22 SES 02 E, Academic Writing
This paper reports on an ongoing study of how knowledge is produced, shaped and distributed through the writing practices of academic staff working across a range of disciplines and at different career stages within the contemporary English HE system (http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/acadswriting/). We document how these writing practices are changing as the academy itself is reconfigured through increasing use of digital resources, new forms of governance and accountability, and the internationalization of higher education (Barnett, 2000; Robertson, 2008). Since universities are increasingly networked both regionally and globally, we see our study as highly relevant to higher education in Europe and beyond, and as a starting point for future comparative research.
Academic writing practices of various kinds (scholarly, pedagogic, administrative and 'impact' writing) are central to the enterprise of higher education. It is largely through these writing practices that universities achieve their central objectives, against which the success of different institutions is measured. This work is embedded in a variety of socio-material relations and affective experiences.
Recent higher education policy in in the UK (Neary et al 2010) has directly affected the material spaces in which academics work. In this paper I look particularly at the physical spaces, layouts and resources of the three different universities we are researching, how academics experience them, inhabit and move through them.
Literacy studies draws attention to how participants perform everyday writing tasks and enact "being an academic" in organizational settings (Lea & Steirer, 2011; Goodfellow & Lea, 2013). Methodologically this approach links with studies of everyday practice and involves close observation of textually-mediated interactions. Socio-material theory articulates the importance of both people and material artefacts in networks of activity (Callon et al, 2009; Fenwick & Landri, 2012). This approach identifies the trajectories of texts, how they circulate and co-ordinate activities across multiple sites, including online spaces, revealing the dynamics of contemporary practices. Combining these approaches leads us to analyse elements of the everyday experience and activities of participants including the distribution of academic activities across space, time and disciplinary and institutional domains.
In conceptualising academic spaces, we draw on the work of sociologists and social geographers (Thrift, 1999; Soja,1985) and the distinctions made by Lefebvre (2011) between three aspects of space: everyday notions of 'perceived space'; the 'conceived space' of professional architects, designers and planners and the 'lived space' of inhabitants.
A wider literature which theorises space in relation to organizational workplaces (e.g.Taylor & Spicer 2009; Van Marrewijk & Dvora, 2011) is useful for exploring the specifics of the HE workplace context. Finally, a small body of research focuses on the material spaces of education (e.g. Nespor, 2014; Lawn, 2005; Temple, 2014). These studies suggest that the different groups who inhabit the campus (such as academics, students and administrators) have different perceptions of space, since they have different uses for it and move through it in different ways.
The theoretical and empirical literature reviewed above suggests the following starting points for interrogating our data:
- What is the distribution of academics’ writing-related activities across available spaces (home/work, travel, leisure)
- What are the effects of built space on social encounters between academic peers, students and other writing collaborators? (Jessup et al,2012)
- How do symbolic resources in the built environment communicate disciplinary and HE identities? (Tor, 2015)
- How are decisions made about the design and use of space in HE? (Bligh, 2014)?
- What aspects of the built environment are perceived as important by academics (e.g. design and furnishing of seminar rooms, office privacy and noise levels)?
- What use do academics currently make of digital and material resources for writing including libraries and archives? (Haglund & Olsson, 2008)
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