confessions of a worried teacher

critical inquiries into westernised higher education

Tag: Continuous Publishing

Research Selectivity and the Destruction of Authentic Scholarship? The View from the (semi) Periphery

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Below is the text of a proposal to the European Educational Research conference in Dublin this year.  It outlines some research under development with colleagues in Poland looking at the way research evaluation frameworks are re-shaping academic practice and the nature of what is knowledge in higher education.  Far more than being mechanisms for assessing the quality of academic research outputs, we argue that these are means by which knowledge itself is being changed but without making that an explicit object of policy.  Most disturbing of all is the way academics themselves are complicit in this.  It makes us wonder if many academics, and academic managers in particular have given up on higher education as a public good.

 

Rationale

Research selectivity, such as the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, is becoming a feature of higher education systems worldwide (see; Hazelkorn 2011) and often associated with the rise of neoliberal modes of governance (Henkel 2000; Marginson 2000). Higher education is therefore conceptualised by governments in ways that make the return on public investment amenable to calculation, comparison, and programmatic intervention. Through a range of policy instruments, specifically the introduction of market-like activities, academics’ daily practice is caught up between ‘actions at a distance’ and internal management techniques (see Miller & Rose 2008). For instance, ‘quality’ of scholarly activity is assessed against regular audits, such as the REF; core funding differentiates between prestige disciplines such as STEM as against the social sciences and humanities and places an emphasis on market-like behaviours and how institutions market themselves and read their markets. These translate professional decisions into methods of comparison through league tables, and in so doing make those decisions amenable to control at a distance. Internally this is matched by management techniques to align individual practice and sensibilities to those of institutional strategic objectives, which are largely framed by these ‘actions at a distance’ (see also Ball 2012). These include systems of performance management that usually involve annual reviews of performance emphasising research activity and output, and the setting of targets. ‘Research’ in this context is often reconfigured as ‘grant capture’ and publication in ‘high impact’ journals. Consequently, one powerful critique of such selectivity has focused on challenges to academic identity (Billot 2010; Davies 2005; Harley 2001; Harris 2005).

However, such critiques often arise from what can be called the centres of higher education. Drawing heuristically on Wallerstein’s (e.g. 1982 & 2013) World-System Theory we ask what this experience of research selectivity and neoliberal governmentality looks like in semi-peripheral systems of European higher education. For instance, Irish higher education reform occurs in the context of public spending being overseen by the European Union, European Bank, and the World Bank following Ireland’s economic collapse in 2008 (e.g. HEA 2013). Similarly, Poland is seeking to reform its higher education system within a context of post-Communist transition, the adoption of neoliberal political rationalities, and the intensification of research selectivity in higher education (Kweik 2012). While Ireland and Poland benefit form being part of the European Union, both are politically and economically peripheral. There is also a linguistic aspect where non-English speakers are required to publish in English-language journals. Therefore, how does this structural location impact on how policy discourses, instruments, and management techniques are mobilised? For the purposes of our pilot project we also wanted to inquire into how this manifested in the context of semi-peripheral disciplines, especially the humanities. The legitimacy of the humanities has been increasingly questioned as higher education is more closely aligned with national economic objectives. For instance in Japan an education minister asked its national universities to either close down their humanities and social science faculties or reorganise them to be vocationally oriented. Adapting Wacquant’s (Wacquant, et. Al. 2014) concept of territorial stigmatisation we ask in what ways semi-peripheral systems are governed through regional and global systems of surveillance and measurement; how internal selectivity is arranged at both national and institutional level (e.g. how are the humanities dealt with); and how are different categories of academic managed in relation to research selectivity.

 

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The paper reports on the pilot study for this project, which aims to clarify the research problematic, scope, and questions.  The lead author’s home institution was selected as the site for the empirical work, with the Polish academics taking the lead in conducting the interviews.  This was undertaken as itself an ethnographic inquiry into the paradox of the proposed research – that of critically examining research selectivity as part of neoliberal political rationality (which includes the problematic place of non-high status English as a medium of academic exchange) whilst also seeking to publish in ‘high impact’ English language outputs and use English as a medium for cross-country collaboration.  This (auto)ethnographic aspect will be part of the broad mix of approaches taken in the larger study.  Therefore the proposed research has a strong reflexive mode. The discipline of humanities was chosen because a) the problematic place it currently has in higher education, and b) the particular challenges faced by the humanities in Irish universities.  Specifically, Irish Studies and German Studies were selected.  This was partly opportunistic due to established links between these areas and the lead author.  These were selected because they also provided an opportunity to explore linguistic capital as a dimension of the field of study (see Outcomes below). Irish Studies enabled the exploration of the structural location of a European minority language (we selected scholars who wrote through the medium of Irish).  German Studies enabled an examination of the structural location of a major European language within both a semi-peripheral system of higher education and a semi-peripheral discipline. The pilot project involved 7 semi-structured interviews with full-time members of academic staff on permanent contracts (Irish Studies = 3; German Studies = 2; plus two colleagues with expertise in the field of internationalisation in higher education).  The current paper focuses primarily on the 5 interviews with Irish Studies and German Studies. It is proposed that a grounded theory approach will be utilised as a basic analytical approach for the whole project.  For the purposes of this paper an initial inductive approach is taken.  The larger project will use a mix of methods.

 

Issues
PRIVATE TROUBLES/PUBLIC ISSUES
Although institutional practices of internal research selectivity are systemic in nature, all academics interviewed discussed how they relied upon personal strategies to negotiate the various management techniques. All spoke about the general concern within their fields and the wider discipline but that there had been no collective or solidaristic space to mobilise these concerns as public and systemic issues.

TRANSFORMING DISCIPLINARY PRACTICE
Such strategies included reorienting effort to write in English language journals as well as in Irish or German, to seek a ‘balance’ of outputs.  This was a subtractive strategy as it meant less was written in their preferred language.  It was suggested that the emphasis on research articles as the institutionally privileged output changed the nature of disciplinary knowledge development and exchange. Specifically it challenged the way a body of work was captured in the production of monographs in the humanities. This was see as being driven by institutional concern with metrics and not with authentic scholarship.

EPISTEMIC DISJUNCTURE
Participants stressed that writing in English was a reduced form of scholarship that did not allow them to fully articulate meaning.  Performance against institutionally defined criteria bore no relation to the objective of knowledge production and exchange in knowledge communities.  Rather than being additive research selectivity was being experienced as subtractive and diminishing.

References
Ball, S. J. (2012) Performativity, Commodification and Commitment: An I-Spy Guide to the Neoliberal University, British Journal of Educational Studies,  60(1):17-28.
Billot, J. (2010) The imagined and the real: identifying the tensions for academic identity, Higher Education Research & Development, 29(6):709-721.
Davies, B (2005): The (im)possibility of intellectual work in neoliberal
regimes, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(1):1-14.
Harley, S. (2002) The impact of research selectivity on academic work and identity in UK universities. Studies in Higher Education, 27(2):187–205.
Harris, S. (2005) Rethinking academic identities in neo-liberal times, Teaching in Higher Education, 10(4):421-433.
Henkel, M. (2000) Academic identities and policy change in higher education, London: Jessica Kingsley.
Marginson, S. (2000) Rethinking academic work in the global era. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 22(1):1–12.
Miller, P. & Rose, N. (2008) Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life, Cambridge: Polity Press
HEA (2013) Towards a Performance evaluation framework: Profiling irish Higher education a report by the higher education authority. Dublin: HEA.
Wallerstein, I, et. al. (1982) World-Systems Analysis: Theory and Methodology, Beverley Hills: Sage.
Wallerstein I, et. al. (2013) Uncertain Worlds: World-Systems Analysis in Changing Times, New York: Oxford University Press.
Hazelkorn, E. (2011) Ranking and the Reshaping of Higher Education: The battle for world-class excellence. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wacquant, L. et al. (2014) Territorial Stigmatisation in Action, Environment and Planning A, 46:1270–1280.
Kwiek, M. (2012) Changing higher education policies: From the deinstitutionalization to the reinstitutionalization of the research mission in Polish universities, Science and Public Policy 39:641-654.

Continuous Publishing and the digital republic of letters

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It has become something of a truism that we (that is academics) live in a time of intensification of academic labour with its technologies of surveillance such as research assessment exercises, key performance indicators, and metrics of productivity.  We are caught up in what Mark Carrigan has referred to as the ‘accelerated academy’ and its toxic and murderous effects.  It is this ‘toxic academy’ that I have directed some of my own energy, partly through my blog but more recently through more ‘legitimate’ (?) forms of academic publishing (book chapter under review).

In response to this situation some have called for the institution of a slow university that draws on the ethos of the slow food movement.  Others, however, have championed forms of open scholarship and open access as alternative or complementary practices.  Indeed some initiatives, such as the online journal Hybrid Pedagogy, deliberately situate themselves in this space.

Many of these debates congregate around the issue of academic publishing in these accelerated times.  In particular they attend to a number of intersecting issues:

  • the closed nature or privatisation of academic traditional publishing
  • the impact of the digital on traditional analogue publishing.

I won’t go into these issues in detail.  However, there has been growing concern about the dominance of academic publishers over the nature of academic labour, and that this constitutes a privatisation of what should be regarded as a public good.  The digital landscape has been seen by some as opening up a new republic of letters, a new way of reconnecting scholarship with its many publics.

My own scholarly practice has been impacted positively, in my view, by this more recent idea of a DIGITAL REPUBLIC OF LETTERS.  As Edward Said would note, there are many beginnings associated with this turn in my practice.  Specifically, I was inspired (and I use that term deliberately) by a number of articles in the LSE’s ‘Impact of Social Sciences’ blog.  These articles deal with the practice of continuous publishing.  One ‘beginning’ was my reading of Mark Carrigan’s discussion of The Open-Source Academic and the use of participatory media (for instance blogging and twitter).  I followed this discussion through two sister articles written by Mark and Pat Lockley.  They noted that “We need to have an ongoing and honest conversation about what academic publishing is, what it could be and what it should be.”, drawing attention to the perverse incentives generated by the particular kind of reputational economy that the accelerated academy is producing.  In this scenario university managers appear to fetishise metrics of academic productivity, being obsessed with improving their institutions’ relative position in an insular economy.  This particular reputational economy is increasingly divorced from the the big issues, and leads to public goods (research knowledge) being locked behind ever expensive paywalls.  They then go on to argue that multiple forms of publishing – journals, blogs, twitter, etc. should become the norm if we are serious about public engagement, and could enhance more traditional forms of reputational value.  Bonnie Stewart has done some incisive work looking at twitter activity as a measure of impact and contribution in open scholarly networks (which often sit alongside the traditional mode) (and it is important to mention Bonnie’s work here since a brief review of the LSE ‘Impact’ blog shows that men seem to be dominating this discussion in that particular space even though my personal empirical experience is of a dynamic network of women driving much of this forward).

But I think there is something beyond the #altmetrics buzz we are getting just now, something that has to do with ethical choices about the kind of academic you want to be.

I am struggling with this right now, caught between embracing digital and open scholarship as a strategy of increasing professional presence and public engagement (though the matter of publics is in need of serious deconstruction), and something more akin to #alt-ac.

