Everyday life

A lot has happened in the world since my last post, and yet I’m writing from inside the same walls. In Australia, most people are experiencing COVID-19 through the disruption of social distancing, rather than proximity to illness and mortality. My condolences to those who have lost people close to them. Here, we are schooling at home, trying to maintain connection to the outdoors, worrying about family and friends, restricting our movements, feeling anxious when visiting the shops… For many, these challenges are compounded by job loss, pre-existing physical and mental health issues, and social inequality.

I am fortunate to enjoy the company of the people I live with, to be able to continue working from home, to have functional internet and enough room in our house. Even so I have felt enervated by enforced domesticity and lack of autonomy.

I have previously blogged about service, care and housekeeping (at work and home) as under-recognised work that is disproportionately performed by women. With a smaller distance between home, work and school, I’ve been thinking about the workloads that have increased: care work, housekeeping, life administration, and emotional labour.

Having a full house all the time means more time spent cleaning, preparing food, shopping and tidying up. Even pet care has increased, with our dog requiring grooming and an urgent trip to the vet this week (with twice daily medication, her infection is clearing up). What is on your mental to-do list right now? Here’s a sample off the top of my head: pick up medicine from chemist, organise online catch-ups with friends for the 7 year old, suggest alternatives to screen time, call doctor, write shopping list, plan for schooling, make telehealth appointments, make vet appointment, pay water bill, wash sheets, empty recycling, clean out drawers, book flu shots, donate books, post parcels, sign and return school forms, get quotes for repairs, put chickens away, buy slippers, read The Art of Life Admin

It keeps going in all its banality. I won’t be doing all of these things myself, but I am keeping a tally. During COVID-19 lockdown,  many tasks have additional steps and take longer than usual.

Keeping energetic children occupied while parents are working is usually outsourced to school, before and after school care, clubs and activities, vacation care, holiday camps and grandparents. Organising school holiday entertainment takes time. While there are good online activities available, the level of parent supervision depends on the age, temperament and needs of your children, and whether the activities cost money. My children have enjoyed a mix of paid and free activities, including hip hop, science, art and coding. This picture is my daughter’s Monet-inspired work:

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I am enjoying:

  • Helen Sword’s (free) Stay at Home Writing Retreat. Days spent writing are the stuff of fantasy right now, but the retreat meant I was able to finally complete this post! Small tasks: an abstract, an introduction to a report, a creative writing assignment.
  • Flat shoes and clothes that feel like pyjamas. Will I ever be able to wear ‘work clothes’ again?
  • Home-made soup using the ingredients from our mystery fruit and veg box delivery. My brother has just updated his blog of my mother’s recipes from the 1970s with minestrone soup. And simple, experimental meals; tonight’s dinner was a sausage tasting competition.
  • Homebound fun. We are playing a lot of board games, including The Spider’s Web: A Game of Escape, which we found in an op shop or garage sale some time ago and played for the first time this week.
  • Catching up with colleagues in our twice weekly tea room meetings.
  • Podcasts while exercising: Conversations, By the Book, Slow Your Home
  • Writing in my Passion Planner diary. As well as getting my to-do list on paper, I can chronicle my responses to prompts like: What was the most memorable part of this past month? Are you happy with how you spent your time? What are you most proud of? What or who are you especially grateful for this past month?
  • Finding the right books for a distracted mind. The Unread Shelf Challenge had me pick up Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend. I loved it for the focus on the inner lives of older women.

Despite these pleasures, our emotions are tumultuous. Looking at the emotions wheel, we are feeling overwhelmed, playful, helpless, resentful, loving, annoyed and guilty—and that’s before we get dressed in the morning! I am spending more time than ever trying to remain calm and supporting the emotions of others. Those with younger children and large families must be finding this a challenge. Self-care is more important than ever.

Profanity in the title

I have a new article in Gender and Education co-authored with colleagues James Burford (La Trobe University) and Jan Smith (National University of Ireland). It was a lot of fun to write, not only for the profanity in the title. It’s called: ‘Homeliness meant having the fucking vacuum cleaner out’: the gendered labour of maintaining conference communities.

(If you are unable to access the article via an institutional subscription, contact me for a pre-print copy via Researchgate, Twitter or email agnesbosanquet [at] theslowacademic.com).

The article explores the gendered nature of care and service in academia, with a focus on the labour of maintaining conference communities. The data is from A Decade of Dialogue: A cultural history of the International Academic Identities Conference 2008-2018 with co-researchers Tai Peseta, Machi Sato, Catherine Manathunga, Jeanette Fyffe, and Fiona Salisbury. I have previously blogged about academic housekeeping, the Academic Identities Conference held last year in Japan, and the conference cultural history project.

In our interviews with 32 delegates, keynotes and convenor, the Academic Identities conference is repeatedly described as caring, welcoming, warm and home-like. But if a conference feels like home, who does the housework?

Here is an excerpt from the interview with a convenor that gave the paper its name:

On the very first day of that conference, I turned up and the main room we were going to be having our refreshments was really unclean…Luckily I had my vacuum cleaner. I’d had this terrible feeling. So on the first morning of the conference I was in here at sparrow’s [fart, that is early] with a vacuum cleaner, trying to clean the rooms and feeling very shaky about it because there was so much to do…It was quite homely…I remember the homeliness of [the previous conference]… One of the things I wanted to do with the conference here was to also have it in a workplace…in an academic space… but also have a kind of homeliness in the sense of the relationships… On the other hand, the homeliness meant, for me at least, having the fucking vacuum cleaner out.

