Resisting the Culture of Narcissism in the Academy
Reframing the Desire to Write Profoundly
Have you ever been reading through academic literature and come across an unknown author that spurs your thinking in a different direction? Perhaps it’s how the scholar frames a concept or provides an example that moves the needle in your mind? Excited by the prospect of this author’s brilliance, you decide to look up their Google Scholar citations or their university profile.
Much to your surprise, that author has written a modest but steady string of works, but their h-index (i.e. impact of citations) is relatively low and their CV includes no major research awards. You had expected numerous citations and an impressive array of accolades, but those are nowhere to be found. Whatever the case may be, you owe that anonymous researcher thanks for providing an insight that advances your research.
This scenario reveals an important truth about academic work: the vast majority of scholarship produced doesn’t create tidal waves. Our work is not revolutionary, but it does contribute to the scholarly conversation.
Academic writers frequently feel pressure to change their field or even the entire world through their research writing. This belief puts a tremendous amount of pressure on writers to create masterpieces with their dissertations or first books. We seek transcendence in our work, and when that intellectual euphoria is elusive, the desperate search for it can hinder our writing progress.
Today's post will take a closer look at what Joli Jensen refers to as "the magnum opus myth," or the perceived requirement that every piece of research writing be ground-breaking. Leaning on Jensen's book Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics, I discuss the narcissistic culture of academia and argue that a more communal perspective on our research can result in less stressful and more fluid writing.