tate summer school – Friday

IMG_0381Throughout the school we have been extensively documenting our activities, then projecting, hanging and displaying the results.

Sometimes this has been by ‘arranging’ the actual objects, at other times, by filming images, filming filming, filming performances, filming exercises, filming films.

Projections have become semi-permanent displays, looped films shown on multiple screens around our work space. Friday saw the emphasis of work shift further to the question of display.

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After watching our analog films, a few pieces of which had sadly not quite developed well enough,  the now regular Wake and Shake was a badge making exercise in which two people stood back to back.  One person described an object using technical terms only, while the other person drew. The pair then reversed the process and the resulting drawings were made into badges. This exercise was like the Wake and Shake on Monday, providing  symmetry to the week’s activities.

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The remainder of the day was devoted to exhibition making. Family, Tate staff and passing public would be invited into our space at 4pm to see what we had done during the week.

Some rules were applied to exhibiting – no new work, no blue tack, no fishing line, no sticky fixes, no click frames (unless they were ironic). The group was asked to think curatorially about:

  • the selection, juxtaposition, clustering and repetition of materials. Rhythm and pacing were to be anticipated through the way the display was put together.
  • the architecture of the space –  including perspective, sightline, height, framing, flow, repetition, point of view, zoning.

We had consider the pedagogy of display – hanging low forces people to bend down and become more intimate with a piece, hanging high requires requires viewers to look upward in a more reverent manner. We were assured that there was no standard display and that we should consider how to build in both the unexpected surprise and moments of reflection.

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A trip to the gallery was included in the morning’s activities, so that we could see the ways in which moving images and static objects were displayed in the same space in the permanent Tate collection.

People worked in self selected groups as on the previous day. Two of the groups chose to include a performance in their display.

There was a brief 1o minute speed writing evaluation, part of which will go towards our “research” – some writing about what people will take from the week. A discussion on the topic “How can we resist” concluded the formal proceedings.

One of the participants, Jon, has already blogged his response to the school and his thoughts on how the summer school might influence his teaching next year.

Pedagogic points:

  • make and display provides an incentive and reason to care about making and about the work. It does not elevate product over process. It may suggest that making is not always private and is intended always for showing, for communicating, for response.
  • make and display plus ‘crit’ is immediate, formative evaluative feedback. It provides an opportunity for the teacher to model and for students to practice reflective thinking, questioning and invitational propositions – what if, I wonder about, I really liked because…
  • display requires the artist/student to make the point of view of the audience concurrent with their own desire to communicate something in particular – to consider the material architecture and visual grammar of communication.
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tate summer school – Thursday

Today was Analog Day with artist Bill Leslie. Bill is currently doing a PhD at Kingston asking the question “How do sculptures change when they are filmed or photographed?”

We began the day hand colouring a strip of 16 ml film using marker pens.. This wake and sake exercise allowed us to see action and projection immediately – we drew, the film was shown. Our collective marks became translucent, changed size and in relation to each other.

hand colouring 16 mll film

hand colouring 16 mll film

We watched some of Bill’s work and then spent most of the day working in small groups on a  film. Bill had brought with him a Bolex – a hand cranked camera.Working with this kind of camera requires measuring the distance between the lens and the physical material to be filmed – no auto focus here.

Every person had one run of the crank – or 20 seconds to work with. Each group was of variable size and had available to them the sum total of cranks of people in the group.

The groups were to work with the ideas and materials that had been generated in the summer school on previous days, although these could of course be modified/transf0rmed.

After lunch we went off into the gallery to see a video installation by Gustav Metzger which had been produced by projecting crystallisation and decomposition of crystals – what he called  ‘auto destructive’ art.

watching Gustav Metzger

watching Gustav Metzger – auto-destructive’ art.

The bulk of the day however was spent making.

Once again people had to think about how to bring their individual ideas together with a group project.

There was also time at the end of the day for a group discussion around the question of “Does talking change it?” and the ‘usual’ badge making.

Each group got to film, but this took a bit longer than expected (doesn’t it always?), so the manual processing of the film occurred in the evening. Not everyone was able to stay, although many did. The film will dry overnight, and be shown first thing on Friday.

