Dark academia

I enjoy reading dark academia — and have previously shared some of 2am reads in that category: Never Saw Me Coming (psychopaths on campus), Plain Bad Heroines (queer gothic on campus), The Love Hypothesis (scientific romance on campus) or Legendborn (magical fantasy on campus). Dark academia is often described (like steampunk) in terms of its aesthetic qualities, but it is also a literary genre. Well-known examples include A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Donna Tartt’sThe Secret History.

There is crossover here with boarding school books and campus novels. Whispering Gums has a great post on Australian campus fiction, sharing a quote from author Diana Reid (Love and Virtue) on the dramatic interest inherent in “a cast of characters who are all young and vulnerable, trying on new ideas and identities … in a confined space.”

I recently read some great (confined space) distractions: A Deadly Education (no teachers, lots of murderous monsters), They Never Learn (murderous teachers), The Society for Soulless Girls (murderous teachers), For Your Own Good (murderous teachers) and Truly Devious (you guessed it). I have many more in this vein waiting to be read (several with ‘violent’ in the title). I call these 2am books because their page turnability makes middle-aged hormonal night waking much more enjoyable.

At other times, I read literary (but still occasionally murderous) matter: My Dark Vanessa, Vladimir, Transcendent Kingdom and Love and Virtue. These are more challenging reads, and prompt discussions of the complexities of belief, grief, abuse, affluence, power and privilege. They make great companion reads to enrich my 2am books. I recommend this brief but thoughtful article on ‘sexy’ privilege in dark academia.

Here’s a wonderful collection of dark academia playlists by a Haitian-American student, ideal for reading, writing, studying and being moody in gloomy weather on campus.

For me, the appeal of dark academia lies in taking the familiar (campuses, classes, assignments, graduations, committees, students and academics) and rendering it strange, magical or dangerous. Like gothic literature, dark academia is concerned with the soul of individuals and institutions. At the risk of sounding too much like the genre, the soul is more poetic than pragmatic, intimate and unknowable, a boundary or a borderline in constant contestation (sacred/ profane, divine/ damned). Dark academia celebrates and pokes fun at the elitism, rituals and rules of academia: esoteric readings, secret societies, and hierarchy and competitiveness. The genre is also, conversely, layered with nostalgia for campus buildings, libraries and lecture theatres, and archaic and complex theory, philosophy and poetry.

There is more to think through here: ideas about academics, students and campuses; our nostalgia, more pressing since pandemic lockdowns, for an immersive vision of the university; ideas of knowledge and learning that infect us; and challenging (or reinforcing) power and privilege through fiction. A good place to start is the scholarly work of Emily F. Henderson and Pauline J. Reynolds on fictitious representations of academic conferences: hierarchical, decadent and conflict prone and reinforcing gender inequalities.

Theorising slow academia

Here’s a (slow) wrap up post on the final and sixth session of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia. You can access the slides below.

The slides recap the previous sessions: theorising self, place, relationships, time and institutions (the links are to summary posts). But it was predominantly a discussion session, with participants contributing their insights from the series. I asked:

  • What have you continued to think about?
  • What ideas jumped out at you, resonated, or jarred? What ideas surprised, delighted, repulsed you?
  • What reading would you like to do?
  • What will you take with you?

I am delighted to share an image created by Maria Jakubik that encapsulates our discussions. It is wonderful to see how she has perceived and organised our thinking. (I have a number of Maria’s articles on my to-be-read list, and look forward to sharing her ideas in future posts).

We spoke about slow discussions about theory as a way of explaining or making sense/meanings/patterns/narratives out of things we experience and observe. Thinking about the university in this way had us speculating about fantasies of the university; combining fast and slow work; writing creatively and collaboratively, retreating from work in order to write; the desire to recreate monastic spaces in secular cultures; university values (espoused, enacted and experienced); normative talk about goodness; conversational leadership; and relationality as a core value.

In the conversation, I shared a lesson that has stayed with me about recognising others’ bids for connection. That is, responding when someone is seeking affirmation, recognition or attention from you. With my children, this has often meant conversations about Pokémon cards or other topics I know or care little about — but the pleasure lies in the ongoing work of relating.

During the session, a question was asked about the work of theorising and how it differs from working with theory. This is something I have been mulling over, and I will write about it in a future post. Here is some reading to get you started:

  • Ashwin, P. (2012). How often are theories developed through empirical research into higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 37(2), 941-955.
  • Eagleton, T. (1989). The significance of theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Hage, G. (2016). Towards an ethics of the theoretical encounter. Anthropological Theory, 16(2-3), 221–226.
  • Swedberg, R. (2016). Before theory comes theorizing or how to make social science more interesting. The British Journal of Sociology, 67(1), 5-22.

There was a lot recommended reading from the sessions — rich with possibility for future blog posts.

