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  • Mark 5:15 pm on June 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy   

    Prospecting: Extraction, Speculation, and Liberation in the Accelerated Academy 

    CFP – Prospecting: Extraction, Speculation, and Liberation in the Accelerated Academy 

    (Accelerated Academy 7)

    Nov. 22-23, 2019

    Michigan State University Digital Scholarship Lab

    An interdisciplinary symposium on the future of academic life and labor, organized by Zach Kaiser (MSU) and Erin Glass (UC San Diego)

    In theory, the academy is an institution of research and learning, intended to advance human knowledge and educate citizens. In practice, however, the academy appears evermore as a site of prospecting, or a source of raw material for aggressive forms of neoliberal mining and extraction. Through various speculative and extractive behaviors, academic practice is increasingly managed and shaped by internal and external forces as a means of “optimizing” academic activities and making them more efficient in order to cut costs and maximize revenue. As is well documented in the growing literature of critical university studies, this prospecting is manifest in the adjunctification of academic labor, the rise of administration, the continuous increase of student tuition, and the perpetuation of the student debt crisis that has engulfed the United States. We can also see prospecting in the ruthless capture and privatization of scholarly research by scholarly publishers at the cost of public access to research that the public has in fact already paid for. Prospecting is also at play in the academy’s collision course with surveillance/platform/cognitive capitalism: the university’s intellectual products have been transformed into valuable data to be mined, packaged, sold, and ultimately controlled by IT and ed tech capitalists in their pursuit of profit. Though these extractive and neoliberal processes are not unique to the academy, their presence in institutions dedicated to learning has implications for academic subjectivities and the institutions themselves. 

    Building on the work of past Accelerated Academy symposia, the 7th edition proposes the concept of “prospecting” as a productive tool to think through the future of academic life, labor, and outcomes. Prospecting as a concept may help us broaden the discourses about academia, and shine light on the different economic interests, technical assemblages, and affective regimes that shape its activities. We are also, however, committed to the challenge of identifying prospects of autonomy and liberation that are still within the academy despite its compromised state, and thinking through the strategies that academics might use to better take advantage of them. We encourage contributors to consider the various material and social connotations carried by the term “prospecting,” and the way it might help us develop a robust analysis of life in the accelerated academy and the high stakes of our contemporary moment. Topics might include:

    • Prospecting as it relates to the extractive behaviors characteristic of the accelerated and platformized academy, including the extractive data capture of students and faculty through educational and workflow technologies.

    • Prospecting as an extractive colonial appropriation of land and of bodies within academe (and the uneven distribution of the consequences of this behavior across race, gender, and class lines). 

    • Prospecting as extractive ecological behaviors by academia (ranging from the harvesting of minerals to produce the technologies on which our academic infrastructure is built to academic travel). 

    • Prospecting in terms of university real-estate speculation and acquisition, campus development, the increase in satellite campuses of major western universities overseas (particularly in the middle and far east), as well as the growth of extension and continuing-ed programs.  

    • Liberatory/radical prospecting, or the ways that we, as the academic community, can work towards reclaiming the academy for social justice and the public good. This ethos is embodied in works like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s “The Undercommons,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s “Generous Thinking,” la paperson’s “A Third University is Possible,” Cathy Davidson’s “The New Education,” and Christopher Newfield’s “The Great Mistake.”

    We welcome contributions (ranging from paper presentations to artistic projects, hands-on sessions, projections, tours, etc) from anyone who is interested in and passionate about these topics. We will also do our best to accommodate remote presentations/projects via video conferencing or other possibilities. Submit a 500-word abstract using the Google Form linked below by August 1, 2019. Questions? Email Zach Kaiser (kaiserza@msu.edu) and Erin Glass (erglass@ucsd.edu).

    https://forms.gle/QHhQUQ6cLkHjut8KA


    If the link above does not work, please copy the following URL into your browser. https://forms.gle/QHhQUQ6cLkHjut8KA

     
  • Mark 6:38 pm on April 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , epistemic conservatism   

    The epistemological conservatism of the accelerated academy 

    There’s an interesting section in Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain discussing Ross Ashby’s experiments in building cybernetic systems and the design philosophy these undertakings led him to articulate. As Pickering describes on pg 128:

    If, beyond a certain degree of complexity, the performance of a machine could not be predicted from a knowledge of its elementary parts, as proved to be the case with DAMS, then one would have to abandon the modern engineering paradigm of knowledge-based design in favor of evolutionary tinkering—messing around with the configuration of DAMS and retaining any steps in the desired direction.

    This is a design philosophy orientated towards an esoteric class of projects in electrical engineering. But it also conveys an epistemic libertarianism, in which the impulse to build projects around established knowledge is suspended in order to create the space for exploration. It’s not a dismissal of existing knowledge and practice, only a reduction of its role to that of direction finder rather than final arbiter of epistemic legitimacy.

    It left me thinking about the temporal conditions in which this epistemic libertarianism can flourish. Not only might it take more time, in the sense that it will be as conducive to missteps as to advancements, it also comes to look suspicious to any managerial techniques which asks people to account for their time. In both senses, the accelerated academy entails a subtle epistemological conservatism and chips away at the space in which which this exploratory work could take place.

     
  • Mark 10:02 am on January 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , ,   

    The promise of university bureaucracy: academic neoliberalism as project rather than outcome 

    My notes on Nash, K. (2018). Neo-liberalisation, universities and the values of bureaucracy. The Sociological Review, 0038026118754780.