There is also now a Tate Summer School 16 tumblr which is accumulating photos, and the films that we have made.

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tate summer school – Wednesday

 

There was no Wednesday. Well, there was, of course, but I wasn’t at it. I had to go to a meeting in Manchester so I couldn’t be in both places at once.

Having to miss a day of field work, especially when it only happens once a year, is awful. But missing out on some of the action in your chosen site is often unavoidable. That is why I’ve chosen to mark my non-research day with a post.

Why absent? Sometimes it happens you are unwell and can’t be out and about infecting other people in the name of generating data. However, in my case I clearly had a choice about whether to attend a meeting two hours away on the train or not. I decided to go because the meeting was also a once a year event, and it was with a funder… need I say more? And because this was my fifth summer school and I felt that maybe it wasn’t completely crucial. We shall see…

But not-being-there, being away from having around creates a problem for the researcher, and I guess, a simultaneous opportunity. How will I find out what happened on Wednesday? I have the timetable. But that is really just a starting point…

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Well, I have to ask of course.

But I also have to look at the group – are they talking differently, relating differently. working in different groups? I also need to find the traces of their activity – objects, films – to see what has changed since Tuesday. I have to find out what has happened to some of the ongoing discussions – is it art, is what we’re doing art, how do the one and the many come together when making. I have to see what further complexities have been added to the play-with-formal-shapes (Monday) and the practices of performance and camera that we were immersed in (Tuesday). And I know that Anna and Alex want the group to start to direct action in the latter half of the week so Wednesday was an important transition. What did this look like?

So Thursday will be just a little bit frantic as I try to catch up, attempt to get some sense of what went on – as well as engage fully with the programme.

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tate summer school – Tuesday

Today’s focus was on performance and the camera. The day began with a viewing of the two sets of moving images that were made yesterday. These were screened side by side. We discussed elements of the film that seemed to “work well” together.

Holes

Holes

Wake and Shake followed:

  • Everyone had to make a hole in a corrugated cardboard sheet.
  • We conducted two short experiments with the cards with holes and a camera mounted on the rotating table. Yesterday the camera “looked in” at objects on the table, today the camera was on the table and “looked out”. We first of all simply all randomly placed our cards with their variously shaped  holes in front of the slowly rotating camera. The second experiment was more structured. Half of the group held their cards together and walked in a circle. The other half of the group walked in the opposite direction. Glimpses of the second group and their cards could be seen through the holes in the inner circle. We repeated this exercise refining the movements the second time around

We then watched the two films straight away, discussing the qualities of the film as well as the way the exercise felt as a performance. Improvisation, rehearsal, refinement were key ideas.

Next, we went into the gallery with our cards with holes. We walked until Alex rang a bell and then we froze for a few seconds. Because we were doing this in public, we rapidly became an object of interest. Some people wanted to join in. A couple of the summer school participants handed over their cards and holes to people who really wanted to participate. We “ performed” this piece on the second floor and in one of The Tanks.

Move Freeze in the gallery

Move Freeze in the gallery

On returning to our own space in the Exchange we debriefed. We noted that:

  • because we all had a card with a hole we appeared to be a collective
  • because we acted together, and were in Tate, the public seemed to assume that what we were doing was, and had the status of, ‘art’
  • very few of us felt embarrassed
  • the activity seemed to be invitational
  • the activity could be seen as an institutional critique- a parody of audience behavior – but alternatively at a personal level, it was play in the gallery

One of the group thought that this would be a great exercise to do in school at breaktime – it would be surprising, a simple disruption to the regular routine.

After lunch it was time for Alongside Making, and people again worked to instructions, making images and objects.

Tracking - objects two rows of holes

Tracking – objects two rows of holes

We then returned to a Tracking exercise. This was a more complex moving image construction with two concentric circles of cards with holes and objects. This time, the aim was to create movement in around the through the holes. The resulting film was uploaded and screened.

