What is a “Pracademic”? (Part One)

Since this blog bears this name and my answer to the question may be different than you expect, let’s break this down a bit. Among the many roles we always play in life (e.g. sibling, student, friend, coach, fundraiser, administrator, etc.) and no matter what you do, I invite you to start adding the identity of “pracademic” to your mix. Pracademics care about the world of on-the-ground practices in peoples’ lives and contexts, and the high-level, meaningful concepts that can make sense of or provide new directions for those experiences—never losing sight of the need for both.

Just watch an episode of Undercover Boss to see what happens when many executives’ heady, grand strategies for running a business meet the day-to-day, heartfelt realities of their employees’ working lives. In these moments, they’re shocked into taking on the role of pracademics, adjusting their ideas in response to qualitative discoveries, to the benefit of the organization and its people. Staying profoundly open to deep and broad information flows, pracademics constantly toggle between data and insights. Trista Hollweck, Deborah M. Netolicky, and Paul Campbell find those applying this role “embody new possibilities as boundary spanners . . . for knowledge mobilization, networks, community membership, and responding to systemic challenges.” Pracademics cast a wide net with the ultimate goal of improving our understandings and actions.

Pracademics hold their conclusions tentatively, leaning in on the idea that there’s always more learning available. This means pracademics stay open to the possibility that they could be better informed about anything. And that means opening space for communication with others at every opportunity, making listening the top skill to master. If your response so far is, “wow, that’s something that flies in the face of a lot of other roles out there,” you’re right—and that’s why I’m making this identity invitation a foundation for this blog.

Turn to social media and you’ll find yourself in swirls of dance videos, snippets from articles, food pics, and political quotes that provide lots of disconnected information but few meaningful, actionable lessons. Turn on cable news and you’ll find a lot of “we’ve got insights! (but little or cherry-picked data).” Given such foils, the pracademic mindset counters the propagandistic roles we’re subtly invited to play in life. It’s the opposite of closing yourself off from engagement with others and the world, unrelenting nihilism or cynicism, or setting up your life in such a way that your biases are confirmed at every turn. A great parallel term is “reflective practitioner.”

So that’s the invitation, my friends. This is “Part One” because the concept of “pracademic” continues to evolve. In a future post, we’ll get more into others’ work on the concept and the many other benefits of adding this role to our personal and professional lives.