    It is too easy to frame neoliberalism in institutions as an outcome rather than a project. In this thoughtful paper, Kate Nash explores the space which this recognition opens up, the “competing and contradictory values in the everyday life of public sector organisations” which becomes apparent when we reject the supposition of “a fit between ideology, policy, political outcomes and practices” (178). Extending marketing competition into the university doesn’t automatically replace public goods, something which is important to grasp if we want to construct an adequate meso-social account of neoliberalisation. New Public Magement, as a theory of administration, might be explicitly opposed to bureaucracy but it is through a bureaucratic transformation that its tenets are woven into the fabric of an institution like the university. Nash begins her argument by revisiting Weber’s conception of the impartial promise of bureaucracy:

    I adopt Weber’s definition of bureaucracy as enacting an ‘ethos of impartiality’, treating individuals as cases according to strict rules of professional and technical expertise. Each person in an organisation should follow correct procedures to guard against making personal judgements; to avoid using the authority of their office to exercise power according to their own personal decisions, whims or alternative values (Du Gay, 2000; Weber, 1948). For Weber, famously, instrumental values, the means rather than the ends, come to predominate in a modern capitalist economy and we are all caught in an ‘iron cage’ of technical evaluations (Beetham, 1987, pp. 60–61; Mommsen, 1989, pp. 109–120). (179)

    However it is a mistake to regard bureaucracy as a totality, argues Nash, framing it as leading to the displacement of all values other than administrative efficiency. Rejecting this view allows us to distinguish between “different kinds of bureaucracy, that which undermines and that which supports education in universities” (179). It allows us to identify the values which marketisation entrenches (entrepreneurship and consumer choice) and find others to protect. The allocation of research funding (through the RAE/REF and individualised competitions) and teaching funding (through the student fees and student loans system) in UK universities reflects the entrenchment of these values. It is against this backdrop that collegiality, drawing on the analysis of Malcolm Waters, becomes interesting:

    Collegiality, he argues, is relevant to university life in that, firstly, as academics we understand ourselves to be experts in our different fields, and therefore as possessing insights into knowledge – scientific, of the humanities, of the arts – on which there are no higher authorities. As such, academics have a degree of expert authority; we expect, and to a large degree we maintain, our ability to ‘have the last word’ on what counts as a university education in our specialised disciplines through procedures of peer and student evaluation. Secondly, academics tend to think of the university as a ‘company of equals’. Where knowledge is ultimately what matters, other markers of status, wealth and power must be irrelevant. As Waters puts it, ‘if expertise is paramount, then each member’s area of competence may not be subordi- nated to other forms of authority’ (Waters, 1989, p. 955). Finally, Waters suggests that the value of ‘consensus’ is a norm of universities: only decisions that have the full support of the collectivity ‘carry the weight of moral authority’ (Waters, 1989, p. 955). (181)

    For Waters this is not necessarily a good thing, as collegiality brings closure i.e.the protection of insiders over outsiders, the defence of existing status against threats to it. This can make it appear to be a form of resistance to marketisation, but the intersection of the two can exasperate their existing problems e.g. superstar academics being able to exercise academic autonomy in a collegial mode, while others are left behind to aspire to collegial status (if I understand Nash’s point correctly). The fact that corporatism has displaced collegiality, to use McGettigan’s phase, doesn’t mean collegiality is a solution to the problem of corporatism.

    Even if the rise of audit culture and end of contractual tenure have dented academic autonomy, there is still an entrenched expectation that we “should be free to research, to publish and to teach ‘the truth’, however inconvenient or troublesome for university administrators, governments and civil servants, without fear of losing our jobs”. It has the associated expectation that we will develop this by “reading widely, with curiosity, developing capacities to think through different meanings of concepts, challenge fundamental assumptions, and design and use systematic methodologies, as well as to uncover facts through scholarship and empirical research” (182). Meeting this expectation requires temporal autonomy in relation to free time in which nothing is being produced that can easily be registered.

    Audit culture on Power’s account threatens this through twin processes: colonisation (transforming an organisation’s values through measuring its activity) and decoupling (the circularity of auditing which has paperwork produced for auditing as its sole object). The assumption underlying this is that “professionals cannot be trusted to do their jobs well; in particular, we cannot be trusted to deliver value for money” (183). However bureaucratic work is of the same kind and Nash draws attention to that we engage in outside of audit, including those activities which support education and resist abuses of collegiality and marketisation. Nash reminds us that “we should not see bureaucracy solely as marketising, nor only as imposed from above” (184). These are described by Nash as socialising bureaucracy:

    Socialising bureaucracy regularises collegiality in that it helps academ- ics communicate what counts as good teaching and learning, what counts as research and learning that is of academic merit, and what assumptions and biases should not be allowed to make a difference in these judgements. It regulates collegiality in that documents and procedures help set limits on academics’ discretionary judgements. (185).

    Against an exclusive focus on marketisation as a threat to education, Nash reminds us of those cases where professional power threatens it e.g. academics act in ways that serve  their own private interests rather than those of education. The first example she gives is formalisation of equal treatment where mechanisms ensure staff and students are assessed on the relevant grounds of academic performance and other criteria are excluded. The contractualisation of learning formalises the reciprocal expectations placed upon teachers and learners, mechanisms ensuring both parties have a working understanding of how the interaction will proceed.

    Socialising bureaucracy in this sense mitigates the pathologies of both collegiality and marketisation. Recognising the critiques which see these mechanisms as killing spontaneity and charisma, Nash asks how we could otherwise secure the value for teaching and learning for everyone in a mass higher education system which has expanded dramatically over recent decades? Nonetheless distinguishing marketing bureaucracy from  socialising bureaucracy is difficult in practice. Both can contribute to the intensification of work and be experienced as destructive of autonomy. Furthermore, one kind of bureaucracy can stimulate the other

    What’s particularly interesting for my purposes is Nash’s analysis of the grey area opened up between the two by intensified competition within and between universities:

    It includes dealing with the paperwork associated with the explosion of publishing, showcasing and promotion of academic work – from reviewing articles for journals and book manuscripts and editing journals to organising and publicising conferences and seminars; the bureaucracy of applying for and dealing with funded research, which can mean managing a team; designing, developing and publicising popular programmes and courses; reviewing new programmes for other Departments and universities; acting as external examiner for other universities; and writing references for colleagues and students. In virtually every case, these activities require hours of meetings and emails, as well as filling in forms, and they often require producing online as well as offline materials. In addition, there are also meetings, emails and paperwork associated with running a Department and a university as if it were a business: writing and re-writing ‘business plans’, ‘job descriptions’, ‘programme specifications’, ‘strategies’ to promote research, enhance student experience and so on (188)

    It strikes me that social media is part of this grey area but it also something through which much of the gray area is inflected i.e. it is an expectation in itself but also a way of undertaking these other activities. To use an example I talk about a lot: if social media makes it quicker to publicise seminars and conferences then why do we constantly assume it will be a net drain on our time? This seems like the theoretical framework I’ve been looking for to help make sense of the institutionalisation of social media within the university.

