The art of essay writing

I very much liked Mark’s ‘thought piece’ published in Compass, the topic of Mark’s last post, Bauman’s compass, and on which I commented. It has made me think that the article I am currently writing on the practical and policy implications of Zygmunt’s thoughts on what sociology is under conditions of liquid modernity and what it can contribute to the formation and development of a new left movement could well be construed as an essay. If so I could offer it to Compass or perhaps this Community could offer a platform for members to contribute think pieces and essays. One or two delegates at the Rethinking Global Society conference suggested this might be a useful development of the Institute’s community site. This has not been discussed with Mark yet but it would interesting to get members’ views. I am supposing that an essay is, as the word suggests, a trial of an idea and that although conforming to certain scholarly standards, would not necessarily have the rigour of argumentation and referencing of a formal peer reviewed article. It is likely to be rather more experimental, suggestive and personal. This is not to say there wouldn’t have to be some sort of editorial process. But this would be a matter for discussion.

In addition to Mark’s piece, another prompt for my thinking on this is the recent discovery that a colleague of mine, Ricardo Blaug, has begun to publish short pieces and essays on a personal website in a section called Shorts. One essay in particular caught my attention, Surviving Institutions. This considers the predicament of academics in Universities trying to “work well” in terms of what they think  higher education ought to be, what if offers students and what it offers the public, and the experience of being thwarted by university bureaucracy and management, like “being stuck to flypaper”. Ricardo’s thoughts on engagement in public space and democracy in institutions are particularly thought provoking and have implications for academics that are well worth pursuing. Needless to say I think Bauman’s analysis of bureaucracy could flesh out  significantly aspects of bureaucracy that Ricardo leaves implicit in his account, the way it institutionalises bad faith and depersonalises responsibility for instance.