Political Economy of Academic Writing Practices

Article excerpt

A few years ago, a colleague and I spotted an article posted in a departmental display case. My friend peered at it through the glass and said with a sneer: "Ha! It's just a think piece!" As an anthropologist and social foundations scholar, I have been much impressed by the intensity with which members of various academic tribes valorize particular kinds of scholarship while denigrating others. My colleague's training in educational psychology had taught her to value only data-based reports in national and international refereed journals and to view other writing projects with contempt. Such differences cause serious misunderstandings within Colleges of Education, limiting prospects for faculty collaboration across departments and program areas. They also foster a competitive milieu that may dissuade minority students and women from pursuing academic careers. Two major Carnegie Foundation reports have established the need and suggested strategies for changing how professors of education conceptualize and assess educational scholarship (Boyer, 1990; Glassick, Huber & Maeroff, 1997). Despite this, professors maintain rituals and reward structures that remain curiously conventional and resistant to change. This essay examines the political economy of academic writing practices and offers a rationale for more open-minded consideration of ways of "professing education" beyond the refereed journal article, the research report, and the tome.

Competent professors of education work across disciplinary and professional boundaries, keeping up with the literature of at least two fields, and often more than that. They read across disciplines, nations, genres and research methodologies, trying to stay abreast of the larger issues affecting educational research, theory, policy and practice. (1) In academe, career rewards accrue to specialists who focus on problems of interest to likeminded peers. But because solutions to significant educational problems demand collaboration within and beyond the academy, professors of education are expected to work with school, business and community leaders, teachers, parents, mental and healthcare professionals, the media, funding agencies and colleagues in the arts and sciences (Scheurich, 2005, pp. 275-276). Like all professors, educationists discover, synthesize, and disseminate knowledge in an increasingly complex, global context. They teach diverse, sometimes fragile, and often demanding audiences whose evaluations of them carry considerable weight. They must find time to learn how to use new technological tools for teaching and scholarship, while keeping up to date in their areas of specialization. The academic triumvirate of research, teaching, and service has been expanded to include revenue generation and public relations-as if the first three tasks, well done, were not enough. Indeed, professors of education serve many masters, some of them cruel, which can leave us frenzied, fragmented, and frustrated. Given all this, it may be time to take a fresh look at the political economy of academic writing practices in schools of education.

The term political economy is used in various ways within economics and anthropology. The study of the political economy involves analyzing how resources are created, distributed, and controlled within a group. The control of resources is a form of power. Therefore, political economies are often characterized by conflicts between self-interest and cultural ideals, and by inequitable distribution of opportunities. As a framework for this analysis, investigating the political economy of academic writing practices calls for professional self-examination and open-minded inquiry into the ways in which reward structures and traditions operate in academe. It means looking at consequences for individuals, organizations, and institutions (higher education as a whole).

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