My engagement with the work of Mark Carrigan and Pat Lockley came at a moment (a beginning) where I was reconsidering my place in academia, indeed whether I wanted to remain in it all.  A good colleague of mine had been gently nudging me to venture further into the digital and open scholarship space, and to build on my existing blog.  While my blog had initially been developed with a vague idea of the potential of participatory media as a platform for reflection, this was to be further and more deliberately developed later in response to my embracing of the digital identity.  This signalled a desire to refashion my professional identity and practice, to explore the opportunities afforded by ‘digital’, ’openness’, ‘connectedness’. 

In part this is a continuation of traditional modes of academic endeavour.  My sister blog ‘The Broken Academic’ is a vehicle for rehearsing ideas and writing leading to academic publication.  And in my main blog I am currently trying to tease out my understanding of various literatures in relation to aspects of learning and teaching in higher education, with the intent of publishing.  But I have taken to heart the ethic of continuous publishing as also being about uncovering the artfulness of academic writing, of its created sense; to capture in blog posts some of the messiness, the experimentation, so that it does not appear as ready-formed, as rationally produced, as the mere outcome of a recipe that one simply needs to follow.  In this it is a refashioning of the self and a framing of ‘engagement’ as making oneself vulnerable, and so undermining the potential mantle of ‘expert’.  Is this, though, a kind of ‘academic suicide’, a denial of the possibility of being an ‘academic’?

And this is why it is more than enhancing the traditional form of academic publishing (while not, as yet, refusing that offer completely). 

Jacque Ranciere is a fantom here, present not in his corporeal person but in his evocation of a spirit – the spirit that says “Enact openness and see what happens”.  I am seeing what happens, and what ‘openness’ might mean.

It is taking on interesting forms.

While for me the digital and open scholarship practices that I am trying to enact are about ‘connected scholarship’ I find myself enjoying the company of folks who might be described (inscribed?) by the term ‘connected learning’.  This space is defined by certain practitioners and certain concepts and certain networks, many of which overlap:

  • @catherinecronin; @bali_maha; @GoogleGuacamole (Laura Gogia); @JeffreyKeefer; @jessifer, @bonstewart, etc (just some most pertinent to this particular discussion) I am new to most of these folks and in a few short, but intense months, have learned so much that I doubt I can go back to where I was; and the use of ‘@‘ is deliberate because that is how I mostly know/communicate with them, the platform that carries the learning;
  • #connectivism; #connectedlearning; rhizomatic learning; digital scholarship; #digiped; #openscholar, etc. – and again the ‘#’ is instructive as to how I engage with these;
  • Hybrid Pedagogy/@HybridPed; @LSEImpactBlog; #TJC15 (via Laura Gogia); and now #rhizo15.

Now that most of my teaching has become f-2-f (having been distance/blended for so long), I find myself embedded in conversations about hybrid/connected/rhizomatic learning.  And although my concerns are with digital and open scholarship the crossover conversations are stimulating, push me beyond the familiar and habitual, push me into uncomfortable (but enriching) liminal spaces.

And, finally, perhaps this is what I really want to say:

I had imagined academia as a place where we regularly engaged in stimulating intellectual discussion, where, when one was teaching there would be pedagogic debate.  I never believed that this would happen all of the time.  But I had worked in spaces that on the surface appeared to share similar creative impulses (in community arts and education).  In those spaces debates/discussions/considerations of principle, of ideas, of pedagogy were central to what we did – TO OUR DAILY PRACTICE, TO OUR DOING.  Approaching 20 years in academia, in the company of the folks, the concepts, and the networks above, I find myself in that kind of stimulating arena, of being daily tested/attracted/disgruntled. 

BUT much of my normative/paid ‘academic’ doing is dominated by timetabling, meeting committee deadlines, instrumental demands around introducing modules rather than why we are doing it, what does it mean for teaching or for learning (and so for who we are or could be as academics).  Academic publishing and conferences are seldom experienced as invigorating but as enervating.

So, the discussions of continuous publishing speak, to me, of where we experience the kinds of discussion that academia should have, the spaces where we engage with people and ideas and practices that place us in liminal spaces, and therefore powerful learning.

the neglect of ‘things’ in university learning – an initial inquiry

UO_Chemistry_Lab

Models, illustrations and diagrams serve, together with mathematical signs, as basic epistemological tools in science

(Cathrine Hasse 2008 Postphenomenology: Learning Cultural Perception in Science)

Recently I had the pleasure of observing a pharmacology lab practical.  As a neophyte academic developer I felt that it was important to familiarise myself with what ‘teaching’ meant in different disciplines, and so not rely solely on my own disciplinary perspective and theory.  And this is where pharmacology comes in.

My own academic background is in education, and more specifically the sociology of education, and in recent years in the study of higher education. Although my move into academic development is requiring a re-forming of my structure of knowledge and practice, I am still operating in familiar landscapes.  Recognising that many of my colleagues who participate in our courses do not approach this domain with familiarity – of concepts, language, genre of writing, etc., I wanted to put myself in situations where I had to struggle to become familiar.

And so, I found myself in a crowded chemistry laboratory, a guest of the pharmacology department.

As I stood there observing the activity I found myself making mental notes that related to two sets of literature that I had been engaging with – practice theory & posthumanism.  I have written previously about my interest in practice theory and  how this could inform academic development.  So I was intrigued about how knowledge and learning was embedded in and across the varied practices the students were engaged in, and how this worked against a view of learning that placed undue attention on the purely cognitive.  Simultaneously I was taken with the ‘dance of agency‘ between students and the non-human – the way we might understand how ‘doing’ science may be ‘unthinkable’ without also considering the active role of the apparatus the students engaged with and the chemical compounds they relied upon in the lab activity.  That is, the way the students’ knowing and learning was essentially mediated by and entangled with apparatus, technology and chemical compounds.

As I observed the way pairs of students sought to align each other and align themselves with the apparatus, technology and chemicals, an idea slowly emerged.  And this idea is taking the form of some ‘continuous publishing‘ whereby I will use this blog to develop and rehearse my thinking with the intention of writing an article over the coming weeks.

I begin by sharing with you some initial notes from my research journal.

Snippet 1:

My approach in this paper is ‘posthumanist’ and ’emergent’ in orientation.  As such it differs in emphasis to more traditional, humanist accounts of learning in higher education.  It touches directly on constructivist theories of learning which are distinctly humanist.  As I will argue, my approach does not discount the importance of human agency in the learning process, but it does displace such agency as the final point of analytical reference.  Instead, I extend constructivist understandings so that we consider the way human actors, processes, concepts, and non-human materials are intimately related.  I argue that understanding, knowing and learning are effects of this entanglement of human, discursive and non-human.  In doing this I am deeply influenced by the practice turn in social theory, especially the idea of knowledge as embedded in practice.  Consequently, learning is viewed performatively, as an emergent quality, as something that emerges from practice and is not exterior to it.

Snippet 2:

notes

 

Over the coming days I attempt to clarify my understanding of the two main literatures of posthumanism (as related to science and learning) and practice theory.  The entries will, of necessity, be disjointed, provisional, EMERGENT.

Reflections on an emergent identity as an Academic Developer

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I am a neophyte OPEN EDUCATOR, a newbie on the digital scholarship block.

My move into ACADEMIC DEVELOPMENT has come hand in hand with the challenges of networked learning, learning technologies, etc.

The  notion of openness has slowly transformed from a political stance to an emerging pedagogic practice.  As part of that I am involved in various ‘projects’ where I am experimenting with different aspects of open scholarship.  One project is my BROKEN ACADEMIC blog where I am sharing my thinking and writing on academic wellbeing.  Another involves my reflections on the process of BECOMING an academic developer through engaging in some of the learning activities of participants on one of the courses I co-ordinate.  Below is another extract from an inconsistent learning journal I am keeping alongside the lecturer/participants.  I have edited some of the detail because I have taken the decision to not mention my institution explicitly unless the meaning of the post demands it.  This space is a reflection on my practice rather than on my place of work.


 

What is Curriculum?

For the purpose of this Course Review Folder I will be reflecting upon one of the modules I am responsible for on the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education….[I am referring to a module that runs in the preceding semester].

 

I started [here] in January 2014. This meant that my teaching began with the two other modules on this course…In that sense I ‘inherited’ the legacy of [the module] without actually experiencing it. That semester was very much one of getting through and felt like I was ‘delivering’ a course that I only had a shallow understanding of , though I did manage to introduce elements…that reflected my own interests and knowledge.

Using Fraser and Bosanquet’s framework (2006), this first semester of working on the [the module] (and the PgDip and MA) felt very much one of ‘The structure and content of a unit’ of teaching. I was dealing with getting the material ready for each week’s teaching, becoming familiar with a different way of using the [VLE] learning environment, and trying to approach my feedback on the fortnightly ‘learning journal’ entries as meaningfully as possible. The ‘curriculum’ was very much conceived, at that point, as ‘syllabus’. My overriding concern was with content and meeting the necessary requirements of the job. Much of the content was inherited. But more importantly, the job required a shift in knowledge and practice. While there was much about the ‘signature pedagogy’ of the role of academic developer that was familiar to me … the knowledge base and many practices and ‘ways of knowing’ were different enough to invoke anxiety. I was experiencing the troubling nature of the enterprise, teetering on the threshold of a new world. Reading up (to gain appreciation of the knowledge – of constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, assessment, learning outcomes, etc.) was not an issue. Becoming functionally familiar with the structure of the course was a challenge at times (a challenge of time management), but doable. What was really challenging was getting to grips with the underlying episteme of the course (Perkins 2006), of its ‘deep structure’ (Schulman 2005). What was the fundamental rationale of the course and therefore how did this translate into the expectations I communicated to the course participants?

The immediacy of the flow of experience meant that I was hardly able to even consider the curriculum in terms of the ‘structure and content of a programme of study’. That aspect really only impressed itself upon me when I had to prepare for our internal exam board in the summer. Only then did I really begin to see each unit of teaching within an overarching programme, of how each unit related to others, how participants might travel from one point to another, and how the immediate demands of the job sat within and related to university level structures and processes (registration, syllabus, exams, conferment).

Thinking of the generative ideas presented by Burnett and Coate (2005), my ‘experience’ of the course was dominated by the domain of knowledge. I was focused on what ‘I’ needed to know as well as what knowledge I perceived participants needing to be exposed to. The nascent sense of the beingness of participation in a course such as this was not really on my horizon at that point. As the weeks passed and I became more familiar with it, the practices required for full participation in the course increased in visibility.

