The New Journalism in Academic Writing

Alan Bryman in his book Social Research Methods has once mentioned that academic writing must be persuasive and convincing and that writing style must not be rigid, soulless, or unclear. More importantly, academic writing must be well-structured so as not to confuse readers. The question is how to make academic writing that is structured and attractive at the same time? Bryman’s explanation feels contradictive in that sense since structure is identical with rigidness and rigidness is identical with boring.

In general, academic writing is often associated as unpopular and in fact, most people expect them to be boring. However, if a piece of academic writing is meant to educate the public, don’t you think that the scholar has an additional burden to improve their writing technique so the public won’t be bored by it? This dilemma is what paves the way for the genesis of a new movement in academic writing technique known as “the new journalism” in the 60s.

New journalism emphasizes on a new writing technique called creative nonfiction. This technique allows scholar to convey their research findings through story-telling. Scholars must absolutely use credible facts as the basis of their story, but they can use many techniques often used in fictional work to create a compelling and evocative narrative. Despite some criticism – notably from positivists – as fake or fabricated academic work (?), creative nonfiction is still used to this day by scholars in the field of ethnology, feminism, and post-colonialism. Proponents of this technique claims that creative nonfiction can be read as fiction but offers an accurate level of analysis comparable with that of conventional writing. More importantly, creative nonfiction is able to delve into the biggest truths that can’t be conveyed through conventional methods.

One of the main supporters of new journalism in International Relations (IR) is Elizabeth Dauphinee. Her book The Politics of Exile is considered as the first IR novel ever published. In order to understand the gravity of this accomplishment, I believe it is necessary to read an opening statement from her work:

I built my career on the life and loss of a man named Stojan Sokolovic. He has pale eyes. He studied engineering. He was mobilized into a war that he did not start and in which he did not want to participate. He would have preferred to go to Canada, he said, but there was no way out.

In only a few words, Dauphinee has managed to make us empathize with a man named Stojan Sokolovic whom we know nothing about. This kind of opening statement can be found in novels and other works of fiction . It is called ‘hook’, which is a statement made to stimulate the reader’s curiosity as to what will happen next. However, Dauphinee is not a novelist and her work is not fiction but an actual report from her research.

Through the example of Dauphinee’s work, we can see how creative nonfiction uses narration and dramatization to evoke the reader’s emotion. By using this technique, a scholar can not only reflect the reality they see but also manipulate it to convey a message they want to deliver. This is made possible through the use of provocative and evocative language. For example, a quote from Dauphinee’s work “The Ethics of Auto-ethnography” below can convey what it means to be unsettled:

You write about violence, he (Sokolovic) said. You say that fear is a violence – that the things that cause fear and insecurity are violences. But you do not know how that fear sits like a bear on my heart. You talk about fear, as though you understood what it tasted like – what it smelled like – the scent of smoldering mortar dust and artillery shells. You talk about guilt, but you look in from a place that does not allow you to see it well. Violence must be quantifiable in your world.”

Then look at the quote from “What Quantitative Research is and Why it Doesn’t Work” by Claudia Krenz & Gilbert Sax and see the difference:

Two persistent critique of quantitative experimentalism are (a) the lack of isomorphism between its measure and ‘reality’ and (b) its failure thus far to produce ‘truths’ useful to educational practice.”

Both of those writings try to problematize quantitative research. Both tries to convey a message that quantitative research has failed to show the true depiction of reality through their measurement. However, the two quotes above give different impression. Whereas Krenz & Sax only explains why quantitative research is problematic, Dauphinee explains why the problem of quantitative research affects certain stakeholders.

Dauphinee used the narrative of the victim in her work. Through the testimony of Sokolovic, she conveys a message that while quantitative researchers are busy with the quantification of violence, Sokolovic is experiencing the true violence in an emotional light. Dauphinee is trying to say that quantitative researchers has been ignorant with human feelings and care more about how to quantify a reality. This narration has a strong disruptive effect to make readers believe that quantitative research is indeed problematic – not only because of its methodology but also because it ignores the feeling of their research subjects.

In the end, we can see how the use of nonfiction creative technique leads to a better understanding of the truth that a scholar tries to convey. Through the use of unsettling words and dramatization of facts, a creative nonfiction work is not only accurate but also engaging to read. This is the advantage of this technique compared to the conventional one. Therefore, in order to truly educate the public in any issue, including international relations, I believe that scholars need to accommodate creative nonfiction technique in their works.