METM24 keynote

On re-imagining academic writing as an act of love

Julia Molinari, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Écrire est un acte d’amour. S’il ne l’est pas, il n’est qu’écriture.
—Jean Cocteau

In his existential book on the difficulty of being (La difficulté d’être), French writer, dramatist, poet, and film director Jean Cocteau refers to literary writing in ways that may help us re-imagine and humanise academic writing beyond performative and algorithmic tendencies.

I have cited Cocteau (1957, p.151) in French in an act of what Suresh Canagarajah and other sociolinguists have referred to as “translanguaging”, the multilingual practice of communicating knowledge by drawing on one’s full linguistic repertoire to re-appropriate and democratise meanings by retaining their original voice, rhythm, and nuance. Translanguaging thus becomes a positive meaning-making practice that disrupts monolingual monopolies on meaning and replaces negative connotations of “linguistic interference” with generative ones of “linguistic repertoire”. As editors, translators, academics, writers, and multilinguals who inhabit many or all of these professional and personal identities, we know meanings get lost, blurred, forgotten, diluted, as well as gained in translation. But in academia, particularly the dominant monolingual English-speaking variety, academic prose often gets flattened in an elusive quest for “clarity” that can, at best, become “a dull read” that leads to “literary boredom” (Wolff, 2007) and at worst, risk what de Sousa Santos has termed “epistemicide” (Bennett, 2023).

In my own writings, I’ve argued that Cocteau’s distinction between écrire (to write – verb and process) and écriture (writing – noun and product) captures a tension in mainstream English academic writing instruction that defaults to conflating academic writing with écriture. I consider this kind of writing to be hollow and alienating, a performative script stripped of voice, accents, languages, and other modalities – écriture risks hindering the emergence of knowledge rather than making it clear.

In this talk, I therefore propose several ways to re-humanise and de-zombify academic writing in the interests of both clarity and knowledge and of what Rowland (2008) might call an act of intellectual love.


Bennett, K. (2023). Translating knowledge in the multilingual paradigm: Beyond epistemicideSocial Science Information, 62(4), 514-532.

Cocteau, J. (1957). La difficulté d’être. Editions du Rocher.

Rowland, S. (2008). Collegiality and intellectual love. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(3), 353-360.

Wolff, J. (2007, 4 September 2007). Literary boredom. The Guardian.

About Julia

Julia Molinari is a Lecturer in Professional Academic Communication in English at the Open University (OU) in the UK, an Academic Consultant and an Academic Mentor. At the OU, she leads the Graduate School’s Academic Literacies programme. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and holds a PhD on Academic Writing (University of Nottingham). Most recently, Julia has authored What Makes Writing Academic: Re-thinking Theory for Practice (Bloomsbury, 2022), which argues for diversifying and re-imagining academic texts and practices. Currently, her scholarship is on the ethical and epistemic impact that generative artificial intelligence may and will have on writing and knowledge creation. Julia is bilingual in English and Italian and fluent in French.