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Alex makes badges

The penultimate activity of the day was small group discussion to the question What is it? The group that I was in took the ‘it’ to be the process of making images and discussion roved around the ways in which people felt attuned to, or confused by the activity we had been engaged in during the day.As there had been all day, some of our conversation focused on individual making and creativity, versus collective creativity and making. I later heard that another group took the ‘it’ to be art, and spent time discussing what counted as art and what didn’t.

As on Monday people doodled during discussion and badges were made from the doodles.

The final activity was a visit to a gallery again in small groups to discuss an aspect of art education or a work.

Pedagogic points:

  • Extend an exercise through multiple variations, each adding further complexity and refinement.
  • Use immediate viewing of product as ‘evidence’ to stimulate group reflection. The discussion will then influence the next iteration.
  • If an interesting idea appears, modify the initial plan. Improvisation is integral to creating meaning-making opportunities.
  • Expect everyone to participate, but accommodate different approaches to the task and even those who choose not to participate.

 

 

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tate summer school: Monday

Health warning – this week I am using my blog as part of ethnographic research at Tate. This is the fifth summer school I have attended as a participant researcher. The posts represent a first “cut” of notes taken during the day. The posts are intended to stand as a record of activities but also have some preliminary ideas about “what is going on” (the research question). All but one of the participants have voluntarily signed ethics and photo consent forms. The posts are immediately available to participants and they become part of the summer school process. This is “live” method. Because the posts are written rapidly, they are unpolished and may contain typos!

Tate Summer School is being run by practitioners Anna Lucas and Alex Schady who have, we were told, both artist and teacher selves. Both are important to the Summer School. Anna and Alex also both work with moving and still image, and this is the focus for the week’s programme.

The participants, 24 in total, are from primary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and galleries. They work/ed in Russia, Singapore, Spain, Israel, Hong Kong and the UK. Most came to “get inspired” and a few to “get ideas to take back to school.” There are also Tate staff in the school, one is experiencing it as a full participant. And of course me, the researcher who hangs around.

Summer School is being held in the new Tate Exchange room, on the fifth floor of the Switchhouse. It’s a magnificent learning space which allows for different activity zones – eating, chatting, meeting, watching, making. There is ample room for everyone to spread out, to chat in small groups, and work as one big school. The scape of the city of London and Southbank/Southwark are always in sight.

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learning zones on left, concepts for the day on right

Our first day began not with introductions but with a shared activity – one person described the formal elements of a chosen image (on a postcard) without actually naming what was on it – to another person. The second person the listener then had to write a sentence summing up what had been said. This activity was repeated four times. Everyone had a couple of goes at describing and summarising. The group had to talk about shape, colour, texture and line and so on in order to complete the task.

This was an exercise which showed that the image is incapable of being made into a limited range of words. However it was also an exercise which created a shared experience among the group about the theme of the day (formal images), and brought into the room the kinds of language resources that we would use in the day’s talking, thinking and making.

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clay objects made during introductions

The next exercise – still no introductions, was to work in small groups to sequence a set of five images, and then to add more to join all of the groups together. We had to negotiate amongst ourselves what “join” would mean. The joins between the images were photographed with an ipad, and the result was made into a film which showed all day, on one of the several screens around the space.

Then the introductions. Everyone was also given a small piece of clay and asked to make, at the same time as listening, a small geometric shape. This led into a discussion about the summer school focus on formality – no figures, no narratives, we were told. The words for the day were “Ball, block and blank”.

If there are restrictive rules applied to a learning/making task, this is not necessarily a problem, Anna and Alex said, because that forced us to think more creatively about how to move within restrictions.

We discovered that each day would follow a similar pattern – an introductory “wake and shake” exercise, group work, visiting works in the gallery and responding to them, individual making and a concluding discussion. We would work individually, in small groups and as a whole. Sometimes the activities would be rapid fire, at other times slowed down to create an “art room atmosphere”. There would be lots of making.

 

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Bind Movie Drawing

And indeed there was. After our work with images and clay, we made “pointers” and “plinths”, and took them to a new gallery showing a range of objects (largely lines and cubes. We had to take a photo of a work with the object we had made. We were also invited to do “blind movie drawing” using a pencil and two facing sheets of carbon paper to draw (no figures or narratives) while we watched a video made by Joan Jonas.

