A small opinion piece about big opinion pieces.

The full stop in the title is intended, as I have been told that it sounds more assured than without.

Truth is, I am not very good at being opinionated in public*. People keep insisting that it is easy, so perhaps I am simply not a natural. This is a massive handicap, considering I am a PhD student, where it is expected of me to form opinions on literature that I read, and analyses of data that I collect. This does not mean that I am without opinion. I think that, while the projected HS2 railway that will serve London-Birmingham-Manchester could be a good idea – mainly because the current Virgin Trains services between MCR-LDN offer rather… demanding levels of customer service, and also if it allows the de-crowding of the capital – I do not approve of any alleged tweaking of the law** that took place for the ruling to be passed. I dislike overly flowery language in big tomes of importance to my research – because it takes just that little bit longer to process the information beyond the superficial – despite sometimes being guilty of the crime myself. I think it is sweet when people try to bowl other people over with big words and complicated grammar structures, but I don’t buy it. I think Queen Elizabeth II is cool, but otherwise don’t care much for the Royal Family. I am not a fan of Thomas Kuhn’s writing because I like a bit of narrative in the things that I read. I like wind-farms and the occasional piece of 60s architecture. I think nuclear power is the way to go for the time being, and that it is a shame that there is a need for an International Women’s Day.

Off the coast of the Netherlands, summer 2012.
Off the coast of the Netherlands, summer 2012.

Mind you, now I have just noticed a relatively significant increase in the number of followers of this blog, and am in two minds about whether or not I want to weather my laundry at all.

What was I saying again? Opinions.

Why are my opinions stymied?

The clear-cut answer and example: a fear of “doing it wrong”. Next to me on my desk is a fascinating-looking book*** that I am about to read and review. The author of this book is one of my supervisors. While I am aware that one of the reasons an academic may want to write a book is to either introduce new discourse into the field, or inject new arguments into old debates, this does not stop me from worrying about whether I will get the wrong end of the stick, and interpret their writing wrongly. To summarise, I am concerned I will offend the supervisor, or embarrass myself with my stupid opinions. To remedy this, I am telling myself that perhaps my point-of-view is, after all, valid as a particular interpretation of this book, and could still provide a teeny tiny insight into how the book might be received by an interested member of the audience. Teeny tiny. No big opinions here. Move along.

The more abstract example: as an early-career researcher, and a still relatively junior member of society (what with the ageing population and all), I sometimes feel like my opinion does not matter. There are always people who are better read, and more informed, who can provide a better opinion. Then again, we all read different collections of literature, and take different types of data, leading to, hopefully, some measure of expertise in our pinprick on the academic map. But what if we simply are not that gregarious? Is it then our fault that we chose an academic route, where we need to work up our moxie to give everybody a piece of our information-overloaded minds? Chances are that we are brewing away in private, over-thinking an argument far beyond those with the loudest voices, and any resulting opinion remains at the manky bottom of the laundry pile.

Thank goodness I have a belief in the stonking greatness of my project to forget all about this, some of the time.

Now, I would like to apologise for my opinions (except I’m not really sorry), especially to those who may have joined up for a nice bit of coffee-break science communication chatter (opinions!) or funny insight into my project (opinions and focus groups! Oh my!). I can only hope for your patience.

*where “in public” means occasions where others, likely strangers, will hear.

**”HS2 ruling a ‘victory’ despite unlawful compensation move” BBC News, 15 March 2013

***Helen Rees Leahy, Museum Bodies : The Politics and Practices of Visiting and Viewing, Ashgate 2012 – more about this one later.


3 thoughts on “A small opinion piece about big opinion pieces.

  1. Never be scared of opinions especially your own. Just be respectful of the individuality of opinion, fear consensus….

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