Uses and abuses of slow

I am a bit behind on blogging the slow academia season of Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) virtual social meets. Covid has hit our household and I am working reduced hours while we are in isolation. So far we are feeling ok, but today seems a bit tougher than previous days. I hope to be well enough to lead the next PaTHES session on Monday night with a focus on theorising place.

The first session started with a guided discussion on the uses and abuses of slow in academia. You can access the powerpoint slides below.

I am starting each session with a prompt to slow down. This time a poem about fast academia from the beginning of a journal article on COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience co-authored by an international Indigenous team. It’s difficult to read poetry quickly. I recommend reading the full article, which ends with a more hopeful poem.

The resilient Pacific PhD candidate job description: COVID-19

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

Must know how to navigate
time constraints
extra caring duty constraints
cramped space constraints
vulnerable elderly parents constraints
intermittent internet constraints
on-line learning ‘instant teacher support’ for your kids’ dramas constraints
job income insecurity how you gonna pay your mortgage and bills constraints
bank statement requests to prove you’re struggling constraints

Must know how to navigate
missed time-lines
missed dead-lines
new frown-lines
fear filled head-lines
uncertain brow-lines

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

I am including the full citation as this challenges conventional academic citation practice by including Indigenous rather than institutional affiliations.

Zaine Akuhata-Huntington (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tūhoe, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa), Shannon Foster (D’harawal Saltwater Knowledge Keeper), Ashlea Gillon (Ngāti Awa), Mamaeroa Merito (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaeu, Ngāti Awa), Lisa Oliver (Gomeroi Nation), Nohorua Parata (Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata), Yvonne Ualesi (Mulivai Safata, Pu’apu’a, Savalalo Samoa, Fakaofo Tokelau, Ovalau Fiji) & Sereana Naepi (Natasiri). (2020). COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(7),1377-1383.

I set the scene for a slow discussion inspired by Michelle Boulous Walker’s (2017) descriptor of slow reading: attentive, open-ended, ambiguous, contradictory, uncertain, imaginative, experimental, curious, questioning, incomplete, learning, appreciative, attentive listening, inconclusive, respectful, generous, meandering, reflective, meditative, patient, ethical, speculative, unknowing … And welcomed interruptions, noting my high tolerance honed over noisy extended family dinners during which everyone talks at the same time. Here’s an image of some of Ma’s delicious food at a recent lunch:

These are the quotes I choose to stimulate discussion during the session:

“Personal narratives of academic exclusions, marginalisations, and persistence abound … It is not for a lack of evidence that the pace of change in higher education is so slow. Feminist academics encounter a sense of déjà vu, that ‘we’ already know about the un-feminist character of the university, from lived experience as well as from peer reviewed research … Feminists repeat themselves because we are often ignored” (Breeze & Taylor, 2020).

“To become a feminist is to stay a student … I wanted to make a slow argument, to go over old ground, and to take my time … I have been in academia for over twenty years, and I am relatively at home … I am aware that not all feminists are at home in the academy, and that the language of feminist theory can be alienating … I aim to keep my words as close to the world as I can, by trying to show how feminist theory is what we do when we live our lives in a feminist way” (Ahmed, 2017).

“I am a professor. Say it again. Say it slowly. I am a professor. I enjoy it and marvel at it. The strangeness, the aloofness, the otherness of the term in relation to me and my work but not anymore. It seems such a strange destination to arrive at because of the career journey I have taken” (Potter, 2019).

“… separating those whose time [is] ‘precious’ (wage earners, the educated classes, the able-bodied) from those whose time [can] be squandered or [has] little value… Power operates to structure and condition different populations’ lack of time … There is a heterogenous and uneven response to speeded up time … What proliferates is a multiplicity of contradictory temporalities.”

Baraitser gives some examples of how power structures time: the busy work required for welfare benefits, women working double shifts especially those in care chains from the global north to global south, zero hours contract workers, enforced flexible ‘on call’ labour.

“If you make a complaint, you are often left waiting You are waiting but you are also reminding, prompting, sending enquiries … You can encounter resistance in the slowness of an uptake Exhaustionbecomes a management technique: you tire people out so they are too tired to address what makes them tired” (Ahmed, 2021).

“Complaint activism involves the willingness to make use of complaints procedures even though you know “the process is broken” and you are likely to enter “a painful repetitive cycle” … Even going through an exhausting of processes can have creative potential. Yes, we can be in a state of exhaustion because of that process. But complaints, even formal ones, slow and tedious ones, long and drawn out, can be creative” (Ahmed, 2021).

