Writing often feels like a private struggle to locate something inside our skulls and bring it falteringly onto a page. Initially the text appears as one that only we can see.
Yet the thin thread of language links us to a world of other writers and readers. Some have gone before; they appear in our writings as inexplicit reminders or as overt referenced summons. Some readers are implied: we write with an imaginary audience in mind. Many are simply not yet known.
Yet writing is rarely – if ever – a uniquely individual act, even if this is how it feels.
Charles Bazerman, a highly respected and influential figure in writing research, argues for the sociality of writing and for the connections between identity, power and writing. He suggests that writing is a form of social action. Writing has typically been associated, he proposes, not simply with the struggles to form an opinion, communicate an idea, produce an identity, enter a conversation. Writing has been the means through which social understandings, organisations, resistances and rebellions have been generated.
Today I was struck by this sentence from a 2009 Bazerman speech.
A child who reads without writing may eavesdrop in the world of literacy, but this child is neither seen nor heard. (574)
This is perhaps one way of understanding the writing ‘voice’ – voice not as something about style and syntax, not simply as speaking per se, but voice as the means to participate actively in conversations that matter. This is voice in which writing is social/political/cultural agency. It is about having something worthwhile to say, something that might perhaps make a difference.
Bazerman’s message about writing as social action certainly applies to researchers. Without writing, we are ultimately mute in the academic community, compelled only to translate and interpret the words of others, saying and signifying nothing lasting of import ourselves, stuck in the immediacy of the speech utterance. Committing the writing act is to become something other than a silent witness to the scholarship of others.
But, following Bazerman, doing ‘academic writing’ is also to become an active and potentially influential participant in what he describes as the powerful interactions of our documentary society. (578). Bazerman reminds us that taking writing action is not simply about saying anything. It is always to ask in whose interests, beyond our own career advancement, our writing works.
He hopes ( I think) that, as we struggle with the task of tackling the writing we must do, that we are putting off, that we want desperately to do well, we will ask ourselves – to what imagined social ends are we committing our thoughts to the page/screen?