Thank you to those who joined the sessions and helped to stretch our thinking.

Finally, a big thank you to Barbara Grant for chairing the discussions at a time that was not friendly for Aotearoa New Zealand. We are collaborating on a webinar series for PaTHES that extends the discussions on slow academia with presentations from some of our favourite scholars. Stay tuned for more details!

ABCs of Pedagogy: D is for diversity

Welcome to the fourth post in the ABCs of Pedagogy cross-posted at the university blog Teche. One of the aims of this series is to support learning and teaching award applicants. Although deadlines for internal awards have closed at my university, external award and recognition applications remain open. The skill of using scholarly language to describe your teaching and learning practice is also valuable for the purposes of reflection, conversations about teaching and learning, scholarly activities, and career progression. See the previous posts in the series.

Teaching for diversity, equity and inclusion have been a focus at my university this year, and the conversations that have resulted have been challenging and rich. These have included an Inclusive Teaching event and responses to the questions it generated on teaching for accessibility, teaching for diversity, reasonable adjustments; exemplars of Indigenous learning and teaching; focus groups with staff and students on supporting inclusive teaching; and a podcast discussion club (like a book club, for podcasts) on belonging and including teachers.

For the purposes of this series, what scholarship can you use to describe your diversity pedagogy or inclusive teaching pedagogy?

These pedagogical approaches draw on constructivism’s active learning and student-centred learning approaches (see C is for Constructivism), special education (supporting students who have physical, sensory, cognitive and social learning needs) and universal design for learning (see this free self-paced module from Disability Awareness).

If you are applying for a learning and teaching award, or otherwise documenting your teaching practice, and would like to describe your diversity pedagogy, start with your students.

Your classroom has students with diverse backgrounds, genders, religions, accents, ethnicities, abilities, ages, and experiences, including students who are first in family, underachieved at school, have had interrupted education, manage learning or health difficulties, are studying part-time, and a myriad of other factors that can impact learning.

Reflect on your responses to the following questions: What strategies do you use to get to know your students, especially early in the course? How do you ensure students feel welcome in the classroom? How do you make visible that diversity is a strength? Do you support individual students or cohorts with varying needs? How do you invite feedback on inclusivity and respond to what students tell you?

Continue reflecting on your practice and your teaching strategies, learning materials, assessment design and student evaluation. What can you evidence through student outcomes and feedback, collaboration with colleagues, curriculum design and engagement with professions, industry or community?

This reflection (I recommend making notes!) will enable you to be specific about your practice and apply an appropriate theoretical or conceptual framework to describe your philosophy of valuing student diversity.

Perhaps your focus is building your students’ academic capital.

Rowlands (2018) defines academic capital as the “various inherited and acquired resources that students bring to bear upon their education” (p 1824). The concept comes from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1986) on social, cultural and symbolic (as opposed to economic) capital.

At the risk of over-simplifying these concepts, here are brief definitions based on how Bourdieu (1986) described these currencies of power and privilege. Social capital refers to connection to a network of recognition, support and esteem (an old boys’ club). Cultural capital includes access to resources: material (a musical instrument), institutional (a musical education) and dispositional (an appreciation for opera). Symbolic capital is more abstract but can be understood as the recognition of status and prestige, and the extent to which a person able to ‘fit in’ or belong in a particular context.

Academic capital is a combination of these forms of capital and is enabled by quality education and facilities, access to resources and technologies, participation in extra and co-curricular activities, and social and community support.

Referring back to your reflective note-taking, how do you work with students to alleviate the constraints of the uneven distribution of academic capital in your classroom? Do you include an accessibility statement? Do you scaffold assessment tasks and share exemplars? Do you provide feedback on an early, low stakes assessment task?

Or, perhaps, your focus is improving students’ self-efficacy, or belief in their capabilities for learning, which is a powerful predictor of student success (see Bandura’s social cognitive theory (1997) which builds on the theories discussed in C is for Constructivism). This might resonate if you have interest in self-regulation, motivation and other psychological concepts. More on these ideas when we reach M is for Metacognition.

The topic of inclusion has been interrogated from multiple perspectives which gives teachers from different disciplines an opportunity to connect to it. Other ways of describing your diversity pedagogy include social justice, students as partners, decolonising pedagogy, trauma-informed pedagogy. More on these ideas in future posts when we reach F is for Freedom, N is for nurturing, S is for student-centred learning and U is for universal design.

Next in the series: E is for experiential learning.

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.

References

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Bourdieu, P. (1986) ‘The forms of capital.’ In J. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, pp 241-258. New York: Greenwood Press.

Rowlands, J. (2018). Deepening understandings of Bourdieu’s academic and intellectual capital through a study of academic voice within academic governance. Studies in Higher Education, 43(11), 1823-1836.