resistance to blogging to save the new precariat

Last week I posted about the absurdity of blogging to save the new (academic) precariat. The next day Agnes Bosanquet (the slow academic) quoted some writing/thinking by sociologist Barbara Grant:

Collective political resistance to [research audit regimes] has not been a feature of the academic landscape … In [our] interviews, there was largely an absence of the emotions of anger, fear and frustration usually associated with collective resistance … Unlike fear, anxiety seems a weak basis for political action …

Yet other forms of resistance were present … individually and collectively. Individuals were deliberately maintaining their research interests in defiance of perceived [audit]-rewarded tends; departments were actively pursuing collegial rather than competitive practices …

https://theslowacademic.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/stars-small-targeted-acts-of-resistance/

I find Bosanquet’s thinking (and in this case her admiration and citation of Barbara Grant) inspiring and far more positive than just admitting defeat to the accelerated academy.

humans and collaborating

Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in the New Yorker is a striking piece of writing about how it might be that winning arguments has more value than reason.

So well do we collaborate … that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

I particularly like this quote because it is a clear reminder of how absurd ownership is in any creative activity.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

blogging to save the new precariat

Contemporary academic life is precarious; it’s fast, mean and lean. Our public aim is to build community around the practices and concerns associated with doctoral writing, but, in addition, we have come to recognise that, privately, we each depend on this space as a haven from the relentless demands of the rest of our academic lives. Since we began blogging, we have witnessed organisational restructures resulting in the need for many academics to reconstruct themselves. As more academics join the ‘new precariat’, it’s likely our primary places of identity construction and maintenance will become untied from a single institution. Blogging in this context lets us inhabit an independent, global space for personal and professional development and for building community.[1]

I find the idea of blogging as some kind of saviour for stressed academics (and academia) to be absurd. The authors seem to imply that: a) there’s no point in resisting the increasingly precarious nature of contemporary academic life; and b) academia must be ‘fast, mean and lean’.

It is a strange message: “resistance is futile, blogging will save us”.

Their suggestion seems to trivialise the effects of neoliberalism on academic life and lives.

I prefer the thinking and counsel of Maggie Berg and Barbara Karolina in the The Slow Professor:

Slowing down is about asserting the importance of contemplation, connectedness, fruition, and complexity. It gives meaning to letting research take the time it needs to ripen and makes it easier to resist the pressure to be faster. It gives meaning to thinking about scholarship as a community, not a competition. It gives meaning to periods of rest, an understanding that re- search does not run like a mechanism; there are rhythms, which include pauses and periods that may seem unproductive.[2]


  1. Claire Aitchison, Susan Carter, and Cally Guerin, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/06/25/academic-blogging-personal-professional-public/  ↩
  2. Berg, Maggie, and Barbara Karolina Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.57.  ↩

showing not telling

I’m deep into Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. I like Springsteen’s music (yes, since that video with Courtney Cox in 1984), and have been particularly drawn to his quieter solo albums like Nebraska, and The Ghost of Tom Joad. I’ve never been quite enough of a fan to go and see him perform, although his concerts are legendary (check out the 12 minute half-time performance at The Super Bowl in 2009 for a sample).

The autobiography is captivating: epic, vulnerable, loud, and full of heart. It’s like reading a dream – a very big dream – and it’s astonishing to get some insight into his ambition, his fragility, and his love.

Here are two brief quotes that have stayed with me.

On respecting audiences:

When you came to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart. Heart sealed the deal. That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective, with a professional code of honor. It is based on the principle that we bring our best, everything we have, on this night, to remind you of everything you have, your best. That it’s a privilege to exchange smiles, soul and heart directly with the people in front of you. That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.

On playing and shutting up:

I know how it works. I’ve done it. Play and shut up. My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING . . . not TELLING. You don’t TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide. That’s how I got here, by SHOWING people. You try to tell people what to think and you end up a little Madison Avenue mind fascist.

