This post’s title is taken from “Re-imagining the Creative University for the 21st Century”, a collection of essays edited by Tina Besley and Michael Peters (2013, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam). The essays examine what tertiary knowledge means in a globalised, international context. The writers question values, epistemologies, established meanings, assumptions and purposes that together shape ‘our’ understandings of ‘university’.
I read it to build my own discourses of what ‘academic’ means: if ‘academic writing’ is the writing we do in/for the university (at whatever level), then what does the ‘academic’ in ‘academic writing’ mean? From an Institutional Theory of meaning (drawing on critical theory of art), ‘academic’ pertains to and is determined by whatever relates to the academy. (However, I don’t think that I like Institutional Theories, but still haven’t got a coherent reason).
My blog title also contains the phrase ‘creative non-fiction’ (borrowed from here), so I thought I’d better start swotting up on what ‘creative’ might mean …. and what it might look like in ‘academic’ writing.
‘Creativity’, as the title indicates, is a key word in this edited collection, and, overall, I think that this is what the authors would like the 21st Century University to be: i.e a site where creativity occurs (they don’t seem to think it does, though!).
And I don’t seem to have underlined any helpful working definition of what ‘creativity’ might mean, so here is an amateur cluster/concordance based on words/phrases adjacent to ‘creativity’ in the book:
invention, discovery, questioning, chance, critical thinking, innovation, probabilism, possibilism, pluriversity, flourish (Chapter 3 on using Gilles Deleuze and Charles Pierce to portray an ideal university)
imagination, fresh metaphors, ‘what if’ scenarios, surprising connections, free play of possibilities, capacity to provide foresight, working with the possibilities, alternative ideas (Chapter 6 on using Ricoeur to interpret a physics class).
emergence, concern with knowledge as a representation of a fixed and stable universe to be transferred from mind to mind in the educative process, rejection of reductionist approaches to curricula, non-linearity (Chapter 10 on Emergentism and Social Realism)
When I think of academic writing – of how we have been taught it, of what we have read about it and of what we actually read, of the advice on how to (and not to) do it, of how we actually do it – I don’t see it as an ‘it’.
Rather, I see a plurality of ‘academic writings’ because I can see these embodying some of the above aspects of ‘Creativity’. (I think I understand the ‘writing’ in ‘academic writing’ as a present participle so that it conjures up the notion of an ‘activity’ rather than a ‘thing’ and therefore it becomes dynamic, not static and reified).
I see ‘Creativity’ emerging in/from/around (?) academic writing when I read about changing citations practices, odes to scholalry blogs, evolving attitudes to wikipedia and multimodal dissertations. Examples abound.
But I also see an aversion to taking risks in academic writing:
The institution that results … is inimical to true collaborative creativity because it is wholly risk-averse: it tries to remove the element of chance from discovery (page 51)
The underlying assumption, here, is that being creative involves taking risks. But taking risks with our academic writing has some pretty obvious disadvantages! (aka disasters). So, if we accept (or at least acknowledge) that for academic writing to be ‘good’ it should be ‘creative’ (because creativity is part of what being academic should be, according to Besley and Peters), then it also has to involve a certain degree of risk-taking.
The question remains: what would be the difference, then, between ‘academic’ and ‘creative’? (Another time, maybe ….).
Are you risk-averse with your writing, or are you creative? Why?
Reference: Re-imagining the Creative University for the 21st Century Tina Besley and Michael Peters (2013), Sense Publishers: Rotterdam