University of the Sunshine Coast and Griffith University
Ross Watkins and Nigel Krauth
Radicalising the scholarly paper: New forms for the traditional journal article
There is an irony in the history of the modern research university. Such an institution was first described in a novel. In 1627 when Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis was published, science-based research, undertaken by communities of researchers in purpose-built institutions, did not exist (Grafton 2011: 100). Bacon used the creative form of the novel, and the rhetorics associated with creative writing, to describe the organizational structures, methods and architecture of the ‘first’ research facility – called Salomon’s House.
Bacon’s fictional college of scholars significantly influenced the creation of the Royal Society 30 years later, where the bases of scientific method were put in place (Price 2002: 15). Earlier, Bacon pioneered the idea that the language used for reporting new knowledge discoveries should be free from ‘idola fori’ – ‘illusions’ or ‘idols of the marketplace’ created by subjectivity and the slipperiness of language (Bacon 1902: 20-1). He advocated a method of writing focused on facts and free of prejudice, opinion and poetic effect. From this we get, of course, the science-rhetoric model for academic writing, stripped of humanization, lyricism, emotion, humour, self-mention, and so on.
While the history of science references the irony that a fictional college in a utopian novel created the impetus for the Royal Society, science does not acknowledge the power of creative writing as a knowledge-maker or ideas-changer. Bacon set down the method for exemplary scientific writing in 1620, but completely ignored his own advice in the years following when he elaborated on the model of the research institute. This paradox, at the very heart of the establishment of the dominant genre for knowledge representation (i.e. the science journal article), provides a starting point for our paper which discusses how creative forms might present new knowledge in journal articles in the 21st century.
Academic discourse varies according to academic discipline. Hyland and others (Hyland 2012, 2009, 2007; Berkenkotter & Huckin 1995; Bazerman 1988) propose that academic discourse is a function of language use and social interactions within academic disciplines – one kind of talk works well in one academic group, but it doesn’t work in others – and that each discipline has its own culture, jargon, rhetoric and ultimately its own version of the scholarly article genre. The features of the writing each discipline undertakes are a product of its specific ways of thinking, its history and the type of matter it deals with, along with the structures of collegiality and communication it has developed. This idea has a corollary: that the forms taken by a discipline’s writing influence the kind of knowledge the discipline discovers (we will return to this later).
Walter Benjamin’s attempt to gain a position in a university in the 1920s is an excellent case in point.
In 1924, 32-year-old Benjamin had gained his doctorate but, in order to secure an academic job in any German university, he also had to have an habilitation – a scholarly monograph manuscript ready for publication. This document would be judged publicly by the professors of the university. If the professors liked it at the University of Frankfurt – where he sought employment – he would obtain tenure there. When he presented The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928) one professor called it ‘inappropriate to German Studies’ and another found it to be ‘an impenetrable morass’ (Steiner 1998: 11). Thus Benjamin did not get the University of Frankfurt job, nor did he ever become an academic.
His introductory exegesis for the study begins by explaining and seeking to justify the methods he used and the form the thesis finally took:
Right from the start, Benjamin admits that his study does not have a linear structure, there is no traditional line of argument, there are gaps in the narrative, the narrative itself keeps returning to its starting point, and the whole is basically a jig-saw of fragments which, in their capricious layout, reflect more the concept of thinking about a topic – a mosaic or constellation of ideas – rather than the production of a conventional, formal thesis.
Although his method was rejected by academia at the time, in each of its fragmentary parts Benjamin’s scholarly treatise involved exceptional perceptions, and its method became the basis for what Benjamin is famous for in universities today – an entire philosophy based on the collecting of insightful fragments, as with his major work The Arcades Project (Benjamin 2002).
Academia, like all institutions, relies on the conventional and canonical to keep its power intact, even though universities are meant to be spaces where new ideas and innovation are welcomed and encouraged. Benjamin’s focus on the subjective ‘I’ at the centre of research, and his attempt to de-stabilize the structures shaping knowledge, does not seem so ‘inappropriate’ or ‘impenetrable’ to us today, but nevertheless is still questioned in many quarters. Benjamin’s investment in the fragmented, collaged academic submission was an experiment in academic writing which has far-reaching implications for research discourse.
