September 25, 2005

On writing applications and reading the economist

Category: Research — @ 7:13 am

Well I have pretty much moved and am settling into life in New Jersey. Lately, I find myself at my computer for it is the ritual time of grant/job applications. On the one hand, like any application-process, it can be incredibly frustrating and drab. Nothing like having to encode yourself on paper, over and over again.

On the other, it gives academics as chance to revisit aspirations, and make them more tangible by putting them into a string of words that must capture the interest of a range of academics. Thus, we only lightly butter our proposals in jargon, making them a little more accessible than our other work. Without all that heavy grease of disciplinary jargon, it helps me learn what I really want to do and I find this quite enlivening.

That said, I am working on proposing an entirely new project, one that examines the politics of such anti-psychiatry groups like mindfreedom. Unlike proposing work on free software, I struggle to find the right words and phrases for, in reality, there is still so much that lies beyond my comprehension. In the case of F/OSS, most of the knowledge is contained in my brain, thanks to years and years of writing and thinking of the subject. I find myself a child again, confronted with having to learn vast new amount of information so that I can begin to make larger sense of the meaning enfolded within this world of politics, suffering, and the law. With a new project comes some freshness and excitement that I may have lost and some frustration at stumbling over lack of ethnographic knowledge, which makes the writing process much easier.

Given these time constraints of job applications, conference papers, and readings for my postdoc, I have had to make some serious choices about what constitutes extracurricular reading and the winner this year is The Economist.

Those who know my political sensibilities probably find my desire to read the voluminous Economist, every week, suspect. But I actually like reading the periodical for many reasons. Foremost, I learn a lot about the world when reading their articles. They don’t assume you know anything about the subject at hand and give you enough background information so you can follow the article intelligibly. They never skimp of providing some good numbers, a decent political analysis, and wide breadth of subject matter. Second I simply love the clarity of writing. In fact, I think their style is a wonderful basic template for grant/application writing because it is so clear and crisp. They also cover news from all over the world, including protests that supposed liberal newspapers like the NYTimes will rarely cover. And finally they rarely mask their free market/conservative politics (making it easy to seperate the chaff from the kernel of news I want to learn about, for example by saying things like:
“No country but America explores such a wide range of subjects (including some dubious ones such as GBLT—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies)).

Who knows maybe a year of reading The Economist will transform me into a stodgy British conservative type with lackluster Victorian sensibilities . I hope not but if I do, I hope, if nothing else, their good writing does rub off on me too.


  1. On The economist.

    I couldn’t agree more. I am reading the Economist everytime I can lay my hands on it (thank you Niels! ;-)
    Didn’t you know that the crisp & clear style you praise so much in The Economist is actually a canon, and can be acquired as a text book: The Economist Style Guide:
    cheers, patrizio & Diiiinooos!
    (in Bruksel)

    Comment by patrice — October 11, 2005 @ 10:27 am

  2. dynamite! I will check it out. thanks patrice !!


    Comment by sato — October 11, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

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