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 .

References

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Bonnett. (n.d.). Psychogeography.

Bourdieu, P. (1988). Homo Academicus. Stanford University Press.

Brady, I. (2004). In Defense of the Sensual: Meaning Construction in Ethnography and Poetics. Qualitative Inquiry, 10(4), 622–644. doi:10.1177/1077800404265719

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

Debord, G. (2009). Society of the Spectacle.

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

Decramer, A., & Smolders, C. (2013). Employee performance management culture and system features in higher education: relationship with employee performance management satisfaction. The International Journal ….

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

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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 .

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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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