The packaging and shaping of knowledge
In Shaping Written Knowledge (1988) Charles Bazerman says:
To this, Ken Hyland in Academic Discourse (2009) adds that in the peer-review process
In this context, where the writing/reporting used by a discipline authenticates the knowledge it discovers, there exists the risk that the knowledge itself will be distorted, disrupted … or even entirely misrepresented, as in the case of recent fake journal articles which demonstrated how vulnerable discovery reporting processes are (see for example Bohannon 2013).
In 1983 the influential cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz said: ‘the shapes of knowledge are always ineluctably local, indivisible from their instruments and their encasements … what is seen [is dependent upon] where it is seen from and what it is seen with’ (Geertz 1993: 4). In anthropology, this applies to knowledge in ‘exotic’ cultures being problematically interpreted by western culture, but the concept relates also to the cultures created around academic disciplines. Among the ‘instruments’ and ‘encasements’ are the method, genre and rhetoric requirements for write-up imposed by the discipline undertaking the research. ‘Genres are intimately linked to a discipline’s methodology, and they package information in ways that conform to a discipline’s norms, values, and ideology’ (Berkenkotter & Huckin 1995: 1).
Inevitably the package is designed to impart authenticity in just one discipline’s terms, and not in others. The history of science writing bears this out: Bacon made his initial recommendations about the use of non-poetic language for describing discoveries in natural philosophy (i.e. what we now call science) because the language and genres in use at the time were developed by and cohered with other kinds of knowledge endeavour – especially human philosophy, oratory and the arts, which were the then-dominant academic discourses. Bacon’s insight initiated the search for a whole new packaging which could contain and convey the discoveries of science (see Bazerman 1988: passim).
Worryingly though, discipline-generated packaging may also stifle the voice (or experimental mode of expression) a researcher might seek in order to convey a legitimately innovative discovery, as Walter Benjamin found out. Much depends on the flexibility of the genre the discipline has created, and the willingness of colleagues to recognize variations. New journal article genres have sprung up in cases of cross-disciplinary research (e.g. fictocriticism, see later) or where the language and structural requirements of disciplines are brought into question (e.g. feminist studies, postmodern studies, postcolonial studies). Disciplines need to react as favourably as possible in such situations: new language and form can indicate new discovery content.
Bazerman found that across various disciplines:
Of concern in the arts is the fact that science-rhetoric and the genre of the science experimental report have migrated to, and colonized, the forms other disciplines write in, especially the social sciences and Journalism which reside close to Creative Writing. Bazerman notes:
We see this happening in Creative Writing. Due to the influence of the science-rhetoric model in our universities, emerging scholars (and some colleagues) express confusion about how they are supposed to write in our discipline, and tend to default to the sciences’ way of framing and developing a research project – in spite of lack of fit in humanities disciplines (Bazerman 1988: 6-7) and criticism of its effectiveness in science itself (Medawar 1964: 41; Berkenkotter & Huckin 1995: 60). There is even a word in the dictionary to describe the oppressive influence of the science-rhetoric model:
The term scientism questions the notion of a universally-applicable method and approach to the discovery of new knowledge. It interrogates the idea that empiricism provides the only way to determine authentic knowledge.
Even at the early stages of establishing the scientific method in 1840, William Whewell (hew-əl – rhymes with jewel) the Cambridge scholar who pioneered the formulation of the hypothetico-deductive interpretation of scientific activity (and is known for coining the words ‘scientist’ and ‘physicist’), said in his seminal work The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840):
Whewell’s provocative warning – that there can be no rules for methods employed in discovering and relating new knowledge – has clearly not been heeded. His ‘helps’ to inquiry (about observation, induction, resemblance, causation, etc) offered in his book were taken as gospel by his largely scientific community rather than as ‘limited and precarious’. Whewell was far-sighted in suggesting that methods employed in research should be flexible rather than rigid, that if there is an art to research it resides in adaptability and openness to new possibility, and that the idea of just one avenue – or a strictly limited range of avenues – available for the pursuit of ‘truth’ was untenable. He thought there could be no singular ‘Art of Discovery’: it had to be plural. But, as American rhetorician Lloyd Bitzer pointed out regarding established genres, ‘the tradition itself tends to function as a constraint upon any new response in the form’ (Bitzer 1968: 13).