     
  • Mark 5:00 pm on August 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , ,   

    CfP: Post-H(uman) index? Politics, metrics, and agency in the accelerated academy 

    November 29th and 30th
    Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

    Organised by Jana Bacevic, Mark Carrigan and Filip Vostal 

    Keynote: Liberalism Must Be Defeated: The Obsolescence of Bourgeois Theory in the Anthropocene by Gary Hall, Director of Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, UK.

    The conference seeks to conceptualise change in contemporary knowledge production in a way that transcends the dichotomy between theoretical frameworks that emphasise the role of humans (e.g. pragmatism, cultural sociology, critical realism, Bourdieusian sociology) and those that seek to dissolve the human and/or focus on non-human actors (actor-network theory, poststructuralism, STS, new materialism, transhumanism). Bringing together scholars in social sciences and humanities whose work engages with relationships between the human, post-human, metrics, and agency in the ‘neoliberal’ university, the conference addresses the methodological implications of how we theorise human agency, the agency of technical systems, and the relationships between them, in order to foster and support critical scholarship and engagement the current (and future) socio-political environment requires.

    It is by now widely accepted that the transformation of the structures of governance and funding of higher education and research – including pressures to produce more and faster, and the associated proliferation of instruments of measurement such as citation (‘H’) indexes and rankings – pose serious challenges to the future of the academia. The critique of these trends has mostly taken the form of calls to ‘slow down’, or assertion of the intrinsic value/unquantifiable character of scholarship, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. While these narratives highlight important aspects of academics’ experience of neoliberal restructuring, they often end up reproducing the inter- and intra-disciplinary division between theoretical and interpretative frameworks that foreground human agency (focusing on student movements, working experiences of academics, or decision-making) and those that foreground the performativity of non-human agents (focusing on the role of metrics, indexes, analytics or institutions).

    This intellectual fragmentation constrains attempts to study these processes in genuinely interdisciplinary ways. On the rare occasions when meaningful exchange does happen, conceptual, ideological, and institutional fault lines hinder sustained dialogue, often leading to the reassertion of old certainties in lieu of engagement with complex relational, institutional, socio-technical, and political/policy realities of transformation. The conference aims to provide an intellectual and institutional framework that challenges this dichotomy, and seeks to develop ways of thinking that are mutually reinforcing, rather than exclusive. It focuses on the issue of the (post)human as the ontological underpinning to the descriptive and explanatory work needed, as well as the normative horizon for resistance.

    It links with preceding events in Accelerated Academy, an international interdisciplinary network assembled to develop new approaches to the analysis of higher education around critical interrogation of the concept of ‘acceleration’. The first event (Prague, December 2015) focused on metricisation and power in the academy; the second, smaller symposium (Warwick, September 2016), was dedicated to theories and experiences of anxiety and work in relation to acceleration; the third (Leiden, December 2016) to the politics and sociology of evaluation in universities; the fourth (Prague, May 2018) explored academic timescapes and the challenges posed by their complexity; the fifth (Cambridge, June 2018) reflected on the role of agency in the transformation of the academy.

    This conference engages with and responds to the growing interest in scholarship on trans- and post-humanism, and its impact on understanding change in the context of knowledge production. It also has wider theoretical significance, as the intellectual dichotomy of the human and non-human is confronted in any attempt to understand socio-technical changes unfolding in digital(ised) capitalism. In this sense, we aim to address broader questions of social ontology and explanatory methodology posed by the imbrication of the social and the technical, and, not less importantly, the questions this raises for conceptualising agency and resistance in the ‘accelerated’ academy.

    We invite contributions for 30 minute talks which speak to any of these themes. If you would like to submit a proposal then please contact mac228@cam.ac.uk with a 500 word abstract and short biographical note by 10th October.

    There will be no charge to attend the conference. If you would like to attend as a non-speaker then please e-mail the address above to be added to the list. 

     
  • Mark 7:53 am on July 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , ,   

    What does the case of Jeffery Sachs tell us about the accelerated academy? 

    The Idealist by Nina Monk, cited by Daniel Drezner in the Ideas Industry, presents a vivid account of the frantic pace at which the economist Jeffery Sachs has tended to work. This intensified work, fitting as much action as possible into each day, will appear to his detractors as a desperate lust for influence. His fans might accept his protestation that “If you haven’t noticed, people are dying – it’s an emergency” as he told Monk. But what each would be responding to is the quantity of his activity:

    Day after day, without pausing for air, it seemed, Sachs was making one speech after another, as many as three in one day. At the same time he lobbied heads of state, testified before Congress, held press conferences, attended symposiums, advised government officials and legislators, participated in panel discussions, gave interviews, published papers in academic journals, wrote opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, and sought out anyone, anyone at all, who might help him spread the word. The only time he seemed to slow down was when he was sleeping, never more than four or five hours a night.

    For anyone interested in Sachs, this is a fascinating book looking at his politics throughout his career, speculating about how his early failures as the architect of neoliberal shock therapy might have motivated his later turn to developmental economics. What interests me here however is what his life says about the possibilities of academic labour. He was tenured at the age of 28, published hundreds of journal articles and has been cited 118,231 times. He has published 9 books, a number of which were New York Times best sellers. He has raised tens of millions of dollars of research funding, as well as hundreds of millions in funding for projects based on his research. He writes endless op-eds in high profile publications and has 257,00 Twitter followers.

