Wonder and wandering

We have just returned from a week’s holiday with extended family on Lord Howe Island, a small island in the Tasman Sea on the east coast of Australia. It was glorious. We spent the week immersed in nature — walking, bicycling, snorkelling and bird watching — and sharing meals and conversations. I have returned to work recharged and optimistic about the rest of the year.

My final work activity before I left was joining the second webinar in the Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (PaTHES) slow academia seminar series: Wandering and wondering in the university. It could not have been a better theme to mark the beginning of a holiday that was full of wonder and wandering!

Frances Kelly (University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Aotearoa New Zealand) and Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (University of Aalborg, Denmark) provided a session that immersed the audience in their creative and imaginative research.

Fran’s presentation was entitled Guess what I found in the archive today! The wonder of research work. She shared an example of a nature diary kept by a 9 year old school student named June in the 1950s:

Fran spoke about Steedman’s writing on ‘archive fever’ (following Derrida) and the idea of ‘the vitality of dust’. In talking about wonder in academic work, Fran cited this article:

  • Pyyry, N., & Aiava, R. (2020). Enchantment as fundamental encounter: wonder and the radical reordering of subject/world. Cultural Geographies, 27(4), 581–595.

This is a personal and affective article that moves towards an understanding of enchantment as it re-orients people in relation to others and their place in the world:

Enchantment is a connective encounter, it proposes unforeseen attachments through a reordering of what has been. It opens up new ways of being and doing in the world. The deracination of the subject in enchantment clears space for re-imagining one’s place in the world through emerging associations: this is of fundamental importance to cultivating care for others, human and non-human. Enchantment then fights the evil of cynicism through both by intensifying our belonging to the world and by forcing us to face the situation we have been thrown to (Pyyry & Aiava. 2020, p 592).

Fran referred to June’s experience of keeping the nature diary, and her own encounter with it in the archives, as a type of ontological unfolding.

For more of Fran’s wonderful work, see:

  • Kelly, F. (2020). ‘Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus. Teaching in Higher Education, 25(6), 722–735. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1746263
  • Kelly, F. (2018). The lecturer’s new clothes: An academic life, in textiles. In A. L. Black & S. Garvis (Eds.), Lived experiences of women in academia: Metaphors, manifestos and memoir (pp. 23–31). Routledge.
  • Kelly, F. (2015). A day in the life (and death) of a public university. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(6), 1153–1163. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2015.1024628

In the second half of the session, Finn Thorbjørn Hansen’s presentation was entitled It takes time and a ‘higher care’ to truly get into deep wonder. He described his applied philosophical work on ‘contemplative wonder’ working with people in healthcare, design and education contexts. I must read more about wonder from the books Finn said he admires and questions!

He asked: what is being in deep contemplative wonder good for in higher education? There was a rich layering of ideas here inspired by the work of Heidegger: not-knowing and open ontologies when learning and doing research, the phenomenological and hermenutic experience as a path to wellbeing, flourishing, and soul-nuturing, and creating communities of wonder. At the risk of over-simplifying it, wonder is more than an emotion, but a state of being in relation to others and world.

Finn’s work on the Wonder Compass is fascinating and I am only beginning to grasp these ideas. Start in the West (phenomenological) with a narrative of lived experience, then move to the North (hermenutic) to explore the values evident in the narrative. Read and reflect on the work of others. In the East (Socratic and existential), engage with critical, playful and wondering questions and reflect on who and where you are in these thoughts. In the South (spiritual and contemplative), join a community of wonder.

Read more of his work here:

  • Hansen, F.T. (20 Learning to innovate in higher education through deep wonder. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 1(3), 51–74.

You can listen to the presentations on the PaTHES website.

On the eve of going on holiday, Fran and Finn’s thought-provoking presentations reminded me to attune my senses, be attentive to place, immerse myself in the natural world, and open up to encounters with wonder.

Slow academia – a collaborative webinar series

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (PaTHES) webinar series, and hope you can join this wonderful group of scholars!

Slow Academia – Wonder, Wandering, Generosity & Presence in the University

Chaired by Rikke Toft Nørgård, Aarhus University (Denmark)

Featuring: Maha Bali, Agnes Bosanquet, Barbara Grant, Finn Thorbjørn Hansen, Fran Kelly, Alison Phipps & Sean Sturm with Rikke Toft Nørgård

More information including abstracts, biographies and further reading.

Webinar 1

Surviving the years of plague – Two feminist academics review Raewyn Connell’s The good university: What universities actually do and why it’s time for radical change

Date: Thursday 8th September

Time: 10.30-12.00pm CEST (DK time), 8.30-10.00pm (NZ), 6.30-8.00 (Sydney), 9.30-11.00am (London)

Speakers: Agnes Bosanquet (Macquarie University, Australia) & Barbara Grant (University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Aotearoa New Zealand) with Sean Sturm (University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Aotearoa New Zealand)

Registration before Monday 5th September

Sign up here at least 3 days prior: https://forms.gle/Uf28ctYJdTfjyFdV7

Webinar 2

Wandering and wondering in the university

Date: Thursday 29th September

Time: 9.00-10.30am CEST (DK time), 8.00-9.30pm (NZ), 5.00-6.30pm (Sydney), 8.00-9.30am (London)

Speakers: Frances Kelly (University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Aotearoa New Zealand) & Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (University of Aalborg, Denmark)

Sign up here at least 3 days prior: https://forms.gle/UeLawEecPQLayNoG9

Webinar 3

Generosity and presence in the university: Working for change

Date: Friday 7th October

Time: 9.00-10.30am CEST (DK time), 8.00-9.30pm (NZ), 6.00-7.30pm (Sydney), 8.00-9.30am (London)

Speakers: Maha Bali (The American University in Cairo) and Alison Phipps (University of Glasgow, UK)

Registration before Tuesday 4th October

Sign up here at least 3 days prior: https://forms.gle/foRVKpYs1oZiiMn88

Conclusive Roundtable

Date: Monday 14th November

Time: 09.00-10.30 am (DK time), 08.00-09.30 am (UK time), 09.00-10.30 pm (NZ time), 07.00-8.30 pm (AUS time)

Registration before Thursday 10th November https://forms.gle/BTEURtP1qmfBz6q98

Visit the PaTHES website.

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.