I approached the new academic year with a desire to frame the whole programme with a coherent curricula idea. Some of this was already there. The programme I inherited had behind it a dual function to simultaneously address the technical concerns of higher education teachers and to support a paradigm shift institutionally (though admittedly this actually involved multiple paradigms). The syllabus reflected this. All modules … spoke directly to those technical concerns we all face teaching in higher education – large classes, small group work, assessment, planning, learning technologies, engagement, diversity, supervision. Much of the ‘content’ addressed these issues in terms of ‘how to’, ideas for practice, etc. But there were also other ideas on offer. Empirical, theoretical and philosophical resources were also available for participants to consider. These perhaps offered alternative perspectives on the mundane concerns we bring with us. But they also animate those concerns and reveal to us that they are not so mundane after all. Our apparently mundane issues (which we may deem technical) are always rich with nuance, possibility, and meaning. Then there was the key signature pedagogy of academic development, that of reflective learning. This was an inheritance I could subscribe to. It was pragmatic (something that attracted me to the job in the first place). It built on my desire to integrate scholarly engagement with professional development that placed practice at its heart. It was also scholarly, which, in a university, should be central to any educative activity. And it was strategic, it sought to encourage a shift in orientation that a) took teaching seriously, b) conceived teaching and learning as knowledgeable activities, and c) saw itself as engaged in institutional learning.

So, if the nature of the educative environment I was faced with between January-August 2014 resembled something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 13.53.16

what did I want it to look like, and what was the curricula intent or animating idea that would frame consideration of content, sequencing and practice?

In fact there were three animating ideas.

  • It’s not about blaming the teacher: I was conscious of Catherine Manathunga’s identification of the association between academic development work and institutional quality assurance concerns (Manathunga 2014). Specifically, I was concerned that our courses would be viewed as viewing university teachers as the ‘problem’.
  • Professional education: I was keen to conceive of what we do as a form of professional education as a way of bridging the ‘training’ and ‘educative’ aspects of the course. My hope was that the metaphors through which I viewed what we were aiming to do escaped the language of ‘acquiring’ knowledge or skills that were then ‘applied’ or ‘transferred’ to the practice context (See Boud & Hager 2012). I didn’t want to present an idea of the knowledge about teaching and learning practices as something exterior to the context of practice nor of practice as absent of theory (implicit or otherwise). Along with many others I wanted to locate our approach in relation to a practice approach to professional learning (for instance see Fenwick & Nerland 2014) that “…provides a holistic way of thinking that integrates what people do, where they do it, with whom and for what purpose.” (Boud & Hager 2012: 22). Practice (what university teachers do, where, with whom and for what purposes) becomes the ‘site’ of attention for professional education (Nicoline 2011). The site of practice (and therefore learning) is always situated socially. It happens in particular places, at particular times. It is conditioned, changeable, moving. Therefore, educative endeavors have to somehow account for this. So we need to move from thinking of knowledge as something static that is acquired to knowing that is accomplished. Also, knowing is conceived as distributed through all the myriad small acts of professional practice, as knowing-in-practice. This indexes back to earlier organizational learning work by Argyris on ‘theory in practice’ (Argyris & Schon 1974).
  • And scholarship: While aware of some of the limits of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Boshier 2009), I was heartened by Carolin Kreber’s (2006) conceptualization of the potential of SoTL that lies in the ethics or values it conveys rather than notions of ‘best practice’. SoTL and a constructivist approach to matters of learning (and therefore teaching) are central features of academic development’s signature pedagogy, of its deep structure. But its implicit structure can be vague, or can over-emphasise a highly normative sense of what should be done. I did want to signal the broad body of knowledge that existed that could stimulate thought and reflection, offering new thresholds through which participants could travel. But rather than perceive this as linear, I have increasingly come to see it as framed more openly, where the relationship between knowledge, teaching and learning is highly dynamic, and is oriented not towards best practice but to cultivating a way of individuals orienting themselves to the world. This seems quite abstract at the moment and needs further development.

So, my aspiration was that the curriculum, following the curricula intent outlined above, would resemble something more like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 13.54.42

References

Argyris, C. & Schon, D. (1974) A Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. Oxford: Jossey-Bass.

Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005) Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. McGraw-Hill: Maidenhead.

Roger Boshier (2009) Why is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning such a hard sell? Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2009, 1–15.

David Boud & Paul Hager (2012) Re-thinking continuing professional development through changing metaphors and location in professional practices, Studies in Continuing Education, 34:1, 17-30.

Sue Clegg (2012) Conceptualising higher education research and/or academic development as ‘fields’: a critical analysis, Higher Education Research & Development, 31:5,

Fenwick T & Nerland M, (eds.) (2014) Reconceptualising professional learning: Sociomaterial knowledges, practices and responsibilities. London: Routledge.

Fraser, S, and Bosanquet, A (2006) The Curriculum? That’s just a unit outline, isn’t it? Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 31, (3), pp. 269-284

Carolin Kreber (2006) Developing the Scholarship of Teaching Through Transformative Learning, Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 6(1):88 – 109.

Catherine Manathunga (2014) The deviant university student: historical discourses about student failure and ‘wastage’ in the antipodes, International Journal for Academic Development, 19:2, 76-86.

Davide Nicolini, (2011) Practice as the Site of Knowing: Insights from the Field of Telemedicine. Organization Science 22(3):602-620.

Perkins, D. N. (2006). Constructivism and troublesome knowledge. In J. H. F. Meyer & R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge

Shulman, L. S. (2005). “Signature pedagogies in the professions.” Daedalus 134.3: 52-59.

 

What’s the point of this blog …….the author responds to himself

Following my recent blog post I feel the need to respond to myself.  Listen to the short podcast where I explore further ideas of digital scholarship and how they are affecting my pedagogy and scholarship.

I mention a number of inspirational (for me) sources:

The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice by Martin Weller

Designing for learning in an open world by Gráinne Conole

The Rights’ Future by Conor Gearty

What’s the Point……of writing this blog?

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I have been thinking a lot recently about my aversion to writing this blog.

Of course, events in the summer disrupted the flow, introduced some new sense of urgency around particular concerns, then….very little.

It was as if I had lost faith in what I was doing here, of doubting the efficacy of this project.

Some recent reading around public pedagogyand digital scholarship has encouraged me to revisit my purpose here and to try and reframe what and how I want to write.

This is not necessarily a radical change in what I had set out to do initially, but perhaps simply gives me more impetus.  It picks up on an effort within my teaching to share with students the processes underlying the pedagogy, of revealing the pedagogic purpose of what I am inviting them to participate in.

This revisiting of the purpose of writing a blog like this is to bring my attention to certain key terms:

What do I mean by ‘public’?

What publics do I have in mind in engaging in this kind of writing? The kind of writing we engage in, the types of event or outlets through which we seek to present our intellectual work all speak to both who we want to enter into conversation with and what kinds of conversation we want to have.  Hopefully I can clarify this (to myself) as I continue the process of writing in this public forum.  The word public can also suggest a certain breaking down of hierarchies, but how true is that?

Scholarship – an elite practice?

I remember a response from Beatrix Campbell to a right wing politician who was deriding academics and ‘theory’, where Beatrix noted that ‘theory was another name for thinking’ so was the politician against thinking?  In the context of the managed academic CV where what we write about is of less importance than the ‘value’ our academic endeavours can bring to the institution (as if it was separate from us) – as the recent Research Excellence Framework exercise demonstrates – attention to academic work as a form of public good is critically important.  Higher education scholarship must speak to the major issues that affect people, and do so in a way that is not defined by the interests of institutional game-playing or private profit. This is allied to scholarship as a public activity.  Therefore, while we may, individually, have to keep in mind our scholarly outputs for promotional purposes, we have to be mindful of how public knowledge is increasingly being privatised by the dominance of the major publishing companies.

Which brings me to the digital scholarship debate.

And here I simply refer to the responsibility incumbent upon academic workers to make our work more publically available.

In particular I am going to revisit the idea of blogging as a form of continuous scholarship that simultaneously is focused towards the scholar (the development of ideas that may become other kinds of academic output) and outward as public scholarship that deconstructs the process of knowledge work, and contributes to a revisioning of scholarship as a public practice.

Trying to write the ‘Writing of the Heart – the academic resting on the artful?

I have been working on my spoken word text, integrating a more obvious academic element into it while trying to stay true to the original intent of producing something ‘outside’ the normative, objectifying academic text.  I am also trying to write in a way guided by the ‘layered account’ and the animating ideas of the ‘derive’ and ‘detournement’.  Below is the unfinished initial draft for a book chapter where I keep the spoken word element to the fore but secrete the academic, illuminate the intellectual debt I owe to so many – BECAUSE ALL ACADEMIC WRITING IS A COLLABORATION, A CO-OPERATIVE EFFORT.

Your thoughts and feelings would be welcomed.

Writing of the Heart: Auto-ethnographic Writing as Subversive Story Telling[i]

 

 

1 a(n) (un) kind [of] introduction

13th February 2012

as with every day last week, and all through the conference and study school, I get up, I wash and dress. I have breakfast –– something resembling breakfast. I put on the mask and perform the competent academic and adult. Inside, though, I am dissolving. Each moment it is harder to maintain this fiction of calmness, of togetherness’…I am caught between anxiety and normality. Normality is increasingly unreal. Anxiety is increasingly normal. The idea of facing all my colleagues tomorrow at the staff meetingGod, I dont knowI MUST. I MUSTjust get through this weekGET THROUGH THIS WEEK.

“A 2012 survey on occupational stress carried out by the University and College Union found that staff in British universities are more stressed now than in 2008, and experience considerably higher average levels of stress relating to the demands made on them at work than the British working population as a whole.”[ii]

I have moved here from a ‘me’ story to an ‘us’ story;

from a personal biographical account to a scholastic account. The first is an extract from my personal diary

the night before I finally succumbed to….clinical depression. The second is a report of a survey in the British Guardian newspaper.

They both speak of the same phenomena,

but in different ways.

The energy produced

by placing these two different texts next to each other –

the first pathic, the second gnostic[iii]

is the kind of energy that is produced by a ‘layered account’

as found in much autoethnographic work[iv].

And this approach to speaking of academic life and practice is the content of this text.

The writing is about my experience of a particular context –

of the impossibly competing demands between teaching, research

and administration.

Increasing student numbers

with fewer resources

whilst also increasing research productivity

and ‘grant capture’

in a culture of measurement and surveillance[v].

This is a context where the very institutions we work in and for create what what Barabara Jago has called ‘academic depression’,

and what Art Bochner refers to as

 

‘…institutional depression, a pattern of anxiety, hopelessness, demoralization, isolation, and disharmony that circulates through university life.,

the way we succumb to performative institutional culture, especially the ways we are conditioned to split our academic and personal lives,

to privilege the former and suppress the latter[vi].

Academic depression, as discussed here,

is then both a disenchantment with the romance of a scholarly life

and psychological trauma.

BUT – How do we write…how do we write

of ‘academic depression’ without emptying the experience of its visceral reality?

In this text I draw on a number of personal,

intellectual,

and cultural resources

to tell a story about how I am trying to write of academic depression, of writing a:

MY/YOU/US STORY of life in the modern university.

In particular I speak to the capacity of autoethnographic writing to be transformative,

to remoralise us in a context of demoralisation;

and of the pause [……..]

the pause that such writing and reading can create,

within which

different ways of being an academic can emerge.

But there is a craft to this

and I speak also to this craft-work.

I speak to a kind of playful writing,

of autoethnographic writing as a sampling and remixing of introspection, memory, anecdote and scholarly work

to create an evocative text.

2 confronting the SPECTACLE

 

This text represents something I want to term ‘authentic’. That is,

my experience of academic depression, I feel,

says something not just about me personally

but about a wider experience of academic life in neo-liberal times.

