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Plagiarism as tension between creativity and sharing

There is an extraordinary tension in our culture between individual creativity and the creative community, between originality and a shared body of knowledge, between the acts of reading culture and writing culture. And our students are caught in the middle.

In reality, culture exists in that in-between space where things are shared. When we read, we inscribe what we read with our own meaning. When we write, we draw inspiration from all of the things we have read; they follow our words like shadows thrown behind us. When we come up with a new idea, we’ve built it on ideas that others have already had and hope our ideas become a platform for new construction. We are never entirely alone, and our ideas are never entirely original.

The tension between creativity and sharing, individual and group work sometimes confuses students:

I suspect a large part of the problem is that we send such mixed messages to students. You may hate group work, but it will prepare you for the reality of the workplace – but when we tell you to work alone, don’t discuss the test or homework problems with anybody else or face severe punishment. When you write a paper, your work must be original – but back up every point by quoting someone else who thought of it first. Develop your own voice as a writer – but try to sound as much like us as possible.

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