Academic time, not like real time

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? Dr. Seuss

When I was a PhD student I went to do a presentation at a homelessness charity in Canterbury one evening. One of the audience asked how long had elapsed since we’d done the research. On hearing my answer she said, ‘Oh academic work does move at a glacial pace doesn’t it?’ Since then I’ve always used ‘glacial’ as my go to word for describing the timeframes involved in academic work. The internet has improved things slightly – see the rapid response sections in Sociological Research Online, or The Sociological Review, but the research, writing, submission, peer review, rewriting, resubmission, re-review, acceptance, de-anonymisation, proofing, correcting proofs, signing copyright forms, and waiting for publication online can be a bit of a ball ache. Never mind the actual printing in an actual journal, which can be over a year later.

All of which leads me to say the article which has just been published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly was first submitted on 31st March 2013. That’s 2 years, 4 months, 4 days ago. The initial review took 6 months, and my rewrites and resubmission took place on 31st December 2013 (I was fun getting ready for NYE). Then Nothing Happened To The Article For Over A Year. I was told it was accepted in March 2015, and it has now seen the light of day, OnlineFirst.

I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of the delay, needless to say there were problems, and the journal was quite apologetic. But reading a paper that was written two years ago is a disconcerting experience. The government had changed for a start, and, frankly, I’ve got better. But the journal NVSQ is the leading journal in the field, with a massive impact factor, that very good people in the area struggle to get into. I felt unable to complain too loudly or pull the article, even though the delay was infuriating, because career-wise and in terms of reaching the best audience for the article, the journal was too important.

All that said, the article should be a big one if anyone reads it and pays attention to it. It’s entitled: ‘Class diversity in youth volunteering int he UK: Applying Bourdieu’s habitus and cultural capital’. Sociologically it’s relatively simple: applying Bourdieu’s theory of habitus (and a little cultural capital) to the concept of volunteering. The idea is to think of formal volunteering as a habit, one that is trained into middle-class young people, through schools, families, and local youth organisations, means that opportunities to participate (and develop one’s CV) get hoovered up. It’s another area in which middle-class advantage gets extended and reinforced, rather than challenged.

Habitus hasn’t been used in voluntary sector studies to any great extent, and this idea was pretty much the centre of my PhD. This is the fifth and penultimate article to be published using PhD material (to anyone thinking of splitting their PhD into this many articles – don’t, write a book, it’s much easier). Hopefully it grabs you: the abstract is:

This article utilizes Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of habitus and cultural capital to offer some explanation as to why there is a lack of class diversity in formal volunteering in the United Kingdom. Recent studies have shown that participation in volunteering is heavily dependent on social class revolving around a highly committed middle-class “civic core” of volunteers. This article draws on original qualitative research to argue that the delivery of recent youth volunteering policies has unintentionally reinforced participation within this group, rather than widening access to diverse populations including working-class young people. Drawing on interviews with volunteer recruiters, it is shown that the pressure to meet targets forces workers to recruit middle-class young people whose habitus allows them to fit instantly into volunteering projects. Furthermore, workers perceive working-class young people as recalcitrant to volunteering, thereby reinforcing any inhabited resistance, and impeding access to the benefits of volunteering.

I’m unsure if the article is as fluid now as it was 30 months ago. Certainly I’d structure it differently, write slightly differently, use a different title (which wasn’t my idea, but got all the keywords in) and stop quoting the same things over and over. But 30 months ago I was still awaiting my PhD corrections to be confirmed, in the first year of my academic job, and still felt like I’d fluked my way in. Maybe it’s best to see the wait as a good way of looking back to see how far and how fast things move.

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