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CeLM Seminar Series

What it’s like to be an academic these days, as revealed by changing writing practices

by David Barton (Lancaster University)

Date                     Wed 22nd February 2017

Time                     15h00 – 16h30

Venue                  CHANCELLORS-100

Academics seem to be getting busier: they are having more demands placed upon them; they are carrying out a wider variety of writing tasks; and boundaries between work and not-work are collapsing. This paper explores the extent to which this is happening and the role of the digital world in such changes, drawing upon a recent ESRC study The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics’ Writing Practices in the Contemporary University Workplace. Working across 3 disciplines in 3 universities in England, the study documents the diversity of writing practices including writing for research, for teaching, for administration and for impact. It draws on a range of methods including techno-biographical interviews, observations and tracking of specific events, discussions around pieces of writing and auto-ethnographic investigations of the research team’s own practices.

As a way of understanding how academics experience and respond to change this paper will concentrate on the role of new technologies and examine Affect – the strong the strong feelings which academics express about their digital lives. For example they loved or hated Twitter, Skype, PowerPoint and, above all, email. Focusing on affect was a good way to engage people and it proved very revealing about changes in practices. Such examples of affect enabled us to see other issues and to explore a central question of how digital communications technologies are shaping academics writing practices. Each person seemed to have a personal profile of what devices and platforms they utilized. Through analyzing these, we see individual routes to common ends in their work lives along with stresses and tensions in contemporary academic life.


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