Stories of the self

The second session of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia focussed on theorising the self. You can access the slides below.

I started by recapping the first session with a succinct summary of our discussion: start theorising by reading. Two books (covers pictured below) were recommended by participants, and these are now on my reading list.

Each session, I am using a different strategy to prompt a slow start. This time, an autobiographical story that I have told, and retold, multiple times in an attempt to grapple with its meaning. It’s an event that has shaped who I am and how I move through the world: my daughter’s birth and subsequent diagnosis with epilepsy. Most recently, I wrote about this, along with theories of writing and creative non-fiction, and my academic promotion application in an article entitled Details optional: An account of academic promotion relative to opportunity.

I have a previous blog post summarising the article, which responds to Judith Butler’s (2001) ‘Giving an Account of Oneself’. Butler writes:

“If I try to give an account of myself, if I try to make myself recognisable and understandable, then I might begin with a narrative account of my life, but this narrative will be disoriented by what is not mine, or what is not mine alone. And I will, to some degree, have to make myself substitutable in order to make myself recognisable. The narrative authority of the ‘I’ must give way to the perspective and temporality of a set of norms that context the singularity of my story.”

I invited participants in the PaTHES seminar to give an account of themselves by sharing their university stories. I find Tamson Pietsch’s call to rewrite academic biographies a useful prompt to think about the familial, historical and political processes that shape our university stories. As always, these university stories offer fascinating insights into our meandering lives and multiple and changeable selves.

Our discussion of storytelling moved to bell hook’s (1994)Teaching to Transgress and Susan Carter’s (2020)The Place of Stories. These works prompted us to consider how we describe school and university experiences, the games we played as children, and the lessons our early learning taught us. I have previously blogged about these ideas: memories of learning and storytelling.

Finally, I provoked a discussion on how the norms of academia construct us, and how we are complicit in contructing these norms, starting with this statement from my article:

In seeking to have recognition conferred by the Promotions Committee, I am both subject to the norms of academia and ‘the agency of its use’ (Butler 2001, 22). I am simultaneously constructed by and constructing the norms of academia, the social conditions under which the fragmentary, multiple ‘I’ emerges …

Discussions in these sessions are associational, open-ended, questioning and tentative. It’s important that we are able to think aloud and share ideas that are not yet developed. Participants talked about academia as a calling, staying in academia, changing institutions from within, and complicity with neoliberalism. The discussion referenced to ideas from Karl Marx, Max Weber, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hartmut Rosa, Judith Butler, bell hooks and Sara Ahmed.

It’s such a pleasure to talk theory together! In the third session, we spoke about theorising place. A summary post is coming soon.

2 thoughts on “Stories of the self

  1. Pingback: Thinking together | The Slow Academic

  2. Pingback: Theorising slow academia | The Slow Academic

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