The images of both of these gallery-based activities are to be photographed and filmed and will be available on Tuesday.

Shared lunch in the Exchange space allowed smaller groups to come together to chat socially, an important part of the summer school experience, but not subject to any pedagogical steerage.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa snap: plinth

Immediately after lunch Anna and Alex introduced their own work. Alex showed his use of instagram as a kind of sketch book, and as a catalogue. Anna showed two films she had made, one “Loose Parts” is an introduction to a family resource pack accompanying the current programme at The Serpentine.

Alex and Anna haven’t worked together a lot, and their work is very different. But because we saw their images projected side by side, we could see some of the connections and commonalities in the ideas they explored. (This was an exercise like the one with which we had begun the day – finding/seeing connections between images.)

The pattern of making something, making an image of it, and then displaying it was maintained throughout the day. The afternoon involved a protracted period of individual making in response to instructions. I chose to select an image and take at least three photos of it. Other people worked with making collages of images, making holes in images that could be used to look through, covering parts of images with black ink…   each person then chose one image and an object to put, in turn, onto a revolving table. Anna used a mounted camera to produce a visual montage of the whole group’s afternoon.

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deeply absorbed in making

The final activity was a group discussion about the value of the arts. People were given a pen and a small piece of coloured paper and asked to draw – no figures, no narratives – during the discussion. Not everyone spoke today – perhaps only the bravest or the most familiar with summer school?

Art education was said to be valuable because:

  • it allowed students to make connections between other subjects, and between important parts of their lives
  • it offered all students an alternative way to express themselves. This was particularly important for those young people who otherwise experienced failure at school
  • it brought students together and it also brought them together with their communities
  • it had “no right or wrong” but relied on students bringing and working through their own ideas
  • it was in everything
  • the thinking process used was helpful across the curriculum and was of benefit to everyone, regardless of what they wanted to do in the future
  • it developed systematic thinking, ideas and making skills at the same time
  • it was unpredictable, creative and required ongoing problem solving – the 21st century skill set.

There was discussion about how much art ought to be concerned with vocational ends, and also about the possibilities of resistance to the narrowing of the curriculum and the focus on assessable predetermined outcomes – a theme that is to continue. Some differences between sectors, and countries and schools also began to emerge.

In the spirit of “No mind maps” and “No lists of action points”, the discussion concluded with each person having their meeting doodle-drawing made into a badge. The badge was pinned onto a banner which had the day’s question – what is the value – on it. The banner and badges were evidence that the discussion had occurred, Alex said, but also that its value was in the moment, in the doing and listening.

Pedagogic points:

  1. establish shared experience and vocabulary before beginning discussion
  2. use what participants bring as shared resource
  3. establish learning zones
  4. offer a limited number of learning activities as a routine (consider the sequencing and pacing)
  5. offer the same task in multiple ways – practice what is important e.g. finding connections between formal images; make, take and displays
  6. offer opportunity for critical meta discussion about shared practice

 

 

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things to do during your #phd – attend a summer school

Many learned societies offer summer schools. Some universities and research networks do too. I’ve just been to one. I was one of eight lecturers at a sociology of education summer school organised through the European Educational Research Association ‘s @socedu28. The summer school was in Naples and held in the conference centre of the University of Naples ‘Federico II’.

A couple of dozen doctoral and postdoctoral researchers were there. They had applied to attend. They had been selected, from a much larger group, on the basis of the ‘fit’ of their research interests with the summer school theme, and the case they made for their attendance. Some support was offered – accommodation, morning and midday meals – and  the summer school made a contribution towards travel. However, most participants had to find the bulk of their travel funding plus incidentals.

On each of the four days there was at least one formal lecture,  time for questions and for whole group and small group discussion. Each person presented their research and connected it to the summer school theme. 

