Impressions from the peaceful university

Greetings from Japan! I spent three days last week at the 6th International Academic Identities Conference at the University of Hiroshima. The theme was The Peaceful University: aspirations for academic futures – compassion, generosity, imagination, and creation. 

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This post offers impressions of the conference, its location, the theme and the presentations. The theme was described as follows:

Peace is a concept that invites us to imagine, restore, create, construct and interact. It is not only the absence of violence, but something more sustainable and empathetic (Galtung 1996). Peace building can take place at different levels and often starts to bear fruit only after years of everyday care, which must continue even after seeing the fruits. This conference starts with an invitation: how can we envision a ‘peaceful’ future higher education and academic identities? What are we aspiring after as dwellers of the university and how are we going about it?

The location in Hiroshima, site of the first atom bomb attack in 1945, challenged the definition of peace. Conference organiser Machi Sato, Associate Professor in the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, defined peace as a process of having difficult conversations and collectively imagining a better future. I took some photographs of the atomic bomb (Genbaku) dome, the only structure left standing at the bomb site, which has been carefully preserved as a memorial.

Presenters at the conference did not shy away from asking critical questions about compassion, generosity, imagination, and creation in university contexts. As with most conferences, I missed more sessions than I was able to attend. This was compounded by presenting too many papers myself, something I hope to guard against in future. Those sessions I did attend were thought-provoking, discomforting, enjoyable and challenging.

The keynote speakers ranged across complex ideas.

I have presented ideas from the keynotes in tweets because I use Twitter as a condensed form of note-taking. You can see the Twitter discussion at #ACIDC18.

  1. Professor Emeritus Takashi Hata, Hiroshima University & Tohoku University,
    Issues with Identities of Japanese Academic Professions – Who are they?

2. Dr Swee Lin Ho, National University of Singapore, Asian Universities’ Pursuit of World-Class Status and the Social Cost of Ignoring Difference and Diversity Among Academics

3. Professor Bruce Macfarlane, University of Bristol, Restoring the freedom of students to learn in the peaceful university

Here is a taster of some of the presentations I enjoyed, which will be the subject of future posts:

  • Pushing Academic Identity Development Further: imagination, creativity and ensoulment (Susan Carter, University of Auckland)
  • (Un)becoming academics: stripping down and laying bare, to story spaces of hope (Ali Black & Gail Crimmins, University of the Sunshine Coast; Linda Henderson, Monash University & Janice Jones, University of Southern Queensland)
  • The Art of Generous Scholarship and the Japanese Tea Ceremony (Sally Knowles, Edith Cowan University & Barbara Grant, The University of Auckland)
  • Academics ageing (dis)gracefully: pleasures and pains (Claire Aitchison, University of South Australia; Cally Guerin, University of Adelaide; Anthony Paré, University of British Columbia & Helen Benzie, University of South Australia)

You can also watch a 20 minute video on the history of the conference on YouTube. Here is a short trailer:

Daily moments

On Twitter last week I was challenged by  to take a black and white photo every day for a week. This opportunity came at just the right time for me. In the midst of the learning curve involved in starting a new role, it gave me a chance to pause (at least) once a day and look around me. The brief was to take a photo of my life without humans. I found myself asking: what images reflect my life? What moment of today do I want to remember? Most days I took only one photo. On Twitter, there were no explanations; here is a brief description of each image.

Day 1 – my reading pile on a tower bookshelf

Day 2 -reserved parking

Day 3 – my son’s swimming lesson

Day 4 – the view from my bedroom window

Day 5 – building a marble maze

Day 6 – spinach pie for dinner

Day 7 – a grey day on campus

In defence of book chapters

Writing book chapters is often discouraged in academia. Generally speaking, book chapters are less accessible for readers and do not generate as many citations. In quantified academia, they ‘count’ less. In a 2012 blog post, Dorothy Bishop analysed her publications and found her book chapters received a third the citations of her journal articles. Her decision was simple:

Quite simply, if you write a chapter for an edited book, you might as well write the paper and then bury it in a hole in the ground … My advice to any academic who is tempted to write a chapter for an edited collection is don’t.

At the time Pat Thomson gave a thoughtful response that highlights that career stage and job security are important factors:

I’m happy to write book chapters. I will, of course, only write chapters for books where there is a decent publisher and someone I know to be a credible editor … I don’t have a rule which says no book chapters … Would I advise an early career or doctoral scholar in my field to write book chapters? Well, probably not as the main genre that they try to publish …

I’ve been rereading these posts in response to Helen Kara’s recent blog post in which she (as an independent scholar) explores the economics of  deciding whether or not to write a chapter:

Writing the chapter was an interesting and enjoyable exercise but economically pointless … I decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and made a belated New Year’s resolution that I wouldn’t write another book chapter … [Now] I’m rethinking the whole book chapter thing again …

I have written a handful of book chapters, and currently have a few more in press. Reading through the advice about writing book chapters (always say no, say no sometimes, say no most of the time), prompted me to reflect on why I enjoy book chapters and want to continue writing in the genre.

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A couple of years ago, colleagues and I had a journal article rejected with the reviewer comment: “This would be better if it took a more conventional methodological approach to the data analysis.” (For the curious, the article was Redefining Early Career Academia: A collective narrative approach and it was subsequently accepted and published by Higher Education Research & Development). My experience has been that publishing something experimental, fun and adventurous is easier as a book chapter.

Right now, I am eagerly awaiting my author copy of Lived Experiences of Women in Academia: Metaphors, manifestos and memoir edited by Ali Black and Susanne Garvis. (The joy of hard copy books! Building a personal library and reading a collection focussed around a particular topic are other advantages of writing book chapters). My chapter uses Luce Irigaray’s metaphor of mucus to perform a feminist writing of the messy experiences of academic motherhood. I write a series of autoethnographic ‘sticky moments’: giving a lecture about motherhood during the early stages of a precarious pregnancy, breastfeeding at work, and the transition from an academic gown to a hospital gown.

Writing book chapters, both as a sole author and with colleagues, brings me great pleasure. My writing flows differently from journal articles because I am more confident about taking risks with style, structure and method. (Almost every journal article I write has as its plan: Introduction, Lit Review, Method, Findings, Discussion, Conclusion. My book chapters rarely start life like this). I also enjoy working with editors, and have been blessed with those whose care is evident through thoughtful invitations to collaborate, stimulating book proposals, regular updates and challenging formative feedback.

When the basis for decisions about what to write is the currency of the academic machine, then book chapters are out. (I don’t say this lightly: writing outputs matter more when work futures are uncertain). But when I want to write in the company of others, flex my writing muscles in new ways, and find pleasure in the craft of writing, then book chapters are a gift.