Doing Research about Education

By Geoffrey Walford | Go to book overview

13

Compulsive Writing Behaviour: Getting It Published

Geoffrey Walford


Introduction

In his classic study of life in a psychiatric hospital, Rosenhan (1973) describes the way that covert sociologists who took notes within the hospital setting were fully accepted as patients by the medical staff. The researchers' constant note-taking of every activity that occurred was taken as sure proof that they were insane! Such 'compulsive writing activity' could only be a sign that these pseudo-patients were really as mad as the rest of the inmates.

Now Rosenhan, of course, believed that the sociologists were sane and were only taking part in the rational activity called sociology, but I have my doubts. There is something insane about the way qualitative sociologists spend so much time writing. They write before they start generating data in the field, they write profuse fieldnotes while they are undertaking the research and, finally, they write endless articles and books about their findings and (increasingly) the process of doing research. In most cases very few people will read any of this writing. If this is sanity, then how does it differ from madness?

In this chapter I wish to write about my own 'compulsive writing activity' linked to my research on the political processes that influenced legislation on sponsored grant-maintained schools. My focus will be on that writing activity concerned directly with publication, but this cannot be separated from the earlier forms of writing both prior to and during the 'data construction' phase of the research. For me, 'writing' and 'publishing' are not distinct activities that occur at the end of the research period, they are continuously present in the design and practice of the research. The compulsive need to write and publish helps structure what is done in the field, and the decisions made at all stages of the research.

The chapter starts with a consideration of the structure and constraints of the academic publication marketplace and the way in which these influence the publication process. This is followed by a broad outline of the particular research topic that has been the subject of much of my recent writing and publishing. Next comes a description of how particular articles and books linked to the project were eventually published and the form in which this occurred. Some general points are drawn in conclusion.

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