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Situated writing as theory and method – or why don’t you write a novella instead of an article? Dr Mona Livholts

Dr Mona Livholts writes about writing and her new book: Situated Writing as Theory and Method. The Untimely Academic Novella.

When I finished writing my dissertation, it had three different endings. One was written in the form that academic readers would expect, based on how dissertations in social work and the social sciences are usually written. The second end was written as a letter and a the third was inspired by the theatre. I knew already by then that my relationship to writing was different than the doctoral students in my discipline and to many other disciplines in the university. Readers of my work were either lyrical about how I made use of textual shaping, or very negative, sometimes irritated, as if the writing was an insult to rigorous academic prose. There were certain (unwritten) rules I had not adapted to in my writing:

Don’t visualise your writing position.

Don’t let anyone know about the real reasons to why you chose a particular research topic and how it impacts on the research.

Don’t write with passion.

Don’t problematize relations of (disciplinary) power in the university context where you write.

Don’t tell anything about the real difficulties you encountered in the research process.

Don’t discuss what couldn’t be written.

The way I wrote was simply out of place and time, so I began to search for a place where my work could be accepted and valued. I moved to gender studies. I tried to write a crime novel and failed. I began to make use of narrative life writing genres such as diary, letters, poetry and took photographs of artefacts, furniture, indoor- and outdoor spaces in the university. I wanted to know more about the spaces where so much text was created and circulated. Inspired by the work of Laurel Richardson, I learned that writing was a method of inquiry, a creative process by which we find out about things, and that it has impact on the becoming of academic selves. I wanted to theorise writing and invented the untimely academic novella, which I describe in the following way in the book:

“Untimely” allows the writer to speak from a position out of time, a space in the margins, a writing position that acknowledges a complex view of social change through the lag and delay of misunderstandings and misconceptions and through social relations of power and social change; “academic” because the narrator’s main site of writing is academia, the novellas are set in a university and published in scientific journals and books; they are “novellas” because they borrow inspiration from feminist literary fiction, the novella and the theatre, to create scene and architecture, characters, tone and style. The novellas demonstrate the uses of situated writing as theory and method and I also make use the term diffraction, inspired by Barad, as a prism for narration that can meet the complexity of textualities and visualities.

Inspired by Haraway’s situated knowledge I later began to make use of situated writing, which was first introduced in the book Discourse and Narrative Method. Theoretical Departures, Analytical Strategies and Situated Writing (with Tamboukou, Sage, 2015). In this new book I further develop some main characteristics that I think are important:

To become situated writers, we need to include the whys and hows of writing as part of our practices as engaged researchers and educators.

Situated writers are part of a movement for sustainable futures characterised by creative, dialogical, reflexive, safe and equal spaces where the research(er) is situated – located, seated, placed, positioned – in mo(ve)ment.

Issues around the multitude of power relations are central to a theory and method of situated writing.

The book has a Foreword by Professor Liz Stanley, University of Edinburgh. I think she says something important by drawing attention to how the book is written in a way that means that theory and method are not separated. One part does not do the posh theorising and the other method/practice just to show the uses of the theory. Both inform each other.

The book concludes with the section: Open Questions and Concerns to Guide Your Own Situated Writing. I hope that this section, with questions relating back to key ideas, concepts, writings and images, is helpful for anyone who wishes to use them in discussion groups, seminars or writing workshops, or in your own essays or research papers. Examples of questions are: How can you seek inspiration from fiction to “set the stage” for your writing? Choose two or more of the life writing genres in Chapter 2 (diaries, letters, memory work poetry, photography) and think about how they may be useful as a theory and method in your own situated writing. Look at the possibilities of using visual symbolism and/or photography. What are your perceptions of the empowering and disempowering aspects of images and photographs? What ethical questions are actualised in your writing? Write down your memories of previous situations involving ethical concerns in research, education and life, and reflect upon how you solved them. What aspects would you highlight if you were to define what sustainable writing at the university today and in the future is or could be?

I hope that you who are reading this blog in this moment, are intrigued and feel drawn to the idea of doing situated writing. Why don’t you to write a novella instead of the article or chapter you have planned to write?

Summary of the book

This creative and original book develops a framework for situated writing as theory and method, and presents a trilogy of untimely academic novellas as exemplars of the uses of situated writing. 

It is an inter- and trans-disciplinary book in which a diversity of forms are used to create a set of interwoven novellas, inspired by poststructuralist and postcolonial feminist theory and literary fiction, along with narrative life writing genres such as diaries and letters, memory work, poetic writing, and photography. The book makes use of a politics of location, situated knowledges, diffraction, and intersectionality theories to promote situated writing as a theory and method for exploring the complexity of social life through gender, whiteness, class, and spatial location. 

It addresses writing as an inter- and trans-disciplinary form of scholarship in its own right, with emancipatory potential, emphasising the role of writing in shaping creative, critical, and reflexive approaches to research, education, and professional practice. It is useful for researchers, teachers, postgraduate and PhD students in feminist and intersectionality studies, narrative studies, and pursuing interdisciplinary approaches across the humanities, social sciences, design, and the arts to inspire a theory and method for situated writing.

Dr Mona Livholts’ home page

Mona Livholts, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Social Work in the Department of Culture and Society, Linköping University, Sweden. Her research focuses on emergent writing methodologies, in particular auto/biographical and narrative life writing genres such as diaries and letters, memory work, poetry, and photography. Research themes include media narratives on rape, gender, space and communication, and glocalised social work. Books include Emergent Writing Methodologies in Feminist Studies (2012), Discourse and Narrative Methods (with Tamboukou 2015), and Social Work in a Glocalised World (with Bryant 2017).

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