In their 1995 book Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power, Berkenkotter and Huckin recognized Whewell’s insight by saying:
But the ability of academics to embrace new forms has been limited. Bitzer’s genre-driven ‘constraint upon any new response’ has been manifest. In our experience, early career researchers in Creative Writing typically question the impositions of the journal article form when asked to publish during candidature. Supervisors might attribute this resistance to a residual undergraduate perversity, but more likely it is an indication of how unfitting the available article forms are to the thinking the new cohort of academics is doing. It is an indication, perhaps, that it is difficult, distorting and dispiriting to have to express new creative writing knowledge according to the rules of the current array of acceptable genres. To repeat Berkenkotter and Huckin: ‘As the intellectual content of a field changes over time, so must the forms used to discuss it’ (Berkenkotter & Huckin 1995: 25).
Berkenkotter and Huckin pointed out the paradox in thinking required even by science academics in coping with the contradictions involved in expressing new knowledge in old knowledge’s terms:
This problem – transferred from the sciences into the humanities – was faced by Walter Benjamin. Published research as we know it isn’t only about finding new knowledge, it is also PR and branding for the discipline that invests in it. Berkenkotter and Huckin imply the following:
Clearly, we need to be careful about the influence of science-rhetoric models because, at a significant level, they are advertisements for scientism. And as Geertz said: ‘Scientism, and here I will talk of the human sciences overall, is mostly just bluff’ (Geertz 1992: 131, his emphasis).
In a chapter titled ‘Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought’, Geertz pointed out that:
Thinking about the way we think should also influence the way we write about what we think. In research activities:
Increasingly, hybrid academic works have been published out of the necessity to better deal with the plurality of knowledge. Canagarajah and Lee say:
Still the myth lives on at an overarching academic level – and in the public perception/Zeitgeist – that the science-rhetoric genre of the research article is the basic and default model for, supposedly, all disciplines in the academic system. According to the myth, the dissertation genre in the humanities is subsidiary because those disciplines don’t deal with knowledge as ‘truth’, just critical opinion! At a very deep level – where ultimately we identify ourselves as academics – we are impelled to think that our research writing must in some way or other comply with science-genre expectations. Yet, despite the myth, since the 1970s significant researchers in the humanities have forged niches for themselves with radical language use and innovative forms in their academic writings.
Hélène Cixous, for example, crossed boundaries between literary studies, philosophy and creative writing. As part of her écriture féminine project, she wrote academic books and journal articles which combined poetry, autobiography, language play, literary criticism and philosophy (Cixous 2004). Other feminist scholars followed suit, including Rachel Blau Duplessis whose journal articles combine literary criticism, poetry and fragmented narrative (Duplessis 2006). Roland Barthes employed the fragment as the building block of his thinking in various scholarly works, including A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1978) which combines scenes as in a novel with referenced academic discussion, exegetical material and elements of a monologue playscript. Another innovator is Alphonso Lingis: referred to as ‘the itinerant philosopher’, his scholarly works combine travel writing, creative nonfiction and photography with a multidisciplinary philosophical perspective (Lingis 2000). The blending of genres in research writing is not as rare as one might expect. Often, to represent the fact that their book or article derives out of blended research activity which is cross-disciplinary at base, writers such as Stephen Muecke (2012), Michael Taussig (2006), David Shields (2010), David Brooks (2011) and others use cross-genre rhetorics to emphasise their cross-disciplinarity .