In reading the many texts of academic capitalism

or new public management

sometimes I feel as if I cannot see the human experience, the panic attacks,

the joy at being published,

the dark night of the day.

While eloquent in their analysis I cannot FEEL myself in them[vii].

I am involved in a project of redefining my academic purpose.

And in writing I want to enter into dialogue with others, and because of the mode of engagement – autoethnography –

I am signaling which kinds of folk I want to talk with,

what kinds of conversation I want to have.

There is an ethical dimension to this.

Autoethnography is an ethical choosing,

a political position.

BUT – but, at the same time, my efforts,

my existential choosing,

is caught up in what Guy Debord referred to as the SPECTACLE .

That is,

the substance of my authentic and choiceful activity is also taken up in the knowledge factory of the modern university,

emptied of meaningful content,

transformed into a commodity,

and utilized in the pursuit of institutional ambition[viii]. Imagine the modern world of global higher education as being like a fashion show.

What is important is the glamour,

the style,

the posturing.

What we are not invited to see is the ecological damage of a culture that persuades us that we MUST

keep going out to buy more and newer clothes

so that we end up with wardrobes bursting with unused items

while the majority of the world’s population struggle to secure the basics.

We are not invited to think about the child labour that will underpin the cheapness of the latest fashions we purchase.

In other words,

image and illusion come to dominate.

We don’t experience the world directly,

Debord argued,

instead

we increasingly meet the world through images of the world[ix].

3 academic life as sadomasochism

 

And so,

my article will be denuded of meaning,

it will be taken up by the production of writing plans,

it will be linked to performance indicators and professional development meetings,

it will become a commodity that is accumulated by the university,

and will eventually be reflected back to me as an item on my CV,

as part of an institutional submission

to a research assessment exercise –

as something emptied of its choicefulness,

of its ethical claim,

of its authenticity[x].

And this is perhaps why so many of us feel demoralised.

And so this is why it is important to write in ways that remoralise,

that can open up the possibility of imagining what an authentic academic might be –

to give moral purpose to what we do[xi].

4 and so the dérive

 

The ‘managed’ academic CV is one that increasingly must be cohesive,

must be linear.

BUT –but –

cohesiveness and linearity is a product of retrospection –

an afterthought.

Yet, we are asked to write plans AS IF intellectual thought was linear,

tidy,

bullet points.

This is a world that cannot entertain the idea of “dérive”,

of wandering of meandering through intellectual landscapes.

Imagine drawing a straight line on a map and attempting to follow that path regardless of what obstacles might be in the way;

of having to negotiate those obstacles as best we can;

of having to encounter people;

and to encounter the space without GPS or smartphone or Google Maps[xii].

Or psychogeography where you might be given a set of simple instructions

(2nd left, 1st right, 2nd left, repeat)

and use this to navigate an urban space

and to observe what you see and experience –

experience it directly without the concepts provided by a map.

Or, choosing a familiar space

(work building, journey to work, etc.)

you are asked to travel in silence.

The silence immediately forces

a pause,

a reflection,

where we might start to notice certain aspects of the ‘familiar’ environment in different ways,

where we might find ourselves drawn to certain objects, feelings, anticipations

As well as this mode of academic practice        being contrary to the managed CV

it is also how I am imagining the writing I am talking about.

It is much more akin to psychogeography –

a methodology that enables me to walk through my experience of academic depression in a structured way

but which makes possible new observations[xiii].

5 the aim of an aimless walk

 

A dérive is a methodology that poses this question –

what if there is no point B?

It is a methodology that invites the researcher

(me)

to begin in a particular place

  • now –

looking back at my experience of academic depression

– and to traverse this recovered experience with no specific destination in mind.

The dérive…

Is Disruptive –

like the walk following an arbitrary straight line

it is a methodology that is disruptive of traditional social scientific practice.

It disregards the arbitrary distinction between public and private –

so my person

and personal feelings

are viewed as important,

it plays with creative and scientific writing,

It is

An embodied methodology:

it places emphasis on capturing the emotive experience without rushing to abstraction….

it tries to speak of the bodily response

and not to give undue weight to the cognitive.

It places the pathic as equal to the gnostic…

part of the aim of an aimless walk

is to identify the way everyday life,

the mundane,

is ordered or structured.

But this requires something like the phenomenological reduction,

the bracketing of our normal understandings,

and the cultivation of a open attitude.

Similarly,

the wandering through cycles of introspection and analysis can,

it is hoped,

produce a kind of disorientation.

And disoriented

we identify what we find ourselves attracted to

(what incidents, emotions, ideas induce us towards them) and what discourages us

(what feels uncomfortable, distasteful).

IN OTHER WORDS

WHAT IS IT THAT PRESENTS ITSELF TO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS AND WHAT SENSE CAN WE MAKE OF IT?

6 – ethics

 

And so the dérive is also an ethical intervention to encourage a deep reflection on the nature of academic life as we live it.

A political intervention.

7 a layered account

 

One way of doing this in the craft of writing

is the use of the Layered Account

used to produce disruptive and evocative texts.

This can involve the varied use of memoir or diary,

as well as academic analysis

in order to reconnect the private and academic self –

as in my opening quotes.

It is Ruth Bihar’s combination of ‘a novelistic and scholarly voice’ ;

or Carolyn Ellis’ invitation

to write in a way that moves back and forth between personal introspection and academic reflection,

methods that are simultaneously social and psychological[xiv].

This is similar to the Situationist method of détournement.

Détournement is ‘culture jamming’ or ‘culture hacking’.

This is where everyday objects,

normally those associated with

power

and capitalism

and patriarchy

are subverted,

are hacked and reproduced –

where items from personal life are conjoined with scholarly writing

to disrupt our consciousness

and reveal not only the child labour behind the glamorous clothes,

but what this means to us,

what this feels like.

8 the naked academic?

 

It is a process of sampling and remixing everyday objects,

of using familiar items

and putting them together in ways that disrupt perceptions, that create new, possibly subversive stories.

The hope is to invoke such disruptions for me

but also for the reader.

To subvert the tidiness of academic writing that can abstract us from lived experience

That asserts academic life and academic practice as embodied and embedded in social-political space

That produces a pause

or intensified awareness of the object of study

so questioning my sense of being

and opening up space to reimagine academic life

AND IN REIMAGINING ACADEMIC LIFE

SEEK TO LIVE IT DIFFERENTLY

 

[i] Here I am paraphrasing the title of a paper by Patricia Ewick and Susan Silbey ‘Subversive Stories and Hegemonic Tales: Towards Sociology of Narrative’ where they argue for the production of ‘subversive stories, narratives that challenge the dominant understandings of our times, and in particular to make explicit the relationship between lives-as-lived and social structure(Ewick & Silbey, 1995). In this regard I am locating my own narrativisation as potentially a subversive act. My decision to write this piece in verse builds on this initial commitment. This poem could be categorized, following Monica Prendergast (Prendergast, Leggo, & Sameshima, 2009), as a form of “VOX THEORIA – Literature-voiced poems” (xxii), since it speaks of inquiry itself, the rationale for my particular auto-ethnographic approach.  In the ‘Introduction’ to this volume Ivan Brady discusses the way poetic inquiry gets up close and personal, inverts the telescope to magnify what is going on with life as lived (by us?).  It is a mode that disrupts the distancing technologies of academic research.  He makes the point that since research is a process of languaging, is dependent on language, it is already involved in poetics, in the use of metaphor for instance (xii) (see also Brady, 2004). Further more, the poetic can be conceived as a bridge, or method for linking life as lived to sociological writing, to make explicit the created, constructed, fabricated, ‘produced’ fact of sociological text (Richardson, 1993).  Poetry, or spoken-word, is used in an attempt to be authentic to the motivations for my research, for my social scientific writing.

[ii] While much media and scholarly attention has been focused on the stress and wellbeing of students in higher education, there is an increasing recognition of the impact of the intensification of academic labour on the lives and health of academics. Here I refer to a report by the University and College Union, the largest trade union and professional association for academics in UK higher education(Kinman & Wray, 2013). Therefore, the results would appear to be fairly representative of the situation facing British academics. The survey results clearly point to a perception of increasing work intensification and a decline in work-life balance. One aspect that emerges from the report is the rise in occupational stress as higher education institutions struggle to cope with increasing competition and performance management. It could be said that the reforms faced by higher education over the past 20 years are making people sick. This resonates with previous academic research in both the UK (Tytherleigh, Webb, Cooper, & Ricketts, 2005) and Australia (Gillespie, Walsh, Winefield, Dua, & Stough, 2001).

[iii] Max van Manen, in a number of papers, refers to the ‘pathic’ and the ‘gnostic’ aspects of knowing (van Manen, 2007; van Manen & Li, 2001). Whereas the ‘gnostic’ relates to knowledge as we would normally understand it – that is in terms of the cognitive, ‘pathic’ knowing is related to ideas of empathy or sympathy, to the affective and kinesthetic aspects of knowing. He discusses this most poignantly in his examination of the practice of nursing and the combination of ‘pathic’ and ‘gnostic’ knowing required in order to be competent. This stress upon the ‘pathic’ is important in terms of the importance I give to affective in both a commitment to an passionate ethnography and role of the senses in academic practice as a form of dérive.

[iv] The particular ‘craft’ of autoethnographic writing indexed here will be addressed more fully later.

[v] I return to these themes again more fully when addressing the notion of the ‘managed CV’.

[vi] I am indebted to both Barbara Jago and Art Bochter both in terms of personal support (Barbara) and political/scholarly license (both). Early in my attempts to give scholarly meaning to my experience of depression and its place in academic life I came across their work. They were ‘beginnings’ as Edward Said might put it, instances that have provoked me to continue this particular project. Both have exposed themselves, something that is not encouraged in academia where the masculine objective expert is King. They have placed the first-person account centre stage, and in doing so travelled with the sociological imagination, have connected the personal to the public, connected the way private experiences of trauma are related to the neo-liberal restructuring of academic practice(Bochner, 1997; JAGO, 2002).

[vii] I am inspired by much excellent scholarship that carefully details the way higher education is being remade in the image of neo-liberalism, as an adjunct of certain kinds of economic activity. In the North American context Sheila Slaughter, Larry Leslie, and Gary Rhoades have shown how academic practice has been pushed into the service of producing private rather than public goods, of being an aspect of a market economy (Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter & Leslie, 1999). Other scholars have demonstrated how this is a global phenomena, and furthermore, that the specific features of globalized higher education competition are overdetermined by the image of economically and socially prestigious institutions (Marginson, 2000; 2004; Marginson & Considine, 2000; Marginson & Rhoades, 2002).   This mirrors the analysis by such scholars as Pierre Bourdieu and others (Bourdieu, 1988; Naidoo, 2004; 2008). But what I feel is missing, for me, in these works is the felt experience. This is not a criticism of these scholars. Not at all. But I do raise a concerned hand and seek to point out that we can only go so far narrating this story of neo-liberal capture through the disembodied language of orthodox academic writing. Politically, we need to accept the invitation offered by Critical Race Theory that the production of ‘counter-narratives’ is essential in destabilising ‘hegemonic tales’ (Delgado, 1989; 1990; Rollock, 2012).

