One writing group’s story: using an ethnographic case study to investigate the writing practices of academics

Saunders, Claire (2023). One writing group’s story: using an ethnographic case study to investigate the writing practices of academics. Studies in Higher Education [Early Access].



Persuasive arguments attribute academics’ persistent struggles in making time for writing to the increasing demands of a marketised sector on the academic role (Dickson-Swift et al. Citation2009; Macleod, Steckley, and Murray Citation2012). Whilst a significant body of literature promotes different writing interventions as potential solutions, the challenge of building and sustaining a culture in which their positive outcomes are maintained remains. In this paper, I explore the practices of academics writing for publication purposes. Drawing on the concept of academic writing as ‘identity work (French Citation2020), I demonstrate that writing practices are entwined with wider academic and institutional identities, which either work for or against building sustainable writing cultures. I argue for a methodological shift in how writing initiatives are researched, drawing a distinction between my ethnographic case study of one writing group and others that focus either on retrospective accounts or analysing correlations between writing groups and productivity. Specifically, I argue for a focus on the ongoing process of becoming a writer rather than on its production. The study builds on existing literature to explain why writing groups are experienced as valuable to participants. It argues that they offer more than simply protected space for writing; they reframe participants’ understandings of themselves and their academic identities and reintegrate research writing with other aspects of their role. This identity work occurs within visible, protected spaces for writing, where participants work both individually and in community, and reflection and dialogue are central.

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