    He is the limit condition for what Liz Morrish calls The Trump Academic, anchoring the horizon of possibilities an upwardly mobile aspiring thought leader (or what Linsey McGoey calls a TED Head) confronts at the start of their academic career. The co-ordinates of what Drezner calls the marketplace of ideas and the possibilities for academics to participate are expressed in the trajectory of Sachs, as well as the trail he has left behind him. What sort of scaffolding is necessary to enable this pace of activity? How much of the funding he receives goes on keeping the Sachs show on the road? When does he have time to think? He is the counter-point to the familiar stress of those running through the academic year in order to carve out time to think over the summer without interruption.

    I confess a prurient fascination with the working routines of people like Sachs because they seem to repudiate the notion that thought requires withdrawal from the world, even if we can make the argument that the single-minded devotion of Sachs to his cause at any moment suggests there is at least a certain kind of thought he rarely engages in. But if he is the apotheosis of a worldly scholarship, always on the move and always seeking ways to implement his ideas, it surely cautions us against an uncritical embrace of such an orientation towards the scholarly vocation.

     
  • Mark 3:04 pm on June 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , , fast writing, ,   

    Fast and slow writing in the accelerated academy 

    What does it mean to write? For a long time, it carried a sense of total immersion for me, letting the world recede in order to lose yourself in the production of a text. This is ‘binge writing’ and it was my standard mode for the six years I spent doing a part-time PhD. I wrote my first paper in a weekend. I wrote my first chapter in a couple of days. I wrote a disturbingly large amount of the thesis in the final few months. Without preparation, it is not possible to write like this. The thoughts have to germinate, ideas have to take shape before words can flow in this way. Binge writing entails a form of life, incorporating an orientation to continuous thinking as well as extended periods of time for writing intensively. It is demanding on a number of levels and it is something I have found decreasingly possible since then.

    My experience of succesful binge writing suggests it is not simply a matter of making the time available. There is a degree of unpredictability because inspiration and writing time have to coincide. If you can get this to work, writing can be the most immersive and engaging activity in the world. It is certainly the purest experience of flow states I have ever known. There’s an extract from Neitzche’s Ecce Homo which has always captured this experience for me:

    The notion of revelation – in the sense that suddenly, with ineffable assuredness and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes you to the core and bowls you over – provides a simple description of the facts of the matter. You hear, you don’t search; you take, you don’t ask who is giving; like a flash of lightening a thought flares up, with necessity, with no hesitation as to its form – I never had any choice.

    – Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, Pg 68 (Duncan Large translation)

    Under these conditions, it is as if writing works through you. I’ve sometimes written as much as 4000 words in a day like this, often good words requiring minimal editing. It is physically and mentally draining but at no point do I find myself grasping for words. They flow until they do not anymore. Then I feel satisfied in the awareness that the idea which had welled up within me have been expressed onto the page and I move on from  them.

    This is slow scholarship, even if the act of writing is intensified. It rests on synchronising your creative rhythms and your working routines, requiring a great deal of flexibility for it to operate. It isn’t simply a matter of autonomy because it necessitates being free from the constraints of your own choices, able to set aside time for intensive writing even when you have (freely) committed yourself to other things. It is something which I haven’t been able to do since my PhD. Even in the last year of my PhD, I could only do it out of necessity. In fact, I’ve been struggling to move away from this mode of writing since spending a year working full time at the LSE half way through my PhD. Other demands mean writing has to become more extensive, flowing beyond neatly defined periods of immersion into the gaps that inevitably spring up throughout one’s week.

    It is so easy to fall into simplistic dichotomies concerning a matter as intensely personal and emotionally charged as writing. Binge writing versus writing routines is one of them. It is a distinction which fails to capture the difference which matters, reducing a rich spectrum of ways in which thought and writing knit together into brute differences of scheduling. But fast and slow scholarship is another, as I’ve written about on numerous occasions. I find myself increasingly bothered by the idea that fast writing is inevitably hasty writing, as propounded by the Slow Scholarship Manifesto amongst others. It isolates the act of writing from the life of which it is part, lending a singular quality to an act which is an expression of a mode of being in the world. Fast writing can be hasty writing, much as slow writing can be tedious writing. But the relationship is not a necessary one.

    These dichotomies often confuse preparation, process and outputs. What is often seen as extremely fast writing (e.g. producing multiple blogs posts in an afternoon) can in fact be slow scholarship. If we dispense with the assumption of writing as teleological, orientated towards producing texts which ought to persevere and be preserved, it becomes easier to see writing as something iterative. When we write, we struggle to put things into words. Through that struggle we gain greater clarity concerning what we are trying to say. The act of writing is the crucial point in a much broader process of making sense of the world (or at least some particular aspects of it). On this view, slow writing is a recipe for a failure of intellectual development. Rather than being a reliable route towards profundity, it risks leaving one mired in intellectual immaturity because it denies a crucial mechanism through which we develop our thinking and elaborate our understanding. What happens to a thought when you put it on hold? When you suspend it and categorise it? When it goes from something which grips you in the moment, as if it were a force taking hold of you from outside? My experience has been that these moments give rise to the most profound feelings of creativity, lifting one out of the mundane realities of daily life and into the making of something. Whereas foreclosing that moment of inspiration by noting it down on a ‘to do’ list is just depressing.

    My argument is not that temporalities of writing aren’t significant but rather that fast and slow fail to capture what is at stake in them. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, as I’ve realised that my writing is more yet less successful than ever. I write everyday, easily meeting a 500 word goal across my blog and book projects. It has become a reflex, something I can sit down and do with little effort. But it is sometimes too easy and I no longer struggle with ideas, as much as merely express them. The automatic quality of my daily writing has begun to undermine the reflexivity of my writing practice. I can so quickly and easily meet my quota that I don’t sit with ideas as I write them, relying on reading and thinking outside the writing window to ensure they have fermented in the way I hope. They often have.