[viii] I am clearly making direct reference to Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ (Debord, 2009). This text emerged out of the revolutionary climate of Paris leading up to and just beyond 1968. It was one of the key texts of the Situationist International (SI), combining anti-authoritarian Marxism with the radical artistic movements of Dada and Surrealism. I draw on some of the key terminology of the SI both analogously and substantively. As analogies terms such as ‘spectacle’, ‘ dérive’, and ‘détournement’ enable me broaden my descriptive and analytical imagery, and employ terms that have the potential to be disruptive because the reader or listener, encountering something perhaps unfamiliar, will have to pay attention and consider the meaning of what I say. In that sense they work as heuristic devices. But I also use them substantively, momentarily aligning myself with the ambition, if not the actual content, of the SI. Of central importance for the project contained in this text is the desire to assert that academic writing is artifice, is an act of creation and construction. Referring back to the case I make for writing in verse, this SI terminology also questions the presumption that normal academic writing is ‘natural’ and close to ‘natural speech’, whereas art is not.

[ix] In reading Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ I am struck by how much it resonates with contemporary higher education. One phrase rings loud in my mind: “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”. using a different descriptive language Mats Alvesson discusses how modern globalised higher education is increasingly devoid of substance and is overtaken by an obsession with image, brand, and impression management. For Alvesson, the modern university is caught up in a competitive struggle for relative status. The actual substance of academic labour – what we teach, what we research, our contributions to knowledge, are of less importance than the marginal improvement in our standing in relation to other higher education institutions. The behaviour of university managers is dominated by grandiose claims and boosting the institutions image(Alvesson, 2013). In other words, SPECTACLE. And in this climate the university becomes increasingly careless of the humans who work within it and provide it with the material with which to make such claims(Lynch, 2006).

[x] These are all features of what I call the ‘managed CV’. In using this term I am itemizing how ‘new public management’ and the auditing culture of education work as kinds of ‘illusion tricks’, to borrow a phrase from Mats Alvesson. These are processes whereby we are invited to think of our academic labour in terms of ‘outputs’, and to massage and manipulate these outputs in order to create an ‘impression’ that feeds the status competition of our employing institutions. Linked to this is the rise of particular kinds of management practice that seek to align our individual academic practices to institutional strategy(Decramer, 2011; Decramer & Smolders, 2013; Deem, 1998; Deem, Hillyard, & Reed, 2007b; 2007a).

[xi] I am speaking directly to Arthur Frank’s championing of the ‘standpoint of the storyteller’ as an antidote to the disembodied, socially and politically dislocated ‘hegemonic tales’. Frank argues for the standpoint of the storyteller, that story infers relationship with a listener, that storytelling invites other stories, other listenings, not just analysis from nowhere.  Standpoint is the opposite of speaking from nowhere.  It privileges a location (in theory, in methodology, in politics).  It is an ethical stance.  But it is not fixed, immovable.  It demands a responsibility.

[xii] Like the technologies that are ubiquitous and appear benign, performance management and strategic alignment disguise power and the powerful. It took the Wikileaks scandal to bring the attention of most people to the way large corporations routinely appropriated our personal data, and colluded with national security services. In this part of the text I invite the reader to imagine, not just a world without these technologies, instead to rely on their own judgment and ethical choosing, but to imagine different academic worlds where we didn’t so willingly give ourselves to the spying eyes of the audit culture.

[xiii] The dérive, in its original formulation, was both a method of analysis and a manifesto for social transformation. Dérive, or the associated practice of psychogeography, can be methods for inquiring into the way academic practice is being re-made under the pressure of research assessment exercises, global league tables, and performance management. It is a methodology, in both a metaphorical sense and substantively, for inquiring into the neo-liberal university. It is an investigation into the ways new routines of teaching, researching, and socializing in the university re-form the social relations of academic practice. Metaphorically it works here to step out of the comfort of ‘known’ methodology and see where the language of the SI and psychogeography takes me in how I think and write. In that sense it has a similar function to the poetic approach. As metaphor it is also a way of speaking of ‘career’ in a different way, of reframing academic practice beyond and against the confines of the current situation. Substantively, it also provides a methodology, a way of doing inquiry that is only ‘aimless’ in that it is not designed to fit with strategic alignment, is not done with global league tables or audit points in mind (Bonnett, n.d. for more on psychogeography as political inquiry; Bridger, 2010; see Jenks & Neves, 2000).

[xiv] There is, I hope, a clear line of travel emerging here that links ‘subversive stories’ with the ‘poetic’ approach to ‘dérive’ and now to ‘autoethnography’. The heuristic of the ‘layered account’ I borrow from Carol Rambo Ronai (Ronai, 1998; 1999). In particular I take this image of layers on a journey through Tami Spry’s distinction between ‘being there’ and being here’(Spry, 2001), between the ‘thereness’ of the narrative and poetic and introspective and the ‘hereness’ of the analytic, so mirroring other calls for a careful oscillation between the literary and the academic voice (eds, 2009; Ellis, 1991; 1997; 1999). It is in this oscillation that I make use of ‘found objects’ – diary, email, scholarly text, policy briefing, etc. It is here that the artifice of fabricating (or creating) a truth account happens, its validity arising from the degree to which my story connects and also becomes your story, becomes a collective story .

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My decision to write this piece in verse (and the presentation iWriting of the Heart: Auto-ethnographic Writing as Subversive Story Telling[i]

 

 

1 a(n) (un) kind [of] introduction

13th February 2012

as with every day last week, and all through the conference and study school, I get up, I wash and dress. I have breakfast –– something resembling breakfast. I put on the mask and perform the competent academic and adult. Inside, though, I am dissolving. Each moment it is harder to maintain this fiction of calmness, of togetherness’…I am caught between anxiety and normality. Normality is increasingly unreal. Anxiety is increasingly normal. The idea of facing all my colleagues tomorrow at the staff meetingGod, I dont knowI MUST. I MUSTjust get through this weekGET THROUGH THIS WEEK.

“A 2012 survey on occupational stress carried out by the University and College Union found that staff in British universities are more stressed now than in 2008, and experience considerably higher average levels of stress relating to the demands made on them at work than the British working population as a whole.”[ii]

I have moved here from a ‘me’ story to an ‘us’ story;

from a personal biographical account to a scholastic account. The first is an extract from my personal diary

the night before I finally succumbed to….clinical depression. The second is a report of a survey in the British Guardian newspaper.

They both speak of the same phenomena,

but in different ways.

The energy produced

by placing these two different texts next to each other –

the first pathic, the second gnostic[iii]

is the kind of energy that is produced by a ‘layered account’

as found in much autoethnographic work[iv].

And this approach to speaking of academic life and practice is the content of this text.

The writing is about my experience of a particular context –

of the impossibly competing demands between teaching, research

and administration.

Increasing student numbers

with fewer resources

whilst also increasing research productivity

and ‘grant capture’

in a culture of measurement and surveillance[v].

This is a context where the very institutions we work in and for create what what Barabara Jago has called ‘academic depression’,

and what Art Bochner refers to as

 

‘…institutional depression, a pattern of anxiety, hopelessness, demoralization, isolation, and disharmony that circulates through university life.,

the way we succumb to performative institutional culture, especially the ways we are conditioned to split our academic and personal lives,

to privilege the former and suppress the latter[vi].

Academic depression, as discussed here,

is then both a disenchantment with the romance of a scholarly life

and psychological trauma.

BUT – How do we write…how do we write

of ‘academic depression’ without emptying the experience of its visceral reality?

In this text I draw on a number of personal,

intellectual,

and cultural resources

to tell a story about how I am trying to write of academic depression, of writing a:

MY/YOU/US STORY of life in the modern university.

In particular I speak to the capacity of autoethnographic writing to be transformative,

to remoralise us in a context of demoralisation;

and of the pause [……..]

the pause that such writing and reading can create,

within which

different ways of being an academic can emerge.

But there is a craft to this

and I speak also to this craft-work.

I speak to a kind of playful writing,

of autoethnographic writing as a sampling and remixing of introspection, memory, anecdote and scholarly work

to create an evocative text.

2 confronting the SPECTACLE

 

This text represents something I want to term ‘authentic’. That is,

my experience of academic depression, I feel,

says something not just about me personally

but about a wider experience of academic life in neo-liberal times.

In reading the many texts of academic capitalism

or new public management

sometimes I feel as if I cannot see the human experience, the panic attacks,

the joy at being published,

the dark night of the day.

While eloquent in their analysis I cannot FEEL myself in them[vii].

I am involved in a project of redefining my academic purpose.

And in writing I want to enter into dialogue with others, and because of the mode of engagement – autoethnography –

I am signaling which kinds of folk I want to talk with,

what kinds of conversation I want to have.

There is an ethical dimension to this.

Autoethnography is an ethical choosing,

a political position.

BUT – but, at the same time, my efforts,

my existential choosing,

is caught up in what Guy Debord referred to as the SPECTACLE .

That is,

the substance of my authentic and choiceful activity is also taken up in the knowledge factory of the modern university,

emptied of meaningful content,

transformed into a commodity,

and utilized in the pursuit of institutional ambition[viii]. Imagine the modern world of global higher education as being like a fashion show.

What is important is the glamour,

the style,

the posturing.

What we are not invited to see is the ecological damage of a culture that persuades us that we MUST

keep going out to buy more and newer clothes

so that we end up with wardrobes bursting with unused items

while the majority of the world’s population struggle to secure the basics.

We are not invited to think about the child labour that will underpin the cheapness of the latest fashions we purchase.

In other words,

image and illusion come to dominate.

We don’t experience the world directly,

Debord argued,

instead

we increasingly meet the world through images of the world[ix].

3 academic life as sadomasochism

 

And so,

my article will be denuded of meaning,

it will be taken up by the production of writing plans,

it will be linked to performance indicators and professional development meetings,

it will become a commodity that is accumulated by the university,

and will eventually be reflected back to me as an item on my CV,

as part of an institutional submission

to a research assessment exercise –

as something emptied of its choicefulness,

of its ethical claim,

of its authenticity[x].

And this is perhaps why so many of us feel demoralised.

And so this is why it is important to write in ways that remoralise,

that can open up the possibility of imagining what an authentic academic might be –

to give moral purpose to what we do[xi].

4 and so the dérive

 

The ‘managed’ academic CV is one that increasingly must be cohesive,

must be linear.

BUT –but –

cohesiveness and linearity is a product of retrospection –

an afterthought.

Yet, we are asked to write plans AS IF intellectual thought was linear,

tidy,

bullet points.

This is a world that cannot entertain the idea of “dérive”,

of wandering of meandering through intellectual landscapes.

Imagine drawing a straight line on a map and attempting to follow that path regardless of what obstacles might be in the way;

of having to negotiate those obstacles as best we can;

of having to encounter people;

and to encounter the space without GPS or smartphone or Google Maps[xii].

Or psychogeography where you might be given a set of simple instructions

(2nd left, 1st right, 2nd left, repeat)

and use this to navigate an urban space

and to observe what you see and experience –

experience it directly without the concepts provided by a map.

