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Approaches to What? 

Georges Perec

(Perec, G. (1973) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, pp. 205-7)

Perec Visage

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. The one and only destiny of motor-cars is to drive into plane trees. Fifty-two weekends a year, fifty-two casualty lists: so many dead and all the better for the news media if the figures keep going up! Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.

In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, tower blocks that collapse, forest fires, tunnels that cave in, the Drugstore de Champs-Elysées burns down. Awful! Terrible! Monstrous! Scandalous! But where’s the scandal? The true scandal? Has the newspaper told us everything except: not to worry, as you can see life exists, with its ups and downs, things happen, as you can see.
The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask. What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is not longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic.

To question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origins. To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For the astonishment existed, along with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.

What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.
Make an inventory of you pockets, of your bag.

Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out.
Question your tea spoons.
What is there under your wallpaper?
How many movements does it take to dial a phone number?
Why don’t you find cigarettes in grocery stores? Why not?

It matters little to me that these questions should be fragmentary, barely indicative of a method, at most of a project. It matters a lot to me that they should seem trivial and futile: that’s exactly what makes them just as essential, if not more so, as all the other questions by which we’ve tried in vain to lay hold on our truth.”

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Perec 01

From: Paul Finn on Georges Perec at www.wemadethis.co.uk/

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Essays: Scratching the Surface pre-order price £16.50, the first 100 copies will be signed by the author

Scratching the Surface is a collection of essays and journalism by Adrian Shaughnessy, focusing mainly on graphic design. Essays include: ‘2012 Olympic logo ate my hamster’; ‘Vaughan Oliver – minotaurs in suburban England’; and ‘The myth of originality and the joy of copying’.

The essays have appeared on blogs such as Design Observer, and in publications such as Eye, Creative Review, Design Week and The Wire. Many others have appeared only in tiny circulation publications.

The book’s introduction opens with a disconcerting question: ‘Why would anyone want to read about graphic design?’ Despite assertions that ‘designers don’t read’, there has, in recent years, been a huge upsurge of interest in design writing: courses have been established to teach the subject, and many designers now combine design and writing within their practices.

In 2003, Adrian Shaughnessy gave up studio life to become an independent designer, consultant, publisher, teacher and writer. He wrote the highly successful How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing your Soul which has sold 80,000 copies worldwide.

Scratching the Surface is a book for anyone who wants to scratch the surface of the cultural zeitgeist to see what’s underneath.


Paperback
170x225mm
400 pages
ISBN 978-0-9575114-0-8
Pre-order price £16.50
Standard price £20.00


Essays: Adrian Shaughnessy
Design: Spin


Shipping end of May to early June 2013

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Speculations IV, June 2013, ISBN: 978-0615797861

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If philosophy begins in wonder, then where does it end? What is its end? Aristotle said that while it begins in wondrous questioning, it ends with “the better state” of attaining answers, like an itch we get rid of with a good scratch or a childhood disease that, once gotten over, never returns. How depressing! Why can’t a good question continue being questionable or, in a more literal translation of the German, “question-worthy?” As Heidegger puts it, “philosophical questions are in principle never settled as if some day one could set them aside.” Couldn’t we learn from questions without trying to settle them, resolve ourselves to not resolving them? Couldn’t wisdom be found in reconciling ourselves to its perpetual love, and never its possession? Wittgenstein once wrote that “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about,’” which was the symptom of the deep confusion that constituted philosophy for him. But Heidegger loved wandering aimlessly in the woods, following Holzwege or paths that lead nowhere, stumbling onto dead-ends which could also be clearings.

–Lee Braver, “On Not Settling the Issue of Realism”

Download Speculations IV as a PDF.

Purchase print edition HERE.

