June 28, 2005
My Personal Research Agenda
Posted by Christine Hurt

More on PrawfsBlawg from the AALS Conference:  David Zaring is skeptical of some advice he has heard to find personal meaning in his scholarly agenda.  While David seems to believe that scholars can find their work "engaging," he is unsure of whether scholars outside certain emotionally-charged areas can become personally involved in their scholarship.  And then (gasp) he uses corporate law as an example:

I’m not sure that corporate law scholars extract a lot of personal meaning from their advocacy for shareholders, directors and officers, or what have you.

As I pull the dagger from my heart, I must protest.  I do find a lot of personal meaning in advocating for the rights of investors and shareholders, and I find particular meaning in pointing out to others that white-collar criminals have the same rights as your garden variety criminal.  I can get pretty worked up being a Lisa Simpson in the Bart Simpson world of the SEC, pointing and screaming that the Emperor has no clothes.  I'm getting pretty worked up right now!

Aside from my own personal connection to my work, the larger question is whether every scholar should be personally invested in their work.  I guess the answer lies in why you write.  If you write to get tenure, then you merely have to have enough engagement to keep you interested long enough to log enough articles.  If you write for other reasons, then you already know the answer to this question.  The first article I wrote, I wrote to prove to my current institution that I was more than a lecturer.  I picked a topic that I was familiar with and I cranked 300 footnotes out of it.  It was engaging, but I wasn't invested in it.  I can tell you that for me, there's a big difference in writing for others and writing for me.

UPDATE:  Vic has a completely different take, and warns about letting personal connections with a topic infuse your scholarship with myopic bias.  Point taken.

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