Monday, October 25, 2010

Thinking about what I need: Notes on the concept of 'Slow Academy'

About a week ago we as an editorial collective wondered to one another whether or not we should worry about the slowing number of comments. Is this a dark portents? we asked each other, Or is it October? My vote was for October. (Though I did think, lord, just wait for February, that "month with rue at its heart," as an old mentor of mine once wrote).

On Friday Aimée asked readers to think about what we need now that we're here in the "trough of the semester" (awesome phrase! I'm co-opting it).

No one answered. Too busy? Too Friday? Too difficult, wishful, naive, hopeful, fearful, to write a list of needs?

So today I find myself reflecting on what I need, and especially what I need from this blog.

When Heather and I first spoke about her idea for a feminist academic blog based in the Canadian context she mentioned 'slow academy.'
"As in Carlo Petrini?!" I exclaimed
Now I have to admit that my memory for exact details starts to falter here, but I'm fairly certain her reply was in the affirmative.

If you're not familiar with Petrini, your might be familiar with his Slow Food movement. Here's an excerpt from the book:
"Slow food seeks to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive efforts of an industrial food system and fast life; toward the regenerative cultural, ecological, social, and economic benefits of a sustainable food system, regional food traditions, the pleasures of the table, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life."

When my co-conspirator mentioned slow academy I immediately started to imagine what that might mean, and I have to admit, I didn't really get very far. But as I return to Petrini's book in an attempt at nighttime reading that has nothing to do with last minute lecture prep (the result of which, for me, is almost always anxiety dreams involving missing class or showing up without some item of clothing or some equally transparent-yet-unnerving scenario) I find myself reinvigorated by the movement's aim.

Notice that while the lynchpin is food, the aim is cultural change. While I would like to believe that those of us working in the academy at all levels are doing so because we want to effect some kind of positive cultural change, the fact is that is really, really difficult to feel, see, and...maybe...accomplish. You'll notice that one of the most oft-used tags in our posts is 'turgid institution.' Le sigh.

So, using Petrini's text as inspiration, here's my attempt to start imagining what a slow academy might be trying to do; I've replaced 'food' (& a few others) with 'academy' (or the like):

Slow Academy seeks to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive effects of an industrial education system and fast life; toward a regenerative cultural, ecological, social, and economic benefits of a sustainable education system, regional education traditions, the pleasures of the university environment, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of discourse.

Hmm. Not bad. What would 'sustainable education systems' that are built on both 'regional education traditions' and the 'pleasures of the university environment' (which I read as a site of potential multiplicitous engagement) look like?

They would certainly need reflect the people that make up this country. To do this they would also need to take into account various kinds of epistemologies, languages, learning practices, and traditions. Sustainable education systems would need to think through how the classroom is constructed, how work is evaluated, how labour is valued and remunerated. They would have to rethink hiring practices and curriculum...

In case you're wondering, here's how my musing about Slow Academy fits into my opening observations: despite being busy and in spite of the potential of being branded a Pollyanna writing for this blog has become a way of opening space, of creating the possibility of engaged encounter without expecting that invitation will be accepted (or, if accepted, that it will be accepted in good spirit).

Which is to say: I need the possibility of change, and a place to imagine how to effect that change (however slow, however wishful).

I need the possibility of a Slow Academy.

7 comments:

  1. OK, I'll comment, because there is nothing like guilt to make a woman in the academy respond. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that this blog -- the site, by the way, that I look forward to reading every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (with occasional surprises on the other work days)because I know there will be something profound, stimulating, funny and basically true posted there every time -- is compelling its readers to respond by using guilt. I'm really not. But I think many of us (academics generally? women academics in particular?) do things because we feel we "should"; because no-one else will; because we're asked to by people we respect and value (that would be y'all).

    But, in truth, I think it's October. I just graded 100 mid-term [lord, why do we let some of these poor souls into university?], gave a conference paper, prepped a seminar, and decided that going to the gym was more important than building a relationship with my partner. But this is no more (and probably a lot less) than what we all do. This is academia: a screwed-up place where we do the equivalent of a year's work in 8 months. And then spend the other 4 months doing our "other" job -- the one that gives us tenure and recognition by our peers. Is this better or worse than the "real" world? Not if my corporate-world partner's life is any example (although she gets weekends off!)

    I love the idea of a slow academy, a place for reflection and intellectual exploration. But that hasn't existed since...(where are the early modernists and scholars of ancient Greece when you need them?) and I fear that such a place cannot exist while we are asked to do 3 different jobs at the same time (ie teaching, research, administration): who has time for reflection when there are classes to give and papers to grade?

    So thank you, Hook and Eye for being a place where I stop (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and read and usually smile -- and, sadly, rarely post because I'm too preoccupied with my afternoon class to write an appropriate and well-thought-out comment. (hmmm, perfectionism: a future post?)

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  2. Ditto. :)

    Yes, it's October, life is full, and comments are spent on papers more than blogs. But Hook&Eye gives me a few minutes of calm before I start the day, and that's a step in the right direction.

    Also: "It's necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant." James D. Watson: (1928-____); US biochemist.

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  3. SC, I love that quotation! I know it's true for me!

    Venus in furs, I just spent the weekend writing with an academic buddy, and I told her, and it's true, that this is the first term since my first one here that I've only rarely worked more than 35 hours a week (usually because of service on grad committee [app vetting] and appointments committee [app vetting, interview days, deliberation]. And it's true. I'm kinda miserable now, having desperately overcommitted on the research and teaching fronts. But generally, I've been pretty good at slowing down my own academy. But not recently: it's the tenure year that completely blew my equilibrium (mental and physical) right out of the water.

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  4. Lots of research supporting the importance of "empty time" (slow time) for creative problem solving. We all know this intuitively. Time to walk the walk. Or maybe stroll the stroll?

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/daydreams-may-solve-complex-problems/article1134033/

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/why-the-best-ideas-spring-up-in-the-shower/article1765407/

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  5. Perhaps it would help if there were a widget of some kind to the right-hand column that displayed the most recently commented on posts? That would make it so that we could comment on a post from a few days/weeks ago with the knowledge that readers would see that we had commented on it and read/respond to our comments, which could encourage us to keep discussions alive over a longer period of time.

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  6. Matt: what a great idea! Does such a thing exist? I shall now procrastinate by trolling the interwebs for such a device...

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  7. Erin: It looks like this might do the trick? http://trick-blog.blogspot.com/2008/08/show-recent-comments.html

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