Blogging with authenticity

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This is not my first blog. But it’s my first blog under my real name.

What on earth was I thinking when I started this blog?

I had just submitted my doctoral dissertation. It turns out that doing a PhD is a spontaneity-killer. You’re not allowed to write anything that isn’t fully supported by evidence. And you don’t ever use contractions, like I’ve been doing in this post. One of my supervisor’s ongoing criticisms was that my writing was “too casual”, “too conversational”, or “too chatty” in tone. So I can now write like a PhD, but can I still write like a person?

And is it OK to write like a person on a professional, academic blog?

Hey! It’s time for a reality check.

This may be an academic blog, but at the same time, it’s a social work blog within an anti-oppressive framework. Anti-oppressive practice involves reflexivity, which involves looking at my own social location and subjectivity in a given situation. In this paradigm, we don’t believe that “objectivity” exists.

As an anti-oppressive worker, I’m also not comfortable with binary oppositions — Professional-personal. Objective-subjective. Scientific-experiential. Everything is connected to everything and the lines are very blurry between such categories.

So let me start this blog all over again.

In this blog I want to talk about things I’m passionate about that relate to social justice, activism, research, teaching, and related issues. Some of my posts will be about specific research I’m involved with. Other posts will be more process-oriented. I’m also going to blog about the experiences and events that shape me as a social work researcher, teacher, and professional.

I started out wanting to write with all the authority of a tenured professor! But the reality is that I’m in a transition between my PhD and academic employment. I have no idea how long it will take for me to find the right position, especially since I want to stay in the Toronto area. On top of that, I’m looking for short-term work while I’m looking for my dream job. I didn’t work last semester so I could fully focus on my PhD. Now I’m preoccupied with getting a job, any job, so I can keep paying the rent and buying food. That makes it hard to write brilliant posts about social justice when my real focus is on getting a job today or tomorrow.

I live in one of the poorest areas of Toronto, just outside Regent Park. Over the past 15 years, I’ve chosen to live in solidarity with the poor, which has taught me more about poverty than anything I ever learned in school. At present, I live in some fairly decent housing (for a change), but most people are very scared to visit me where I live. Living in low-income areas gives me constant material for reflection and continues to challenge my understandings of the experiences of life in the shadows of society. So my living environment gives me constant food for reflection, which nourishes my academic work. Being out of work doesn’t change that. I do have things to say about social justice, even at this moment in my life.

Whew! I’m glad I got all that off my chest. I was getting incredibly bored by my own blog.

I’m hoping that blogging will get easier now.

© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008

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5 responses »

  1. What I think that academics miss in the desire of accreditation is that if knowledge is not accessible to the masses it serves to maintain classist divisions that support our dissonance in worth and value. Obviously some concepts are more difficult than others; however unnecessarily dense material means that those who did not have the benefit of higher education are excluded from the learning process. IMHO knowledge is meant to be shared. The more educated we are as a society, even informally the better chance that we have for advancement. I am no means arguing for an anti-intellectual approach to learning rather I believe that we should make knowledge more readily available by using language that is easier for all to digest.

  2. I completely agree, Renee. I believe that what, in research language, is called “transfer” of knowledge is far too limited in scope. It usually refers to how you are going to publish your study in peer-reviewed journals and present it at academic conferences. I would rather call it “sharing of knowledge” and I strongly believe it should include dialogue with the larger community (outside the academy).

    More specifically, I’m a big believer in the popular education movement, which “is a process which aims to empower people who feel marginalized socially and politically to take control of their own learning and to effect social change” (http://tinyurl.com/c34b6k).

    As an anti-oppressive researcher, I “produce” knowledge that is intended to help create social change. It needs to get into the hands of those who don’t normally have access to such knowledge, to empower them in their struggle. The corollary is that the needs of marginalized communities, as defined by *them*, should be the impetus for my research questions.

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

  3. Good point. One of the things that frustrated me at university was the way that there was an inherent intellectual snobbery. I think it can be much more difficult to write in a clear, coherent and understandable way about complex topics than it is to revert to ‘academic speak’. The content of simple and accessible language can be complex without the actual writing being so.

  4. As an exercise, I once asked a large research team to break into small groups, pick one of their research projects, and write a tabloid headline about it. The point was to challenge them to (a) find the most interesting aspects of their research for the general public and (b) communicate it succinctly. Many of them were very uncomfortable with the exercise. One group asked: Does it have to be a tabloid? Can’t we write a headline for [NY Times-like newspaper]? Hehe.

  5. I am glad that you are now posting without anonymity. I wondered who was putting the nice comments on my blog.

    What struck me most since I am not an academic, is that the same comment about being too “chatty” in my writing was made about my law school papers/exams/documents. They expected me to write like an academic, but a “real” lawyer has to learn how to have a conversation with a client or a judge not speak in lofty intellectual language. Completely contradictory.

    Can’t remember who said it, but one of my favourite quotes was: “Think like a wise man. Write like the common man”.

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