Thursday, August 2, 2007

Letter to Readers

What I am studying is interesting. I can tell people about it at parties or at the bar and people are immediately interested. I tell people the “cocktail party” version of my research topic, specifically, “I study why people move to where they move.” And, it’s funny, almost every time I bring it up, people ask something to the effect of: “So, you mean, like, gentrification and stuff.” I find it really interesting that is the first thing that people think of when I tell them that I am studying where people move. Maybe it is being in New York in my mid-twenties or maybe it is something that is so pervasive in people’s minds that people think about it as something truly transformative of urban space that is what is immediately called to mind.

But, somehow, no matter how interesting this is, I am having one hell of a time trying to transfer it to an academic paper that is also interesting. I don’t know if it is because I am trying to hard to fit within current research or if it is because I am trying too hard to fit within rigid notions of what an academic paper sounds like. If it is the former, that would seem kind of silly – the entire purpose of writing an academic paper is to expand current knowledge and trying to fit it inside of certain pre-defined boxes is probably not the best idea. If it is the latter, maybe I need to stop trying too hard to write an “academic” paper and just write what I find interesting. I can always go back and reshape it to an academic paper later. I had an English professor in college who told me, “Just write as if you were speaking to someone, that is the best kind of writing there is.” It was good advice (though I am not sure that I took it at the time; I took the class pass/fail, which, it turned out, was a wise decision). But, I have also realized that I have a difficult time even talking about it to people beyond my one-line cocktail party answer. I can get to three or four sentences without losing entire interest but by the time I finish my first paragraph I can see people's eyes glaze over and I feel like that guy at the party that no one wants to get stuck talking to.

But, I also realize that writing only for academic journals means that my work is relegated to dusty library shelves (or unexplored, dark pixelated corners of JSTOR—not that any of my work has actually been published) where the two or three dozen other people interested in my specific research area read it. I study what I study because I believe that the things that I study are important topics to consider and debate. I want my research to be relevant and therefore I want to be able to explain what I do to people who might not have an advanced knowledge of statistics or urban development or racial segregation. Therefore, I am going to try something new on this here blog: I am going to to try and focus my writing here more on my research and research topics.

I am hoping that this will accomplish two things. First, in a very selfish way I am hoping that it will help motivate me to stay on track since I don't have much of an academic community here. But, second, I want to know what people think of my work and what I write. Is it interesting, boring, incomprehensible, incorrect, actionable? So, for those of you who read my blog fairly regularly, please post (as you always do), your thoughts and comments. Also, if you can, tell friends or colleagues who might be interested in some of the same topics that I write about. Finally, if you don't hear about what I am doing in my research for a while, remind me that I need to share more.




wobblie said...

I'm looking forward to this Mike! It'll help me pretend I'm still a sociologist! And hopefully, I can offer something constructive in the way of criticism.

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