Here Lies an Academic Writer

By Matthew Chase

I’m fairly certain that writing will be the death of me. I mean this metaphorically or spiritually, but I guess I can’t discount the possibilities of a more physical demise. But time will only tell and in the meantime, I want to talk about being a writer in sociology. I am a writer. Writing is my passion, the love of my life and the most sadomasochistic of mistresses.  What I picked up early on in my academic career is that sociology is a writerly profession. Not a day passes that I am not writing for sociology. However, I am also coming to terms with the fact that sociology appeals for, if not requires, a certain kind of writing from me. An academic brand.

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I have been taught a wealth of words and ideas in the discipline. Concepts to help me make sense of a world I cannot understand with the violence, struggles for power, and the peoples left hungry spiritually as well as physically. Race, gender, heteronormativity, intersectionality, panopticon, simulacra. And even after all these years, I still wonder what in the hell they even mean. Please don’t ask me this question, because I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to answer it. I can give you a textbook response at best, and that’s the problem. I’m afraid that me knowing how to talk of these concepts at the drop of a hat doesn’t mean I actually understand them. It’s a language created by and for white men. Being a white man, I have the privilege of being skilled at translating and wielding it better than most. Yet the words still ring hollow to me, empty, in my writings and my conversations. My work feels dead, without pulse. The language is not natural to the tongue. It was pierced on mine, willingly on my end as I need it for my academic survival.

But what about everyone else? People on the street will not recognize its words and grammar. I have a hard time understanding how we expect to share our knowledge to the public when someone like myself had to be trained specifically to read it. It’s difficult enough as it is for even me to decipher the language, and I have been learning the vocabulary for years. Worse still for people who do not have English as their native language, the language of the academy. Our research is becoming more and more accessible for public consumption, but that knowledge doesn’t go anywhere. It’s useless outside of the lab, outside of the conference, outside of the classroom. And what about everyone else? The language favors the quantitative and the theoretical, and yet might neglect everyday stories from everyday peoples. 9546733312_3e5c41b072_zWhat of poetry, musics, prose, personal narratives? We need them to enrich our words, our knowledges, and our souls. This is what I am working towards: finding that balance between the quantitative and the qualitative, the theoretical and the personal, the academic and the poetic. My Holy Grail.

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