A to-do side list

I am at Sydney Airport awaiting a flight to Melbourne for a few days of thinking and writing together with the Academic Identities project team. I am committing my waiting and commuting time to tasks that are never achieved at work. This list is far too ambitious for a 90 minute flight to Melbourne, but will serve as a reminder for the future.

What does it mean, and what does it cost, to make a complaint? In 2016 the acclaimed British-Australian academic resigned from her prestigious post as Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her resignation was in protest against the university’s failure to address the problem of sexual harassment. Ahmed – whose work embraces feminist, queer and race studies – has since embarked on a new research project, outside institutional academia, that was sparked by the bruising experience of trying to improve the university’s complaints process.

  • Catch up on sessions I missed from Making shiFT happen, in particular a keynote from Trina Hamilton on ‘The life of slow scholarship’ and a panel by the Great Lakes Feminist Geography Collective on ‘Living slow scholarship’.
  • Continue the Aboriginal Sydney online course I started last year (having reset my deadline for completion again).
  • Read books. On my Kindle, I have Mindfulness in the Academy, Qualitative Inquiry in Neoliberal Times and Women Who Make a Fuss.

Mindfulness in the Academy by Narelle Lemon and Sharon McDonough    Qualitative Inquiry in Neoliberal Times by Denzin, Norman K. (EDT)/ Giardina, Michael D. (EDT), Michael D. Giardina (9781138226432) - HardCover - Education Tertiary

  • Read articles and chapters. On my laptop, I have Biesta et al’s (2019) editorial ‘Why educational research should not just solve problems, but should cause them as well’ and the first chapter of Starting with Gender in International Higher Education Research (Henderson, 2018).
  • Listen to podcasts: I have heard very few episodes of Changing Academic Life and those I have heard have been thought-provoking
  • Watch Professor Michael McDaniel speak at the launch of Allens’ Reconciliation Action Plan, as discussed by Kate Bowles in a recent blog post on Music for Deckchairs.

Thinking and forgetting

I have had a few forgetting incidents in the last couple of weeks: a word (artifact, thanks to Kylie who reminded me twice), names (sorry Adwar!) and scheduling mistakes. Perhaps it is the heat (it’s scorching in Sydney right now, with a forecast of 38ºC in my suburb today), age (the oldest I’ve ever been), holiday mode or cognitive overload.

In a discussion about superpowers on a family bushwalk, although tempted by flight and shape-shifting, I picked ‘remembering everything I’ve ever learned’. (We were then allowed a bonus superpower: I can also turn into a bird!)

So much forgetting! In the interests of remembering, here are some ideas previously blogged that I want to revisit. For the theory buffs, this is an example of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic thinking: non-hierarchical, random, multiple, interconnected, breaking apart and reforming in different places and directions.

Tseen Khoo’s reflections on not going for promotion and Barbara Grant’s keynote at HERDSA last year (in which she described stepping back from positional leadership)  have been rattling around my mind. When is it worth taking on leadership roles? Are gendered factors at work here? Can a drive to effect change be sustained? What are the interconnections between leadership and activism—both affordances and limitations?

In my co-authored paper with Cathy Rytmeister on academic activists, our eponymous Rosie exhorted her colleagues to be brave. It is worth re-quoting her words, which continue to give pause:

Be brave. Be brave Sometimes speaking out is your best defence. Passivity allows you to be pushed around … Get as involved as you can and don’t give up hope. Spend time with people who you feel believe the same things as you do, because that’s affirming and strengthening, but balance that with spending time talking to people who don’t, because that grounds you in reality … Keep people around you who will challenge you. If you move into a position of power, if you have any power, own that power …

In a recent discussion, colleagues and I talked about the importance of being constructively disagreeable (something like virtuous naughtiness, I think). One of the problems of leadership (and this, perhaps especially, includes good leadership) is that those in charge are rarely interrupted. Musing out loud, thought bubbles, flights of fancy, anecdotes—take note of who is allowed to do these things in meetings you attend.

Take particular note if that person is you! I am reminded of Maggie Nelson’s comments in The Argonauts:

Sometimes, when I’m teaching, when I interject a comment without anyone calling on me, without caring that I just spoke a moment before, or when I interrupt someone to redirect the conversation away from an eddy I personally find fruitless, I feel high on the knowledge that I can talk as much as I want to, as quickly as I want to, in any direction that I want to, without anyone overtly rolling her eyes at me or suggesting I go to speech therapy. I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.

A rhizome: How can leaders resist the high of talking in any direction they want? How can they let go of that deep pleasure and listen more? How is constructive disagreement made possible?