    But the ease with which I tend to meet this target creates other problems, as it easily lends itself to the mentality of hitting the target on days when it would be a challenge to write immersively or expensively. It sometimes leaves me picking at low hanging fruit rather than pursuing a topic or theme because it grips me on a particular day. It often leaves me stopping at 500 words so I can move onto other things. This is when the fastness of the writing begins to undermine the slowness of the scholarship The problem is compounded by the impulse to slot writing into random windows in my life, ‘doing my 500 words’ on trains and planes, in hotel rooms and sitting on park benches. In building it into the fabric of my life, making it an unquestioned part of my daily existence, I’ve managed to devalue it. It is everywhere yet nowhere. Crucial yet never prioritised.

    In the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can change this, building on the work I’ve done but opening it out so writing has a more respected place in my life. What initially prompted this was the difficulty in finishing things i.e. drawing the strands together and editing them into finished pieces. But I’m realising the problem is broader than this and it’s proving an interesting issue to reflect on.

     
    • tiwarisac 1:08 am on June 10, 2018 Permalink

      Mark,
      Loved reading this piece. That thought about having a more respected place for writing is identifiable. I do not write as prolifically as you and haven’t published either, but trying not to write during those windows of time (traveling on planes, trains etc) is often motivated by the same thought – of not making it commonplace and banal. And then this leads to very low amount of writing done. 🙂 I do not quite know when does my vest writing happen, although I agree that when it does it comes like a torrential rain.

    • anacanhoto 3:36 pm on June 10, 2018 Permalink

      Regarding finishing those various projects, someone recommended the book “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done” by Jonathan Acuff. I haven’t actually read it, yet – it’s next on my non-fiction reading list.

    • Mark 9:48 am on June 11, 2018 Permalink

      Should probably finish off the other books first 😀

      (looks good though, thanks)

    • Mark 9:51 am on June 11, 2018 Permalink

      I think it’s definitely necessary to write during those windows (or at least not to wait for the perfect moment) but I’m increasingly seeing how easy it is to take this attitude too far once you start with it :-/

  • Mark 6:01 pm on June 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , conceptualising, practice of theory, , , ,   

    The role of dichotomies in social theory 

    I spent much of the recent Accelerated Academy talking about the limitations of the fast/slow dichotomy and my concern that the framing of our series entrenches it. To talk of the ‘accelerated academy’ implies there was once a slow(er) academy and hints that the pathologies we currently face could be overcome by reclaiming what has been lost. It is an account which invites us towards nostalgia, imagining a past which we seek to recover rather than analysing the potential for change we can find latent within our present circumstances. In fact, between myself and Filip, it seemed the fast/slow dichotomy was trashed so much that a few people seemed apologetic when they mentioned it with anything other than condemnation.

    So should we dispense with them entirely? Barbara Adam offered a qualified defence of dichotomies, recognising their limitations but insisting on their value as tools to think with. This resonated with me a lot, as someone prone to finding dichotomies in my own thinking yet continually struggling against them. Dichotomies anchor a terrain, laying out a space in a way which help us locate ourselves within it. But they only provide a rough sketch of that space, leaving us disorientated if we retain them as our sole reference points rather than elucidating the territory and exploring its topography.

    The problem with dichotomies is not so much their appearance as their persistence, their tendency to prove sticky and our ensuing difficulty in dispensing with them once they have served their original purpose. We shouldn’t banish dichotomies, as much as refuse to take them seriously past a certain point. They can be useful conversation starters and sharpening blocks for our conceptual tools. But if we mistakenly take them as a primary focus then they can fatally undermine our capacity to make sense of a world inevitably more complex than a simplistic opposition can possibly capture.

     
    • mxvasilev 6:29 pm on June 5, 2018 Permalink

      I think there are well defined dichotomies and not so much well defined dichotomies. For example, some things are in our control while others are not is basically a law. It was found by Epictetus in around 100AD. And, it is still applicable today. You are right in that it is useful for some things and not for others. For example, you can’t capture class relations with a dichotomy.

    • Mark 9:50 am on June 11, 2018 Permalink

      I think you can actually! But that’s a much longer debate

  • Mark 12:24 pm on May 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy,   

    Critique and Agency in the Accelerated Academy, June 8th @CPGJCam 

    June 8th, 12pm to 2pm, DMB 2S4
    Faculty of Education, Hills Road, Cambridge

    In the fifth event in the Accelerated Academy series, the Cultural Politics and Global Justice cluster at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education hosts an afternoon seminar on critique and agency in the accelerated academy. How is temporality changing within the academy? What does this mean for our capacity to individually and collectively shape our working lives? Is there still space for critique within an academy where time pressure has become the norm?

    • Time present and academic futures – Jana Bacevic (Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge)
    • On Critical University StudiesAlison Wood (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)
    • The Coming of the Venture AcademicFilip Vostal (Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

    Each speaker will talk for around 20 minutes, with time for questions. We will then open out for a broader discussion of the themes raised during the talks. For information about the Accelerated Academy project, see the website or special section of the LSE Impact Blog.