Fictocriticism’s entry, impact and development
Taking the lead of Cixous and others, fictocritical writing is one radical mode which has arguably made a legitimate space for itself on the scholarly map. Discussing the historical development of this ‘minor literary form’ in her PhD thesis, Helen Flavell notes fictocriticism’s legitimacy, as reflected by: the journals calling for and publishing works deemed ‘fictocritical’, the institutions teaching courses specifically on the form, and the academics contributing to its development in Australia (Flavell 2004: 141, 149-150). Sean Sturm groups fictocriticism with the performative essay, creative nonfiction essay, and the lyric essay as inhabiting ‘the margins of the academosphere’; forms which ‘are not only vehicles for critique (critical in their content) but also implicit critiques of the essay as mere container for content (critical in their form)’ (Sturm 2012, emphasis in original).
Since Stephen Muecke and Noel King dubbed ‘ficto-criticism’ for readers of the Australian Book Reviewin 1991 (Muecke & King 1991: 13), shaped by references to the work and commentary of Frederic Jameson and Rosalind Krauss, fictocriticism’s propagation and rise to acceptance has become a somewhat conflicted site. The conflict stems from its politicised labelling and its delimitation as a ‘practice that can only be couched in terms of post-modernism’ (Flavell 2004: 144), despite documented forerunners in France and Canada, specifically as a feminist discourse in operation from the 1970s (Gibbs 1997). Nevertheless, the agenda at the heart of these radical works has always been to reappraise, disrupt and partly dismantle the conventions of the science-rhetoric model of scholarship.
Fictocriticism achieves its subversive ends by merging (often multimodal) storytelling elements with criticism (favouring criticism, manipulating narrative devices for critical purposes). Anna Gibbs notes that the fictocritic is:
Much like Benjamin’s fragmentation, fictocriticism champions the discontinuity and subjectivity of heuristic writing. As Muecke puts it when aligning fictocriticism with Derrida, this radical activity is ‘the collapsing of the “detached” and all-knowing subject into the text, so that his (or your) performance as writer includes dealing with a problem all contemporary writers must face: how the hell did I get here?’ (Muecke 2002: 109, emphasis in original).
The appeal of fictocriticism to the creative writer is clear: it offers a means to employ and play with the skill set of the writer, and that employment and play is ironically directed at understanding the act of creativity itself. There is pragmatism in the form’s offering, as an alternative to the science-rhetoric model. The form has thereby become increasingly utilised by creative writers as a reflective and reflexive tool, not as conventionally conceived ‘criticism’. A problem arising here is that while fictocritical works enact postmodernist thinking, writers might find themselves using the form for motivations and to ends which do not resemble a postmodernist agenda (or even a centrally political agenda). Flavell points out the same conflict, asking: ‘But what is the cost of adherence to such conventions – at the cost of alternative paths of discovery and knowledge?’ (Flavell 2004: 130). Flavell emphasises that ‘fictocriticism’ has become an adopted term for a variety of non-traditional transmutations, growing into ‘a diverse field with influences and connections beyond those provided by the sanctioned discourse’ (Flavell 2004: 150). Consistent with Anne Brewster’s ‘provisional naming’, the form’s refusal to be defined and reduced to a ‘particular set of stylistic features’ (Brewster 1996: 29) also means that the form itself has no form, or such a multitude of forms that the term comes to signify less and less. As radical scholarship with ‘revolutionary capacity’ (Flavell 2004: 141), such splintering is not exactly desirable. Delimitation is not only useful, but important to fictocriticism’s rupturing of the criticism/fiction binary.
According to Verena Conley, Cixous’ early radical book Neutre (1972) is ‘[n]either fiction nor criticism, it is an impersonal secret narration cutting between institutionalized barriers’ (Conley 1991: 38). The liminality of such writing leads to what Muecke calls a ‘little crisis’ within the criticism/fiction binary:
If fictocriticism dwells within the ‘little crisis’, it can also be argued that fictocriticism must maintain the binary its writers lever, otherwise fictocriticism is in ‘danger’ of becoming one or the other (fiction or criticism) and undermining or perverting its (albeit disputed) intentions and development. Limitations on what fictocriticism can and should be are in operation, and although the form ‘works to refuse the magisterial position and colonising practices of normative academic writing’ (Flavell 2004: 151), it also depends on normative academic writing in order to maintain its rage and relevance.
