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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.

Categories: Digital Universities Thinking

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3 replies

  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.

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