I couldn’t really settle on just one example of (what I believe to be) good academic writing. The first is writing that is mostly in line with the lessons we have learned in class. The second is an example of very well organized writing, which suffers from the pitfalls of poor sentence structure. The last is an example of writing I personally adore for its more literary aspects.
My example of writing that follows the course is…
Johnson, J. (1988). Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. Social Problems, 35(3): 298-310
This piece is written by Bruno Latour who was using the pseudonym of Jim Johnson to publish in the US (long story). Latour’s article here begins to flesh out his concept of Actor-Network Theory, by examining the implications of an automatic door closer. This is done through the use of narrative. Latour tells the story of visitors to a university and their interactions with a door that they must enter. Through this creative imagery, the concepts are easy to grasp and connectable to everyday life. It almost reads as a conversation, rather than an academic edict, and does not suffer from issues of jargon. If Latour does choose to use a more complex word, or one that he has contrived to explain something, he will often include a definition to help the reader. Here is a snippet where Latour explains why people would need to even implement a door closer:
“There is a problem with doors. Visitors push them to get in or pull on them to get out (or vice versa), but then the door remains open. That is, instead of the door you have a gaping hole in the wall through which, for instance, cold rushes in and heat rushes out” (300).
Language like this keeps the content light and interesting, while clearly explaining the motivation for an action. Latour’s greatest weakness is that his storytelling can get a little out of hand, and confused. Furthermore, his native language is French, and while his English is quite good, there are occasions where you can pick up a difficulty in translation, or a different cultural expression that can be off putting.
My example of writing that is well organized…
Orlikewski, W. (2000). Using Technology and Constituting Structure: A Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations. Organizational Science, 11(4): 404-428.
This article outlines Orlkewski’s concept of studying organizations through studying the practice of their work. Orlikewski’s writing here is very clear and well organized. Headers clearly mark out what is coming up in each section, and she uses a nice mix of paraphrasing and direct quoting to break up the text. She also uses diagrams to support her theories rather than write out lengthy explanations. This is all done with very little imagery or flowery language.
What results is an article that fairly effectively transfers information. However, it is far from perfect. The prose severely suffers from comma splices and passive voice. It is also quite boring. I wish there was a better way to describe what is going wrong, but boring is the best way to describe it.
Finally, my example of writing that I adore for its literary aspects…
Haraway, D. (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 149-181.
We have seen Haraway’s writing briefly in one of the SSHRC proposal examples we had in class, but there is a chance most of us have read it already. It is Haraway’s most known work, that theorizes on the nature of the cyborg, and its potential as a liberating concept for women. The prose is dense, convoluted, and crowded with imagery. More often than not it takes a few reads jst to understand what she may be saying but the voice is so coy that there is a chance it may be a big trick. Here is an example:
“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformations” (150).
So, we have comma splices, jargon, unexplained imagery and a shotgun of complex concepts that are linked together. It almost seems like a stream of consciousness, or the rambling of a dream. Yet for some reason I love it. Its like a really good song. Every time you listen to it there is a chance you’ll hear something you didn’t hear before. Haraway’s writing blends together into a single complex concept of the cyborg that is more a poem than theory. Maybe it is my literary background, but I love it so.