Against slow scholarship

In preparation for next week’s Accelerated Academy, I found myself reading the Slow Scholarship Manifesto for the first time in a few years, as well as Heather Mendick’s brilliant critique of it. Taking explicit inspiration from the slow food movement, it calls for ‘slow scholarship’ as a response to ‘hasty scholarship’:

Slow scholarship, is thoughtful, reflective, and the product of rumination – a kind of field testing against other ideas. It is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues.

The author recognises how career pressure leads to hasty scholarship, encouraging scholars to “send a conference paper off to a journal which may still be half-baked, may only have a spark of originality, may be a slight variation on something they or others have published, may rely on data that is still preliminary”. The author cites their “own experience of taking 17 years from the start of a Ph.D. to the publication of the book which had its origins in the dissertation” to make the case for slow scholarship. It is a plea that others might see the “fruits of slow scholarship”, littered around us but often unrecognised because the academy rewards the quick, robbing the slow of prestige and financial reward.

The Manifesto for Slow Scholarship is explicitly negative about social media, framing it as “brim[ming] over with sometimes idle, sometimes angry, sometimes scurrilous, always hasty, first impressions”. This is a medium through which people inevitably offer “quick responses to a talk they have heard, an article they read, an email they have received” which are “off the cuff, fresh—but not the product of much cogitation, comparison, or contextualisation”. The manifesto calls for ‘slogs’ and ‘sleets’ in response to these pressures. These are “short, thoughtful essays, that have been carefully thought through” posted a few times a year or “carefully crafted sentences, that pack so much into them they can almost be read as a poem, or haiku on their own”. Such a sleet might “capture a complex thought, inspire such thoughts in others, and be worth preserving for posterity”. The impulse here is an almost aggressively traditional one: scholarly value is expressed through the creation of things which are lasting, self-standing and worthy of preservation. The work should be an end in itself, with anything which complicates this ambition or renders it ambiguous being seen as an unwelcome intrusion on the scholarly vocation.

Rather than being a repudiation of neoliberalism within the academy, as Mendick observesslowing down is often framed in terms of being a more efficient and effective scholar. We will do our work better if we slow down. We will be more successful if we slow down. Nonetheless, some are able to feel at home within slow, while others are not, reflecting “where you come from, which university you are at, which contract you are on and what other responsibilities you have”. This matters furthermore because the call to slowness involves a claim to prestige. The slow scholars are working carefully and creatively, in contrast to the hasty scholars who are hurriedly responding to the situational demands placed upon them. To be a slow scholar is an aspirational identity to which many will not have access because the brute realities of causal labour, documented by Mendick in her insightful paper. What might most accurately be seen as struggling is easily recast in the framework of slow scholarship as intellectual and creative failure. The way out of this failure lies in the exercise of temporal agency which is rarely feasible for those on fixed term contracts, concerned as they with successfully securing the next period of employment, let alone those on adjunct contracts who must piece together a working life from an array of desultory fragments.

6 thoughts on “Against slow scholarship”

  1. My primary criticism of the Slow Scholarship book was the balance between critique of the current conditions and fleshing out what slow scholarship might look like in those conditions. There was too much rehashing of what most of us are already well aware of and not enough careful attention to HOW (exactly) the slow food principles could be applied. Which leads to this issue about privilege. In the way of so much privilege the things that are assumed rather than made visible and carefully considered are the issue.

  2. I think that there are implicit ends to either. I don’t think an argument can be made that one is better than the other or one -year-old better information or better or worse analysis. I think the question is what’s the point?

    If you’re in a highly competitive school for a medicine or for la what are you going to take five years to thoroughly study and investigate something that kid normally take them six months if you were made to have to work that fast?

    But then there are also things that just can’t be made to go quickly and if you force those, you might get a product that looks good and makes good arguments and points out various things, but it’ll be necessarily incomplete even as it looks like it’s something that is complete. It’ll be making an argument that is basically a “argument for incompletion”.

    Perhaps really that’s what the slow manifesto is arguing against. I even find myself in some philosophy and some critical theory and things like that it’s people are forced to come to conclusions because of a temporal restraint but then they also encouraged by the institution to present themselves as if they are really knowing and really in a position of authority because of the way that the reason is able to be ironed out flat.

    I think there’s a lot going on there

  3. .. and there could be an argument that is made so far as hasty or accelerationalist methods, That the products they produce, the products that the hasty method produces, are the products that we want, that society wants , that there’s nothing wrong with them in their incompletion because all we want is products , that it doesn’t matter what the product is it matters that we have a selection of products to choose from that appear consistent in their packaging, in their appearance, that if things appear in a certain way then it is necessarily a valuable product. We could make an argument about how music is better nowadays because we have people producing all sorts of high-quality high quality production of music. Some people would say that it sounds really good we know how to write music in such away we know people have good voices and we know how to make them sing well and we have computer technology that allows people that don’t sing so well even sound really good.. so then we flood the market with all this “good music”. But in actuality 75% of it is just

    Where as maybe the slow manifesto is saying that these products are inherently in authentic and somehow not worth as much.


  4. … and perhaps this hasty manner is a way to consolidate ideological, or catalyze social cohesion. Because the van instead of one person finding all these things out and presenting a coherent and complete rendering of the situation, you necessarily create a reliance upon a cohort, you imply within the method that one person cannot do it, and that create an ideology, I sort of religious theology that says that we need you and that your purpose is to be part of this method of incompletion.

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