I once asked a very esteemed colleague how he and his primary writing partner went about establishing themselves as thought leaders in my disciplinary space. This colleague, for whom I have a lot of time and respect for, quite boldly claimed that they had gone out and attacked people. Now before this conjures violent images, let me explain. My colleague and his writing partner systematically developed and defended a particular approach to scholarship. In doing so, and as a means of creating distinctions with existing ways of doing scholarship they systematically identified key thought leaders and explained what they saw as limitations in their approaches and how their own approach was better.
Sure this approach did not exactly make them many friends. But arguably it led to respect.
In attacking individuals, those who were identified were almost forced to respond – in fact my colleagues were clever enough to factor this in and the plan led to a number of special issues and a book project.
Why am I engaging with this now? As I have noted previously, I long for dialogue and specifically interdisciplinary dialogue in educational leadership, management and administration. What I admire about the approach of my colleagues is that they have a ‘hands on hip’ moment (hat tip to Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler’s working on voice in writing). That is, they stick their necks out there. They defend their approach, retain what they can defend and evolve what they cannot. This takes courage. It might not make you many friends, it might make publishing difficult, but it does build a distinctive brand of scholarship. That is, rather than simply undertaking a variety of projects that are loosely coupled, you build a generative research programme.
While my colleagues were able to identify a number of thought leaders at the time, I wonder how easy this would be to do now?? I know it is possibly to still identify major research traditions but in an era where publication pressures are leading to increasing parallel monologues in journals – and conferences – do contemporary academics still value building distinctive brands of scholarship or is the pressure to publish and bring in (or at least chase) money too great? Have we reached a point where research is seen as separate from the researcher?