Participants came from a range of European countries with a couple coming a very long way, from Chile. The lecturing staff were from Italy, France, the UK and Australia.  We presented an aspect of our current work linking it to a broader issue – thinking with theory, preparing a research bid, conceptualising a project, developing a research agenda, writing and publishing.

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The summer school brought people together who might otherwise only have sat adjacent in the same conference presentations or perhaps have had the odd chat over a drink at a conference social occasion. Participants in summer school were together for extended periods of conversational and social time. Their discussions were focused on common themes but there was ample time for people to find out about the current political, economic and social situation in other countries besides their own, various traditions of intellectual work, different ways in which doctorates are organised, funded, supervised and examined, a broader range of literatures and theoretical resources, and work which had some potential connection with their own.

Summer schools are tiring, and this one was no exception. People had to work at listening. Listening not only for content, but also for nuance. The proceedings were conducted in English, but there were multiple Englishes in use so everyone had to pay close attention. A great deal of concentration is required to work continually in another language, and for most of the participants this task was combined with getting to grips with unfamiliar ways of thinking, arguing and analysing.

Adam Wood, one of the curators of the Architecture and Education blog, wrote after the summer school … it’s a different space to the one you’re normally in so you have no choice but to think about what you do and how to relate that to others who don’t know you/your work. And you come into contact with ways of thinking that might not be available at ‘home’ and new people too obvs – you can learn from them directly and indirectly too by seeing things through their eyes. Doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable and full of joy, all of the above makes it (potentially) full of existential shock but that’s good too in the end maybe!

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Each person was an expert in their context, but also a learner. It is confronting when peers ask questions about practices that are taken for granted at home. It is challenging when people ask questions of your research that haven’t been asked of you up till now. It is hard work processing the diversity of views, projects and national policy nuances in a short space of time. There is an intensity, confusion, pleasure and excitement about these kinds of hot-housed, intercultural scholarly conversations that is hard to duplicate.

An encounter at a summer school might be the foundation of more permanent collaboration, although that is not their immediate aim. The summer school certainly means that at the forthcoming conference those who were together in Naples will be able to meet up again, and to continue some of the conversations they began. With a bit of luck, over time, summer schools will help to strengthen the sociology of education special interest group through discussions based in deeper understandings of differing national situations, and different approaches to researching in the same field.

Writ large, thus summer school and others like it embodies what it can mean to be a contemporary scholar, engaged in transnational, critical dialogues which enhance understanding and knowledge. Of course, we do all have to go back to our institutions and the everyday life of emails, audit and deadlines. However, these kinds of ‘out’ times, when the usual demands are temporarily ‘suspended’, are important, and need to be maintained. Taking the time to sink into a protracted scholarly conversation is very worthwhile. 

So why not look around to see if there is a summer school that you might attend – or a winter school, because they exist too.

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And for the next few days I am suspending normal patter transmission, and blogging from another summer school – my annual participation in the Tate schools and teachers week-long summer school. This year I’m probably thinking about the pedagogies of the summer school – but this might change – so if you are interested in this kind of thing, do read along.

 

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on form and function – and Les Back’s Academic Diary

So you want to write a book which examines everyday life in the contemporary university. You want to show the ways in which academic work is constrained, but also what freedoms are still possible. You want to communicate the reasons why some of us choose to enter the academy, and stay in it. You want to convey the small pleasures that sit amid a deep and ongoing commitment to – and love of – scholarship.

So how to do this? You could write an extended essay about policy, highlighting the continuities and changes in higher education. Mmmm. Perhaps a bit depressing, and anyway isn’t there already a lot of that kind of writing out there? So, alternatively, maybe you could write an essay about the positives of academic life. But it’s hard to do this without seeming Pollyanna-ish, worst still, saccharine and disconnected from reality – and it could end up sounding more like marketing than anything else. So how to write about academic life now? 

And how to write about academic life from an anthropological/sociological perspective that honours small events, patterns, rhythms, conversations and relationships? How to show the lived reality of higher education? How to bring this political commitment to ‘telling it as it is’ into text? How to make the very personal something social and not just idiosyncratic or solipsistic? How might this writing speak not only to other academics, but also speak past the stereotypes, media hype and league tables, in order to reach interested others?

