Slow Scholarship

You have likely heard of the “Slow Food Movement” -- the momentum of diners, chefs, gardeners, vintners, farmers and restaurateurs who have taken a critical look at how our society has shifted to a position where for most, food is something to be consumed, rather than savoured, to be served up and eaten “fast” on the way to doing something else. “Slow Food,” by contrast, is something to be carefully prepared, with fresh ingredients, local when possible, and enjoyed leisurely over conversation around a table with friends and family.

“Slow Scholarship” is a similar response to hasty scholarship. Slow scholarship, is thoughtful, reflective, and the product of rumination – a kind of field testing against other ideas. It is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues. Like food, it often goes better with wine.

In the desire to publish instead of perish, many scholars at some point in their careers, send a conference paper off to a journal which may still be half-baked, may only have a spark of originality, may be a slight variation on something they or others have published, may rely on data that is still preliminary. This is hasty scholarship.

Other scholars send out their quick responses to a talk they have heard, an article they read, an email they have received, to the world via a Tweet or Blog. This is fast scholarship. Quick, off the cuff, fresh -- but not the product of much cogitation, comparison, or contextualization. The Tweetscape and Blogoshere brim over with sometimes idle, sometimes angry, sometimes scurrilous, always hasty, first impressions.

Slow Scholarship emerges from my own experience of taking 17 years from the start of a Ph.D. to the publication of the book which had its origins in the dissertation. It was when this book won the Harold Adams Innis prize for the best book in the Social Sciences in Canada, that I began to reflect on the benefits of the long journey, the many rewrites, the reconsideration, and the additional research that took place in those years. Then I noticed a couple of M.A. theses that I was an examiner of, which took three to five years, were remarkable pieces of scholarship, many times more valuable than the one and most two year MA theses, and I have begun to see other fruits of slow scholarship.

In a scholarly world where citation indices which count how many times an article is cited, not whether it is cited as a good or bad example, the thoughtful, reflective, write a book only a few times in a long career scholar, has lost prestige and, because pay is often linked to frequency of publication, money. Slow scholarship is a celebration of those authors who create a small but mighty legacy.

Slow scholarship is to blogs as Braudel’s longue duree is to the history of events. A reflection on the deep structures, patterns and ideas that are the cultural foundations for the more transient and easily observed daily manifestations. If Blog posts are quick, gut responses, the “Slow Scholarship” alternative, the “Slow Blog” or “Slog” involves the posting on the web of short, thoughtful essays, that have been carefully thought through. Typically they will not be posted more than a few times a year.

Slow Tweets, or “Sleets” are very carefully crafted sentences, that pack so much into them they can almost be read as a poem, or haiku on their own. Although short, single sentences, they are not limited to a set number of characters. A Sleet is more than a momentary linguistic flash in a pan. A Sleet should capture a complex thought, inspire such thoughts in others, and be worth preserving for posterity.