My memory’s vague on this, but I think I was describing the backlash as multiculturalism as “Powellite majoritarianism”. Suitably disgusted with this inelegant turn of phrase, my PhD supervisor turned away from me, clicked his tongue, and taunted me with a lengthy silence. “Never be an academic, Pathik,” he finally said. “We have to be public intellectuals”. I stared back blankly.
Those words were about all the training I got in public engagement during my PhD, and I still think I do it very amateurishly (you could also argue that public intellectualism and public engagement aren’t the same thing). I increasingly realise that communicating our research to a policy, practitioner and lay audience is not only integral to modern day academia, but a great exercise in distilling our work to its core message.
One of my recent concerns has been the excruciating lag between submitting articles to academic journals and publication. Given the growing tendency for journals to throw back articles to authors to revise-and-resubmit (R&R) this can be anywhere between 1 year and 3 years. This kind of delay can kill the relevance of many a social science argument, but there isn’t a ready solution to this problem. Yes, there are online journals (and online versions of print journals) but in the age of the dreaded REF (research exercise framework) such journals tend to occupy the lower ranking rungs. The trade-off between responsiveness and respect is tough. Having recently completed an academic article, I’m toying with the idea of taking a few core ideas and planting them into a Prezi presentation, accessible from my staff page (any alternative ideas are most welcome).
I look enviously at prominent social research organisations like the Young Foundation and the RSA and the innovation of their dissemination mechanisms (not just RSA Animate- check out their blogs, digital journal and vision mobile app). I know it’s not comparing like with like. Some universities are ahead of the curve (like Warwick) and others are way behind. We can all do better but I wonder just how much of a priority this is for universities, despite some fairly heavy rhetoric from the Russell Group in recent years. No-one’s talking about overhauling peer review, but engagement strategies that maximise our considerable digital capacities and make us more responsive are sorely needed. At our department’s Crimbo dinner I raised the question of why our dissemination strategies were so far behind those of organisations like the RSA. A senior academic turned to me and said “they’ve got Matthew Taylor”.