–TABLE OF CONTENTS–

Editorial Introduction

PART I: REFLECTIONS

On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
Lee Braver

Politics and Speculative Realism
Levi R. Bryant

The Current State of Speculative Realism
Graham Harman

Weird Reading
Eileen A. Joy

A Very Dangerous Supplement: Speculative Realism, Academic Blogging, and the Future of Philosophy
Adam Kotsko

Speculative Realism: Interim Report with Just a Few Caveats
Christopher Norris

The Future of an Illusion
Jon Roffe

Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn
Daniel Sacilotto

PART II: PROPOSALS

“The World is an Egg”: Realism, Mathematics, and the Thresholds of Difference
Jeffrey A. Bell

Ontological Commitments
Manuel DeLanda

The Meaning of “Existence” and the Contingency of Sense
Markus Gabriel

Post-Deconstructive Realism: It’s About Time
Peter Gratton

Points of Forced Freedom: Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism
Adrian Johnston

Realism and the Infinite
Paul M. Livingston

How to Behave Like a Non-Philosopher, or, Speculative Versus Revisionary Metaphysics
John Mullarkey

“The Horror of Darkness”: Toward an Unhuman Phenomenology
Dylan Trigg

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Now online: the historic Chomsky-Foucault debate.

By Tamara van der Putten

Post image for About ROAR

http://roarmag.org/2013/05/chomsky-foucault-debate-full-video-subtitles/

On May 8, 2013

Excerpts from the Foucault-Chomsky debate on human nature and power have circulated online for years — now it’s available in full for the first time.

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In 1971, with the Vietnam war in full swing and radical social movements destabilizing the social, political and cultural order throughout the Western world, Dutch philosopher Fons Elders invited two of the world’s leading thinkers — the American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky and the French social theorist Michel Foucault — to debate a thorny and perennial question: is there such a thing as an “innate” human nature, and if so, what are its implications for our ideas about power, justice, revolution, and the shape of the ideal human society?

The resulting dialogue has been described as one of the most original, provocative, and spontaneous exchanges to have occurred between contemporary philosophers, and above all serves as a concise introduction to their basic theories. What begins as a philosophical argument rooted in linguistics (Chomsky) and the theory of knowledge (Foucault), soon evolves into a broader discussion encompassing a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics.

In his book, The Passion of Michel Foucault, James Miller recounts that, while Chomsky and Foucault prepared for the debate in the preceding hours, “there were already signs that this was not going to be any ordinary debate”:

Hoping to puncture the prim sobriety of the Dutch audience, the program’s host, Fons Elders, a professed anarchist, had obtained a bright red wig, which he tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Foucault to wear. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Chomsky, Foucault had received, in partial payment for his appearance, a large chunk of hashish, which for months afterwards, Foucault and his Parisian friends would jokingly refer to as the “Chomsky hash.” (Ibid., p. 201, hat tip to Aphelis for this quote).

Excerpts from the video of the debate — which was broadcast on Dutch television — have been circulating online for many years, and a book with a (rather liberally) translated transcript of the discussion has been published and republished many times. More recently, however, a full video of the debate has surfaced, allowing ROAR, in collaboration with a group of Dutch anarchists, to assist in a new translation of the debate. With this project completed, we are proud to share the first version of the full Chomsky-Foucault debate with English subtitles.

Special thanks to Anarchistische Groep Nijmegen. Translations from Dutch by withDefiance and Tamara van der Putten; translation from French by Tamara van der Putten.

N.B. Hit the ‘captions’ button if the subtitles don’t show up.

Noam Chomsky (1928): linguist, historian, philosopher, critic and political activist. As the “father of the modern science of language” (linguistics), Chomsky focused on the issue of the innate versus the learned. Over the course of his career, Chomsky evolved into a major critic of US foreign policy (from Vietnam to South America and the Middle East) and the propaganda of the mass media. One of his major works is ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’, co-written with Edward S. Herman. Chomsky continues to write prolifically today.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984): French philosopher, social theorist, historian and literary critic. In his work, Foucault dealt with the issue of power and how it works in practice; how it influences knowledge; and how it is used as a form of social control. Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions such as psychiatry, social anthropology, the penitentiary system and the history of human sexuality. His works are still very influential in academic circles. One of Foucault’s major works is ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’.

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About the Noun Project

http://thenounproject.com/about/

Creating, Sharing and Celebrating the World’s Visual Language

The Noun Project is building a global visual language that everyone can understand. We want to enable our users to visually communicate anything to anyone.

Humans have been using symbols to communicate for over 17,000 years because they are the one language everyone can understand. Symbols can transcend cultural and language barriers and deliver concise information effortlessly and instantaneously. They allow people to communicate quickly, effectively, and intuitively. And for the first time ever, this language is being combined with technology to create a social language that unites the world.

You can read more about us in Core77Fast CompanyThe New York TimesThe 99 Percent, and GOOD.

