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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Nothing happened, something happened: Silence in a makerspace

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. François-Xavier de Vaujany
of the Université Paris-Dauphine, and Dr. Jeremy Aroles of Durham University Business School. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Nothing happened, something happened: Silence in a makerspace,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the motivations of this research and its significance to the present:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

Over the course of our research, we had the opportunity to visit a wide range of collaborative spaces located in ten countries. During these visits, we were particularly surprised by the role and importance of silence in these different spaces. The collaborative orientation of these spaces, together with the idea that collaboration is a noisy endeavour, made the prevalence and centrality of silence rather counterintuitive. This prompted us to look more closely into silence and its manifestations. In particular, it seemed that there was more to silence than meets the eye: we began to appreciate how silence is not an emptiness or an absence but rather both a space and process full of potentialities, possibilities for learning and creative endeavours. In our paper, we explore this initial intuition through an ethnographic study of a makerspace located in Paris.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Silence is a topic that is rarely featured in management and organisational studies. Fewer studies still have investigated silence in a ‘non-coercive context’, that is when silence is not directly forced upon people but rather chosen and actively sought. Our research is an invitation to consider the role of silence in new working configurations, and more precisely, the complex and multifaceted relation between silence and embodied forms of learning. We contend that silence creates the conditions for co-created and embodied learning. It gives visibility to the learning process of the workers and re-centres expression around gestures as well as focused conversations, highlighting how a silence ‘immediately felt’ in a physical space is not necessarily an absence of conversation.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

This is a difficult question to answer; in our case, this entailed rediscovering some fundamental texts published some seventy years ago. As our research progressed, our attention revolved increasingly more around the work of the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty. In particular, we rediscovered The Visible and The Invisible as well as Phenomenology of perception. In addition, we found Glen Mazis’ book (Merleau-Ponty and the Face of the World: Silence, Ethics, Imagination, and Poetic Ontology) particularly useful when reading Merleau-Ponty’s work. We discovered, in Merleau-Ponty’s work, a wealth of concepts and sensibilities that are particularly well suited to the study of the ‘new’ world of work. More precisely, his work invites us to rethink our perceptions and experiences through an engagement with the notions of embodiment, flesh and inter-corporeity.

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