Or, choosing a familiar space

(work building, journey to work, etc.)

you are asked to travel in silence.

The silence immediately forces

a pause,

a reflection,

where we might start to notice certain aspects of the ‘familiar’ environment in different ways,

where we might find ourselves drawn to certain objects, feelings, anticipations

As well as this mode of academic practice        being contrary to the managed CV

it is also how I am imagining the writing I am talking about.

It is much more akin to psychogeography –

a methodology that enables me to walk through my experience of academic depression in a structured way

but which makes possible new observations[xiii].

5 the aim of an aimless walk

 

A dérive is a methodology that poses this question –

what if there is no point B?

It is a methodology that invites the researcher

(me)

to begin in a particular place

  • now –

looking back at my experience of academic depression

– and to traverse this recovered experience with no specific destination in mind.

The dérive…

Is Disruptive –

like the walk following an arbitrary straight line

it is a methodology that is disruptive of traditional social scientific practice.

It disregards the arbitrary distinction between public and private –

so my person

and personal feelings

are viewed as important,

it plays with creative and scientific writing,

It is

An embodied methodology:

it places emphasis on capturing the emotive experience without rushing to abstraction….

it tries to speak of the bodily response

and not to give undue weight to the cognitive.

It places the pathic as equal to the gnostic…

part of the aim of an aimless walk

is to identify the way everyday life,

the mundane,

is ordered or structured.

But this requires something like the phenomenological reduction,

the bracketing of our normal understandings,

and the cultivation of a open attitude.

Similarly,

the wandering through cycles of introspection and analysis can,

it is hoped,

produce a kind of disorientation.

And disoriented

we identify what we find ourselves attracted to

(what incidents, emotions, ideas induce us towards them) and what discourages us

(what feels uncomfortable, distasteful).

IN OTHER WORDS

WHAT IS IT THAT PRESENTS ITSELF TO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS AND WHAT SENSE CAN WE MAKE OF IT?

6 – ethics

 

And so the dérive is also an ethical intervention to encourage a deep reflection on the nature of academic life as we live it.

A political intervention.

7 a layered account

 

One way of doing this in the craft of writing

is the use of the Layered Account

used to produce disruptive and evocative texts.

This can involve the varied use of memoir or diary,

as well as academic analysis

in order to reconnect the private and academic self –

as in my opening quotes.

It is Ruth Bihar’s combination of ‘a novelistic and scholarly voice’ ;

or Carolyn Ellis’ invitation

to write in a way that moves back and forth between personal introspection and academic reflection,

methods that are simultaneously social and psychological[xiv].

This is similar to the Situationist method of détournement.

 

 

 

Détournement is ‘culture jamming’ or ‘culture hacking’.

This is where everyday objects,

normally those associated with

power

and capitalism

and patriarchy

are subverted,

are hacked and reproduced –

where items from personal life are conjoined with scholarly writing

to disrupt our consciousness

and reveal not only the child labour behind the glamorous clothes,

but what this means to us,

what this feels like.

8 the naked academic?

 

It is a process of sampling and remixing everyday objects,

of using familiar items

and putting them together in ways that disrupt perceptions, that create new, possibly subversive stories.

The hope is to invoke such disruptions for me

but also for the reader.

To subvert the tidiness of academic writing that can abstract us from lived experience

That asserts academic life and academic practice as embodied and embedded in social-political space

That produces a pause

or intensified awareness of the object of study

so questioning my sense of being

and opening up space to reimagine academic life

AND IN REIMAGINING ACADEMIC LIFE

SEEK TO LIVE IT DIFFERENTLY

 

[i] Here I am paraphrasing the title of a paper by Patricia Ewick and Susan Silbey ‘Subversive Stories and Hegemonic Tales: Towards Sociology of Narrative’ where they argue for the production of ‘subversive stories, narratives that challenge the dominant understandings of our times, and in particular to make explicit the relationship between lives-as-lived and social structure(Ewick & Silbey, 1995). In this regard I am locating my own narrativisation as potentially a subversive act. My decision to write this piece in verse builds on this initial commitment. This poem could be categorized, following Monica Prendergast (Prendergast, Leggo, & Sameshima, 2009), as a form of “VOX THEORIA – Literature-voiced poems” (xxii), since it speaks of inquiry itself, the rationale for my particular auto-ethnographic approach.  In the ‘Introduction’ to this volume Ivan Brady discusses the way poetic inquiry gets up close and personal, inverts the telescope to magnify what is going on with life as lived (by us?).  It is a mode that disrupts the distancing technologies of academic research.  He makes the point that since research is a process of languaging, is dependent on language, it is already involved in poetics, in the use of metaphor for instance (xii) (see also Brady, 2004). Further more, the poetic can be conceived as a bridge, or method for linking life as lived to sociological writing, to make explicit the created, constructed, fabricated, ‘produced’ fact of sociological text (Richardson, 1993).  Poetry, or spoken-word, is used in an attempt to be authentic to the motivations for my research, for my social scientific writing.

[ii] While much media and scholarly attention has been focused on the stress and wellbeing of students in higher education, there is an increasing recognition of the impact of the intensification of academic labour on the lives and health of academics. Here I refer to a report by the University and College Union, the largest trade union and professional association for academics in UK higher education(Kinman & Wray, 2013). Therefore, the results would appear to be fairly representative of the situation facing British academics. The survey results clearly point to a perception of increasing work intensification and a decline in work-life balance. One aspect that emerges from the report is the rise in occupational stress as higher education institutions struggle to cope with increasing competition and performance management. It could be said that the reforms faced by higher education over the past 20 years are making people sick. This resonates with previous academic research in both the UK (Tytherleigh, Webb, Cooper, & Ricketts, 2005) and Australia (Gillespie, Walsh, Winefield, Dua, & Stough, 2001).

[iii] Max van Manen, in a number of papers, refers to the ‘pathic’ and the ‘gnostic’ aspects of knowing (van Manen, 2007; van Manen & Li, 2001). Whereas the ‘gnostic’ relates to knowledge as we would normally understand it – that is in terms of the cognitive, ‘pathic’ knowing is related to ideas of empathy or sympathy, to the affective and kinesthetic aspects of knowing. He discusses this most poignantly in his examination of the practice of nursing and the combination of ‘pathic’ and ‘gnostic’ knowing required in order to be competent. This stress upon the ‘pathic’ is important in terms of the importance I give to affective in both a commitment to an passionate ethnography and role of the senses in academic practice as a form of dérive.

[iv] The particular ‘craft’ of autoethnographic writing indexed here will be addressed more fully later.

[v] I return to these themes again more fully when addressing the notion of the ‘managed CV’.

[vi] I am indebted to both Barbara Jago and Art Bochter both in terms of personal support (Barbara) and political/scholarly license (both). Early in my attempts to give scholarly meaning to my experience of depression and its place in academic life I came across their work. They were ‘beginnings’ as Edward Said might put it, instances that have provoked me to continue this particular project. Both have exposed themselves, something that is not encouraged in academia where the masculine objective expert is King. They have placed the first-person account centre stage, and in doing so travelled with the sociological imagination, have connected the personal to the public, connected the way private experiences of trauma are related to the neo-liberal restructuring of academic practice(Bochner, 1997; JAGO, 2002).

[vii] I am inspired by much excellent scholarship that carefully details the way higher education is being remade in the image of neo-liberalism, as an adjunct of certain kinds of economic activity. In the North American context Sheila Slaughter, Larry Leslie, and Gary Rhoades have shown how academic practice has been pushed into the service of producing private rather than public goods, of being an aspect of a market economy (Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter & Leslie, 1999). Other scholars have demonstrated how this is a global phenomena, and furthermore, that the specific features of globalized higher education competition are overdetermined by the image of economically and socially prestigious institutions (Marginson, 2000; 2004; Marginson & Considine, 2000; Marginson & Rhoades, 2002).   This mirrors the analysis by such scholars as Pierre Bourdieu and others (Bourdieu, 1988; Naidoo, 2004; 2008). But what I feel is missing, for me, in these works is the felt experience. This is not a criticism of these scholars. Not at all. But I do raise a concerned hand and seek to point out that we can only go so far narrating this story of neo-liberal capture through the disembodied language of orthodox academic writing. Politically, we need to accept the invitation offered by Critical Race Theory that the production of ‘counter-narratives’ is essential in destabilising ‘hegemonic tales’ (Delgado, 1989; 1990; Rollock, 2012).

[viii] I am clearly making direct reference to Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ (Debord, 2009). This text emerged out of the revolutionary climate of Paris leading up to and just beyond 1968. It was one of the key texts of the Situationist International (SI), combining anti-authoritarian Marxism with the radical artistic movements of Dada and Surrealism. I draw on some of the key terminology of the SI both analogously and substantively. As analogies terms such as ‘spectacle’, ‘ dérive’, and ‘détournement’ enable me broaden my descriptive and analytical imagery, and employ terms that have the potential to be disruptive because the reader or listener, encountering something perhaps unfamiliar, will have to pay attention and consider the meaning of what I say. In that sense they work as heuristic devices. But I also use them substantively, momentarily aligning myself with the ambition, if not the actual content, of the SI. Of central importance for the project contained in this text is the desire to assert that academic writing is artifice, is an act of creation and construction. Referring back to the case I make for writing in verse, this SI terminology also questions the presumption that normal academic writing is ‘natural’ and close to ‘natural speech’, whereas art is not.

[ix] In reading Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ I am struck by how much it resonates with contemporary higher education. One phrase rings loud in my mind: “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”. using a different descriptive language Mats Alvesson discusses how modern globalised higher education is increasingly devoid of substance and is overtaken by an obsession with image, brand, and impression management. For Alvesson, the modern university is caught up in a competitive struggle for relative status. The actual substance of academic labour – what we teach, what we research, our contributions to knowledge, are of less importance than the marginal improvement in our standing in relation to other higher education institutions. The behaviour of university managers is dominated by grandiose claims and boosting the institutions image(Alvesson, 2013). In other words, SPECTACLE. And in this climate the university becomes increasingly careless of the humans who work within it and provide it with the material with which to make such claims(Lynch, 2006).

[x] These are all features of what I call the ‘managed CV’. In using this term I am itemizing how ‘new public management’ and the auditing culture of education work as kinds of ‘illusion tricks’, to borrow a phrase from Mats Alvesson. These are processes whereby we are invited to think of our academic labour in terms of ‘outputs’, and to massage and manipulate these outputs in order to create an ‘impression’ that feeds the status competition of our employing institutions. Linked to this is the rise of particular kinds of management practice that seek to align our individual academic practices to institutional strategy(Decramer, 2011; Decramer & Smolders, 2013; Deem, 1998; Deem, Hillyard, & Reed, 2007b; 2007a).

[xi] I am speaking directly to Arthur Frank’s championing of the ‘standpoint of the storyteller’ as an antidote to the disembodied, socially and politically dislocated ‘hegemonic tales’. Frank argues for the standpoint of the storyteller, that story infers relationship with a listener, that storytelling invites other stories, other listenings, not just analysis from nowhere.  Standpoint is the opposite of speaking from nowhere.  It privileges a location (in theory, in methodology, in politics).  It is an ethical stance.  But it is not fixed, immovable.  It demands a responsibility.

