I’ve been thinking a little about writing style lately, as a paper I presented at the BASR conference has been getting some attention and I’m working it into a publishable piece. My supervisor hasnt read the expanded version yet, but he read the conference paper (as rough as it was) and his position is that it isnt scholarly enough – that its more like an after dinner discussion point (ouch!).
This of course challenges me to rework it into something suitably scholarly, but it may well be that the argument itself is just not scholarly enough. And my supervisor, knowing that I will be applying for fellowshios and postdocs, is warning me against publishing for publishing’s sake and not getting quality work out there that committees can judge me on. I understand his concern, but there is also something very nice about being ‘popular’.
What I do, the areas I research, almost always make people say ‘Oooh, how interesting’. Last night we had a welcome back returning grads dinner in my college and I spent a fair bit of time explaining to other grads what an Indigo Child is, how many Jedi there actually ARE, and debating the merits and demerits of the Church of Scientology (I did also find out more about nano-bots, the current trends of thought in the study of Classics, and admired rather some lovely artwork, so it wasnt just me rabbiting on!
I also think however, that working on a popular subject is a little like having your religious beliefs inspired by pop-culture. However serious you are, and how ever seriously you take the subject, the nature of the origins of what you do can trivilise what you are doing to other more serious academics (not including my supervisor in that comment, and he may well be right!). So maybe I need to x amount more serious and scholarly than the average academic Joe to counter balance that. But my natural inclination is towards public accessibility and communicating what is going on in these fields in an appealing way. My presentations often have visual jokes in them, the titles to my papers are often attention grabbing or pun-ish (e.g. my new paper is called, “See Mom it is Real”: The UK Census, Jediism and the Problem of Really ‘Real’ Religion”…).
I may have a problem…
One thought on “Popular or Scholar?”
For what it’s worth, your work sounds refreshing and welcoming. A glance at your vita suggests to me you’ve got your academic chops. And though I’ve neither read your stuff nor met your advisor, the suggestion that your work isn’t scholarly enough sounds flabby to me. I’d want to press your advisor on that. How exactly isn’t your work scholarly enough? Ah well, sorry. I’m blathering about something that’s none of my business. Please know I sincerely wish you luck and hope you can find a way to stick to your guns. Peace, John