By Claire Aitchison, Cally Guerin and Susan Carter

Following directly from the IDERN Conference we three editors were lucky enough to stay on and attend the International Academic Identities Conference which was convened by A/Professor Machi Sato of the Research Institute for Higher Education (RIHE) and hosted at Hiroshima University, 19-21 September.

Hiroshima Peace Park
Image by Cally Guerin

The location was a fitting reminder of the historical significance of Hiroshima for global peace, and the conference theme, ‘The Peaceful University: Aspirations for academic futures – compassion, generosity, imagination, and creation’ prompted a reconsideration of academic priorities and challenges.

The focus on identities fostered a wide range of theorisations and explorations of practices, hopes and aspirations for academic work and for students, including inspirational presentations for contesting the challenges arising. While there were relatively few presentations with a particular emphasis on academic or doctoral writing, it was remarkable how, despite significant cultural, historical and contextual differences, there was a common recognition of the impact of marketisation on our academic lives and options as writers.

The three keynotes, Prof Takashi Hata (Hiroshima University), Dr Swee Lin Ho (National University of Singapore) and Prof Bruce Macfarlane (University of Bristol) explored implications for institutions, their workers and students from changes in contemporary higher education. These shifts arising from powerful global forces such as marketisation, mobilisation and globalisation, and changing societal demands for alternative ways of engaging in learning and education, potentially challenge academic freedoms and students’ rights. The ideas raised in the keynotes resonated across the 3 days of papers, symposia and performances that unpacked evolving academic identities in times of accelerating change, precarity and disruption.

One reoccurring theme related to how academics can respond to the ‘push to publish’. For example, Cecile Badenhorst and Heather McLeod from Memorial University, Canada, spoke about their writing group’s experiences of sharing peer review received from journal reviewers. Their paper was a refreshingly forthright exploration of the impacts of isolation and of the ‘unexpected agency’ that comes from opening up the potentially damaging reviewing process within trusted collegial circles. In another paper, Cecile and Heather explained how their creative ‘hobbies’ energised their ability to write more productively—thinking and being nourished through art-work meant renewed enthusiasm for academic writing.

A symposium of three papers on doctoral thesis acknowledgments (research funded by RIHE) drew from studies in three countries: Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Catherine Manathunga (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia), Fran Kelly (University of Auckland, New Zealand) and Machi Sato (Hiroshima University) explored the spatial and epistemological elements of acknowledgements in theses from 1980. Framed by a postcolonial reading, we saw how crucial a sense of place can be for doctoral candidates. Cally Guerin (University of Adelaide) talked about her research on acknowledgments written in 2017 at an Australian university, tracing the spatial metaphors of guidance on the doctoral journey, and demonstrating the centrality of sociality in the success of the doctoral project. Barbara Grant (University of Auckland) and Machi Sato then took up the story of contemporary acknowledgment writing in New Zealand and Japan, identifying not only the human elements, but also the non-human, such as bicycles and the campus cat.

Anthony Paré (University of British Columbia, Canada) delivered a writing-related session, mostly critiquing the way we reference other authors in the field. Building on perspectives from rhetorical studies as experienced in the North American context, Anthony demonstrated the role of conflictual rhetoric for creating uncollegial academic writing. He showed how widely used ‘tricks’ such as straw man arguments, self-promotional rhetorical structures, and failure to mention or under-represent others’ contributions were objectionable.  Anthony pointed out how such practices are destructive and dishonest. Instead he proposed, a ‘generous rhetorical scholarship’, calling for more principled academic writing practices.

Susan Carter (Auckland University) gave a paper seeking to push notions of identity, imagination, creativity and ensoulment when thinking about academic development.  In terms of doctoral writing, her message (and in-session exercises) was to push doctoral writers to be more aware of their own strengths and perspectives so that they can write with a more confident voice.

Two papers explored how academics create identity through what they wear. Emma Davenport (London Metropolitan University) theorised the messages conveyed by clothing as political, artistic and narrative, while Frances Kelly (University of Auckland) itemised her own wardrobe and revisited the meaning of her clothing through the memories of choosing, buying and wearing. These two sessions reminded us that we have previously explored the metaphorical link between doctoral writing, clothing and voice. Could doctoral writers consider how their writing is similar in style to what they wear?

As always with conferences, there were some excellent papers we missed even with three of us to cover the parallel sessions. After such a stimulating conference, we are open to ideas of identity as they relate to doctoral writing. If you have an idea for a post, please get in touch.