Writing as ‘skin’: Negotiating the body in(to) learning about the managed self

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Deborah N. Brewis of the University of Bath and Eley Williams of the University of London. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Writing as skin: Negotiating the body in(to) learning about the managed self,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the inspiration for this research:]

One makes a braille of our hide, and attempt to interpret its textures and scry it haptic mimicry and pantomime of feeling…

Eley and I met and became friends by chance four years ago at the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association conference as I overheard her talking about the town that I had recently moved to, and that she grew up in. Serendipity plays a large part in interdisciplinary collaborations, even when moments of connection are helped along by seeking out such spaces.

We were inspired to explore together how research writing can be challenged, stretched, and reshaped to do more; specifically to struggle with bringing the body into scholarly writing. I had been fascinated with ‘haptic visuality’ and the communication of embodiment in film (Marks 2000, Sobchak 2004). I had also read Eley’s creative writing and had been affected by its rich, sometimes overwhelming, exploration of relationality: her playfulness with words show the frustration and delight involved as we wrestle with language to communicate our inner worlds to others.

We started to explore the notion that writing could be skin-like: a negotiating surface that is inscribed on, scarred, by the world around it, but also expressive of an inner reality; resistant and fleshy. In the process of conducting and writing research, we are pulled in different directions that draw us away and toward our bodies: we seek to abstract concepts, norms and patterns from our data, and yet many of us also seek to communicate nuance, and contradictions within them that are often tied into deeply personal realities. As we talked and wrote and elicited feedback from others, the qualities of human skin, both physical and the meanings attached to it culturally and historically, provided a metaphor almost too rich for our purposes that we (suitably for a project on skin) needed to contain. So, we focused on three properties of skin as tools to facilitate thinking through how the text can be allowed to be more experiential, without being consumed by the body:

– Porosity: to explore ways in which the scientific academic text can be pierced at different moments to let experiences, sensations, and subjectivity permeate.

– Sense-ability: to craft the texture of the writing to communicate at both cognitive and embodied levels with the reader; eliciting physical response and memories.

– Palimpsest: to make visible the layers that form the text including the work of others, collaboration, and academic institutions and processes; but also our own half-thoughts.

We engaged in a critical-creative experiment by working together across disciplines and by including both art and research by others in discussing how skin has offered critique and insight. In another gift of serendipity, we received some evocative photographs from Anni Skilton at Medical Illustration at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, inspired by the piece and that now accompany it, enhancing what we call its ‘aeffectiveness’. In this piece, we wanted to show and not just describe how skin-writing can enrich research in management and organisation studies. We hope that others will find skinfulness useful in findings ways in which scholarly writing can stretch and touch and show its vulnerability.

Marks, L. U. (2000). The skin of the film: Intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Duke University Press.

Sobchack, V. (2004). Carnal thoughts: Embodiment and moving image culture. Univ of California Press.

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This entry was posted in Management, Management Theory and tagged , , , by Cynthia Nalevanko, Senior Editor, SAGE Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cynthia Nalevanko, Senior Editor, SAGE Publishing

Founded in 1965, SAGE is the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. Known for our commitment to quality and innovation, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students across a broad range of subject areas. With over 1500 employees globally from principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, and Melburne, our publishing program includes more than 1000 journals and over 900 books, reference works and databases a year in business, humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Believing passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable, SAGE aims to be the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. This means playing a creative role in society by disseminating teaching and research on a global scale, the cornerstones of which are good, long-term relationships, a focus on our markets, and an ability to combine quality and innovation. Leading authors, editors and societies should feel that SAGE is their natural home: we believe in meeting the range of their needs, and in publishing the best of their work. We are a growing company, and our financial success comes from thinking creatively about our markets and actively responding to the needs of our customers.

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