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!

Speculating on time

In the fifth session of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia, we discussed time. You can access the slides below. I’ve included a note at the beginning of the slides because I had to recreate them after the session. I somehow lost or overwrote the original file and, even with IT help, was unable to recover it. This was one example of several scary incidents after covid. I misunderstood ‘brain fog’ to mean you felt foggy. I feel fine. Losing a PPT presentation was one example, being unable to count the place settings at my dining table was another. No awareness at the time, and no doubt other examples. I’m triple vaxxed. I am hoping that I am on the mend.

This session was presented during National Reconciliation Week (with the theme for 2022 ‘Be brave, make change’). Each session started with an acknowledgement that I was on the unceded country of the Wallumattagal Clan of the Dharug nation. For a session focussed on time, with an international audience in mind, I linked to Common Ground on the Dreaming and ‘everywhen’.

A way in for me to think about these notions of time has been speculative fiction by Indigenous Australian authors. Pictured are some of my favourites over the last few years:

Author Ambelin Kwaymullina writes:

“The ideas which populate speculative fiction books — notions of time travel, astral projection, speaking the languages of animals or trees — are part of Indigenous cultures. One of the aspects of my own novels that is regularly interpreted as being pure fantasy, that of an ancient creation spirit who sung the world into being, is for me simply part of my reality.”

Our slow start was to listen to a meditative ticking clock for a minute and think about time:

We then shifted our discussion to universities, academia and time: conflicting time, uneven time, measured time, interrupted time, deferred time and student time. Here are some of the quotes that prompted discussion:

“Scheduled time refers to the accelerating pace of work, timeless time to transcending time through immersion in work, contracted time to short-term employment with limited future prospects and finally, personal time to one’s temporality and the role of work in it.“

Ylijoki & Mäntylä, 2003

“… 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, 2017

“Amid deadlines, fear of survival, and accountability measures, time becomes an important tool for perpetuating neoliberal subjectivity. As hyper extensions of colonial time, neoliberal logics operate to measure, splice, and commodify time in ways that is affectively experienced by individuals navigating the academy.”

Shahjahan, 2015

For an excellent literature review on time in academic contexts, and a thought-provoking discussion to consider student time, I recommend Bengtsen, Sarauw & Filippakou’s (2021) chapter ‘In Search of Student Time: Student Temporality and the Future University‘ in the collection The University Becoming: Perspectives from Philosophy and Social Theory. The authors ask: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge to the universities’ organisation in time and space, but do we actually want to return to the functional and linear temporality that characterised the pre-pandemic university?”

Other recommended reading included:

Our discussion of time spanned Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory; using productivity strategies such as pomodoro; St Augustine’s notion of past, present and future in the mind; the 2021 filmThe Lost Daughter; and flow. One participant said: “I find academic time to be a mostly unhappy thing unless I’ve corralled it with pomodoros. I either feel desperate and anxious, or strangely slack, like a rubber band that’s been stretched for too long.” At the end of the discussion, we returned to the notion of everywhen, and the interconnections of past, present, and future.

Finally, we were exhorted to read Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I must say the 1,267,069 word count is daunting. Perhaps future me might have world enough and time (to quote Andrew Marvell or Doctor Who).

Thinking together

I am a bit behind recapping the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia. I am blaming covid fog — it is no joke — on everything I have left undone, half-done or poorly done, but it does seem to be improving. The fourth session focussed on intersubjectivity, or how we theorise our connections with others and how we think together. We were a group of people from several places — Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, South Africa, England and more — who had not met as a group previously. You can access the slides below.

We started slowly with an active listening activity (based on this Reflection for Learning Circle video). Listening is always a challenge for me (I hope I am getting better) and I think often of Maggie Nelson’s comment in her memoir The Argonauts about talking too much and redirecting student discussion as a teacher: “I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.Barbara Grant, who chaired these sessions, shared a story of putting aside her reading (Stephanie Dowrick’s In the Company of Rilke, which sounds fabulous) to enjoy the physicality of being in place. She described the weather, the birds, and the quiet of a New Zealand morning immersed in nature, sensation and thought.