Building a Global Visual Language from The Noun Project on Vimeo.

Mapping The Territory

HAND IN DATE: Wednesday 15 May 2013 by 12.05pm.

You will hand in a hard copy to the Student Office in E-Block AND email me a single PDF file to:

m.ingham@arts.ac.uk

 For your written text this term you will be asked to produce a literature/practice review on a topic/subject/interest of your choice. You will choose a subject that you have an interest in and/or might possibly be the start of your research for your dissertation. Good quality research is always based on the quality and analysis of the texts and practices that illuminate and deepen any thinking about any chosen subject.

You have a number of options in the way you choose your topic/subject:

Option 1: Revisit the work you did in your first and are doing second terms of your second year. So this could be about documentary films and/or the making of these types of films, based on your work for Consume Peckham. You might take some of the ideas you learnt about in your ToP Elective and continue with that research. You may have found your person and their ideas in the Biographies project very stimulating and want to deepen the research you have already done for this. You may have come across some intriguing ideas in the Collections project and you may continue with this research. You may have found one of the texts like the “Uncanny” discussed in Contextual Studies, thought provoking and want to find out more about the ideas they generated. You may already have some useful research from the Performance you did in the first term and would like to continue this research further in this review.

Option 2: Take an aspect of your Communication Design Practice that you are curious about and take a closer look at the ideas and histories behind it. It could be something you do not quite understand but you think is important to you as a designer.

Option 3: Take a subject that you have been fascinated by but never had the chance to delve more deeply into until now. You may be a fan of a type of work or person and have always wanted to know more. This is the opportunity to go beyond what you already know.

You will have one week to decide on the area you wish to explore and to then find a question or questions that helps you focus your research. Often this might be called the Lead Question and is vital when you are starting any piece of investigative research. Go from the descriptive, What? questions to the more complex and more rewarding How? and Why? ones. You will present your question on the 27.02.2013 to the rest of the group.

A literature/practice review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarising one piece of literature or design/art work after another. It is usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organise the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesise and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your research question. Besides enlarging your knowledge about the topic, writing a literature/practice review lets you gain and demonstrate skills in these areas:

Information seeking: the ability to scan the literature/practice efficiently, using manual or computerised methods, to identify a set of useful website, articles and books.

Critical appraisal: the ability to apply principles of analysis to identify unbiased and valid studies.

Constructing a bibliography: your depth of knowledge about your subject will be reflected by the amount of quality research that can be found in your bibliography.

Your written text will be constructed along these lines:

1. A Title. As Helen Sword (2012) in her book Stylish Academic Writing argues: “The titles of academic articles are typically abstract, technical, and utterly uninviting, such as:

“Social-Organizational Characteristics of Work and Publication Productivity among Academic Scientists in Doctoral-Granting Departments” To send a more welcoming signal to potential readers, try phrasing your title as a question (“Why Are Some Scientists More Productive Than Others?”), a provocative statement (“Productivity Hurts”), a metaphor (“Productivity: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?”) or other memorable phrase (“The Productivity Paradox”). Wherever possible, opt for simple, concrete language. “Snakes on a Plane” is an inviting title; “Aggressive Serpentine Behaviour in a Restrictive Aviation Environment” is not.”

2. An introduction: This should tell the reader Why you have chosen your particular subject. Tell us what motivated you personally to research into this topic. Then tell the reader What the topic is and give a broad outline of what it consists of and the parameters you have set for yourself. Then say How you have gone about this research. What were your analytical methods when reading? How did you decide on what texts to read and what practices to investigate? The say How your have ordered your main body of text.

3. The main literature/practice review: You will start by giving a general introduction to the sources you have found in your research. This is often called the Broader Survey. First briefly explain the broad issues related to your investigation and you do not need to write much about this, just demonstrate that you are aware of the breadth of your subject. Then give an overview of the key texts/designs/art works that you have found the most useful to your thinking about your topic. Then chose two or three of these to go into more detail about and critically appraise and evaluate them in terms of your lead question. Tell us what have they given you and why have they been useful to you.

4. A conclusion: Your conclusion is your chance to have the last word on the subject. The conclusion allows you to have the final say on the issues you have raised in your review, to summarise your thoughts, to demonstrate the importance of your ideas, and to propel your reader to a new view of the subject. It is also your opportunity to make a good final impression and to end on a positive note.