We examine conference housekeeping through Jackson’s (2017) study on the emotional labour undertaken by academic women, which draws on positions such as Hochschild’s (1983) ‘sexy girlfriend’ and ‘supportive mother’ occupied by women flight attendants. We add the position of the conference convenor as ‘good housekeeper’ who, in addition to intellectual and scholarly leadership, undertakes housekeeping, time-keeping, hostessing, care-giving, crisis management and technical support. This can come at the expense of the conveners’ well-being. Convenors in our study use the word ‘blur’ to describe their memory of the conference, and others describe feeling miserable, numb, unstable and alone, and recall the exhaustion they feel afterwards. Clearly, the outward performance of warmth and homeliness comes at a cost.

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Our article is part of a special issue on Thoughtful gatherings: Gendering conferences as spaces of learning, knowledge production and community. So far, the articles online ahead of publication include:

  • Carefree conferences? Academics with caring responsibilities performing mobile academic subjectivities (Henderson & Moreau)
  • Hidden social exclusion in Indian academia: gender, caste and conference participation (Sabharwal, Henderson & Joseph)
  • He moana pukepuke: navigating gender and ethnic inequality in early career academics’ conference attendance (Timperley, Sutherland, Wilson & Hall)
  • Engendering belonging: thoughtful gatherings with/in online and virtual spaces (Black, Crimmins, Dwyer & Lister)
  • Extending feminist pedagogy in conferences: inspiration from Theatre of the Oppressed (Belliappa)
  • ‘I’m looking for people who want to do disruption work’: Trans* academics and power discourses in academic conferences (Nicolazzo & Jourian)

I am looking forward to sinking my (reading) teeth into these!

Looking forward

The great thing about my work is that it includes what I most enjoy—reading, speaking, writing and listening. I am back in the office (part-time during January so I can settle the kids into new schools and new routines) and starting to fill my calendar for the year. My colleague Mitch Parsell (who blogs at The conflict of the faculties, a title taken from an essay by Kant) has been articulating his 2019 priorities via Twitter, and included this KonMari-inspired one:

I must confess that I have not read The life-changing magic of tidying up, nor watched Marie Kondo’s netflix series, but the housekeeping rituals that spark joy are appealing (or at least the vision of an ideal home is attractive, even as the privilege of curating your laundry in a beige non-place gives pause).

I have written about housekeeping and academia on this blog, as well as the pleasure of work on many occasions. Finding what ‘sparks joy’ has other names in academic contexts: MacLure’s potential for wonder in qualitative research, Barnett’s poetic and utopian universities, and (closer to home) Honan, Henderson and Loch on moments of pleasure.

As I wrote last year, I am not one for resolutions, but I am looking forward to many things in February that I anticipate will spark joy, including:

  • joining the Idea of the University reading group

This is a fortnightly online discussion hosted by Jeanette Fyffe who has written about it in ‘Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’ (2018) and, with Tai Peseta and Fiona Salisbury, in Interrogating the “Idea of the University” Through the Pleasures of Reading Together (2019). Each week a different reading is under discussion, and previous authors have included Raewyn Connell, Martin Nakata, Barbara Grant, Ronald Barnett and Ruth Barcan among others. The organisers describe the reading group as “aim[ing] to resuscitate the pleasures involved in university colleagues reading together”.

  • meeting with Higher Education scholars

In previous posts (Yarning circle and The spirit of research) I have described this informal cross-university network of higher education scholars. Unfortunately I missed October’s meeting on ‘Making place in higher education research’, although I still plan to complete the homework by reading Barbara Grant’s chapter “Going to see”: An academic woman researching her own kind in Lived experiences of women in academia: Metaphors, manifestos and memoir and blogging my response.

  • participating in Making shiFt happen

Organised by Ali Black and Rachael Dwyer, Making shiFt happen is “a 36-hour, Zoom-powered, innovative, non-traditional, transdisciplinary virtual exchange and (un)conference for female academics around the globe. A place for conversation, care, contribution, connection, collaboration, creativity, community and change”. Themes include Contemplative beginnings, Building caring communities, lived experiences of women in academia and reimagining academia). It runs from February 5 to February 6 across multiple timezones. Registration is open now and is only AU$50 for research students and sessional academics ($150 for full-time academics).

  • writing with the Academic Identities conference research team

Following the wonderful Peaceful University conference in Hiroshima last year, the Academic identities project teams are meeting over four days in Melbourne. We plan to collaborate on journal articles based on our presentations at the conference (Jamie Burford gave a detailed summary of these papers at Conference Inference).

These are just the special events scheduled for February. I also plan to enjoy everyday tasks of meeting with colleagues, developing curricula, planning and writing. Writing this list, however, has reminded me that I will need to practice slow academia.

Even so, my (reading) life does not look much like Marie Kondo’s:

Rather this, which encapsulates another Japanese concept, tsundoku or unread books piling up: