Big-screen vision breaks academic boundaries

A researcher from Bournemouth University has published what he describes as a pioneering example of "scholarship in the guise of a film script".

January 5, 2012

Kip Jones, a reader in qualitative research, is now an expert on performative social science, which asks people to write poetry or draw a picture in preference to an interview.

While working on a PhD about informal care, he became fascinated by the work of the German-born developmental psychologist Klaus Riegel (1925-77) and the American social psychologist Kenneth Gergen, who is now senior research professor of psychology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

He then noticed that these key figures in his research development had both presented papers at a conference in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1976.

Dr Jones began to imagine his heroes developing their ideas as they shared a train journey back to their respective universities. Both were at turning points in their intellectual lives. Perhaps it was their meeting that propelled Professor Gergen into forging his highly influential theories of social constructionism?

"Gergen is a giant to our generation", explained Dr Jones, "so it was good to look back to a time when he was insecure...I wanted to examine how breakthroughs come, and the price people pay for them.

"I also wanted to bring in references to newspaper headlines and the films they've seen, because those things were influencing them without their even being aware of it."

Dr Jones first presented his "dialogue which never happened" as an audiovisual piece at the Free University of Berlin in 2002 in the presence of Kenneth and Mary Gergen.

He has now reworked it as a film script and published it in a special issue of Psychological Studies devoted to Professor Gergen's career.

Although "On a Train from Morgantown" may represent a first in an academic journal, Dr Jones believes that the idea has great potential.

"Reading a few film scripts, I realised that their formulaic brevity leaves more engage the reader's imagination in the content of the dialogue than in standard 'academic' writings," he said.

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