10 December 2005

Academic and critical writing

Newly graduated with a masters in economics, Wei ponders over a book he just borrowed from the National Library, Critical intellectuals on writing (Olsen G, Worsham L, eds; 2003). The anthology consists of interviews of leading scholars by the editors, on being intellectuals.

Interestingly, Wei notes their introduction attempts to delineate the difference between academic and intellectual writing:

Simply stated, the distinction is this: academic work is inherently conservative inasmuch as it seeks, first to fulfill the relatively narrow and policed goals and interests of a given discipline or profession and second, to fulfill the increasingly corporatised mission of higher education; intellectual work, in contrast, is relentless critical, self-critical, and potentially revolutionary, for it aims to critique, change, and even destroy institutions, disciplines and professions that rationalise exploitation, inequality and injustice.

I never noticed the distinction between academic writing and critical writing - or rather, that distinction was not adhered to when I wrote my honours thesis. Of course, most of my classmates were trying to game the system...

Then, my reading material consisted of Pierre Bourdieu, who had this to say in Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977):

The social scientist has an obligation to see to it that the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon, that the question of the natural or conventional character (phusei or nomo) of social facts can be raised. Academic discourse, in the universe of discourse or argument, must combat orthodoxy, straight, or rather straightened opinion that aims at restoring the primal state of innocence of doxa (the natural, undiscussed, and undisputed), and instead become heretical, heterodox, to alert consciously to readers of the existence of competing possibles and the sum total of the alternatives not chosen that the established order implies.

It's a completely different view altogether: ideally, academic writing is critical writing.

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