My perspective on the topic of transforming research findings into scholarly writing and publications will be slightly oblique. I do not want to get trapped in the framing of the question because the field it delimits for debate seems premised on a series of assumptions—about writing, scholarship, indeed what constitutes “scholarly,” and, relatedly, what forms of writing are important. Instead, I open these assumptions to further interrogation and offer a broader perspective on the creative practice of writing.
When I started my undergraduate degree, I was undecided as to what course of study I would pursue. The choices were between a more general Bachelor of Arts (BA)—which I eventually chose, majoring in history and geography—and a Bachelor of Music (BMus) in jazz performance, which I did not choose. One of my close friends from high school, who I shared a love for music with—both of us being appreciators and instrumentalists—did go into the university’s music program. I was always a little bit jealous. Anyhow, I continued to be deeply involved in music, playing, and watching gigs regularly. I played in many different kinds of bands, playing reggae, soul, improvised creative music, rock ‘n roll, and learnt through that expansive and differentiated experience. For my friend who was in the music program, however, her horizon of music seemed to shrink and shrink. The orthodoxy taught in the jazz program, based on the canon of bebop music, started to creep into and pervade her perspectives on and experiences of all music. Under this value regime, music and musicians would be evaluated based on their adherence to the logics of bebop. This sensibility culminated in and was compounded by the internalization of assessment—the performance of music for marks.
By the time my friend finished her Master’s program in music, she avoided playing music and her primary instrument, the flute, for months on end. The value of music in general and the flute in particular became something that was determined by examination. Playing music was no longer about exploration, enjoyment, expression, or collective and communal creativity. It had become a task, a chore, and something to be assessed. It was a source of anxiety.
My own experience, my journey in music, has been incredibly different. I have remained involved in music on multiple different levels. I still regularly watch gigs, and I have recorded on many albums, including my own, and I have toured and performed in many countries across three continents. I practice every day, I record and perform professionally, I have jam sessions with my friends, I speak to my goddaughter about her experience with music, and spend time listening alone and with friends to many styles of music. My relationship with music remains extremely wide and is constituted by multiple different elements, all of which I find joy in.
Why this story?
In the academy, there is often a deep sense of anxiety about writing. This is linked to a number of things. The neoliberal restructuring of the university, its effects on publishing and its relationship to promotion are some of the major factors. Others relate particularly to the position of a graduate student in a deeply hierarchized institution where one is often made to feel that they are not as smart as their peers, they do not have anything worthwhile to say, or their work is not “scholarly” enough. There is also the widely held view or position that different kinds of writing exist in hierarchical relations with each other. Writing for publication in academic journals, also arranged in hierarchical order of importance, is seen as more important than contributing to independent grassroots newsletters, for instance, or writing one’s thoughts in a journal. This, I believe, is partly due to a mystification of the notion of what constitutes the scholarly or scholarship. At the root of it, at the level of argument, to be scholarly should mean that one takes a position or makes an argument and is able to expose and explain the logical and/or evidentiary route that led us to that position. It would be a position of untold arrogance and bourgeois mystification to assume that this mode of thinking is only accessible to academics and that this mode of writing only exists in academic publications.
For my friend who studied music, performing music for assessment became what most fundamentally shaped her orientation to playing music as a student. This undermined her joy for the music, transforming it into a task and a chore laden with anxiety. If I have a position to put across here, it is that the creative practice of writing is broad. Writing should be a joy and the practice of it should draw from multiple sources and forms of writing. The more we love writing, the more we invest time in reading and writing of various kinds, the better our writing will be generally. A broader involvement in writing will de-exceptionalize “scholarly” writing, making it part of a broader creative practice, rather than a reified and mystified anxiety-provoking practice of its own. We should not limit ourselves to writing only in certain forums, especially when that forum assumes it can tell us whether or not our work is good enough. Especially for those of us who see our writing as a political and cultural weapon in an ongoing struggle, it is imperative that we write broadly and challenge the bourgeois mystification of the scholar.