Accepting the aforementioned idea that a discipline’s written forms influence the kinds of knowledge the discipline discovers, within the context of scholarship in the digital age the limitations inherent to fictocriticism might correspondingly prove limiting to knowledge. Further, because the ‘cultural transformation effected by digital convergence and net worked [sic] communication has been dizzying, and, for many, disorienting’, and the future of reading and writing practices has been ‘thrown into doubt’ (Potts 2015: 6), now is the ideal moment for writers to explore further alternatives to the established norm, as the packaging of the scholarly article undergoes transition. Just as the printing press revolutionised the formulation and transmission of ideas, online technologies present radical scholarship with the opportunity to impress itself upon the ‘academosphere’ by cultivating a multiplicity of knowledge ‘shapes’. Via multimodality, the re-packaging of the journal article genre may liberate the voice or experimental mode of expression of the creative writing researcher.
Multimodality and the networked journal article
Multimodality is certainly not new. As Potts writes of creative practitioners in The Future of Writing (2015):
However, academia has taken a long time to conceive meaningful and viable ways to make full use of online technologies (internet, ‘apps’) in scholarly writing, partly due to the rapid development of these technologies, and finding journal articles which embrace multimodality to the same extent as the experimental writing Potts refers to is a regularly fruitless exercise. One of two key issues here is around usage, and as with any new plaything it will take some time for scholars to handle the technology in a fluent way – to discover uses which avoid impressions of gimmickry or pointlessness, or simplification of what can be genuine research in non-verbal forms. Just as the scholarly avant-garde of the 1970s sought to cultivate by blending written forms as scholarly practice, the 21st century scholar’s challenge might include integrating video, sound, images and illustration so they become part of research expression and thereby integral, not simply embedded supplements. Of equal importance to the structuring of verbal coherency in traditional scholarship, design elements such as composition, layout and sequencing can contribute significantly to the articulation of a research strategy. As multimodal theorists explore (Kress 2009), the blending of multiple textual modes demands media literacy and, in the variety of combinations possible, content is capable of a richness of experience and meaning far greater than the written monologue. That is, if and when media literacy is mastered, and applied to apposite content.
On the issue of content and its scholarly purpose, multimodality raises the query about how such modes can achieve the expositional quality which has become accepted as central to ‘critical’ scholarship. As creative practitioners, creative writing academics are in the box seat for such experimentation because, as one arts colleague commenting from the outside put it, ‘being radical is a writer’s thing’. It can be assumed what she means by this comment is that creative writers are equipped with the necessary skill set to contest conventions of written form; and further, that creative writers are acting on and interacting with an increasing level of multimedia modes in their practice. If the discipline is still perceived as the ‘ghost’ inside ‘the machine’ (Taylor 1999), then surely that position allows us a wily and disruptive advantage to execute change – change which expands the modes available to communicate research germane to our practice.
The second issue fundamental to the lack of development in the area of multimodal scholarly practice is far more pragmatic: practitioners casting a paradigm shift in the scholarly journal article is absolutely achievable, but are publishers equipped to enable it? Evidence suggests yes and no. For established print journals, even if the decision has been to maintain the journal in hard copy, the advantages of rapid and widespread dissemination of its research online demands post-print or simultaneous conversion to digital media, usually involving the exporting of new content (and the scanning of archived content) as PDFs. For these journals, the potential for multimodal articles is obviously restricted to static content – but even further, often the journal’s mandatory template or the typesetting software places significant constraints on the presentation of static content (for instance, images must be forced ‘inline’). For digital-only journals the online technology is there and ready to go – if it is on the web then a journal can house it – and the opportunity for scholarly journal ‘apps’ presents an even more recent set of potential innovations and radicalisations.
Scholars debating the future of academic writing and reading tend to prefer circumnavigating any specific detail regarding the direction traditional scholarship might take in the 21st century. Reticence to ‘predict’ comes with obvious reason – while the science-rhetoric model has made hypothesis integral to scholarship, and persuasive scholarship grounded in analysis of the known to anticipate potential outcomes, the sheer progress of the technology impacting writing and reading in general is not only evolving, but diversifying and converging in radically new formations. These formations are socially linked, creating a fairly unstable means for hypothesis.