     
  • Mark 9:23 am on May 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , ,   

    The slow university 

    Saved here for later reading:

     
  • Mark 6:04 pm on December 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , ,   

    CfP: Accelerated Academy 

    Accelerated Academy #4

    Academic Timescapes: Perspectives, Reflections, ResponsibilitiesMay 24-25, Villa Lanna, Prague, Czech Academy of Sciences

    After meetings in Prague, Warwick and Leiden, the fourth Accelerated Academy conference calls for a more nuanced perspective in order to advance our understanding of academic temporalities as experienced, understood, controlled, managed, imagined and contested across different institutional contexts. The question of temporality – the human perception and social organization of time – in and of the academy has been attracting considerable attention across the social sciences in recent decades. Notable accounts have demonstrated that time is an important research object potentially offering new insights into the complex and shifting nature of the contemporary academy and its future. Existing studies tend to stress how pressures intrinsic to the imperatives of the knowledge economy and academic/epistemic capitalism co-shape policies and subsequently impact how time is perceived and experienced on the level of individuals and institutions, leading to concerns over their temporal relation to wider society. Taking the cue from the long tradition of sociology of time the conference aims to tackle various pressing question in the emerging field of the social studies of academic time. The conference will address the following themes but the organizers welcome other cognate problematics:

    · Theorizations and different disciplinary takes on temporality in academia

    · (Possible) methods of inquiring into academic temporalities

    · Temporal design(s), temporal policies

    · Temporal justice vs/and temporal autonomy

    · The promises and limits of ‘the slow’ in academia

    · Temporalities in/of teaching; temporalities in/of research – tensions, complementarities, (in)compatibilities

    · Temporal interfaces with wider society and its implications for science communication

    · Temporality of science communication via social media

    · Digitalization, temporal intersections and emerging temporalities in academia

    · Temporality, metrics, evaluations

    Please submit short abstract (250 words) and bio to vostal@flu.cas.cz by 28 February 2018. We intend to generate an edited volume from the conference so please indicate whether you’d be interested in contributing to the volume.  

    Organized by Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies, Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences & University of Minho, Research Centre on Communication Studies (CECS)

    Funded by Czech Science Foundation, Czech Academy of Sciences (Strategie AV21) & Portuguese Science Foundation, CECS, University of Minho.

     
  • Mark 10:37 am on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , , , the literature,   

    Keeping the conversation going in an age of scholarly abundance 

    In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly preoccupied with the notion of ‘the literature’ and how it is invoked by scholars. I’m now rather sceptical of the way in which many people talk about ‘the literature’ and the role it plays in scholarship. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important to identify, engage with and record the existing work that has been done on a topic you’re working on. Rather I’m concerned that the invocation of its necessity serves a disciplinary function when scholarly literature proliferates at the speed which it now does, with an estimated 28,100 journals publishing 2.5 million articles a year. The problems which those who enthusiastically invoke the importance of ‘the literature’ are concerned with, such as perpetual reinvention of the wheel and a failure to recognise relevant work taking place in adjacent fields, have such obviously structural roots that to frame the solution in terms of personal practice seems to accord almost magical powers to the intellectual discipline of individual scholars.

    My concern is that invoking ‘the literature’ increasingly functions as a conversation-stopper: it’s a disciplinary action which serves to curtail, though rarely halt, a line of inquiry. If we are inclined, as Richard Rorty once put, “to keep the conversation going” then we need to “protest against attempts to close off conversation by proposals for universal commensuration through the hypostatisation of some privileged set of descriptions” (377). Or in other words, we need to reject the idea that there’s only one way to talk about the topic in question. This is what the invocation of ‘the literature’ does, usually implicitly though sometimes explicitly. It implies a unified body of work which must be the reference point for scholarship on a given topic, even if the intention is to break away from it. In many cases, there’s perhaps no such unity in the first place, with its apparent coherence being underwritten by the most influential figures within the field have talked about ‘the literature’ in a way which performatively brings it into being by justifying the implication that much (potentially relevant) material exists ‘outside’. Judgements of salience aren’t written into the fabric of the knowledge system, they’re suffused with epistemic relativism: made from a particular standpoint, by a person with their own interests, reliant upon their own conceptual apparatus. Instead, behind apparent coherence, we have a complex network of citation cartels, ‘unread and unloved’ publications and influential beneficiaries of Matthew effects.

    My point is not to dispute the value of reading and engaging with literature. I only want to situate invocations of ‘the literature’: made by people struggling with the problems of scholarly abundance, in relation to others similarly struggling with these problems. The idea of one definitive point of orientation becomes fetishistic when we all suffer from the vertigo of the accelerated academy. From Sustainable Knowledge by Robert Frodeman, loc 1257:

    I feel like I am drowning in knowledge, and the idea of further production is daunting. Libraries and bookstores produce a sense of anxiety: the number of books and journals to read is overwhelming, with tens of thousands more issuing from the presses each day. Moreover, there is no real criterion other than whim for selecting one book or article over another. To dive into one area rather than another becomes a willful act of blindness, when other areas are just as worthwhile and when every topic connects to others in any number of ways. The continual press of new knowledge becomes an invitation to forgetfulness, to lose the forest for the trees.

    Under these circumstances, our concern shouldn’t be to ensure everyone pays allegiance to ‘the literature’. We can assume this will continue to grow continuously while everyone feels compelled to write hyperactively, continually churning out publications with more hope that they are counted rather than that they are read. Instead, we should be asking how do we sustain the conversation under these circumstancesWhat kinds of conversations should we be havingWhat purposes do they serve? The well known problems of scholarly publishing mean traditional exchange in journals is becoming progressively less amenable to productive conversations, particularly across boundaries of field and discipline. How do we have conversations which serve, as Nicos Mouzelis puts it, to build bridges?

    To be specific, there is little satisfaction with the present status quo where the boundaries between economics, political science, sociology and anthropology have become solid blinkers preventing interdisciplinary studies of social phenomena. But such compartmentalization will not be transcended by the facile and mindless abolition of the existing division of labour between disciplines.

    [Instead we need] a painstaking process of theoretical labour that aims at building bridges between the various specializations. Such a strategy does not abolish social science boundaries: it simply aims at transforming them from impregnable bulwarks to transmission belts facilitating interdisciplinary research … what is badly needed today are more systematic efforts towards the creation of a theoretical discourse that would be able to translate the language of one discipline into that of another. Such an interdisciplinary language would not only facilitate communication among the social science disciplines, it would also make it possible to incorporate effectively into the social sciences insights achieved in philosophy, psychoanalysis or semiotics.

