Most sociologists aim to publish research in academic journals or books. One sociologist suggests a new venue for sharing research: creating fiction films.
Kip Jones hates PowerPoint presentations. He doesn’t care much for academic journals, either. An American-born sociologist, who teaches in the school of health and social care at Bournemouth University in England, Mr. Jones says that “the shame of research is that you spend a lot of money and the knowledge just disappears — or worse, ends up as an article in a scholarly journal.”
So when he was invited to participate in “The Gay and Pleasant Land” project — an investigation into the lives of older gay men and lesbians living in rural England and Wales — Mr. Jones decided that the best way to present the project’s findings to the public wasn’t by publishing the results or delivering a paper at a scholarly conference, but by making a short fiction film…
That’s what Mr. Jones is counting on. “Most of my own work is around developing a method — what’s known as Performative Social Science. I’ve worked with theater. I’ve worked with dancers,” he said. The idea is to combine serious scholarship and popular culture, using performance-based tools to present research outcomes.
Jones suggests that research is often forgotten and that is why he sought to make a film. This raises some questions:
1. Is a film more “permanent” than a research article or book? Without widespread distribution, I suspect the film is less permanent.
2. Is this really about reaching a bigger audience? Academics sometimes joke about how journal articles might reach a few hundred people in the world who care. A film could reach more people but it would need effective distribution or a number of showings for this to happen. This also requires work and how many academic films are actually able to reach a broad audience?
3. Can a film acceptably convey research results compared to a more data-driven paper? Both data-driven work and films need to tell a story and/or make an argument but they are different venues.
In the end, I don’t think we will have a sudden rush to make such films as opposed to writing more academic work. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more established researchers create films and documentaries to supplement their work. (See Mitchell Duneier’s Sidewalk disc which included a documentary.) Such films could reach a broader and younger audience, i.e., putting it in the Youtube world of today’s college students.
(Another note: can you find many academics who would actually defend the use of Powerpoint? It seems like an odd way to begin the story.)