Posts have been a bit more infrequent than usual here on the blog because I’ve been writing up a storm in the world of academics and, quite frankly, I’m pooped! Last week I spent intensively working on getting a draft of the paper for my talk this year at the annual geographer’s conference (AAG). Another project I’m working on is a journal article in collaboration with another geographer (long distance), which is a new and fun experience! And I’m also in this writing class that I’ve mentioned before and we’re working on an article for submission to a geography journal. I’m hoping to submit that one in the next few weeks. The article is about the sexualized violence and gendered commodification of the animal body (both males and females) in the dairy industry. The process of writing the paper, while difficult, has been really fun. Finally, I’m putting into words some of the research I did on the dairy industry, and trying to make sense of it through figuring out an argument. It’s been a great experience so far! Okay, I know I sound like a big dork…”Academic writing is fun!!” I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What?!” But I really do love the writing process. I’ve always liked the process of forming sentences, searching for the right words, trying to get the right rhythm of words and ideas on the page (I get this from my dad). This particular process is also challenging (beyond just the act of writing) because of the complexity of the ideas I’m trying to sort out. The first week of class, the professor teaching the class (Victoria Lawson) said, “In a journal article, you should try to accomplish one thing really well.” In other words, there’s not space to develop a lot of different arguments/ideas in a journal article and so the challenge is to hone the argument to one main theme. There’s something about this process that’s like a puzzle — figuring out what adds to that singular argument and what detracts and then, at the same time, arguing for why this argument is more broadly relevant beyond just the empirical case you’re exploring.
One of the things I’ve been trying to be mindful of through the writing process is making the prose in the article readable. Academic writing can tend to be jargon-heavy, difficult to read, and downright inaccessible. When I got to grad school and started reading a lot of academic writing, I remember thinking, “I have no idea what this is saying! What have I gotten myself into?” In time, I learned a lot of the jargon and it made reading academic writing easier, but I continue to think that academic writing should be made more readable. Really I think it is an ethical issue. Particularly for academics who are doing work related to social, environmental, and animal justice topics, I feel that we have the responsibility as scholar-activists to make the effort to avoid jargon, to explain complex ideas and terms in more accessible language and to make an effort to resist the isolation and elitism of the university structure, even as we may be embedded in it. I am in grad school doing the work I’m doing because I want to change hearts and minds about animals and I want to use this great opportunity of being involved in an academic intellectual community to do it. Lots of academics commit to being scholar-activists and attempt to dissolve this (at times, seemingly impenetrable-yet-somewhat-imaginary) boundary between doing ‘academics’ and doing ‘activism.’ These scholar-activists believe that academia/activism are not mutually exclusive. Scholar-activists teach, they write in academic and public spaces, they give talks and get involved with activist organizations, they do lots of things that cause them to step outside of the so-called Ivory Tower and engage with the world in meaningful ways.
Writing these papers these last couple of months has reminded me of the importance of making the effort to make language accessible and the importance of constantly redefining what is meant by scholar-activism. What do you think?