What I learned by reading 20* academic articles in 17 days…

This morning I finished reading – and blogging about – twenty academic articles around the questions on UK climate policy and (industrial) decarbonisation. The asterisk in the title is because one of them turned out to be a short intro to a section in a journal, and described (very ably) the articles therein. But all 20 were fascinating and super-useful to my thinking (and hopefully practice) around, well, the politics of industrial decarbonisation.

I read them, cut and paste excerpts (occasionally with comments) into individual word documents and, where relevant, added snippets to timelines and so on.

I could talk about what I learned in terms of plugging gaps in my empirics around UK climate policy, or the methodological norms of these studies, or the conceptual stuff (around horizontal and vertical industrial policy, or “ENRIs”), but that would be to dive into the “empirics” and details of this project.

What I have known about myself for a long time – and I saw clearly other people do yesterday at a so-called “scrutiny” committee meeting of Manchester City Council – is the temptation to dive right into the shiny baubles that have emotional/cognitive relevance.

It rarely ends well, and is – as per that Confucius Sun Tzu line about tactics without strategy – often the rattle before defeat.

So, thinking methodologically about this project of reading these papers.

  • The selection of them was rough as a badger’s arse, but IF I had spent much more time/energy than I did selecting them, would the quality have been higher? I don’t yet know what I don’t know (I only know that there is a HELL of a lot that I don’t know). So a fishing expedition (actually throwing some dynamite into a pond and seeing what floats to the surface, dead), was probably as good a way forward, short of a Wise Mentor Who Has Read Everything.
  • The process of reading one a day (sometimes more) was probably okay, but there were fits and starts. In a perfect world, I’d read one per day, blog it, digest it, move on.
  • The ‘how does this talk to this’ thing only came on late in the process, and I need to be better at this.
  • Being able to talk to someone else who had read the same paper would be very cool. I’d learn a lot. Obviously nobody is going to read all the papers, in the same order.
  • Having citation management software at my fingertips is probably a wise investment.
  • There will be times when I simply don’t have bandwidth for one a day. Probably an average of 20 a month (which is what the original goal was) is sustainable. That would still be 240 articles a year, which would be quite something.
  • The nature of this topic seems to lend it self to older white Western men. It’s not exclusive, but it’s pretty clear. This does matter.

So, goals

  • Gradually increase the systematic nature of the reading – perhaps around specific questions “what are the ebbs and flows of UK climate mitigation policy, and who has done what to shape it?” “what are the current debates and unanswered questions around the nature of the environmental state?” and “what are the dominant corporate approaches to industrial decarbonisation – who is trying what where, with what effect, and who is trying to slow the process down” and of course “what would Gramsci think?” Those sorts of framings perhaps? Until reach physical or conceptual/empirical exhaustion…
  • Finding other folks to read with (a good old-fashioned journal club)
  • Blogging more expansively, less an “I read this and this bit is SO COOL” to a “I read this, and here’s how it helped, and here are the blindspots as best I can tell.”
  • The software is worth investing in.

Fwiw, I have another ten (a more manageable number, a better point to pause) articles on my immediate to do list.

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