More and more scholars are writing for public audiences. This requires that they break with their disciplines and learn to address non-scholarly audiences. This means that they need to learn how to write for ordinary readers and speak to the general public.
Richard Greenwald describes this new trend in “scholarly reportage.” Here is a taste:
First popularized by the American studies pioneer Andrew Ross, scholars are combining scholarship, memoir and journalism in an effort to explain some of the biggest cultural shifts of the late 20th century. “Scholarly reportage” is what Ross calls it, “a blend of ethnography and investigative journalism.” Originated by Ross in his last three books, it has been picked up by others.
The sociologists Sharon Zukin and Dalton Conley and the historian Bryant Simon each have refined the methods of this approach, and they are not alone. Others are combining memoir and political commentary with serious scholarship making their writing more personal, more intimate, and thus more readable. They have applied this method to understanding urban gentrification, trends in home-work balance and the reshaping of public space, to name a few. Most have given up on scholarly objectivity, a nod to the post-post-modern moment we inhabit.
This, combined with the move many professors are making toward civic engagement, might provide a model that can be both carefully studied and replicated by the next generation, creating a true transformation in academic culture and paving a road towards a more publicly engaged intellectual class.
What these scholars have done is significantly different from what Malcolm Gladwell or Richard Florida do – writers to whom they are often compared. Gladwell and Florida write popular books, no doubt, that are built on a narrow theme, aimed at a larger business readership. Ross and company are writing scholarly books that by their style and nature are also accessible to nonacademic readers. They address scholarly matters with appropriate scholarly methods (they do real original research), for a cultured, creative class of readers.
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