We are nearing two years since the nationwide lockdown announced in March 2020, and at the surface level, it looks like the experiences of the times are beginning to enter oblivion. However, the break and disconnection from a certain way of living continue to affect our everyday life in multiple ways. In social science research, the pandemic has raised myriad methodological concerns, particularly on the methods of data collection and the impossibility of conventional fieldwork in a physically distanced world. Often missed in these discussions is the impact of the pandemic on an equally important phase of the research processthe writing. How are social science researchers in the later stages of their PhD journey navigating challenges thrown up by the pandemic? What has happened to the writing process with life coming to a standstill, with the boundaries of workhome collapsed?
Why is the act of writing so difficult? As social science PhD researchers, we are not actively taught to write in a scholarly manner and to produce academic writing. It is often assumed that the researcher will eventually learn this craft when writing their thesis. Writing, at the most fundamental level, entails thinking through and arranging those floating thoughts coherently. It is the weaving of a sensible argument that will take the line of enquiry a step forward. However, we are yet to develop a language and practice to discuss the interiority of writing, and the isolation one feels in the process. The kind of academic writing that is in abundance and visible through publications is, unfortunately, the kind that is not very accessible or comprehensible to a large section of people. In the academic world, there is often an assumption that everybody within the academy is similarly placed, with respect to their social location, academic background, and their comfort with the English language. The writers block of many first-generation graduates is actually a language block. The standard in academic writing that one is expected to aspire to or achieve is a deeply colonial construct that needs to be challenged and reconfigured. Personally, as an early career researcher, I am only now learning to unlearn the pretentions of writing. But this unlearning, this rethinking needs to happen sooner.