Jamming the academic machine

I was awarded my PhD seven years ago. It performed an autoethnographic response to Luce Irigaray’s philosophy of sexual difference, transcendence and the mother/daughter relation. Funnily enough, I had cause to revisit some of the ideas from my PhD this week.

I listened to a wonderful podcast in the Changing Academic Life series, featuring Ali Black on doing academia differently…caring, connecting & becoming:

Ali tells stories of courage and care and connection, stories that grew out of painful interactions with ‘the academic machine’ and feeling like failure. She talks about creating a different way of engaging in academia, one that is based on intentionality and meaning, on connecting to what is important, on being and becoming, and on creating a more caring and collaborative culture. An important step in this was reaching out to colleagues and forming a women’s writing group to write together and to explore their versions of slow scholarship.

I will definitely be listening to the rest of the podcasts in this series, even if I do so in  short bursts interspersed with children’s music. As an aside, here is one of our current favourites with a great message for academics – Kimya Dawson’s Happy Home (Keep on Writing):

After I listened to the podcast, and Ali’s comments on being part of the academic machine and the tension of perpetuating the functioning of that machine, I thought about Irigaray’s (1985)  description of her work (in ‘The Mechanics of Fluids’) as “jamming the works of the theoretical machine” (p 107). I wondered: What does jamming the academic machine look like?

Writing in response to Irigaray’s phrase in Irigaray Makes Jam, Alison Bartlett presents this wonderful image:

The machine I imagine being jammed is a printing press, a massive machine that generates words, texts, theory. It’s a dirty black metal giant. The jam is strawberry: pink and glassy with bits of pieces held in suspension amid the transparent spread, remnants of another organic lifetime … The machinery Irigaray refers to … is the upstanding and unbending patriarchal academy …  Writing as a woman, rather than through the narrative machinery of patriarchy, is a style: a disruption to conventional reading and representational practices that resists the steely authority of linearity and logic arguing instead from subjective and historical specificity. It’s the jam of theory, having to locate yourself in your writing (2006, no page number).

There are great examples of work that jams the academic machine. I heard Linda Henderson, Eileen Honan, Sarah Loch present on academicwritingmachine at the Academic Identities Conference, and their paper is well worth reading:

To survive, the scholar must plug herself into this machine – a heaving, monstrous academicwritingmachine. Taking as a starting point the concept of the academicwritingmachine, in this paper we attempt to collectively explore and interrogate our own investment, our own repression, and our own desire to be produced within this machine. We seek to explore how this well-oiled machine captures flows of desire and how the vulnerability and sensuality of writing risks being flattened out to achieve ‘results’ that can be measured as ‘research outputs’.

It’s the simplest things that jam the machine, as the scholars mentioned in this post show: writing collaboratively, making connections, finding pleasure in academic work, being creative, caring for yourself and others, and stars.

This great Career Vend-o-Mat image is by @redpenblackpen:

6 thoughts on “Jamming the academic machine

  1. Agnes, you quote some of my favourite people. Love Henderson et al. And am going to have to take a copy of the Career Vend-o-Mat image and put it on my office wall. Thanks for responding to my story too.


  2. Pingback: Complicity | The Slow Academic

  3. Pingback: In defense of book chapters | The Slow Academic

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