a recent comment about my work

“This is as interesting as a soap opera, but so far it is just about as deep.”

Luckily it was on a draft (and not, say, a finished paper). But still, ouch! Then again, I can’t help but think to myself, “What would I prefer? Writing incredibly interesting work (assuming you find soap operas interesting)? Or being deep?”  This actually isn’t so easy to figure out. In part because if something is that interesting, there must be something to it, no? Which would you rather? I know it’s not an either/or. But my decision on this question has major implications for what my book is going to look like. And to be honest, the jury is still out.

8 thoughts on “a recent comment about my work”

  1. Wouldn’t you want your work to be both? Some people might be restricted to one or the other, but the comment makes it sound as if there’s potential for the project to be both interesting and deep. If there’s one thing that I really wouldn’t want my work to be it would be untapped (people thinking that with a little more sociological insight or work or something the project could have been interesting and deep).

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  2. I’ve always had the philosophy that it is important to surround yourself with tough critics who have an unshakable respect for you. That comment doesn’t sound very respectful. Sometimes we can’t pick our critics, but if you can, I’d drop that reader.

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  3. jessica: I completely agree. I think part of the question is the framing of work. Is it primarily for other sociologists who are looking for the sociological importance of the work (what it means for other sociologists) or is it for a more general reader. The question is one of degree. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I think on balance you tend to go one direction or another. Being untenured I’ve gotten lots of advice on this, but none of it consistent.

    andrewsaka: I should be fairer to my commentator. This is a person who has been enormously influential in my training and read almost everything I’ve ever written. I respect this personal enormously both as a scholar and a mentor. And the person feels comfortable with me, I believe. So the comment is biting. But it is not malicious. Knowing me, the commentator probably knew that I would feel a little bad, laugh about it, and then think about what it meant for my work. This has all happened, and it has been useful.

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  4. “Interesting” is in the eye of the beholder, because different communities, scholarly and otherwise, will come to a text with differing prior assumptions, understandings, and beliefs. In the sociological context, I often encourage students to read Murray Davis’ classic 1971 article “That’s interesting! Towards a phenomenology of sociology and a sociology of phenomenology.” Davis argues that what makes a theory interesting is not whether it’s true or not, but rather whether the theory challenges the taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions of the readers. If you’ve got a knowledgeable audience, a text may need to be “deep” (whatever that means) to be interesting in this sense.

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  5. You know, I never thought of it before, but you could totally write an episode of Gossip Girl based on your research!

    Seriously, though, I agree with Jessica. I have no doubt you’ll be able to “deepen” your analysis, with some work. I suspect it is a lot harder to do the opposite: turn a really deep, but boring, analysis into a real page-turner. And don’t underestimate the “general reader’s” interest in profound observations about the social world. Making it accessible doesn’t have to mean dumbing it down (just scrap the jargon and move the citations to the footnotes).

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  6. OMG Jeremy — do we also have days in common?

    This post reminds me of the most humorous advice I received in grad school: You can be famous or you can be right.

    These words were spoken by someone very, very famous.

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