Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Theory, Method and Style

Earlier this month we had a workshop and seminar focusing on scholarship. We talked about reading and writing processes and the nuts and bolts of citation, quotation, paraphrase, and plagiarism. That is, we were learning how to deal with the intertextuality that is so characteristic of academic writing.

After the summer break, I want to take up the somewhat subtler issue of style. That is, we will try to understand how the texts we draw on in our work influence the way we write. There is, of course, also a wholly personal aspect of style. But, where academic writing is concerned, and especially when writing in a second language, much of our style derives from the forms of expression that are used in our field. Looking at our precursors will help to make our stylistic choices perspicuous. This will allow us to keep them from becoming too conspicuous.

A good style develops not from straight imitation of others but from the appropriation of specific elements we find useful. This is why it can be a good idea to do some "extra-curricular" reading in English throughout your career. It will help you to determine your preference for the sound of certain words and phrases on relatively independent grounds.

Also, it may be useful to see your style as the point where your theories and methods meet. Theories are programs of perception, as Bourdieu pointed out; methods, I would argue, are procedural programs. Your style is the synthesis of how you see things and how you do them.

Given a perfect style, you can arguably do away with theory and method. Given a perfect theory, you need worry neither about method nor style. A perfect method absolves you of any responsibility for style or theory. You see the point, of course. Nothing, no one, is perfect. I look forward to taking this challenge up in future workshops.

The tentative date for the next RSL Day is October 19. Mark your calendars.