söndag 24 februari 2013

20 years in Library and Information Science - reflect and repent, part 3: writing

For twenty years now I have been paid to communicate abouth things I find important in writing. As I am not particularly fond of people in general, I see this as a privilege. As a scholar I am to a very high degree a writer, something which I feel seldom is talked about when it comes to research – one only rarely hear a social researcher talk about his or her writing process – focus is always on the ”results”. To me the identity as a scholarly writer has been essential. When I entered the academy it was with a large portion of curiosity of what I would be able to do as a writer within the confinements of science – both in terms of research, and in terms of more popular writings. All of my research output is very personal to me. When I see my list of publication, I do not see just a list of articles, book chapters, reports and books. I see an ouvre. Some might find that pretentious, and it is. I do believe that lack of pretention is a big problem today, in research, and in society as a whole. The original fascination for documentation and libraries that once made me choose to engage in Library and Information Science in teaching and research, has always been my main guidence in the choices I have made in terms of topics and form. To me, my work follows a fairly straight path (with a few exceptions), and each new project I have taken on has begun in my own private contextualization, were I ask myself where this could fit in to the overall structure of my work. Whether this is visible to others is completely uninteresting. I am only interested in the direction of my own inner compass.  If I follow that, I am confident I will formulate interesting things to say that will take on a life of its own and be a part of discussions and debates of various sorts. In many cases this has also been the case. Suddenly I see, or hear of, a text of mine in a discussion that I could not imagine – sometime several years after it has been written. To see the individual lives of my books and articles unfold before me is gratifying beyond words. It is very much the way in which I connect to the world. I have several times over the years been invited to discussions and debates relating to topics I have written about. For the most I decline such invitations – I do not feel comfortable talking in the context of a debate – it is really as simple as that.
My research is, as I said, very personal to me.  It is therefore very important to me to keep as much independence in my work as I possibly can. Once the text is out and about, it is for any and all to scrutinize and crucify, but I do not compromise with my ideas. This why I do not engage in searching for ”external funding”, as it is called at the university. As most external funding in Sweden is the same tax money that already give me my pay at the end of the month, this is of course just discourse. External funding, especially in a topic like Library and Information Science, is nothing more than a control system giving some research a political legitimacy, and other not. I am utterly uninterested in the political legitimacy of my work, and doing my research in the realm of my given slot of time as a scholar has always been important. The result starts by now to show – it is possible to develop and do interesting research without spending a lot of time applying for money that you will most likely not get. This system set to discipline the spirits of scholars is devastating for many good ideas or, at the very least, time consuming - time that could be better used doing research. The system of reward within the university in terms of symbolic power and influence is obvious. It does, however, not have anything to do with the quality of research performed.
Writing science is in itself a negotiation, in terms of peer review processes and the scrutiny at conferences. The important thing is that these processes come relatively late in the creative process, and primarily concerns (at least with peer reviewing) the presentation of results. I remember when I started off with my first articles in 1993/1994, how I felt as if I was learning a new language. It was like learning to write sonnets – without the correct rhymes, it will simply be something else. Soon enough I realized it wasn’t all that rigouros, and I have done some experimentation with forms - for better and for worse. It was, however, an important choice for me – if I wanted to communicate and reach out to people, this could very well be a way that was fruitful. The writing process still holds. I can work though a project, or dwell on a problem for a very long time (sometimes years) without even making notes. At a given time – or a deadline – I sit down and I… write, quickly, with the basic structure all set in my mind's eye. Sometimes a given argument or line of thought finds its form in this very late writing process as I tap away – sometimes I have had a formulation or a sentence in my head for a very long time. If it’s good, it stays, if it doesn’t hold, it’ll disappear never to come back.
Results of social research is always negotiations and interpretations. I have always wondered why individual writing processes are so seldom discussed within the universities – as if we only reported, as if we are not – first and foremost – creative intellectuals, authors of science.

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