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Writing in Social Spaces: A social processes approach to academic writing (my reading notes)

I remember when I was starting my doctorate, a number of faculty told me that they did not foresee me finishing my dissertation because I was very social. I can only assume that my being social was seen as “not serious enough to work alone and concentrate in his research and writing”.


Well, not only did I finish my PhD, I have now advised and taken several students to completion of their own doctorates. I think being social in graduate studies is not a hindrance but an asset. I very strongly think (and have believed for a very long time) that research and scholarly writing should be social activities. I am so glad that Dr. Rowena Murray’s “Writing in Social Spaces: A Social Processes Approach to Academic Writing” validates my belief in the sociality of academic writing and research.

Dr. Joy Langston from the Political Studies Division at CIDE is a full tenured professor of political science and expert in elections, the PRI, & Mexican politics (and a very close friend of mine). She’s also National Researcher Level 3 (the highest). In short, she’sa very well published academic rock star. Dr. Langston led writing meetings for CIDE faculty a few times over the past few years. Joy led Weekly writing meetings for CIDE faculty a couple of times over the past decade, following
Wendy Laura Belcher

Personally, I found this exercise very helpful and now I do something similar with my thesis students. I am grateful to Joy for having led those workshops. Anyway, back to Murray’s book. It’s excellent, and you should all read it.

I want to use Murray’s Writing in Social Spaces to add a couple of my own thoughts. One reason why we may not find writing meetings useful is because sometimes they are itinerant, and that’s why we resort to writing retreats. What I like about Murray’s model is her concept of disengagement.

I am writing at home today (at the time of writing this blog post). Doing this on a regular basis becomes complicated because I work for a government institution which often requires me to be physically on campus, sometimes every day. This is also the main reason why I write in the mornings (and why I start working at 4 in the morning). Because of my (tacit but very explicit at times) requirement of being on campus as much as possible, I find it really hard to spend full days writing at home. I travel a lot and I have this belief that when I am in Aguascalientes, I MUST be on campus for meetings, and so students can reach out to me and meet with me if they need to discuss stuff.

I feel like a challenge we face is OUR INABILITY TO DISENGAGE. We have so much stuff to do that it is difficult to disengage from the office, from our fears, from our self-doubt, from the overwhelming list of tasks we have to fulfill. But that’s also why I find Murray’s conceptual model of social writing so helpful.

Yesterday, two of my PhD students came from Zacatecas (where they live) to Aguascalientes (where I live) and we wrote TOGETHER. They worked on their theses and I worked on 3 papers I have long overdue. Writing as a group DID help them and did help me too.

Writing IS social.


And here’s the BUT.

We need SPACE and TIME to think and write. To disengage, we need to have the right conditions. If our institution does not allow us to disengage from the campus office, THEN they need to provide the on campus physical space to ENGAGE with writing.

Overall, this book is geared to every academic writer, though by nature it is more geared towards several types of people:
1) people who lead academic writing workshops or offer support for academics
2) scholars who have taken it upon themselves to be leaders in social writing

I also think professors and consultants who organize writing retreats will benefit from Murray’s book, as well as faculty in their own institution who (like Joy Langston and now me) lead writing meetings. But overall, I think Writing in Social Spaces will help galvanize folks into making writing a social activity. Maybe my own undergrad and grad students will be motivated to develop a weekly writing meeting after reading Murray’s book or my thread/blog post on it.

I very strongly recommend Murray’s book, not only to writing retreat/meeting organizers but also to every faculty member. And potentially, undergraduate and graduate students too.

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Posted in academia, reading notes, writing.

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