Living academia

Chubb, Watermeyer and Wakeling’s evocatively titled article Fear and Loathing in the Academy describes an aspect of university life that will be familiar to many. With a lively turn of phrase, they explore emotional responses to the research impact agenda in the UK and Australia:

The emotional state of academic labour … [is] frequently portrayed through ‘crisis’ accounts whereby academic identity is at risk of a kind of existential unravelling … In the face of intensifying demands, the ability to distil a ‘true’ sense of academic identity is increasingly difficult – obscured by heightened emotionalism, particularly of fear and dread … When asked to discuss impact, academics expressed emotions ranging from ambivalence and apathy – nervousness and vulnerability – to excitement, love, hate and distrust …

One comment on academics’ emotional investment in their work gave me pause: “To be an academic is to live academia.”

Much has happened in the last fortnight—I have accepted a new role as Associate Dean (Quality) in my Faculty and, putting work in perspective, there has been death and illness in our extended family. Today is the last day of autumn school holidays. The kids and I are mooching and intend to stay in our pyjamas for too long. In between Lego, reading, building a sofa fort, watching Minecraft videos, catching up with friends, housekeeping and cups of tea, I will be doing some work—replying to emails, editing a book chapter, blogging. These tasks are part of the hum of the day, neither urgent nor onerous, but their completion will be a gift to my future self when I need to focus on more pressing things.

I suspect my day would look quite different if I lived academia. I (mostly) enjoy academic work, the university is (mostly) a place that suits me and being scholarly is a part of my everyday life. Chubb at al. prompted me to reflect on my privilege and complicity, and provided an interesting way of thinking about resistance:

For some, existence in the neoliberal academy is less problematic and more easily negotiated … Some academics exhibit either conformist or flexible behaviours in response to the intensification of new managerialism in higher education. ‘Flexians’ are those perhaps most pragmatic and able to moderate their emotional investment in being an academic. Others might construe this as inauthenticity and a preference for playing the game; it might equally be a form of covert transgression.

I actively resist “living academia” as this blog attests. The highlight of the school holidays—which included an exhibition on mammoths, a magic show at the local library, a visit to Cockatoo Island for Biennale, and a number 5 cake covered in decorative bugs—was the ordinary magic of a bushwalk. This is living.

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