Thursday, May 15, 2014

How We Write in the Disciplines

During a thread with a colleague, I was also preparing revisions to my course syllabi. I try to teach the APA style used in STEM fields, including economics, while also challenging the various forms and genres used in academia, popular media, and online. Writing about detailed, quantitative research requires "code shifting" in the extreme… and understanding the dangers of privileging audiences. Too often, economics discussions are in jargon and metaphors understood by specific groups, or at least those audiences imagine they understand the language.

Economics, by nature, is the study of scarcity and resource allocation. Pretending that it isn't a philosophical pursuit of what is "best" for society or individuals, as much as it is a quantitative research field, results in scholarship that tries to hide its motives. I love discussing that challenge in academia: we are biased, while our writings seek to appear "unbiased" and "scientific" in some fields that are naturally philosophical and culturally loaded.

As I revise my syllabi, I struggle with the question of how to best teach APA thesis guidelines while reminding students of the simplifications and omissions propagated by the academic form, especially in a field such as economics, which attempts to be scientific, while being driven by philosophical disagreements. The papers offer dry scientific, quantitative analyses, yet even the questions they ask are philosophically and politically loaded. What is "good" writing in econ is that which best conveys the scientific method and quantitative credentials of the authors.

All writing creates an abbreviated, selective history of events. How do we acknowledge this to readers?
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