The discussion continued to meander through ideas from previous sessions on slow, self and place: the ”sensory mingling” of research, multiple accounts of the self, and encounters on university campuses. We followed the idea of the self as constituted socially — thinking with Merleau-Ponty (1968) about subjectivity as the threshold or fold between the other, the world and the self. In The Visible and the Invisble, he wrote:

“We must accustom ourselves to understand that ‘thought’ is not an invisible contact of self with self, that it lives outside of this intimacy with oneself … It is the invisible hinge upon which my life and the life of the others turn to rock into one another, the inner framework of intersubjectivity.”

We talked about collaborating with colleagues and collaborating with students. Book and article recommendations were exchanged, and my to-be-read (or re-read) collection grows ever larger. These readings were highlighted:

  • Feldt, J. E., & Petersen, E. B. (2021). Studying as Experimentation: Habits and Obstacles in the Ecology of the University. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 3(3), 55-67. [13].
  • Gill (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neoliberal academia. In (Eds.) Ryan-Flood & Gill, Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections, pp 228-244. London: Routledge.
  • Grant, B. M. (2010). Improvising together: The play of dialogue in humanities supervision. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 9(3), 271–288.
  • Henderson, L., Black, A., Garvis, S. (eds) (Re)birthing the Feminine in Academe. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • Kelly, F. (2020) ‘Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus, Teaching in Higher Education, 25(6), 722-735.
  • Kern, L., Hawkins, R., Al-Hindi, K. F., & Moss, P. (2014). A collective biography of joy in academic practice. Social & Cultural Geography, 15(7), 834–851.
  • Lynch (2010) Carelessness: A hidden doxa of higher education. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 9(1), 54-67.
  • Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B., Loyd, J., Hyndman, J., Walton-Roberts, M., Basu, R., Whitson, R., Hawkins, R., Hamilton, T., & Curran, W. (2015). For slow scholarship: a feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(4), 1235-1259.

There were many book recommendations spanning diverse disciplines and eras. All contributed to a rich conversation about our relationships with others.

Emily Ogden’s On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays (I have not yet read it) stimulated conversation. This interview with Ogden is rich and thought-provoking. She is asked: How did you organise the essays in the book? And answers:

“With great difficulty. I would have liked the reader to read all the chapters simultaneously. But I knew it began with an antithesis between minnows and whales, ended with Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), and told — among other stories — the story of my children’s birth in between. So, I started with a few fixed points and went from there. In the composition, many of the essays posed a question that a subsequent essay would then try to answer. So, I tried to keep some of those in their composition order … The most important notion about the genre of the essay, for me, was … the idea that an essay should send the reader back to their own thoughts. I wanted to prompt thought, not solve problems.”

In our discussion, we considered what we ask of students’ essays, and speculated about writing and reading essays to prompt thought, and what grading and feedback might look like.

We wrapped up with a discussion of collegiality in academia, challenged by Giedre Kligyte & Simon Barrie’s (2014) article in which they discuss collegiality as a governance and decision-making structure, allegiance to disciplinary knowledge communities and/or a behavioural norm:

“The idea of collegiality is tinged with nostalgia for the idealised harmonious past, where, it is imagined, academics had the time and opportunities to engage in significant research, excite and inspire bright young minds through teaching, participate in and contribute to institutional and disciplinary academic communities, think, reflect and, generally, do self-determined meaningful work … This idealised imaginary is contrasted with the well-documented confusion, isolation, anger and dismay that many academics feel when experiencing competing demands in universities today.”

We didn’t linger with the bad feelings for too long. As one participant summed it up: “We’re exploring a certain form of being together that’s not merely the ‘Being-with’ (Mitsein) in Heidegger — which is neutral and almost like an environment or furniture (but it’s people) — so I sense a joy and kindness in the being-together.” As Rilke put it, “Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”