I’ve been pulling together my thoughts on the writing process and publishing with a view to publishing some Short Guides on popular ebook platforms. In doing so I remembered an early influence on my thinking around validation and communication: Dorothy E. Smith.
My copy of The Everyday World as Problematic was published in 1988, the year before I began my doctoral studies. I can’t remember if I read it that year or in 1989 but it was hugely influential on the kind of sociologist I became. This passage in particular had a huge influence on me:
In the early seventies I had written a paper entitled “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology,” which I presented at a conference at the University of Oregon. Thereafter it circulated in an extraordinary manner in draft. I got letters from all over, including one, to my astonishment, from Hungary. I could not understand how a paper that had never been published could circulate so widely. It made me aware for the first time that when I wrote a paper for an academic context of presentation or publication I might actually be speaking to people. It made me aware of the possibility of using academic sites of discourse and of writing for academic occasions in ways quite different from my earlier understanding of their uses. Previously I think I had always seen producing papers as a performance for invisible judges. Writing papers for publication made me nervous. Sometimes I used to take a slug of brandy to get me going. My experience with how that paper traveled changed my view altogether. I saw that a paper could be a way of reaching other women, of talking to them. The academic linkages could be used as a medium of communication among women. I saw that I did not have to write a finally complete and perfected piece of work, but that I could write as I went along to tell other women, “this is the work I’ve been doing; this is where I’ve got to; this is how it looks right now; how does it look to you?” I understood that a discourse could be organized differently than one organized around an establishment that judged and controlled and held its practitioners to conform to its notions of how sociology should be practiced. I saw that the academic media could be used as a medium to reach other women and to hear from them. The remaining chapters in this book have been written under the tutelage of that experience.
(Dorothy Smith, The Everyday World as Problematic: a feminist sociology, 1988, Open University Press: pp. 45-46)
I have never met Dorothy Smith. I wouldn’t say that my sociology is recognizably Smithian (or whatever you’d call it). But this passage is one I remember and return to frequently.
This is why I tell you that publishing in a journal is making a contribution to an ongoing conversation. The bar for entry into that conversation may be higher than some others, but you are publishing in order to communicate. Citations are an acknowledgement of how that conversation has contributed to your thinking; and when others cite your work, they are doing the same.
One of my clients told me that he had taken my advice about this and found it to be true. One paper published in the journal where the conversation he wanted to contribute to was happening has now led to a conversation within that journal, further journal articles, and conference panels and round tables. He feels like he doesn’t have much more to contribute to that particular conversation but is excited about moving on to the next thing having had that experience of publishing as (long, slow, asynchronous) conversation amongst scholars in a particular field.
What difference would it make to your writing if you thought of articles and conference papers as a way of saying “this is the work I’ve been doing; this is where I’ve got to; this is how it looks right now; how does it look to you?”