This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Friday 20 December 2013

The genealogy of the academic paper that changed my career

In 2003 I was working for Oxfam. I had just completed an MSc in Applied Social Research in Bristol and I had a forthcoming interview for 3 year PhD bursary. At the time I was reading a new collection of essays - The Civilized Organization: Norbert Elias and the future of organization studies - and I decided to base my interview presentation on a chapter in the book. The chapter by Tim Newton - Elias, organisations and ecology - fused insights from Actor Network Theory (ANT) with Figurational Sociology in what he called an Interdependency Network Perspective (INP).

I was offered the bursary but dropped the theoretical model during my PhD for a pure figurational approach. Yet I was always intrigued by the fusion of ideas and I continued to use an INP in talks and presentations. During 2007 and 2008, I worked on a project of Ian Smith's, which set out to explore how planners and built environment professionals changed the ways they worked in order to meet the challenges of New Labour's Knowledge and Skills Agenda on the building of sustainable communities. I decided that an INP framework offered a useful way to present our findings and we subsequently submitted a paper to a prominent planning journal. This was the start of a long and at times tortuous process. In general, academic planners were keen on ANT, but not so keen on Figurational Sociology - this did not sit easily with me.

The ideas next resurfaced in my first post doc position at Cardiff, where I developed a greater knowledge and understanding of ANT through work with Mara Miele. In 2009, I presented a paper - Farmers vs. animal scientists: an assessment of welfare quality - based on an INP at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference in Cardiff. Still frustrated by my continuing inability to get the ideas into print, in 2010 I sent the origional paper to a new colleague for review, who subsequently used the ideas (if not the theory) to get a paper published. This increased my determination to get our initial paper published.

In subsequent years, Ian adopted the approach for teaching purposes. Work pressures meant that he also took the lead on the first paper and Mara and I began the process of fusing our ideas in various publications. But we still had no luck getting the original paper into print. Earlier this year, with my new job as a lecturer in sustainability at the University of Huddersfield in sight,  I decided to give the paper another go. The final published version is available here.