The Materiality of Research Practice

This is a quickie today. Recently (readers might have noticed) I have been reflecting a lot on my research practice. I have been trying to find those moments when I got things right and better recognize when I did not. And I am sharing this reflective process publicly in hopes of helping others find ways to improve their reflections and practices.

Anyway, I came across a wonderful article on the materiality of research practice, which I highly recommend. (Indeed, I recommend it more than finishing this blog post, if you can do only one or the other…)

It is: The Materiality of Research: ‘On the Materiality of Writing in Academia or Remembering Where I Put My Thoughts’ by Ninna Meier

There was a passage in it that really resonated with me:

I actually like review processes or co-authors: they provide a much-needed break and opportunity to distance myself from the text (it’s at their desk, so to speak, and not on mine).

The scary part of this is when it comes back, the text. When this happens, I am often appalled at how unfinished it was when I submitted it and even more appalled that I couldn’t see it at the time (how can this be? I have never understood it). This is perhaps why I don’t trust the ‘current-author me’, because ‘future-author me’ will have read more and understood more and thus be able to write much better thoughts into the text and improve the overall result.

This passage helps explain a deep shift in how I view myself as a peer reviewer. When I was younger, I sought to “protect” the research community from “bad” research. It looks so ugly typed up like that, but there it is.

Anyway, that has changed, thanks to mentoring (with a decisive moment coming from former Interacting With Computers editor, Dianne Murray), excellent peer reviews of my own work, and excellent peer reviews of people whom I have solicited as a met-reviewer.

As a reviewer and meta-reviewer, I now see myself as a friendly fellow traveler trying to help the “current-author me” find her own path to “future-author me.” This makes reviewing more fun, because it is creative and possibility-seeing, rather than fault- and problem-seeing.

It also means that when I reject a paper, I am not saying: “This is bad research, and you’ve wasted everyone’s time.” Instead, I am saying, “I don’t think current-author you has found future-author you just yet, but here are some pathways that would excite me as a member of your audience and that might lead you there.”

It also means that when I am rejected, even for the third or fourth time, I try to tell myself that it’s because I just haven’t found future-author me yet, and not because I am an idiot or because the reviewers are idiots. (It often takes a week to get to this Stoic state, if I am honest; until that week has passed, I alternate between “I am an idiot” and “the reviewers are idiots,” approximately 25%-75%.)

P.S. Thanks to Nicolai Brodersen Hansen for calling my attention to Meier’s article.


On Facebook, Jofish Kaye asked me what that “decisive moment” with Dianne Murray was. Here is my reply:

I am a little fuzzy on the exact exchange (it’s been some years), but it boils down to not thinking about editing as accepting and rejecting, but as viewing every paper as potentially acceptable and positioning the reviews as disclosing that potential in a way that is acceptable and actionable to the authors. But it wasn’t just a high-level statement (like the one I just made): Dianne showed me with and through my own writing so I could see the where and how. I never reviewed the same again, for anything, after that.

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