I imagine that these are the kinds of questions that Les Back asked himself as he started on his Academic Diary project.

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The choice of diary genre was crucial. 

The diary is a textual form that matches an interest in every-day life. It is a genre which readers expect to unfold before them – there is no meta commentary at the start, no signposting to signal to the reader what they can expect. And it is The Genre which readers expect to be connected to a calendar, to offer a record of quotidian experience. The diary is episodic, and thus amenable to multiple small narratives which add up to something more than their parts. It is stretched out in time, so is able to convey a year, terms and weeks punctuated by regular and irregular events. It is individual, a story told by a particular person, so it is able to bring together the idiosyncratic and emotional detail that dominant genres of intellectual sociological commentary render invisible.

How better to convey everyday academic life than through the diary genre, a text that rolls out day after day?

 Academic Diary uses/needs/relies on the characteristics of the diary. It tangles form and purpose into one indivisible union. The structure of the diary is the genre/structure that made tangible Back’s reason for writing – or so I am guessing. 

Of course, choosing the right form/structure is not enough. The diary would not have worked if the entries themselves could not stand up to reading. Each one had to be carefully crafted.

On the one hand, diary entries are a little like blog posts. They contain a single idea. They often work with an introductory narrative written in the first person. This might be an encounter, a piece of dialogue, a recount of a meeting or an event. The reader is invited to imagine themselves experiencing the same encounter, conversation, event as the writer – just as they are in fictional or in semi fictional accounts. The narrative then morphs into a more general discussion, so that the implications of the story become clearer. The point of the narrative is made even more explicit as the instalment concludes. However, there is much less ‘telling’ in a blog post than in conventional social science writing, and much more ‘showing’ through the narrative. So too with the diary entry.

On the other hand, the diary entry is not like a blog post. A blog is a series of isolated and discrete writings. But a diary, a diary in the form of a book, must have narrative structure and there must be discrete threads that hold the separate pieces together, that pull the reader through each entry. The diary is intended to provide a cumulate experience – its effect, meaning and impact is derived from montage, from seriality.

Back did not start out with a book form diary.  His first Academic Diary was online. It was/is a step away from a conventional blog with stand-alone posts, but wasn’t yet the unified text of the book. Back’s online diary has much more carefully crafted entries than your average blog post, many of which are dashed off rather quickly (something I can see when I go back to look at my old posts!) This slapdashery isn’t the case with Back’s online entries  where each piece shows clear evidence of careful crafting. 

However, I happen to know that the book version of the diary required even more writerly attention, with much more revision, revision and revision. Each entry was honed to the point where it could both stand alone and also serve a particular purpose in the chain of instalments.

This writerly attention to the minutiae of each entry and to the whole – seeing both at the same time – is what all good writers are able to do, no matter what genre they work in. I don’t know if Back had an overall book plot before he started, or if it evolved as he went along – with the online diary perhaps providing the road map for the book, a structure which could be modified and adapted. There are multiple ways to achieve the doubled writer’s vision of detail and the overall. Each of us eventually finds a way to do the big and the small that works for us. But find it we must, if we are to produce a text which draws the reader onto the next instalment, be it diary entry or thesis chapter. Back obviously found the way that worked for him – and for us.

I admire the work that Back has done in Academic Diary. I appreciate the authoring craft that has gone into its making, as well as finding enjoyment and some solace in its  substantive contents. You might of course have expected me to comment more on the book’s contents – the way that Back discusses Powerpoint, the library, the viva for instance. Well, other reviews of the book do that. And I agree with their praise. But I always read for the writing, as well as for the substance, and I did find this book a particularly generative and stimulating read on both counts. 

Academic Diary is an interesting lesson for those of us who think about how to break the stranglehold of default social science writing. I wanted to write on the writing in particular because the book’s mission and its form are indivisible. For this reason, Academic Diary is a book I’ll be suggesting that people read to see both what it says about the academy and to see what is possible outside of the straitjacket of the conventional journal formula and monograph. 

And it’s affordable too!!

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