There is a name for those under- and precariously employed, but actively working, academics in today’s society: the para-academic.
Para-academics mimic academic practices so they are liberated from the confines of the university. Our work, and our lives, reflect how the idea of a university as a place for knowledge production, discussion and learning, has become distorted by neo-liberal market forces. We create alternative, genuinely open access, learning-thinking-making-acting spaces on the internet, in publications, in exhibitions, discussion groups or other mediums that seem appropriate to the situation. We don’t sit back and worry about our career developments paths. We write for the love of it, we think because we have to, we do it because we care.
We take the prefix para- to illustrate how we work alongside, beside, next to, and rub up against, the all too proper location of the Academy, making the work of higher education a little more irregular, a little more perverse, a little more improper. Our work takes up the potential of the multiple and contradictory resonances of para- as decisive location for change, within the university as much as beyond it.
Specialists in all manner of things, from the humanities to the social and biological sciences, the para-academic works alongside the traditional university, sometimes by necessity, sometimes by choice, usually a mixture of both. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities to research, create learning experiences or make a basic living within the university on our own terms, para-academics don’t seek out alternative careers in the face of an evaporated future, we just continue to do what we’ve always done: write, research, learn, think, and facilitate that process for others.
We do this without prior legitimisation from any one institution. Para-academics do not need to churn out endless outputs because of the pressures of a heavily assessed research environment. We work towards making ideas because learning, sharing, thinking and creating matter beyond easily quantifiable products. And we know that this is possible, that we are possible, without the constraints of an increasingly hierarchical academy.
As the para-academic community grows there is a real need to build supportive networks, share knowledge, ideas and strategies that can allow these types of interventions to become sustainable and flourish. There is a very real need to create spaces of solace, action and creativity.
The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit for making-learning-creating-acting, edited by Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers, calls for articles (between 1,000-6,000 words), cartoons, photographs, illustrations, inspirations and other forms of text/graphic communication exploring para-academic practice, and its place within active intellectual cultures of the early 21st century.
It will be published by HammerOn Press in 2014.
Deadline for submissions 1 July 2013.