Research: choices and consequences

St. Jerome in His Study

St. Jerome in His Study

A colleague recently asked me to speak on research ‘evidence’, which I interpreted as the forms of publication I’d chosen to disseminate my research. I’ve realised over the years that the choices I made have been distinctive ones, with advantages and disadvantages, and consequences.

I started out on a fairly conventional route in the late 1990s with publications in mainstream art history journals and with academic presses (MUP and Routledge). As my work became more interdisciplinary in the early 2000s, I started to make different decisions, choosing to work with a lively and inventive publisher (Reaktion) who straddle academic and trade markets. I’ve published two books with them, with a third on the way. As well as work with Reaktion, I invested a lot of time in non-academic venues, writing for a range of architectural and design magazines in the early 2000s, and then more recently the Times Higher, for whom I’m the (very) unofficial architecture correspondent. I’ve often been quoted or published in the mainstream media too: my thinking about Edinburgh’s urban landscape has been covered by the US political journal Foreign Policy, BBC R4, The Guardian, The Herald, as well as the local Edinburgh press. I take social media seriously, and spend a lot of time on twitter.

So what’s been good about this strategy? Well, it’s been good for volume: Reaktion are responsive and fast, and the other venues have similarly been good for getting a large volume of material out quickly. It’s been good profile-wise, too: ’Sex and Buildings’, the last Reaktion book (2013) got a lot of media attention, which continues.

The bad? Well, it’s not easy to categorise what I do, which means I’m probably now unemployable anywhere else. And because I’ve avoided the mainstream academic venues, it’s hard for some to evaluate it (someone at a rival institution described my work as ‘light’. It’s not at all – but I can see how you might think that).

These are real consequences, and I’m too far into my career now – 20+ years – to make much of a change, even if I wanted to. But I’d argue my path is more fun in the end, however uncomfortable it may be sometimes. And like quite a few academics I know, I simply prefer to speak to broader audiences rather than strictly academic ones. My approach has been a way of doing it. ​