Sunday, 10 February 2013

My Taxonomy of Academic Writing (in Economics)

I am currently reading a paper, firmly ensconced in the intersection of B, D and E (see below). Which motivated this.

A.      Vishal Bharadwaj cinema*- Our microeconomics professor encourages students to write short answers in exams. He cites the example of Kenneth Arrow, who was notorious for his short papers (most of which, went on to span complete branches of economics). I haven’t read much of Arrow, but I have certainly read other economists who decide to infuse meaning into every word they construct. You blink. And you miss the most important plot point. These economists enjoy sneaking in a harmless looking line in the introduction, or worse, a footnote- the one line that holds the key to all the mind numbing (unsolved) differential equations that you are so impatient to get to, in later sections.

B.      Ekta Kapoor Soaps- These authors lie on the other extreme end of the continuum. They absolutely must give us a recap of every section of the paper at the end of the section, as well as at the beginning of the subsequent section. And in the introduction. And in the recommendations. And in the concluding remarks. You get the idea. (And then almost start missing the algebra).

C.      Farhan Akhtar/ Abbas-Mustan projects- While the Vishal Bharadwajs are theoretical economists (in the vanguard of academia), empirical economists (especially if you skip the methodology bits to power on to the results and discussion) are more accessible. That’s not to deny their capability of employing stunning gadgetry on the way to the climax. When done well, the results are sublime. When not…umm I trust you have seen Race.

D.      Rohit Shetty filums- unambitious and unpretentious. But (happily) not very taxing on the brain. These benign authors decide that they must make life easy for students, and spend most of their paper presenting a simplified version of the papers written by Exhibit A and C. Just as fancy cars hurtling in the air are a regular fixture in Shetty’s films, the penultimate section of these papers too must invariably involve critiquing the papers they discuss, and sometimes an extension.

E.       The ensemble film (in the tradition of Aaja Nachle, Chak de India)- Chak de India straddled regional chauvinism, national unity, religious persecution, sexism, the pathologies of Indian sport, all in a three hour narrative. The academic equivalents may not give such gripping results, but they do manage to flog a single mathematical model into providing amenable results on a variety of points the author wishes to prove. Sometimes this is not limited to a lone paper. Several careers have often hinged upon one model, one idea. Sometimes so much so that all the loving self referencing pushes it into Yashraj Films territory (who remind us at every chance they get, that Aditya Chopra made DDLJ).

* Yes I compare academic papers to Bollywood films and Hindi television. Sue me.

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