Another rhizome: Keep people around you who will challenge you. I often wish I could hire a heckler to make challenging comments and ask difficult questions at events and meetings.  Less often, I want to be that heckler.

Still more: Be brave, especially when you are a ‘woman who makes a fuss’ (as Niki Harré, Barbara M. Grant, Kirsten Locke and Sean Sturm describe in The university as infinite game). To read: Women Who Make a Fuss (2014). The blurb reads:

Virginia Woolf, to whom university admittance had been forbidden, watched the universities open their doors. Though she was happy that her sisters could study in university libraries, she cautioned women against joining the procession of educated men and being co-opted into protecting a “civilization” with values alien to women. Now, as Woolf’s disloyal (unfaithful) daughters, who have professional positions in Belgian universities, Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret, along with a collective of women scholars in Belgium and France, question their academic careers and reexamine the place of women and their role in thinking, both inside and outside the university. They urge women to heed Woolf’s cry—Think We Must—and to always make a fuss about injustice, cruelty, and arrogance.

These rhizomes are ideas I am looking forward to hearing discussed at Making ShiFt Happen next week, a 36-hour virtual conference for academic women. (Note that the conference follows AdaCamp and Geek Feminism in seeing women as an inclusive term, and  trans-women, genderqueer women, and non-binary people are welcome). My session, with Catherine Manathunga and Janet Hope, focusses on slow tiny acts of resistance (STARS).

I’m certain that at the beginning of this post there were other ideas I wanted to remember, other rhizomes whose trajectories I wished to follow; but for now, I will sit with partial remembering. I will enjoy a few days leave, and from next week, will discover what it feels like when a slow academic starts working full-time.

ETA: Jamie Burford has recommended the following reading

Sounds good: “Judith Halberstam proposes “low theory” as a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once. Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one’s way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance.” The sample now on my Kindle.

Too many papers

This is the final post in a trilogy following the 6th International Academic Identities Conference at the University of Hiroshima. In my first post, I described the conference, its location, theme and keynote presentations. In the second, I highlighted four presentations that stretched my thinking. In this post, I want to share the four papers I presented with colleagues, and issue a stern warning to myself to present fewer papers at future conferences.

Four papers is too many. Having co-authors made it possible (enjoyable even), but  I talked too much, and listened too little. When I was listening, I was too keyed up about my next paper to listen well. One of my papers was on slow academia; practice what you preach and other idioms apply.

  • The solace of slow academia (or breathing room)

This paper was a blend of theory, autoethnography and practical advice.

Theory: Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray make uneasy bedfellows, but reading their work together allows complex ideas to be explored. I read Irigaray’s work on breath awakening selfhood alongside Judith Butler’s relational performativity and slippage of identities.

Autoethnography: Reading, thinking and writing about slow academia and academic activism has become a way to manage the demands of work and the challenges of caring for a sick child.

Practical advice: Listen to this 5 minute meditation before writing, have the same three goals every day, read poetry.

I am using the theoretical work from this for a co-authored book chapter on collective experiences on (non)motherhood and (non)academia.

  • Pressed for time: Doctoral candidates and early career academics’ experiences of temporal anxiety (with Lilia Mantai and Vanessa Fredericks)

The presentation included photos of Eye Shen’s Counting Time I took last month at the sculpture exhibition Hidden in Rookwood Cemetery. (Sydney folks: I can’t recommend this annual event highly enough as a family outing).

In the paper, we used Jacques Derrida’s conception of time and deferral to explore the temporal anxiety experienced by PhD candidates and ECAs, particularly as sessional staff members. For example, a PhD candidate says:

It frustrates me very much because I don’t have the time. It’s been over a year since I’ve been to a conference, which I think is pretty dire. I should have a chapter that’s ready. I should have something published. I should be going to conferences and meeting people but I just don’t feel like I have the time to do it. I do feel like it’s rushed to try and finish in three years. I wish I had more time for the other stuff.

And an early career academic says:

I hope to find a permanent position that allows me to do more research and writing, which is where my prime interest is. At the moment I am a casual lecturer which takes all my time and is financially a catastrophe. I have many ideas for articles, presentations and organising a conference but no time to pursue these goals. The big question is how long one manages to ‘hang in’ before giving up.

Lilia, Vanessa and I are currently writing this up as a journal article. Although it generated some great discussion, it was a bit of a downer, so we need to work on a hopeful ending.

