“So the issue,” writes Martell, “is not speed, but control over speed. … In effect what slow is reintroducing is being human and well-being.”
The above quote is one of the arguments presented in a forthcoming article in ACME: An International E-journal for Critical Geographies advocating a movement For Slow Scholarship. Written by Alison Mountz and colleagues, the article develops a feminist ethics of care that challenges the isolating effects and embodied work conditions inherent to the increasing demands placed on academics within the neoliberal university.
The collectively written article explores alternatives to the fast-paced, metric-oriented neoliberal university – an argument contextualised in: a) an examination of how “the ‘slow’ in slow scholarship is not just about time, but about structures of power and inequality”, and b) the premise that “Care work is work. It is not self-indulgent; it is radical and necessary.”
This argument defines my experience of this year’s Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in Chicago. One of the highlights for me was a double-session titled Feminists on the Frontlines (see Twitter: #femfrontlines). The sessions included both lessons learnt within feminist geography in the past and reflections on how to forge the future. The stories shared by the panellists were heartfelt, honest, and raw yet simultaneously empowering in their effort to rectify how “the embodied realities of this workplace and worktime are rarely discussed” and how “the effects of the neoliberal university are written on the body.” As Mountz et al. articulately express:
“The business enterprise of academic life in the neoliberal university produces a work rhythm that is rushed, riddled with anxiety and pressure to be ever-present. Sometimes life gets in the way. Overwhelming pressures can lead to paralysis, and scholarship can come to a complete halt. Collective commitments to slow scholarship, fostered by academic alliances and friendships, can help us to come out of moments of depression or exhaustion, lest we drown in shame, loss, and discontentment.”
I felt the direct power of sharing and caring in my contribution to another double-panel-session on Grieving Witnesses: the Politics of Grief in the Field. My story of becoming a grieving witness in the process of witnessing grief during research was but one of fifteen similar yet vastly different expressions of how we as academic care, yet simultaneous fail to administer an ethics of care towards ourselves in the process of surviving within the neoliberal university.
The importance of thriving, not just surviving within academia, was one of the key points made in the #femfrontlines sessions and the forthcoming article:
“Counting culture leads to intense, insidious forms of institutional shaming, subject-making, and self-surveillance. It compels us to enumerate and self-audit, rather than listen and converse, engage with colleagues, students, friends and family, or involve ourselves in the meaningful and time-consuming work that supports and engages our research and broader communities. … What if we counted differently? Instead of articles published or grants applied for, what if we accounted for thank you notes received, friendships formed, collaborations forged?”
A strong ethics of care within academia and the notion of slow scholarship resonate greatly with me. Yet bringing them to bear in everyday life evokes feelings of vulnerability and of being overwhelmed. The ten feminist strategies for slow scholarship as collective action provided by Mountz et al. are therefore both reassuring and invigorating. Early career researchers and seasoned professors alike are encouraged to:
- Talk about and support slow strategies.
- Count what others don’t.
- Take care … we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. But we must take care of others.
- Write fewer e-mails.
- Turn off email.
- Make time to think.
- Make time to write (differently) … what we say and how we say it matters.
- Say no. Say yes.
- Reach for the minimum (i.e. good enough is the new perfect) … [it] allows for a focus on quality – rather than quantity – and acknowledges the need for balance.
I return from the AAG enriched by the stories fellow academics shared during the conference, and look forward to the Institute of Australian Geographer’s Annual Conference in July, where researcher self-care is the core focus of the pre-conference workshop organised by the IAG Hazards, Risks and Disasters Study Group.