Writing for Impact: Journal Articles by Penny Jane Burke

Writing for Impact: Journal Articles

Penny Jane Burke, Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, University of Newcastle, NSW

As a feminist scholar, one of the most compelling ideas for me is that the personal is the political and that all research is autobiographical. Jane Miller’s concept of the autobiography of the question has been particularly captivating. The feminist emphasis on auto/biography – the ways our personal experiences and histories connect – and disconnect – with social histories – helps writers to develop an authorial voice, a positioning and location that connects us to our work and to other voices in ‘the field’. Through this, and mapping our own questions to those of others, we are enabled to develop work that is contextualised and reflexive, sensitive to complex relations of power that articulate through reading, writing and research processes.

My own experiences of becoming an academic and a published author were deeply shaped by feminist politics, epistemologies and imperatives to make a difference by troubling and challenging hegemonic and taken-for-granted practices. I came to this project with a burning passion – to advocate for women’s access to higher education but in doing so to challenge the patriarchal structures, ontologies and discourses that exclude bodies, voices and identities seen as Other in and through higher education. As I navigated the world of feminist theory and practice, I became compelled by the politics of praxis – creating action through critical reflection and drawing on theory to find ways to contribute to social justice projects in, through and against higher education and lifelong learning. This feminist praxis required a different way of writing, one that is in tension with the conventions of academic, peer-reviewed journal articles. This tension continues to challenge me and so I have often used writing outside of academic journals – such as authored books – to help me to contribute to feminist ways of writing – to make a difference in and through writing itself. One example of this is my co-authored book with Sue Jackson, Reconceptualising Lifelong Learning: Feminist Interventions, in which we use a range of different writing methods, such as fictional writing, vignettes and we draw on images to inspire a different way of constructing ‘voice’ through writing. I have also used the space of authored books to tell my own auto/biography, for example in my sole-authored book The Right to Higher Education.

However I have also (at times) approached journal article writing as a creative space, both drawing on the conventions of journal writing whilst exploring layers of difference that often become invisible through hegemonic practices. Rather, I wanted to use my passionate commitment to social justice projects, to explore key issues of gender that capture the level of feeling and emotion and make explicit my own voice in my writing. For example, in my article about writing, power and voice I explain that:

For me, writing has been a complicated set of experiences; always imbued with strong emotional dimensions, in the pursuit of an authoritative and ‘academic’ voice. At times writing is an immensely pleasurable process, which is linked to desires for recognition and having a ‘voice’ that resonates with other ‘voices’ and is tied in with processes of identity formation (e.g. becoming an academic). Indeed, writing has at times felt therapeutic, giving me the space to explore my ideas and the ideas of others, and to bring them together in a way that helps me to make sense of the concepts and experiences I am exploring. However, writing is also painful, often experienced as a struggle to articulate in a coherent and clear way for my imagined reader what is significant about my argument, about the story I am trying to tell. Writing is a struggle at multiple levels, and although there are certain skills and resources available to me as a writer, these are not straightforwardly drawn on to produce a piece of writing. The power relations I am entangled in as a writer are complex and shifting; I am both privileged and marginalised, in relation to the different social positionings and contexts I occupy. Perhaps I write in ‘feminised’ as well as feminist ways; my ‘voice’ recognisable to readers as the voice of a woman. I am able to draw on the tools feminist writers have provided me with, but my voice is produced through and against complex relations of gender (Burke, 2008, pp. 199-200).

Since writing the above, I have had a range of experiences not only as a writer of journal articles, but as a reviewer of journal articles and as Editor of the journal Teaching in Higher Education. In drawing on these experiences, I would like to share some points of reflection that might be of help to other writers, readers and voices in the field(s):

  • Think about writing as a creative as well as a scientific process.
  • Use writing to explore your thinking – as a way of developing understanding – as a form of re-search process(es).
  • Think about your auto/biography of the question – what brought you to the questions you are exploring and how does this map onto the questions of other voices in the field – where are you in your writing?
  • Exercise critical reflexivity to consider power as part of the research and writing process – and how this connects to wider relations of power and difference in the field(s) with which you are engaging?
  • Think about how you draw on the writing of others – the wider field – to deepen your own writing and to craft your authorial voice – as a process of ‘orchestrating the voices’ in the field(s) of research and practice you are contributing to.
  • Think about the ways that your writing generates meaning and knowledge in relation to and/or against wider epistemological paradigms and perspectives.
  • Consider how your writing might challenge, reinforce and/or disrupt hegemonic frameworks, discourses and practices.
  • Think carefully about the ethics and power relations of what and why you are writing – what values and assumptions are underpinning your writing and with what possible impact.
  • Recognise that writing is an emotional process – and that it is always tied to power.
  • Use your writing as a form of praxis – not only to contribute to knowledge in the field – but also to reshape, challenge and contribute to policy and practice.