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Becoming Manifesto-y, Telling Stories

A couple weeks ago, my advisor counseled me to make the research statement I was writing for a job application “more manifesto-y.”  A few days later, we elected Barack Obama President of the United States, spurring at least one manifesto [story from the Boston Globe]. This week I have watched an embarrassing number of episodes of The West Wing on DVD.  The characters on The West Wing are constanting publicly declaring their intentions.  Today, my brother sent me a Tom Peters manifesto from ChangeThis. Manifesto seems to be the theme of my life for November.



—noun, plural -toes. a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, as one issued by a government, sovereign, or organization. (from Dictionary.com)

This definition from Dictionary.com seems to be missing some of the “flair” I normally associate with a manifesto.  For me, a manifesto is not just any public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, but an energetic, empassioned public declaration.  Without passion, it’s just a statement.

Why blog this?  Well, I’m worked up.  My guy won the White House.  A close friend wrote something that was entered into the Congressional record and may find a public outlet for other important work.  My brother sent me something from non-academic workplace literature that made me sit up and pay attention while I read.  President-elect Obama. We millions who voted for him. My friend the policy researcher. Tom Peters. These people made public declarations of their opinions and objectives, and they did so with passion.

It seems silly to compare those actions to the kind of effort my advisor asked me to use in my research statement. I don’t think I really understood when she told me to “be more manifesto-y.”  I definitely improved my statement after that advice, but it did not turn into a research manifesto.  It’s probably too early in my career for me to be writing research manifestos.  After all, I need some political capital in order to get a job.  I don’t have the protection of tenure to shield me in the event that my manifesto is unpopular.

I don’t think my manifesto would be unpopular though.  My manifesto would be about doing research that helps us change the world by working together.  Research that helps us solve problems like AIDS, bioterrorism, crumbling civil infrastructure, and the uncertainty and pain of starting new careers.  Those are the problems the people I study are solving.  My research will be useful to them.  My research will help us work together better.  My research will help us organize our projects so that we can accomplish more together than on our own.  My research will help us feel better about our work, about what we can accomplish, about our relationships with our colleagues.  My research will enable us to get more from ourselves.

That is the research statement I can make here, on my blog, after regaining hope in my country, after watching my friends do their best to change the world, after reading about how to succeed.  I make it here because it’s not appropriate for my job packet.  I make it here because while reading #17: Work on Your Story in Tom Peters’ manifesto, I was reminded of my frustrations about presenting and discussing academic work.  Tom Peters claims that “he/she who has the best story wins!”  He claims that telling stories is better than simply giving presentations.  I am a great story teller.  Ask my friends or the people who come to my parties.  My friend Caroline, for sure, will vouch for me.  I want so much to believe Tom Peters that being a storyteller will help me succeed.  The trouble is, I’m not sure my audience can handle it.  I’m not sure my conference presentations go over that well when I try to be a storyteller.  I know reviewers get frustrated when I don’t stick to intro, method, results, discussion and bullet points.  I’m pretty sure a hiring committee would rather I send them the statement I did than something like the paragraph before this one.

Am I asking too little of my conference audiences, of those hiring committees?  Would I be better off if I showed them the passion I have for the study of collaboration?  I’m not sure.  I do know I want to be more manifesto-y.  The stories about the work I’ve done and seen could inspire.  I don’t know who would listen to them though.  I don’t know what audience would match my energy.  The dry, monotonous style of academic publishing, both in print and at conferences, does not lend itself to manifesto.  We academics are reserved; sometimes we are cynical.  When I’m all worked up like this, that reservation, that cynicism is troubling.  I see some value in a cold, passive, rational approach.  I do.  Just not tonight.


  • Carolyn |

    You definitely need to read Presentation Zen — I think the words there will be really encouraging for you to show more passion and tell your research as a compelling story (at least in presentation form)

  • Eric |

    Another way to frame it (in terms that might be more manageable or comfortable than ‘manifesto’) is to think about the ‘mission.’ Asking instead: What is the _misson_ of your work? What is your mission as a researcher? Manifesto sounds like something you will staple to a lamp post — mission sounds and feels much more positive to me, and denotes a plan of action in a way that like. Thinking along those lines has helped me clear up some of my pre-dissertation thinking in the past few months.

So, what do you think ?

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