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Editorial: The Promotion of Scholarly Conversation

Alexander Freer, University of Warwick

 

We have previously discussed two major aims of Reinvention: to support undergraduates in academic publishing, and to disseminate high-quality research (Freer, 2010). Typically, we have characterised the former aim as educational, and the latter as academic, noting a possible tension between them. As early as 2008, David Metcalfe outlined the 'challenge of achieving balance' between the inclusive nature of research as pedagogy and the exclusive nature of a publication disseminating the best undergraduate work (Metcalfe, 2008); from the outset, it appears that compromise is an inevitable consequence of our project, and perhaps of all education conducted with limited resources.

The contents of this issue highlight a different way to think about the problem. There is a tendency to consider research as a product, produced through a specific set of processes, and this is linked to the commodification of academic research, which Radder calls 'a substantial and significant phenomenon [which] has substantially increased and intensified during the past thirty years' (Radder, 2010: 8-9). While this is reinforced by a funding system which awards grants for specific projects, and methods of evaluation such as the REF, it is possible to conceive of research not as a series of discrete products, but rather as a long-term process or discussion. I think that this alternative is particularly helpful in the case of undergraduate research.

Some concerns have been raised over projects like Reinvention. Most frequent among these are the worries that students are pressurised or instrumentalised by research opportunities, or that they are distracted from other learning. Such criticisms appear to rest on the understanding of research as production. It is right that care should be taken in the implementation of research opportunities for undergraduates, and that the process should not increase the challenge of an undergraduate syllabus, but rather complement it. However, this view overlooks the pedagogical benefits of research in addition to the completion of a body of work. Indeed, one of the best arguments for publishing undergraduate research is that unlike the majority of work for students, original research is not merely an exercise. What undergraduate publishing offers, instead, is entry into scholarly conversation. Our authors frequently express their appreciation for the work of our reviewers, and note that it is unusual for their work to be discussed in such detail. How the authors then respond to the reviewers' suggestions is an important part of a process, and introduces a sense of dialogue and reciprocity which is unusual in formal undergraduate teaching.

More importantly, making undergraduate research available online allows the final published article to become a part of a continuing scholarly discussion. This is becoming more relevant now that many journals – including Reinvention – are being indexed by Google Scholar. If we see research as a conversation, there is no longer the same conflict between inclusivity and exclusivity. Rather, the journal is positioned at the forefront of the mission of the university as a whole: to further scholarly discussions, and equip all students to participate in those discussions. Reinvention has never accepted the binary distinction between students who have published and those who have not: its role is to support all students who wish to participate, offering both advice on the formal structure of academic papers and, through peer review, sophisticated technical and theoretical critique.

In this spirit of scholarly dialogue, we are pleased to include in this issue abstracts from the Warwick Medical School 2010 undergraduate conference, detailing research findings on over fifteen topics across medical research carried out by undergraduates individually and in collaboration with other students, academics and consultants. Such fora for serious discussion of undergraduate research are to be applauded, and we are delighted to note the inaugural British Conference of Undergraduate Research (http://www.bcur.org/) took place this month at the University of Central Lancashire, and that Reinvention will be publishing a collection of papers from the conference in a special edition later in the year.

It has always been our aim to publish a broad variety of papers, and in this issue there are papers from the social and physical sciences, the humanities, medicine and critical theory. All of these papers present something new, whether it is a novel methodology, a new area of primary research or an original line of argument. In our first paper Eustace Fernando (University of Westminster) presents the results of original research which aimed to synthesize novel biopolymer composite materials by incorporating Acetobacter xylinus cellulose into Bacillus cereus Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate. Several papers examine and challenge the nature of established institutions and systems of practice, including that of university research. Katherine Fender (University of Warwick) examines how the modern university can respond to concerns raised by Immanuel Kant and Michel Foucault over intellectual freedom, and Catherine Dent (University of Warwick) argues for the significance of inn signs in the study of commerce and drinking culture in Early Modern European history. Elsewhere, Eric Thornton (State University of New York) discusses the experiences of Latino workers in the American restaurant industry and, using an ethnographic sketch, illustrates the difficulties faced by several such individuals in their employment system. Focusing on experiences of health and well-being outside of institutions of mainstream healthcare, Fleur Dewsnap and Andrew Smart (Bath Spa University) discuss the motivations for people to use crystals as therapeutic objects. Finally, Viktorie Sevcenko (University of Warwick) analyses the impact of the Federation of Small Businesses on the survival of new businesses, drawing out a relationship between established small businesses, lobbies, and new firms.

Continuing our theme of scholarly conversation, in this issue we present our first book review, where we ask an academic and a student to comment in tandem on the utility and merits of an educational publication. In this review, Hugo Dobson (University of Sheffield) and Joseph Haigh (University of Warwick) discuss Global Think Tanks from Routledge's 'Global Institutions' series of guidebooks.

 


 

References

Freer, A. (2010), 'Editorial: The Growth of Reinvention', Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, 3 (1), available at www.warwick.ac.uk/go/reinventionjournal/archive/volume3issue1/editorial, accessed 13 April 2011

Metcalfe, D. (2008), 'Reinventing the Journal?', Reinvention: A Journal of Undergraduate Research, 1 (1), available at www.warwick.ac.uk/go/reinventionjournal/archive/volume1issue1/metcalfe, accessed 13 April 2011

Radder, H. (2010), The Commodification of Academic Research, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press

 

To cite this paper please use the following details: Freer, A. (2011), 'Editorial: The Promotion of Scholarly Conversation', Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 4, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/go/reinventionjournal/archive/volume4issue1/editorial. Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.