The discussion brought together various ideas: the silences and violences of the university, being at home in academia, continuing to learn, enjoying the comfort of theory, the challenge to keep theory close to the world, claiming a title such as professor or academic or writer, meandering career stories, theorising subjectivity, multiple and changeable selves, making and unmaking ourselves, slow as an institutional strategy to break people down,  the collegiality of activism in academia.

In the next post will report on the second session, where we discussed theorising the self.

Voices from the living past

“I think that a mother owes this to her children: to keep in contact with the rest of the world.”

This is the comment of a woman university student that was aired on Australian television in January 1961. My father shared the re-released recording from the ABC program A Woman’s Place. Questions include: Do the two lives of working and caring for children go together? Should women get the same money for doing the same job? Do you expect to find prejudice against the career woman? Could a woman be head of a large organisation?

The answers of the students vary — it wouldn’t be good television if everyone agreed — but their realisation of the challenge of “two lives” is evident. (One thing that has changed, at least to my ears, is the Australian accent, itelf a topic on RetroFocus with responses to Do Australian have a bad accent? in 1961 and 2019).

In another snippet of 1960s television from ABC’s RetroFocus, Australian passersby respond to a (male) university professor’s claim that housewives lead a dull life. One woman replies: “I don’t think it is dull at all … [They] invariably enjoy their game of tennis, bowls or golf.” More than one man suggests there’s a bit of “fun and games on the side.” In response to the question, “Never considered going to work?” an elderly woman replies, “God heavens no!”

A few years after this aired, when my university was new, an article entitled ‘The Mums of Macquarie’ appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly on 19 July, 1967. The article read:

More than 150 married women have gone back to study at the new Macquarie University … taking up courses that had been interrupted by family life … There has been many a resignation from neighboring tennis groups and lunch clubs, a Girl Guide captain has abandoned knots and hikes and returned to books, and it is not uncommon to see women with grocery shopping on one arm balancing a basket of books and papers on the other.

The magazine included this image of children at a lecture:

One of my favourite book bloggers, Whispering Gums, recently posted her reflections as a 1970s feminist, and commented about attending Macquarie University:

I chose to go to a new, progressive university (Macquarie) … in my experience women were treated well, there. It had no baggage of “traditions” that the older male-dominated universities had, and its academics seemed invested in creating something new. I think that made a difference. Macquarie’s motto is Chaucer’s “and gladly teche” (from the lines “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”). I always thought it a bit strange that the motto focused on “teaching” more than “learning” but now I think it’s inspired, because it reminds the academics that “teaching” is where it all starts.

Whispering Gums finishes her post in a way that is apt here, by quoting Germaine Greer: things have changed, but not enough.

For a bit more on the history of learning and teaching at Macquarie, I recommend listening to this audio recording by my colleague Karina Luzia (the transcript is available here).

I have already blogged about the article Vanessa Fredericks and I co-authored, Tracing the feminist contribution of HERD over 40 years. We highlighted a Burns, Scott and Cooney (1993) article called Higher education of single and married mothers, also focussed on Macquarie students. They wrote:

As university teachers, we are well aware that many of [our] students are single and married mothers, who face the particular problem of integrating study demands with family responsibilities and often, with the demands of paid work as well. The present study was triggered by the experience of the first author in teaching a third year unit, in the course of which I became aware of the life crises being endured by two single mothers, one a sole Parent Pensioner, the other self-employed. As well as financial and child care difficulties, both had health problems, one had an adolescent son in trouble with the police, the other had major responsibility for a seriously ill parent, and both were in litigation with apparently vindictive ex-husbands. Students other than mothers do not usually suffer from this kind of constellation of problems (p. 189).

You can read the full article (open source) here, but for the purposes of tracing the voices of university student mothers, I will highlight the voice of one participant:

Well I have three children. I felt I owed it to them whilst attending college to still give them the same amount of attention and support in both their sport and education areas and maintaining the home. And I was very determined I would never be later for an assignment. And I never was, not one day late. But it was a great strain. I got by on four hours sleep at night some nights. For a long period there five hours was a luxury. I never started to study until the children had had some quality time, which meant I wouldn’t open a book to rewrite lecture notes (and I always wrote every lecture again when I got home, so I’d understand it) so it was probably ten o’clock at night when I started, sometimes midnight … I got very tired. Quite cranky, actually.

For the voices of contemporary student parents, I recommend the work of Marie-Pierre Moreau in which students discuss a lack of time and money, and the challenges of balancing family, study and housekeeping. Tired and cranky. That’s something that hasn’t changed!

A poem for staying still

I read this poem many years ago, lost it for a long time, and am thankful to have found it again here.

Among Women, Marie Ponsot (1972)

What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
Women wander
As best they can.
Portrait of Marie Ponsot in her kitchen in the morning. Queens, New York. April 23, 1988. (Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images).