As many of you know, reading is absolutely key to academic writing. It’s where we gather things to say and springboard into new ideas. Many students see reading as a chore or a punishment. I find reading is a way to nourish my thinking. So I’m always trying to encourage students to look at reading kindly. Those of us who teach writing are often quick to say ‘read critically’ without explaining what this means. While it does mean critiquing the paper, it also means reflecting on it in terms of your own views. Here’s a paper I came across today that does a great job of explaining reading: Corrigan 2014 Attending-to-the-act-of-reading. He even has a tool so that you can assess if you are reading actively or not.
I’m back from South Africa and have been slowly easing into the daily routine of work. I have several Google Scholar alerts that continually search for keywords or themes I’m interested in. Often my inbox is filled with junk from these alerts, but today it yielded a gem, a MA Education thesis by Robert Bickford, titled ‘In relationship: Expressive writing as a decolonising adult learning praxis’. In this thesis, Bickford makes an argument but in a very different way from the traditional thesis. In keeping with this argument, he has also deviated from the traditional structure. Instead of Introduction, Lit Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, etc, he has used EAST, SOUTH, WEST, NORTH as his framework. The focus of his research is the academic essay which he argues carries the residual structures of colonialism. He makes the argument that expressive writing – writing that is meaningful to the author and connected to the author – is a way of approaching decolonized writing.
This argument appeals to me because I have made the case before that the academic essay, or academic writing generally, often creates a process of ‘othering’ where the student/author becomes separated from the writing because of the genre, conventions and perceived requirements. This results, often, in a dispossession of voice: A case of “I’ve written this but it is not me”. The academic essay contains inherent epistemologies and a discourses which writers adopt thinking they cannot question this format because “this is the way it is and has always been”. Assessment structures reinforce conformity and have built the academic essay (and the thesis) into a god-like creation. But like any other social practice, these things can change. It takes individuals and groups willing to take risks to begin the change. Bickford’s thesis is one of these.
Bickford locates his thinking in Indigenous cultures in Canada, but I thought this would be relevant for writers in South Africa who often experience the same alienation in the face of entrenched ‘Western/Colonial’ practices.
My favourite quote from his thesis is: “Writing is also dream-making” (p. 57).
Here’s a writing activity for you: How is your research dream-making?