Our Collaborative Book Project — and why this year we want to research and write critical essays and not the usual “term papers”

– Professor Eric Britton, Lyon, 15 March 2015

Our Book: “ISG 2015 Reflects on Sustainable Development, Economy & Democracy”

this is a proposal for a plan of privately publishing our final written submittals for this year’s seminar in the form of a volume containing each individual contribution, together with an introduction by your professor.  The provisional working title will be “The ISG IMBA Class of 2015 Reflects on Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy”. (We will surely be able to do better than that working title upon reflection, but this at least gives us a start.)

ISG 2015 group photo 1 - ladies

The objective in doing this is to show both to ourselves and to the world what happens when thirteen young people from almost as many countries get together, with no particular backgrounds or preparation in the difficult concepts being addressed, and put their minds together and come up with some thoughtful ideas on this difficult subject which makes a useful contribution.  I am confident that if we get this right it is going to show how “group learning” can help us to better understand even extremely complex issues, and how much better yet it can be one the members of the group come from so many different places and backgrounds.

Another reason for this unusual approach is that I believe it will stimulate each of us to put our minds to work and do our best to make a contribution to this group learning process.  These are not just of random bunch of “term papers”.  We are after bigger game.  Of course, to do so is going to require that we dig deep, respect the traditions of academic writing and are ready to show to the world how our minds work. After three full days of exchanges and active participation by each of you, I feel confident that everyone in the class is capable of making a useful contribution.

In this way we will be able to put copies into the hands of our friends, parents and colleagues, and will also have something in the coming years to remind us of those days in successive weeks of hard work in Paris on a topic which nobody, no nation, no international organization, no politician, no scholar and no interested citizen has come up with a solution that has stuck in is making a difference.  Our modest goal of course will not be to try to “solve” the difficult challenges we face in this area, but rather to investigate it from a number of different points of view.  Different prisms of thought, culture and values.

Given that the individual essays are going to run on average from 10 to 15 pages each, and with 14 class members we are looking at a volume of a couple of hundred pages.  I will be happy to work as your editor to ensure agreeable reading in English, and one idea that we are playing with is to see if we can somehow link it to the public lecture on our topic which is due to take place in the evening of 4 June at the ISG Saint Marc lecture hall at 24, rue Saint-Marc.

ISG 2015 group photo 2 - left side

 # # #

On Essays:

Now it is my reading of the word that an essay is a personal exploration of a theme or topic chosen by the author.

Given our level of ambition, I propose that we take a step back from what we originally called your “term papers” and instead start to think of them as a collection of “essays” – not as papers or articles and certainly not theses or dissertations.  To do this, let us take a step back for a minute and see if I can clarify what I have in mind.

First a quick word on etymology: The word comes from a middle-French term “essayer”, which originally meant to weigh or to measure some object.  I find that useful to keep in mind, because with these contributions we are in fact weighing, measuring our chosen topic.

Now it is my reading of the word that an essay is a personal exploration of a theme or topic chosen by the author. Most often this is handled in prose form, but nothing prohibits you from framing your essay as a haiku, a children’s tale, the series of images, a look into the life in small communities in Colombia or Romania, or even a reflection on happiness in a country that has it all.  And all of this firmly embedded in the topic of our course, namely sustainable development, economy and democracy.

An essay is not necessarily factual, rather they are more analytic, putting before the reader not so much answers as interesting questions that need to be asked in order to better understand the topic.  Accordingly when I read your final report in a few weeks’ time, I want to be able to see your mind working as you ask yourself questions concerning which you or anyone else could usefully know more about in order to understand the topic to which your essay is addressed.

ISG 2015 group photo 3 - right side

Other contributions:

I propose that we prepare two annexes, the first of which will provide short bio notes of approximately 8 lines each with a small photo of each member of the class.  In addition, if there are some particularly brilliant Quick Reports on either outstanding personalities or key concepts, I believe they could find a good home in our collaborative volume.


If you have questions or suggestions on any aspects of this collaborative project, I invite you to get in touch with me directly.  You have my full contact information.

2 thoughts on “Our Collaborative Book Project — and why this year we want to research and write critical essays and not the usual “term papers”

  1. Pingback: Update: Progress report and follow-up of 21 March 2015 | Sustainable Development, Economy & Democracy

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