Re-imagining Doctoral Writings as Emergent Open Systems

Molinari, Julia (2021). Re-imagining Doctoral Writings as Emergent Open Systems. In: Badenhorst, Cecile; Amell, Brittany and Burford, James eds. Re-imagining Doctoral Writing. WAC Clearinghouse, pp. 49–69.



Drawing on critical realism, complexity theory, and emergence, this chapter supports the call to re-imagine doctoral writing by arguing that academic writing in general is a complex open and emergent social system that can change. Several reasons to re-imagine doctoral writing are discussed. The first reason is that academic writings already exhibit considerable diversity. This suggests that the conditions of possibility for re-imagining them are already in place and provide a conceptual space from which to further imagine. Second, there are
epistemic reasons for re-thinking how we write, as evidenced by research on socio-semiotics. Several examples of doctoral writers
who have re-imagined their writing for epistemic reasons are given. To explain how change in social phenomena is possible and how it can continue to be justified, I draw on the theory of complex permeable open systems. These systems are emergent and, as such, allow us to think of social phenomena, such as writing, as non-reductive organic unities whose characteristics emerge from but cannot be reduced to any single constituent feature (such as grammar or lexis). By re-thinking academic writings in this way, we can provide a rationale to explain how they can continue to change. The chapter concludes by sharing the work of scholars engaged in re-imagining doctoral writings. The significance for writing studies is that critical realism offers a systematic and critical space within which to explain change
in social phenomena and provides a theoretical foundation for continuing to re-imagine conditions of possibility.

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