It’s SHOWtime. We go on. The audience seems reticent, the room feels uneasy. That’s my responsibility. You’ve got to let the audience feel that they’re coolly within your hands. That’s how you help them feel safe and free enough to let themselves go, to find whatever they’ve come looking for and be whoever they’ve come here to be.

On the Shore, mecca to the bar- and show-band elite, rabid disciples of the James Browns, the Sam Moores, the hard-core soul showmen who brought it every time they hit the stage, we come from where “professionalism” is not a dirty word. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . Motherfucker! That’s the time for action, for living, for manifesting life, for BRINGING IT! . . . NOT for dipping into the black recesses to pick the lint out of your belly button.

anamnesis italiano

In 2009 I made a short film called Anamnesis with Cormac Lally, Bagryana Popov, David Corbet, and Liz Jones. Around that time I asked Marika Rizzi to do an Italian translation of the text in the film. I remember the translation process to be quite challenging as the differences between English and Italian tested my understanding of the film as I knew it. In the time since Marika did the translation I’ve been learning Italian and it is fascinating to recognise the choices she has made in making the poetics of the film make sense in Italian. A simple but important example is her choice to use the ‘you singular’ form in Italian (tu) as opposed to the ‘you plural’ form (voi) – a distinction that does not exist in English.

www.skellis.info/work#/anamnesis

conflicts of interest – letting us know that they know

The thing about conflicts of interest is that they are inevitable. I’ve experienced them from various sides: I’ve benefited from them, missed out because of them (perhaps), others have benefited from them because of me … you get the idea. I’ve seen them involve friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, partners, families, former lovers. In a few situations the conflicts of interest were named, but nothing was changed or adapted because of them. In even fewer cases (perhaps two that come to mind) the conflict was named and the decision-making process was adapted. In all these cases we could never know who – or how – people have been privileged or disadvantaged by the conflict. Indeed, I’d argue that in any decision-making process our cultural, racial, gender-based, political, aesthetic, social (the list could go on and on) understandings of the world and people act as conflicts of interest (we just call them biases). Given all of these things, how could I ever know that I’m making the best possible decision for the people and organisations involved?

But the really insidious thing about obvious conflicts of interest (marriage, partners, friendship, etc) is how they affect other people. The simple perception that there is a conflict of interest – by those just on the edge of the event or decision – is enough to cause righteous frustration, anger and bitterness.

In the dance community people just say that conflicts of interest are inevitable because “it’s a small field”. But this is not the problem. I know of no organisations in dance that have publicly announced conflicts of interest and the steps they took to counter the conflicts.[1] Such a simple action would at the very least let the dance community know something they already know. More importantly, the organisation responsible for the conflict of interest would be letting us know that they know.


  1. But I’d love to hear different.  ↩

hazelnut-chocolate

I’ve had this blog since November 2008 and in that time I’ve never posted either a recipe or anything about conflicts of interest. Here’s a recipe that has nothing to do with conflicts of interest[1].

It’s from Toast: The Cookbook by Raquel Pelzel.

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread

  • 175 g hazelnuts
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 2 Tbs icing sugar
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil (sunflower, rapeseed)
  • 3/4 tsp flaky salt
  • 225 g dark chocolate (>60% cacao), broken up and melted
  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Put hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, shaking the pan halfway through roasting, until golden brown (12–15 minutes). Wrap hazelnuts in a tea-towel, set aside for a minute, then use the towel to rub off the skins. Once cool, put the nuts in a food processor and grind until the become a smooth paste (1–3 minutes).
  2. Add the sugar, honey, icing sugar, oil, and salt to the nut butter and blend until combined.
  3. Add melted chocolate and process until combined.
  4. Scrape mixture into an airtight container and leave out at room temperature to thicken for about 3 hours or overnight. The spread can be refrigerated after 1 day for up to 2 weeks; let it sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before using so it returns to a spreadable consistency. Note that after refrigerating, the texture will be less smooth.

IMG_2728.JPG


  1. I’m saving that for next time.  ↩