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Holding our disciplinary ground: disciplinary writing in the age of audit

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date25/06/2016
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventInternational Writing Across the Curriculum (IWAC) Conference - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States
Duration: 23/06/201625/06/2016


ConferenceInternational Writing Across the Curriculum (IWAC) Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAnn Arbor
Internet address


This paper reports on findings from project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, on the dynamics of knowledge creation. Taking a social practice approach to literacy (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000), the project ethnographically investigates the writing practices of academics at three English universities. The data presented here come from interviews with 15 academics, each of whom work in one of three disciplinary areas: Mathematics, History, or Marketing. The paper explores the effect on academics’ writing practices of the UK’s national research evaluation exercise (REF), which includes the requirement to demonstrate “impact” by showing that research has a demonstrable “effect, change or benefit” beyond academia, in areas such as the economy, environment, policy, culture, health, or society at large. We know that writing practices vary across disciplines, yet the REF assesses every department and academic against the same yardstick, regardless of disciplinary norms. The results presented in this paper show that academics’ writing practices are under pressure from the sometimes conflicting demands of this research evaluation exercise and disciplinary values. For example, UK academics working in Marketing described conflicts between publishing within their discipline and publishing in the top-ranked journals, which tend to be US-based. Historians talked of pressure to churn out journal papers instead of monographs, and mathematicians spoke about the difficulty of disseminating complex mathematical findings to a lay audience beyond academia. In this sense, many struggled to hold their disciplinary ground in the face of the new audit culture in higher education.