5. An Annotated Bibliography: When you write your annotated bibliography, you will summarise each source of information briefly and describe, analyse/evaluate and situate it in its historical/social/design contexts. This bibliography will have FULL references for each source of information that you have used or looked at during your research. You MUST not just include an URL for on-line sources, there should be an author, date, title, site, URL, when access information included. Include a list of illustrations, which will have the same type of information as in your bibliography.

If in doubt look at: Guide to the Harvard System of Referencing found at:  http://bit.ly/12eP1Wt

You will be graded using the Undergraduate Marking Criteria Matrix:     http://bit.ly/Z9L58o

It will be no longer than 3000 words and where appropriate you should include illustrations.

 HAND IN DATE: Wednesday 15 May 2013 by 12.05pm.

You will hand in a hard copy to the Student Office in E-Block AND email me a single PDF file to:

m.ingham@arts.ac.uk

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Academic writing: why no ‘me’ in PhD?


Alienating the ‘I’ from academic writing is a big risk, says Aslihan Agaogl – what you’re doing is removing yourself.

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Avoiding the first person in my PhD dissertation felt like I was building a wall between myself and the reader, says Aslihan Agaoglu. Illustration: Francesco Bongiorni

The PhD is a lonely pursuit. Ask anyone who has ever done one and they will tell you that there is a lot of “me time” during your years of research. It requires a lot of reading and writing, critical thinking, coming up with ideas, then throwing those ideas into the trash and coming up with new, and hopefully, better ones. There’s no way around it, the process requires isolation.

This was one of the first things our programme director told us during our induction seminar: to be able to do a PhD, you need to not only to be okay with being alone, you have to love it. Love, that is, with a capital L.

You would imagine that with all this me time, all these academics living inside their brilliantly chaotic heads, having conversations with themselves (not in a crazy kind of way … or maybe just a little bit), academia would be more open to the expression of ideas and thoughts in the first person. But since common sense is the least common of all senses, this is not the case.

When I submitted my very first piece of writing towards my dissertation, I met with my supervisor to discuss the work I had done and he gave me some good feedback on making a plan, constructing a chapter using Endnote, and incorporating more sources instead of relying on just five books. He also told me that using ‘I’ or ‘we’ is a big no-no.

Changing the way I write was not an easy task. I had to shut down and reboot my mind, going back to its factory default.

I did my MA in creative writing, where for a year we were told over and over again, that using the passive voice was not acceptable. Good writers did not do that; good writing stayed clear of it. And after a year of strictly using the active voice and telling a story in the first person, removing all the ‘we’ and ‘I’ from my PhD dissertation felt as though I was building a wall between myself and the reader.

The reason for not using the first person, according to my supervisor, was that this wasn’t fiction but academia – and “there are no ‘I’s in academic writing”.

What’s my issue with this (aside from the irony)? Well, it’s easy to explain: by removing the first person point of view and the active voice from your writing, what you’re actually doing is removing yourself.

This is a big problem since more than half of the academic writing that already exists is on subjects that are difficult to understand for most non-academics. And when you remove the distinctive self (or voice) from your writing, it can become unbearable to read. When you alienate the ‘I’ from your dissertation, you are taking a big risk: turning your writing into a mere juxtaposition of facts and figures.

There is already widespread debate about academia being reserved or exclusive, with academics writing only for other academics – and for good reason. Academia is supposed to be the place where knowledge is created; a place where people come to make an original contribution to the existing literature. But if we academics can’t share this with anyone but ourselves, if our original contribution to the body of knowledge just sits on a shelf at the university library gathering dust, what good can possibly come from it?

If people can’t read and understand what we’re writing, what purpose does this knowledge serve? And why does academia fear the ‘I’ so much when academics themselves are famous for loving to talk about themselves and their work?

It is a fact that pronouns are considered informal and the use of them may result in a language that is not appropriate for academic writing. But passive sentences – like that one I just wrote – risk stripping all the spice from your text. And you need spice: without it, reading feels like eating plain vegetables in a Mexican restaurant.

Some practices are so longstanding, like knocking on wood against evil, they have solidified in our subconscious – impossible to change, or even question. This irony is not lost on me. Academia is supposed to be a place to question everything, yet every day I’m surrounded by silent rules that are not up for questioning.

