’t really come into play until postgraduate level.

    On the subject of books, I prefer them in general and not just in terms of their undergraduate consumption. I look to books first and then to journal articles if I really have to.


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