  • Who cares? Gendered care-work and the limits of care at the “friendliest conference in the world” (with James Burford and Jan Smith)
  • Meeting ourselves, meeting the audience and meeting a discipline? (with Jeanette Fyffe)

Jamie has given a detailed summary of these papers which is difficult to top. You can read it at the wonderful blog Conference Inference. Here is his thoughtful comment about the complexities of academics writing about academic work:

While some might see my topic choices as a form of morbid self-absorption, I’ve tended to see this as a desire to begin where I am. Often I find myself using my ordinary environment and practices as a platform for inquiry. I think this can be valuable, as inhabiting a role or position can bring with it lots of questions, and research can be a helpful way to open ourselves up to further curiosity and even the odd answer. Perhaps at a broader level this is something that higher education researchers are always doing, as we go about researching our own profession and working contexts.

Our paper on gendered care and community work at conferences is currently under review. Jeanette and I plan to write our paper as a journal article next year. Right, Jeanette?

The immediacy of the conference and its imperatives are fading. Everyday life and work are taking over. I am trying to hold on to ideas, or at least record them for later. I am also trying to keep a sense of place. My mind returns to an onsen with a view of a rainforest river in torrent…

Naughty

Lately the kids and I have been listening to the soundtrack to Matilda: the Musical, and we’ve been humming or singing one song more or less continuously: Naughty.

We’re told we have to do what we’re told but, surely,
sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Just because you find that life’s not fair,
it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
nothing will change.

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot
You mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top,
you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay

And that’s not right!

 

With this earworm playing, I’ve been thinking about Rosalind Gill’s “small-scale micro-negotiations of power in the academy” and Barbara Grant’s “slow tiny acts of resistance”.

There are some inspiring examples of this work in blogs:

Sara Ahmed’s blog was written alongside her book Living a Feminist Life, and continues beyond the publication of the book to undertake “diversity work, the ordinary and painstaking work of working on institutions so they are more accommodating”. This is the sort of blog you want to spend all day reading. Ahmed’s work with students on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct has been dogged and inspiring. Here is how she describes her work on complaint:

To become attuned to sexism, to begin to hear with a feminist ear how women are not heard, is to become out of tune with a world … A feminist ear picks up on the sounds that are blocked by the collective will not to hear. The sounds of no, the complaints about violence, the refusals to laugh at sexist jokes; the refusals to comply with unreasonable demands …

I learnt from this work: those who experience harassment come up against a wall of indifference. They have nowhere to go. Or if they do speak they are heard as complaining. The word complaint derives from plague, in a vulgar sense, to strike at the breast. A complaint: sick speech. Maybe she is heard as speaking from ill-will: not only as being ill, but as spreading infection, as making the whole body ill …

A feminist ear can be what we are for; we need more people to be involved in giving a hearing.

Ahmed resigned from her professorial position in protest against institutional responses to sexual harassment.

Sara Puotinen’s blog is inspired by Judith Butler’s preface to Gender Trouble, in which Butler writes: “trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.” Puotinen’s blog chronicles her commitment to making, being and staying in trouble as a teacher, researcher, child and parent.  This is another long-running blog that rewards immersive reading. She describes her work as “virtuous troublemaking”:

What is Troublemaking?

  • An approach to looking at and acting in the world
  • That pushes at the limits of our most sure ways of knowing.
  • A broad term
  • That encompasses a wide range of practices.
  • Involves thinking critically all the time
  • And the willingness to challenge the status quo.
  • A skill that must be cultivated and practiced
  • That is not only destructive but productive
  • And that involves asking questions and being curious.

Troublemaking is dangerous, creative, fun, virtuous and needed.

For new readers, a video summary helps navigate through years of posts that cover grieving her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer, her troubled positioning in the academy and reflections on pop culture.

I want to spend more time reading, and savouring, both Ahmed and Puotinen’s writings.

Meanwhile, I am still humming ‘Naughty’. The last lines give me pause: “Nobody else is gonna put it right for me/ Nobody but me is gonna change my story/ Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” It’s not just the use of “gonna” (I’m kinda resigned to that) but the individualism of it.

Mischief is so much more fun and fulfilling when it is collective. Niki Harré, Barbara M. Grant, Kirsten Locke and Sean Sturm describe this in The university as infinite game:

In being a ‘woman who makes a fuss’ (even if you’re a man), you will need courage … You will need, somehow, to embrace struggle, at least some of the time. But also, seek to eschew antagonism and, instead, to foster compassion for our mutually frail humanity. More, express gratitude, hold out hope, be quick to find humour, cultivate indifference to convention and a willingness for insubordination.  And, above all, seek solidarity…

I love this for the positive, creative, and constructive impacts of ‘making a fuss’/ being naughty/ getting into trouble in the company of others.

Stay naughty, readers!

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