One more thing about us crazy academics: we like to daydream. And today, just for the sake of it, I dream of a world where I can use the dreaded ‘I’. I imagine a world where I can own up to what I have created, the knowledge that I have contributed, not just on the cover of my dissertation, but throughout my writing by using the active voice – my voice – and the first person point of view.

Aslihan Agaoglu is completing her PhD in the department of Middle Eastern studies at King’s College London – follow her on Twitter @Asli_Agaoglu

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, become a member of the Higher Education Network.
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Avoiding the first person in my PhD dissertation felt like I was building a wall between myself and the reader, says Aslihan Agaoglu. Illustration: Francesco Bongiorni
The PhD is a lonely pursuit. Ask anyone who has ever done one and they will tell you that there is a lot of “me time” during your years of research. It requires a lot of reading and writing, critical thinking, coming up with ideas, then throwing those ideas into the trash and coming up with new, and hopefully, better ones. There’s no way around it, the process requires isolation.

This was one of the first things our programme director told us during our induction seminar: to be able to do a PhD, you need to not only to be okay with being alone, you have to love it. Love, that is, with a capital L.

You would imagine that with all this me time, all these academics living inside their brilliantly chaotic heads, having conversations with themselves (not in a crazy kind of way … or maybe just a little bit), academia would be more open to the expression of ideas and thoughts in the first person. But since common sense is the least common of all senses, this is not the case.

When I submitted my very first piece of writing towards my dissertation, I met with my supervisor to discuss the work I had done and he gave me some good feedback on making a plan, constructing a chapter using Endnote, and incorporating more sources instead of relying on just five books. He also told me that using ‘I’ or ‘we’ is a big no-no.

Changing the way I write was not an easy task. I had to shut down and reboot my mind, going back to its factory default.

I did my MA in creative writing, where for a year we were told over and over again, that using the passive voice was not acceptable. Good writers did not do that; good writing stayed clear of it. And after a year of strictly using the active voice and telling a story in the first person, removing all the ‘we’ and ‘I’ from my PhD dissertation felt as though I was building a wall between myself and the reader.

The reason for not using the first person, according to my supervisor, was that this wasn’t fiction but academia – and “there are no ‘I’s in academic writing”.

What’s my issue with this (aside from the irony)? Well, it’s easy to explain: by removing the first person point of view and the active voice from your writing, what you’re actually doing is removing yourself.

This is a big problem since more than half of the academic writing that already exists is on subjects that are difficult to understand for most non-academics. And when you remove the distinctive self (or voice) from your writing, it can become unbearable to read. When you alienate the ‘I’ from your dissertation, you are taking a big risk: turning your writing into a mere juxtaposition of facts and figures.

There is already widespread debate about academia being reserved or exclusive, with academics writing only for other academics – and for good reason. Academia is supposed to be the place where knowledge is created; a place where people come to make an original contribution to the existing literature. But if we academics can’t share this with anyone but ourselves, if our original contribution to the body of knowledge just sits on a shelf at the university library gathering dust, what good can possibly come from it?

If people can’t read and understand what we’re writing, what purpose does this knowledge serve? And why does academia fear the ‘I’ so much when academics themselves are famous for loving to talk about themselves and their work?

It is a fact that pronouns are considered informal and the use of them may result in a language that is not appropriate for academic writing. But passive sentences – like that one I just wrote – risk stripping all the spice from your text. And you need spice: without it, reading feels like eating plain vegetables in a Mexican restaurant.

Some practices are so longstanding, like knocking on wood against evil, they have solidified in our subconscious – impossible to change, or even question. This irony is not lost on me. Academia is supposed to be a place to question everything, yet every day I’m surrounded by silent rules that are not up for questioning.

One more thing about us crazy academics: we like to daydream. And today, just for the sake of it, I dream of a world where I can use the dreaded ‘I’. I imagine a world where I can own up to what I have created, the knowledge that I have contributed, not just on the cover of my dissertation, but throughout my writing by using the active voice – my voice – and the first person point of view.

Aslihan Agaoglu is completing her PhD in the department of Middle Eastern studies at King’s College London – follow her on Twitter @Asli_Agaoglu

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, become a member of the Higher Education Network.

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