    Sociological Theory: What went Wrong?: Diagnosis and Remedies, By Nicos Mouzelis

    A large part of my enthusiasm for social media comes from the possibilities it offers for having these kinds of conversations. But trying to resolve the problems of the accelerated academy through an invocation of the need for disciplined practice is taking us in the wrong direction.

    There’s a powerful counter-argument that can be found here by Patrick Dunleavy, concerning the importance of citation. I want to think carefully about this but my instinct would be to add two additional columns: “how scholarly abundance complicates this role” and “how might this lead us to change practice“.

    1-fRk5RTvLhEzfccZL_oDU9g

     
  • Mark 1:20 pm on February 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , ,   

    An Introduction to the Accelerated Academy: by me and @Filvos 

    Our opening talk at the second Accelerated Academy conference in Leiden in December:

    Some two years ago the two of us started discussing Hartmut Rosa’s theory of social acceleration and how it manifests in the present condition. Though we found his theory fascinating and provocative we also noted important conceptual and empirical problems with his account, namely the incomplete notion of agency in his conceptual scheme and Rosa’s overall tendency of treating acceleration as some sort of a sweeping mega-force colonising human lifeworld in its entirety and irreducible complexity. We were compelled to explore such Rosa’s theory and intuitively felt that not only individuals might step back and reflect upon accelerating modernity, but also that many embrace it without necssarily associating it with neither capitalist forces nor with what is now labelled as ‘accelerationism’. We begun thus to think about acceleration in a more nuanced way and concentrated on our own environment – the academy. 

    For both us the phrase ‘accelerated academy’ signifies a research trajectory, one we’re pursuing collectively but also through our own independent projects. Filip’s research concern encompass sociology of time and specifically then ‘hidden rhythms’ in and of academia. In his current project he examines the causes and manifestations of temporal pressure in the lives of scientists in the Czech Republic and its personal and epistemic consequences. Focusing on theoretical, experimental and applied physics he and his colleagues investigate what ‘lost time’ means for scientists and how scientific institutions ‘trade’ (with) time. Mark’s particular interest is in digital technology within the university, particularly the implications of social media for the future of intellectual life. Too often framed in terms of the personal gains to be accrued for individual careers, the full significance of social media has often been missed. This encompasses positive dimensions (such as new forms of solidarity and new capacities for political mobilisation) as well as more negative ones, such as the intensification of labour and the possibilities for expanded surveillance by university managers. Building on his book Social Media for Academics, his current project seeks to develop a broader theoretical framework within which the digitalisation of the university can be understood. 

    But we also saw ‘accelerated academy’ as an assembly device, a provocative way of bringing together researchers from different disciplines and traditions in order to find new ways of understanding and intervening in the transformations going on around us. This could be seen in the diversity of the participants at last year’s conference in Prague, encompassing scholars of education, time, political economy, labour, science, organisations and metrics as well as natural scientists. But it could also be found in the sheer range and quality of the papers themselves, as well as the dialogues they gave rise to before, during and after the event itself. 

    The phrase has indeed seemed to resonate with many. There is an apparently pervasive sense in the contemporary scientific world that things are speeding-up incessantly – scientists report chronic busyness, psychological discomfort, anxieties and insufficient time for research-related activities. They are expected to publish more papers, read more texts, meet strict deadlines, ‘fundraise’, engage in science administration, press ahead. Similarly as the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass it seems that scientists simply need to run ever-faster but only remain where they are. This widespread experience in the contemporary academy needs to be nonetheless contextualised with rapid other important trends in science organisation, administration, evaluation and culture. However, we also note that recent propositions offered by slow science movement and similar initiatives are rather problematic and that acceleration in/of academic life cannot be reduced solely to the aforementioned pathologies and differs significantly across disciplines, institutions and national contexts.  

    We hope that the ‘accelerated academy’ can continue to be a useful device to facilitate interdisciplinary conversations about the transformation of the university. Ones that link the psychological and the social, connect technical systems to lived experience and couple a critique of managerial power with an analysis of how the affectivity and concerns of academics leave them entangled and sometimes complicit within these power structures.

    In September this year Milena Kremakova organised one-day symposium on acceleration and anxiety in academic life. The papers and discussion addressed how contemporary ‘accelerated academy’ induces anxiety environment and how careers, working lives and identities of scholars and academic institutions are affected. We’re hoping to have one or even two events in the UK next year, subject to success with funding. Hopefully there can be further events beyond this and we can sustain these conversations on an ongoing basis.

    This isn’t solely a matter of face to face meetings. We are extending last year’s series of blog posts on the popular LSE Impact Blog and we’re inviting everyone here to contribute to these discussions. There are many podcasts and videocasts from last year’s conference, hosted on The Sociological Review’s website. We’re hoping that the Accelerated Academy website and Twitter feed can provide a platform for further projects and events going forward, using the affordances of social media to facilitate ‘accelerated’ conversations in the best sense of the term.

     
    • Martha Bell 7:06 pm on February 10, 2017 Permalink

      What a great opening talk.

      When you said “they are expected to publish more papers, read more texts, meet strict deadlines, ‘fundraise’, engage in science administration, press ahead,” I also thought of the ways that scientists/social scientists are expected to submit proposed projects to competitive funding rounds for which the odds are so great that everyone knows that the time spent (it could be a year of writing, polishing and circulating ideas in a research team) is wasted time. They are pressing ahead in activities that they know make institutional rubbish of their most exciting idea(s).

    • Mark 9:45 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      And the odds are becoming worse with each passing year due to institutionally mandated pressure to bring in more money :-/

    • Martha Bell 4:37 am on February 18, 2017 Permalink

      That’s one of the best things about being outside the academy: having time.

    • Mark 10:23 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      But the sustaining academic myth is that being within the academy is what given the time and space for research. The weirdness of our contemporary situation.

