Cycles supérieurs Pédagogique

Rédiger pour le grand public afin de développer son expertise tout en puisant dans son bagage d’enseignant

Deux textes du Chronicle of Higher Education de cette semaine invitent les universitaires à rédiger pour un plus large public.

  • Dans le cas de « Found in Translation: A Professor Searches for a Public Voice », l’auteur Daniel Colón-Ramos, professeur de biologie cellulaire à la Faculté de médecine de Yale, traite de son angoisse devant la perspective d’écrire un texte d’opinion éditoriale (Op-Ed).
  • Dans « Do We Dare Write for the Readers », William Germano, doyen de la Faculté des humanités et sciences sociales à l’Université Cooper Union, enjoint les doctorants à écrire un premier livre qui s’adresse au grand public plutôt qu’à un lectorat d’experts.  À l’automne, une nouvelle édition de son livre From Dissertation to Book ­sera publiée à la University of Chicago Press.

Ce qui m’a interpellé, ce sont les parallèles entre ces deux textes.  D’une part, les deux auteurs souhaitent que les universitaires quittent parfois la rédaction plus confortable d’articles scientifiques pour prendre part aux débats sur la place publique.  Ainsi, Colòn-Ramos croit que les intellectuels doivent être davantage présents dans l’espace public:

« In the relatively contained microcosm of my academic field, I know where my expertise starts and, more important, where it ends. […] Written articles in academe are frequently referenced years, decades, or even centuries later, and the arguments can last much longer than the person making them.

That discourse stands in sharp contrast to public discourse, which feels more like a conversation where everybody and anybody, from Joe the plumber to the president of the United States, can chime in. The emotions and personal experiences (in addition to facts) that lead to a given opinion are not only tolerated; they are welcome. Some opinions can be inconsequential, but others can help spread ideas and even influence policies. It’s important for experts, particularly those from groups that are not usually represented in the public discourse, to enter into this conversation. »

Pour Germano, un ouvrage académique ressemble généralement à un de ces globes remplis d’eau et de particules blanches représentant un paysage hivernal (snow globes), tandis qu’un livre captivant qui tient compte du lecteur fonctionne comme une véritable « machine »:

« The academic book—especially that first academic book—is often conceived of as a snow globe. It’s carefully constructed to be a perfect little world, its main purpose to be admired. There’s a glass wall that separates the contents from the reader. That construction is not accident. […]

…A machine, on the other hand, exists to do something or to allow you to do something with it.

That should mean that writing has consequence. Walk away from the snow globe, and nothing much in your life has changed […]. Walk away from the book-as-machine, and something about your view of the world should be different. […]

…[H]ow can writing be, in a good sense, a mechanical contrivance? To consider writing as a machine for changing readers is to acknowledge that the power to persuade isn’t restricted to the political stump or the pulpit or the agora. Something more needs to be at stake than a new adjustment to a theory or a sequence of facts.

I’m advocating for a riskier, less tidy mode of scholarly production, but not for sloppiness. I’m convinced, though, that the scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text itself is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take—even an academic book—is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader’s own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters. »

D’autre part, ils suggèrent tous deux que les professeurs s’appuient sur leurs expériences d’enseignement pour entrer en dialogue avec le lecteur…  Colòn-Ramos :

« But it takes a reframing of the academic mind-set to enter public discourse. Writing the opinion piece required me to tap into another set of skills I use daily but don’t normally associate with producing written scholarly work: teaching skills. In writing op-eds, as in teaching, I had to shed all of the shorthand jargon I am used to and search for terminology that was broadly accessible.

[…] [I]n the process of writing, I started thinking about the essay the way I think about my own interventions in discussion classes—as a way to clarify inconsistencies, to introduce a new viewpoint, or simply to stir discussion of an important topic. And I found myself embracing discussion and arguments, much as I would do when I teach.

In the process of writing the piece—in wrestling with precise wording and explaining relevance—my scholarship grew. In that sense, and also similar to teaching, the project was not a one-way didactic experience. Putting my ideas into words and having their importance and relevance examined and questioned polished and improved my scholarship. » [mes emphases]

En somme, Germano suggère d’installer un déséquilibre cognitif [ce ne sont pas ses mots] chez le lecteur:

« …The book-as-machine turns the spotlight onto a problem to be solved, and the reader for whom the problem is genuine, and genuinely interesting.

What I’m suggesting is very much in line with one of the oldest teaching methods: posing questions for further discussion. It might be easy to feel superior to those final pages in popular editions of novels for reading groups (“Do you think Newland Archer made the right decision?”), but such questions ask the reader to think with and through the text.

An academic writer, of course, is unlikely to print up a set of discussion questions at the end of a manuscript. Yet implicit in the machine model is that the writer openly acknowledges that the book enables collective action. Reader, can you apply my theory to your own field? Can you take this book’s idea and go further? Can you take what the writer provides and build what the writer could never have imagined? This is imagining one’s writing as activism­—not necessarily political, but activism in the sense that it causes action in others. » [mes emphases]

Les habiletés développées par un chercheur universitaire dans le cadre de son enseignement peuvent-elles en faire un meilleur communicateur?  Un agent de changement social?  Un expert d’autant plus respecté?


Colón-Ramos, Daniel, « Found in Translation: A Professor Searches for a Public Voice », The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 avril 2013 [accès complet réservé aux abonnés]

Germano, William, « Do We Dare Write for the Readers », The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 avril 2013 [accès complet réservé aux abonnés]

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Jean-Sébastien Dubé

Jean-Sébastien Dubé

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