The closest to ‘prediction’ reads more like speculative fiction (exactly as Bacon’s portrayal of a research institute did): Johanna Drucker’s description of her strange entrance and navigation through an academic library of the future depicts a kind of router where the digital and physical converge, a place of virtual signage and ‘cyber artisans-in-training’ (Drucker 2014: 325). In Drucker’s vision, university has become ‘a fully integrated and distributed platform, socially networked, a node of production and review, research and assessment’ (2014: 326). A little closer to now, and more broadly envisaged, Karen Bromley asks us to ‘picture a world…’ where communication is fully digitised and pens, pencils and paper are historical artefacts (Bromley 2010: 97). Bromley’s ‘world’ is an exaggeration of current trends within technology and social media, and the potential of these trends to impact currently conceived scholarship; a world in which a trip to the library will apparently not exist.
Closer to the present is the emergence of ‘open-review’ publishing, where written works are both peer-reviewed and published online as works-in-progress available to the public, and open to critique by any mouse clicker or tablet tapper. This is a far more ‘public’ event than what Benjamin’s habilitation was subjected to. Writing on this topic in 2006, Jeffrey Young pointed out that ‘the whole academic enterprise’ revolves around the book as a printed, peer-reviewed artefact – especially in relation to tenure and promotion – but that ‘several scholars are using digital means to challenge the current model of academic publishing’ (Young 2006: A21). ‘Thanks to the Internet,’ Young writes, ‘the book should be dynamic rather than fixed – not just a text, but a site of conversation’ (2006: A20). And while ‘open-review’ presents the very real possibility of new methods of both scrupulousness and personal and professional damage, the notion that scholarship – which is already collaborative in its current publishing form – may in some way become more ‘networked’ is an opening of the traditional publishing process which should be welcomed for its potential to increase rigour, however cautiously.
Normative journal articles are linear arrangements, but our reading of them is commonly non-linear; that is, we read intertextually, connecting concepts and arguments via internal and/or external knowledge schemata (in-text references; contextual knowledge). The journal article is already ‘a site of conversation’, but I agree with Young that such texts could be made more ‘dynamic’ if publishing platforms facilitate it. As is being discussed elsewhere, social media devices could be utilised to create commentary and para-text as a way to develop a new brand of scholarly collaboration and rigour. The reading of papers might not only require vertical scrolling, but lateral movement across the screen to see and read connecting lines of debate. Creating more than simply hyperlinks between articles, a more agile and expansive visual mapping of articles could provide another method of breaking open the siloing of research publishing, becoming more responsive and indicative of the positioning of arguments as debates expand: a literal mosaic or constellation of ideas forming in front of us; an extension of Benjamin’s ‘uninterrupted purposeful structure’ (Benjamin 1998: 28). Such advancements could maintain all-important peer-review standards and attribution in order to adhere to current systems of research quality reporting, while shaping a new concept of intellectual production and connectivity.
Moving into that future, whatever it may be, there are substantial challenges for journal editors, publishers and contributors. Not only are these challenges technological, economic and epistemic, there are obstacles in finding suitable referees and equipping those referees with criteria which take into consideration the article’s flexibility in delivering and meeting entrenched research expectations. Solutions do exist, of course, so it is perhaps only a matter of time and increased demand which will convince editors and publishers that a paradigm shift is already here and that it is a meaningful undertaking. Reigning over such change is the power and inflexibility of traditional scholarship, while how ‘radical’ the scholarly paper becomes depends on its contributors, and the acceptance of such strategies as a valuable continent on the scholarly map of knowledge production.
Dr Ross Watkins is an author and illustrator for children and adults. His first major publication was the illustrated book The Boy Who Grew Into a Tree (Penguin Books 2012), and his picture book One Photo (Penguin Books) is due for release in 2016. Ross is a lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Professor Nigel Krauth is head of the writing program at Griffith University. He has published novels, stories, essays, articles and reviews. His research investigates creative writing processes and the teaching of creative writing. He is the General Editor of TEXT: Journal of writing and writing courses www.textjournal.com.au. His book Creative Writing and the Radical (MLM, Bristol) is due for publication in July 2016.
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Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo