CAT Magazine

CAT Magazine

VBTC Pit Stop & Interview with Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter - Taking Yourself Seriously

Today we are taking part in the Taking Yourself Seriously tour with authors, Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter. Welcome to Writing Innovations.

WI: Tell us a little bit about yourself...

I am a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where I direct the Critical and Creative Thinking Graduate Program. This program aims to provide its mid-career or career-changing students with "knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts."

The path to this position began in environmental and social activism in Australia which led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture. I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology, with a minor focus in what is now called science and technology studies (STS). Subsequently, I combined scientific investigations with interpretive inquiries from the different disciplines that make up STS, my goal being to make STS perspectives relevant to life and environmental students and scientists. Critical thinking and critical pedagogy/reflective practice became central to my intellectual and professional project as I encouraged students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, and so I continue to contribute actively to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. My aspiration is to foster education that supports people to become resilient and reorganize their lives, communities, and economies in response to social, environmental changes. The book reflects more the critical pedagogy/reflective practice side of myself than the scientist.

WI: How many books have you written?

Four books as sole or leading author or editor.

WI: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I began to write seriously when in graduate school in the USA in the early 1980s.

WI: Have you had any classes or hold a degree that aides you in your writing?

Not really. I learn by practice, by commenting on my students’ writing, and by consulting with people who teach writing for a living.

What developed your creative side?

Creativity comes not out of individual inspiration, but from borrowing and connecting. The more items in your tool box—the more themes, heuristics (rules of thumb), and open questions you are working with—the more likely you are to make a new connection and see how things could be otherwise, that is, to be creative. Yet, in order to build up a set of tools that works for you, it is necessary to experiment, take risks, and reflect on the outcomes. Such "reflective practice" is like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas—it involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change. What has driven me to keep journeying in this way is hard to pin down.

WI: What, in your opinion, is the first most important step to marketing a book?

This is our first self-published book, so we’re learning about this.

WI: Do you prefer to publish in paperback or e-book format?

Paperback. I want people to pick the book up, flick through it, stop and dog ear corners, add post-its…

WI: Tell us what it's like for you when you sit down to write...Do you need complete silence, do you create a playlist?

I need to make space away from my cluttered desktop and all the tasks that come across the internet. I also need to (re)commit myself to writing and make time each day away from the “urgent” that eclipses the important.

WI: How long did it take you to write this particular book/novel?

The book started 25 years ago! About 4 years ago Jeremy, my co-author who was then a student, started to help me convert my course handouts and associated wikipages into a book format. A break from teaching last fall gave me a chance to produce a publishable manuscript.

WI: Most authors despise the editing process. What is this process like for you?

Each round of editorial comments disturbs me—I thought I had already worked hard on that prose, so why does it still need more work—and provides an opportunity to think or rethink what I am trying to communicate.

WI: Do you like the traditional publishing route, or do you prefer self-publishing?

I do both. Self-publishing seems best for this book because it continues to evolve. Self-publishing with print on demand means that we can generate new editions of this book at any time.

WI: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

It will help them to build up a set of tools for inquiry, engagement, collaboration, and writing that works for them.

WI: What can we expect from you in the future?

New editions of this book that include experiments in workshop processes as well.
A book already drafted that addresses issues that have been overlooked in nature-nurture (genes vs. environment) debates.

WI: Please let readers know where they can connect with you and purchase your books...

Online retailers or direct from publisher at

Thank you so much for chatting with us today.
The Writing Innovations Team

A field-book of tools and processes to help readers in all fields develop as researchers, writers, and agents of change A wide range of tools and processes for research, writing, and collaboration are defined and described-from Governing Question to GOSP, Plus-Delta feedback to Process Review, and Supportive Listening to Sense of Place Map. The tools and processes are linked to three frameworks that lend themselves to adaptation by teachers and other advisors:

  • A set of ten Phases of Research and Engagement, which researchers
    move through and later revisit in light of other people's responses
    to work in progress and what is learned using tools from the other

  • Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research, which emphasizes reflection and dialogue to shape ideas about what action is needed and how to build a constituency to implement the change; and

  • Creative Habits for Synthesis of theory and practice.

Researchers and writers working under these frameworks participate in Dialogue around Written Work and in Making Space for Taking Initiative In and Through Relationships. These processes help researchers and writers align their questions and ideas, aspirations, ability to take or influence action, and relationships with other people. Bringing those dimensions of research and engagement into alignment is the crux of taking yourself seriously. The tools, processes, and frameworks are illustrated through excerpts from two projects: one engaging adult learning communities in using the principles of theater arts to prepare them to create social change; the other involving collaborative play among teachers in curriculum planning. A final section provides entry points for students and educators to explore insights, experiences, and information from a wider world of research, writing, and engagement in change.

Why another book on research and writing? The short answer: the approach presented here is not addressed well elsewhere. Most texts on research lay out the step-by-step decisions starting with
identification of the problem. Or they review the theories and methods involved in various kinds of research. Texts on writing provide guidance and exercises to improve your writing skills. In
contrast, this book presents frameworks and tools to help you become more engaged in research and writing.

Suppose you have a specific question or a general issue that seems worth investigating. Now reflect on your level of engagement with that research. Is it important to you personally? Does the inquiry
really flow from your own aspirations (as against being directed to meet the expectations of others-advisors, funders, trendsetters in the field)? Will it help you take action to change your work, life,
or wider social arrangements? Will it help you build relationships with others in such action, in pursuing the inquiry effectively, and in communicating the outcomes?

If you've answered yes in each instance, that is good to hear given that these questions are not emphasized in other research and writing texts. If you answered no or maybe not to any of the questions, consider this analogy. For a car engine to move the wheels, the gears need to be engaged with each other. Similarly, for your research and writing to move along well, you need to align your questions and ideas, your aspirations, your ability to take or influence action, and your relationships with other people. These concepts can be shortened to head, heart, hands, and human connections. The
frameworks and tools in this book can help you bring these 4H's into alignment. That is what we mean by engagement and by inviting readers to take yourself seriously.

Follow the Tour HERE.

6 Responses to "VBTC Pit Stop & Interview with Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter - Taking Yourself Seriously"

peter taylor said...

Another kind of virtual book tour:
As well as the cafe tour, Jeremy
and I are also doing a world tour of sorts. We have asked different
people to find 5 or more people and a time they can all be called by us
(using skype). During the hour we introduce a piece of the book for 5
minutes and then run a "dialogue process" where each participant gets to
connect what they hear with their own work (more details here). Today is the first stop (organized from Toronto) -- We may report back here how it works.

peter taylor said...

Here is the link that didn't come through in the first post:

Writing Innovations said...

I'm late to the party, I took part of the day off. Thanks for taking time to chat with me today guys.


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