[xii] Like the technologies that are ubiquitous and appear benign, performance management and strategic alignment disguise power and the powerful. It took the Wikileaks SOMETHING to bring the attention of most people to the way large corporations routinely appropriated our personal data, and colluded with national security services. In this part of the text I invite the reader to imagine, not just a world without these technologies, instead to rely on their own judgment and ethical choosing, but to imagine different academic worlds where we didn’t so willingly give ourselves to the spying eyes of the audit culture.

[xiii] The dérive, in its original formulation, was both a method of analysis and a manifesto for social transformation. Dérive, or the associated practice of psychogeography, can be methods for inquiring into the way academic practice is being re-made under the pressure of research assessment exercises, global league tables, and performance management. It is a methodology, in both a metaphorical sense and substantively, for inquiring into the neo-liberal university. It is an investigation into the ways new routines of teaching, researching, and socializing in the university re-form the social relations of academic practice. Metaphorically it works here to step out of the comfort of ‘known’ methodology and see where the language of the SI and psychogeography takes me in how I think and write. In that sense it has a similar function to the poetic approach. As metaphor it is also a way of speaking of ‘career’ in a different way, of reframing academic practice beyond and against the confines of the current situation. Substantively, it also provides a methodology, a way of doing inquiry that is only ‘aimless’ in that it is not designed to fit with strategic alignment, is not done with global league tables or audit points in mind (Bonnett, n.d. for more on psychogeography as political inquiry; Bridger, 2010; see Jenks & Neves, 2000).

[xiv] There is, I hope, a clear line of travel emerging here that links ‘subversive stories’ with the ‘poetic’ approach to ‘dérive’ and now to ‘autoethnography’. The heuristic of the ‘layered account’ I borrow from Carol Rambo Ronai (Ronai, 1998; 1999). In particular I take this image of layers on a journey through Tami Spry’s distinction between ‘being there’ and being here’(Spry, 2001), between the ‘thereness’ of the narrative and poetic and introspective and the ‘hereness’ of the analytic, so mirroring other calls for a careful oscillation between the literary and the academic voice (eds, 2009; Ellis, 1991; 1997; 1999). It is in this oscillation that I make use of ‘found objects’ – diary, email, scholarly text, policy briefing, etc. It is here that the artifice of fabricating (or creating) a truth account happens, its validity arising from the degree to which my story connects and also becomes your story, becomes a collective story .

References

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Bridger, A. J. (2010). Walking as a “Radicalized” Critical Psychological Method? A Review of Academic, Artistic and Activist Contributions to the Study of Social Environments. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(2), 131–139. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00243.x

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Decramer, A. (2011). Employee performance management in Higher Education.

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Deem, R., Hillyard, S., & Reed, M. (2007a). Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism. Oxford University Press.

Deem, R., Hillyard, S., & Reed, M. (2007b). Knowledge, higher education, and the new managerialism: The changing management of UK universities.

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Writing of the Heart: Auto-ethnographic Writing as Subversive Story Telling[i]

 

 

1 a(n) (un) kind [of] introduction

13th February 2012

as with every day last week, and all through the conference and study school, I get up, I wash and dress. I have breakfast –– something resembling breakfast. I put on the mask and perform the competent academic and adult. Inside, though, I am dissolving. Each moment it is harder to maintain this fiction of calmness, of togetherness’…I am caught between anxiety and normality. Normality is increasingly unreal. Anxiety is increasingly normal. The idea of facing all my colleagues tomorrow at the staff meetingGod, I dont knowI MUST. I MUSTjust get through this weekGET THROUGH THIS WEEK.

“A 2012 survey on occupational stress carried out by the University and College Union found that staff in British universities are more stressed now than in 2008, and experience considerably higher average levels of stress relating to the demands made on them at work than the British working population as a whole.”[ii]

I have moved here from a ‘me’ story to an ‘us’ story;

from a personal biographical account to a scholastic account. The first is an extract from my personal diary

the night before I finally succumbed to….clinical depression. The second is a report of a survey in the British Guardian newspaper.

They both speak of the same phenomena,

but in different ways.

The energy produced

by placing these two different texts next to each other –

the first pathic, the second gnostic[iii]

is the kind of energy that is produced by a ‘layered account’

as found in much autoethnographic work[iv].

And this approach to speaking of academic life and practice is the content of this text.

The writing is about my experience of a particular context –

of the impossibly competing demands between teaching, research

and administration.

Increasing student numbers

with fewer resources

whilst also increasing research productivity

and ‘grant capture’

in a culture of measurement and surveillance[v].

This is a context where the very institutions we work in and for create what what Barabara Jago has called ‘academic depression’,

and what Art Bochner refers to as

 

‘…institutional depression, a pattern of anxiety, hopelessness, demoralization, isolation, and disharmony that circulates through university life.,

the way we succumb to performative institutional culture, especially the ways we are conditioned to split our academic and personal lives,

to privilege the former and suppress the latter[vi].

Academic depression, as discussed here,

is then both a disenchantment with the romance of a scholarly life

and psychological trauma.

BUT – How do we write…how do we write

of ‘academic depression’ without emptying the experience of its visceral reality?

In this text I draw on a number of personal,

intellectual,

and cultural resources

to tell a story about how I am trying to write of academic depression, of writing a:

MY/YOU/US STORY of life in the modern university.

In particular I speak to the capacity of autoethnographic writing to be transformative,

to remoralise us in a context of demoralisation;

and of the pause [……..]

the pause that such writing and reading can create,

within which

different ways of being an academic can emerge.

But there is a craft to this

and I speak also to this craft-work.

I speak to a kind of playful writing,

of autoethnographic writing as a sampling and remixing of introspection, memory, anecdote and scholarly work

to create an evocative text.

2 confronting the SPECTACLE

 

This text represents something I want to term ‘authentic’. That is,

my experience of academic depression, I feel,

says something not just about me personally

but about a wider experience of academic life in neo-liberal times.

In reading the many texts of academic capitalism

or new public management

sometimes I feel as if I cannot see the human experience, the panic attacks,

the joy at being published,

the dark night of the day.

While eloquent in their analysis I cannot FEEL myself in them[vii].

I am involved in a project of redefining my academic purpose.

And in writing I want to enter into dialogue with others, and because of the mode of engagement – autoethnography –

I am signaling which kinds of folk I want to talk with,

what kinds of conversation I want to have.

There is an ethical dimension to this.

Autoethnography is an ethical choosing,

a political position.

BUT – but, at the same time, my efforts,

my existential choosing,

is caught up in what Guy Debord referred to as the SPECTACLE .

That is,

the substance of my authentic and choiceful activity is also taken up in the knowledge factory of the modern university,

emptied of meaningful content,

transformed into a commodity,

and utilized in the pursuit of institutional ambition[viii]. Imagine the modern world of global higher education as being like a fashion show.

What is important is the glamour,

the style,

the posturing.

What we are not invited to see is the ecological damage of a culture that persuades us that we MUST

keep going out to buy more and newer clothes

so that we end up with wardrobes bursting with unused items

while the majority of the world’s population struggle to secure the basics.

We are not invited to think about the child labour that will underpin the cheapness of the latest fashions we purchase.

In other words,

image and illusion come to dominate.

We don’t experience the world directly,

Debord argued,

instead

we increasingly meet the world through images of the world[ix].

3 academic life as sadomasochism

 

And so,

my article will be denuded of meaning,

it will be taken up by the production of writing plans,

it will be linked to performance indicators and professional development meetings,

it will become a commodity that is accumulated by the university,

and will eventually be reflected back to me as an item on my CV,

as part of an institutional submission

to a research assessment exercise –

as something emptied of its choicefulness,

of its ethical claim,

of its authenticity[x].

And this is perhaps why so many of us feel demoralised.

And so this is why it is important to write in ways that remoralise,

that can open up the possibility of imagining what an authentic academic might be –

to give moral purpose to what we do[xi].

4 and so the dérive

 

The ‘managed’ academic CV is one that increasingly must be cohesive,

must be linear.

BUT –but –

cohesiveness and linearity is a product of retrospection –

an afterthought.

Yet, we are asked to write plans AS IF intellectual thought was linear,

tidy,

bullet points.

This is a world that cannot entertain the idea of “ c”,

of wandering of meandering through intellectual landscapes.

Imagine drawing a straight line on a map and attempting to follow that path regardless of what obstacles might be in the way;

of having to negotiate those obstacles as best we can;

of having to encounter people;

and to encounter the space without GPS or smartphone or Google Maps[xii].

Or psychogeography where you might be given a set of simple instructions

(2nd left, 1st right, 2nd left, repeat)

and use this to navigate an urban space

and to observe what you see and experience –

experience it directly without the concepts provided by a map.

Or, choosing a familiar space

(work building, journey to work, etc.)

you are asked to travel in silence.

The silence immediately forces

a pause,

a reflection,

where we might start to notice certain aspects of the ‘familiar’ environment in different ways,

where we might find ourselves drawn to certain objects, feelings, anticipations

As well as this mode of academic practice        being contrary to the managed CV

it is also how I am imagining the writing I am talking about.

It is much more akin to psychogeography –

a methodology that enables me to walk through my experience of academic depression in a structured way

but which makes possible new observations[xiii].

5 the aim of an aimless walk

 

A dérive is a methodology that poses this question –

what if there is no point B?

It is a methodology that invites the researcher

(me)

to begin in a particular place

  • now –

looking back at my experience of academic depression

– and to traverse this recovered experience with no specific destination in mind.

The dérive…

Is Disruptive –

like the walk following an arbitrary straight line

it is a methodology that is disruptive of traditional social scientific practice.

It disregards the arbitrary distinction between public and private –

so my person

and personal feelings

are viewed as important,

it plays with creative and scientific writing,

It is

An embodied methodology:

it places emphasis on capturing the emotive experience without rushing to abstraction….

it tries to speak of the bodily response

and not to give undue weight to the cognitive.

It places the pathic as equal to the gnostic…

part of the aim of an aimless walk

is to identify the way everyday life,

the mundane,

is ordered or structured.

But this requires something like the phenomenological reduction,

the bracketing of our normal understandings,

and the cultivation of a open attitude.

Similarly,

the wandering through cycles of introspection and analysis can,

it is hoped,

produce a kind of disorientation.

And disoriented

we identify what we find ourselves attracted to

(what incidents, emotions, ideas induce us towards them) and what discourages us

(what feels uncomfortable, distasteful).

IN OTHER WORDS

WHAT IS IT THAT PRESENTS ITSELF TO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS AND WHAT SENSE CAN WE MAKE OF IT?

6 – ethics

 

And so the dérive is also an ethical intervention to encourage a deep reflection on the nature of academic life as we live it.

A political intervention.

7 a layered account

 

One way of doing this in the craft of writing

is the use of the Layered Account

used to produce disruptive and evocative texts.

This can involve the varied use of memoir or diary,

as well as academic analysis

in order to reconnect the private and academic self –

as in my opening quotes.

It is Ruth Bihar’s combination of ‘a novelistic and scholarly voice’ ;

or Carolyn Ellis’ invitation

to write in a way that moves back and forth between personal introspection and academic reflection,

methods that are simultaneously social and psychological[xiv].

