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Recognizing and Escaping the Sham: Authority Moves, Truth Claims and the Fiction of Academic Writing About Adult Learning


This paper seeks to explore the meaning of the sham with regards to academic writing. It challenges the fundamental assumptions that underpin conventional academic writing and suggests that such writing is actually less honest than the other forms of writing that it sets itself against. It is precisely the reliance on what Laurel Richardson calls the “authority moves” (1997, p.167) of academic language that undermines its claim to represent reality in an open and honest way. It is, in fact, a sham.

The rejection of the superior truth claims of academic writing is illustrated with reference to two interview transcripts from a completed study and the issues raised are explored theoretically in the light of the work of Hélène Cixous. It is argued that the adoption of Hélène Cixous’ notion of l’écriture feminine provides a way out of the dilemma. Inspired by Cixous, it is argued that it is possible to escape the limitations of conventional academic writing firstly through the incorporation of a kind of writing practice which has more in common with poetry than rational argument and secondly through the incorporation of generically diverse texts within the social science research text.

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