This is similar to the Situationist method of détournement.

 

 

 

Détournement is ‘culture jamming’ or ‘culture hacking’.

This is where everyday objects,

normally those associated with

power

and capitalism

and patriarchy

are subverted,

are hacked and reproduced –

where items from personal life are conjoined with scholarly writing

to disrupt our consciousness

and reveal not only the child labour behind the glamorous clothes,

but what this means to us,

what this feels like.

8 the naked academic?

 

It is a process of sampling and remixing everyday objects,

of using familiar items

and putting them together in ways that disrupt perceptions, that create new, possibly subversive stories.

The hope is to invoke such disruptions for me

but also for the reader.

To subvert the tidiness of academic writing that can abstract us from lived experience

That asserts academic life and academic practice as embodied and embedded in social-political space

That produces a pause

or intensified awareness of the object of study

so questioning my sense of being

and opening up space to reimagine academic life

AND IN REIMAGINING ACADEMIC LIFE

SEEK TO LIVE IT DIFFERENTLY

 

[i] Here I am paraphrasing the title of a paper by Patricia Ewick and Susan Silbey ‘Subversive Stories and Hegemonic Tales: Towards Sociology of Narrative’ where they argue for the production of ‘subversive stories, narratives that challenge the dominant understandings of our times, and in particular to make explicit the relationship between lives-as-lived and social structure(Ewick & Silbey, 1995). In this regard I am locating my own narrativisation as potentially a subversive act. My decision to write this piece in verse builds on this initial commitment. This poem could be categorized, following Monica Prendergast (Prendergast, Leggo, & Sameshima, 2009), as a form of “VOX THEORIA – Literature-voiced poems” (xxii), since it speaks of inquiry itself, the rationale for my particular auto-ethnographic approach.  In the ‘Introduction’ to this volume Ivan Brady discusses the way poetic inquiry gets up close and personal, inverts the telescope to magnify what is going on with life as lived (by us?).  It is a mode that disrupts the distancing technologies of academic research.  He makes the point that since research is a process of languaging, is dependent on language, it is already involved in poetics, in the use of metaphor for instance (xii) (see also Brady, 2004). Further more, the poetic can be conceived as a bridge, or method for linking life as lived to sociological writing, to make explicit the created, constructed, fabricated, ‘produced’ fact of sociological text (Richardson, 1993).  Poetry, or spoken-word, is used in an attempt to be authentic to the motivations for my research, for my social scientific writing.

[ii] While much media and scholarly attention has been focused on the stress and wellbeing of students in higher education, there is an increasing recognition of the impact of the intensification of academic labour on the lives and health of academics. Here I refer to a report by the University and College Union, the largest trade union and professional association for academics in UK higher education(Kinman & Wray, 2013). Therefore, the results would appear to be fairly representative of the situation facing British academics. The survey results clearly point to a perception of increasing work intensification and a decline in work-life balance. One aspect that emerges from the report is the rise in occupational stress as higher education institutions struggle to cope with increasing competition and performance management. It could be said that the reforms faced by higher education over the past 20 years are making people sick. This resonates with previous academic research in both the UK (Tytherleigh, Webb, Cooper, & Ricketts, 2005) and Australia (Gillespie, Walsh, Winefield, Dua, & Stough, 2001).

[iii] Max van Manen, in a number of papers, refers to the ‘pathic’ and the ‘gnostic’ aspects of knowing (van Manen, 2007; van Manen & Li, 2001). Whereas the ‘gnostic’ relates to knowledge as we would normally understand it – that is in terms of the cognitive, ‘pathic’ knowing is related to ideas of empathy or sympathy, to the affective and kinesthetic aspects of knowing. He discusses this most poignantly in his examination of the practice of nursing and the combination of ‘pathic’ and ‘gnostic’ knowing required in order to be competent. This stress upon the ‘pathic’ is important in terms of the importance I give to affective in both a commitment to an passionate ethnography and role of the senses in academic practice as a form of dérive.

[iv] The particular ‘craft’ of autoethnographic writing indexed here will be addressed more fully later.

[v] I return to these themes again more fully when addressing the notion of the ‘managed CV’.

[vi] I am indebted to both Barbara Jago and Art Bochter both in terms of personal support (Barbara) and political/scholarly license (both). Early in my attempts to give scholarly meaning to my experience of depression and its place in academic life I came across their work. They were ‘beginnings’ as Edward Said might put it, instances that have provoked me to continue this particular project. Both have exposed themselves, something that is not encouraged in academia where the masculine objective expert is King. They have placed the first-person account centre stage, and in doing so travelled with the sociological imagination, have connected the personal to the public, connected the way private experiences of trauma are related to the neo-liberal restructuring of academic practice(Bochner, 1997; JAGO, 2002).

[vii] I am inspired by much excellent scholarship that carefully details the way higher education is being remade in the image of neo-liberalism, as an adjunct of certain kinds of economic activity. In the North American context Sheila Slaughter, Larry Leslie, and Gary Rhoades have shown how academic practice has been pushed into the service of producing private rather than public goods, of being an aspect of a market economy (Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter & Leslie, 1999). Other scholars have demonstrated how this is a global phenomena, and furthermore, that the specific features of globalized higher education competition are overdetermined by the image of economically and socially prestigious institutions (Marginson, 2000; 2004; Marginson & Considine, 2000; Marginson & Rhoades, 2002).   This mirrors the analysis by such scholars as Pierre Bourdieu and others (Bourdieu, 1988; Naidoo, 2004; 2008). But what I feel is missing, for me, in these works is the felt experience. This is not a criticism of these scholars. Not at all. But I do raise a concerned hand and seek to point out that we can only go so far narrating this story of neo-liberal capture through the disembodied language of orthodox academic writing. Politically, we need to accept the invitation offered by Critical Race Theory that the production of ‘counter-narratives’ is essential in destabilising ‘hegemonic tales’ (Delgado, 1989; 1990; Rollock, 2012).

[viii] I am clearly making direct reference to Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ (Debord, 2009). This text emerged out of the revolutionary climate of Paris leading up to and just beyond 1968. It was one of the key texts of the Situationist International (SI), combining anti-authoritarian Marxism with the radical artistic movements of Dada and Surrealism. I draw on some of the key terminology of the SI both analogously and substantively. As analogies terms such as ‘spectacle’, ‘ dérive’, and ‘détournement’ enable me broaden my descriptive and analytical imagery, and employ terms that have the potential to be disruptive because the reader or listener, encountering something perhaps unfamiliar, will have to pay attention and consider the meaning of what I say. In that sense they work as heuristic devices. But I also use them substantively, momentarily aligning myself with the ambition, if not the actual content, of the SI. Of central importance for the project contained in this text is the desire to assert that academic writing is artifice, is an act of creation and construction. Referring back to the case I make for writing in verse, this SI terminology also questions the presumption that normal academic writing is ‘natural’ and close to ‘natural speech’, whereas art is not.

[ix] In reading Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ I am struck by how much it resonates with contemporary higher education. One phrase rings loud in my mind: “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”. using a different descriptive language Mats Alvesson discusses how modern globalised higher education is increasingly devoid of substance and is overtaken by an obsession with image, brand, and impression management. For Alvesson, the modern university is caught up in a competitive struggle for relative status. The actual substance of academic labour – what we teach, what we research, our contributions to knowledge, are of less importance than the marginal improvement in our standing in relation to other higher education institutions. The behaviour of university managers is dominated by grandiose claims and boosting the institutions image(Alvesson, 2013). In other words, SPECTACLE. And in this climate the university becomes increasingly careless of the humans who work within it and provide it with the material with which to make such claims(Lynch, 2006).

[x] These are all features of what I call the ‘managed CV’. In using this term I am itemizing how ‘new public management’ and the auditing culture of education work as kinds of ‘illusion tricks’, to borrow a phrase from Mats Alvesson. These are processes whereby we are invited to think of our academic labour in terms of ‘outputs’, and to massage and manipulate these outputs in order to create an ‘impression’ that feeds the status competition of our employing institutions. Linked to this is the rise of particular kinds of management practice that seek to align our individual academic practices to institutional strategy(Decramer, 2011; Decramer & Smolders, 2013; Deem, 1998; Deem, Hillyard, & Reed, 2007b; 2007a).

[xi] I am speaking directly to Arthur Frank’s championing of the ‘standpoint of the storyteller’ as an antidote to the disembodied, socially and politically dislocated ‘hegemonic tales’. Frank argues for the standpoint of the storyteller, that story infers relationship with a listener, that storytelling invites other stories, other listenings, not just analysis from nowhere.  Standpoint is the opposite of speaking from nowhere.  It privileges a location (in theory, in methodology, in politics).  It is an ethical stance.  But it is not fixed, immovable.  It demands a responsibility.

[xii] Like the technologies that are ubiquitous and appear benign, performance management and strategic alignment disguise power and the powerful. It took the Wikileaks SOMETHING to bring the attention of most people to the way large corporations routinely appropriated our personal data, and colluded with national security services. In this part of the text I invite the reader to imagine, not just a world without these technologies, instead to rely on their own judgment and ethical choosing, but to imagine different academic worlds where we didn’t so willingly give ourselves to the spying eyes of the audit culture.

[xiii] The dérive, in its original formulation, was both a method of analysis and a manifesto for social transformation. Dérive, or the associated practice of psychogeography, can be methods for inquiring into the way academic practice is being re-made under the pressure of research assessment exercises, global league tables, and performance management. It is a methodology, in both a metaphorical sense and substantively, for inquiring into the neo-liberal university. It is an investigation into the ways new routines of teaching, researching, and socializing in the university re-form the social relations of academic practice. Metaphorically it works here to step out of the comfort of ‘known’ methodology and see where the language of the SI and psychogeography takes me in how I think and write. In that sense it has a similar function to the poetic approach. As metaphor it is also a way of speaking of ‘career’ in a different way, of reframing academic practice beyond and against the confines of the current situation. Substantively, it also provides a methodology, a way of doing inquiry that is only ‘aimless’ in that it is not designed to fit with strategic alignment, is not done with global league tables or audit points in mind (Bonnett, n.d. for more on psychogeography as political inquiry; Bridger, 2010; see Jenks & Neves, 2000).

[xiv] There is, I hope, a clear line of travel emerging here that links ‘subversive stories’ with the ‘poetic’ approach to ‘dérive’ and now to ‘autoethnography’. The heuristic of the ‘layered account’ I borrow from Carol Rambo Ronai (Ronai, 1998; 1999). In particular I take this image of layers on a journey through Tami Spry’s distinction between ‘being there’ and being here’(Spry, 2001), between the ‘thereness’ of the narrative and poetic and introspective and the ‘hereness’ of the analytic, so mirroring other calls for a careful oscillation between the literary and the academic voice (eds, 2009; Ellis, 1991; 1997; 1999). It is in this oscillation that I make use of ‘found objects’ – diary, email, scholarly text, policy briefing, etc. It is here that the artifice of fabricating (or creating) a truth account happens, its validity arising from the degree to which my story connects and also becomes your story, becomes a collective story .

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