  • Mark 1:55 pm on January 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , Strielkowski,   

    The Sociology of Predatory Publishing 

    In a recent article on Derivace, Luděk Brož, Tereza Stöckelová and Filip Vostal reflect on the case of Wadim Strielkowski, whose over-enthusiastic game playing was the subject of extensive debate within the Czech academy. There are many factors which have, as a whole, led his prolific rate of publication to be regarded with deep suspicion, such as the self-publication of his monographs, typos in his journal articles, extensive recycling between papers and a continuously rotating cast of co-authors:

    Strielkowski, then a junior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague, first attracted the attention of colleagues in early 2015, when it was discovered that he had published 17 monographs and more than 60 journal articles in just three years. It is probably not surprising that a number of these texts were published in a rather unconventional way: Strielkowski’s monographs, with one exception, were in fact self-published and self-illustrated, even though each appeared to have been published by the Faculty of Social Sciences. A substantial amount of his articles were published in journals that could be described, following Beall’s terminology, as “potentially, possibly or probably predatory”. Since many of his articles were skilfully placed in dubious journals that were featured in SCOPUS or even in the Web of Science’s databases, they were recognised by the Czech evaluation system as research outputs. As a result, Strielkowski’s employer was awarded the appropriate amount of funding, and Strielkowski himself, according to the Czech media, received bonuses to his salary as a result.

    https://derivace.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/predators-and-bloodsuckers-in-academic-publishing/

    What makes his case interesting is how skilfully these articles were placed. As the authors note, a substantial number of his articles were placed in journals that could be described as “potentially, possibly or probably predatory” while nonetheless being included in relevant indexes which meant they counted as research outputs for formal evaluation, with all the advantages that entails. Not only was he skilfully navigating the publishing environment to facilitate his own rapid ascent, he made a business out of helping others do the same thing:

    In addition to being a prolific author, Strielkowski also happens to be a globetrotting entrepreneur. Through his companies, he has offered courses on how to publish in academic journals, with special emphasis on SCOPUS and the Web of Science. Participants primarily hailed from the countries of the former USSR; if they paid conference fees, they were guaranteed publication of their text(s) in one of the journals that Strielkowski himself (used to) publish and which Beall monitored until January 2017 (such as Czech Journal of Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and International Economics Letters). For those ready to pay €3,000, Strielkowski, referring to himself as “professor” and “Vice-Chancellor”, even offered academic degrees. His Prague University of Social Sciences and Humanities Ltd. offered not only MBAs (apparently without an accreditation in the Czech Republic) and postdoctoral positions one had to pay for, but also a “MAW” degree, which stood for “Master of Academic Writing”.

    https://derivace.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/predators-and-bloodsuckers-in-academic-publishing/

    The case is a fascinating one because it illustrates how metricised evaluation and predatory publishing cannot simply be regarded as imposed from outside, leaving academic victims with no choice but to adapt or be left behind. Strielkowski is an extreme example but his case illustrates how the opportunities these systems create for advancement are drawn upon and engaged with knowingly by scholars, in a way that is always implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) orientated to the others embedded within them.

    We do not simply ‘internalise’ these imperatives or find ourselves moulded to become ‘neoliberal subjects’. The exercise of agency to be found here is varied, complex and confusing. Denunciations of individual cases, which I don’t think Luděk et al are doing in this case, doesn’t help matters. I’d argue that what often understands itself to be theorisations of such cases, invoking the idea of the neoliberal subject etc, in reality more often represents a thematisation of them.

    How do we counter this though? At one point, the authors write of Strielkowski’s papers that “they have hardly any readership to speak of to notice such a statement in the first place”. Similarly, when I read this article, the second thing I looked at after Strielkowski’s personal website was his Google Scholar profile, immediately noting that he has relatively few citations for someone who has published so prolifically, with a majority seeming to be self-citations. I wonder if there is an element of bad faith in finding reassurance in such things, an invocation of readership and citation as a quality threshold, when we know that the systemic problems preclude the reliability of such standards? I wonder if this represents a unacknowledged attempt to evade the vertigo of the accelerated academy:

    I feel like I am drowning in knowledge, and the idea of further production is daunting. Libraries and bookstores produce a sense of anxiety: the number of books and journals to read is overwhelming, with tens of thousands more issuing from the presses each day. Moreover, there is no real criterion other than whim for selecting one book or article over another. To dive into one area rather than another becomes a willful act of blindness, when other areas are just as worthwhile and when every topic connects to others in any number of ways. The continual press of new knowledge becomes an invitation to forgetfulness, to lose the forest for the trees.

    From Sustainable Knowledge by Robert Frodeman, loc 1257:

    We have more room for manoeuvre then we acknowledge. Strielkowski’s game playing represents what Ruth Müller calls anticipatory acceleration taken to an unprecedented extreme: mindlessly speeding up the rate of publication in pursuit of competitive advantage within an overcrowded field. But if Trump academics are in the ascendancy, we’re liable to see more of this. The system is fucked and all the evidence suggests it is becoming more so with each passing year.

    We need a honest account of our investments within the system of scholarly communication, building from the basic constraints which the requirements of pursuing an academic career impose. Looking at extreme cases like Strielkowski can help us doing this, by providing prompts to elucidate our assumptions and concerns about scholarly publishing that we might not otherwise feel the need to put into words.


    On a related note:
    (click through for the whole thread)

     
  • Mark 3:28 pm on January 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , ,   

    pirate philosophy in (and for) the digital university 

    https://soundcloud.com/mark-carrigan/pirate-philosophy-scholarly-publishing-and-post-capitalism

    Some notes on Gary Hall’s Pirate Philosophy, a book I found more thought-provoking than any I’d read in some time. The podcast above is an interview I recorded with him a couple of months ago. 

    1. The forgetfulness of technology which critics like Stiegler argue afflicts contemporary thought also applies to the narrower world in which such criticisms are made. Theorists and philosophers, as well as academics as a whole, have “forgotten and repressed the technologies by which their own work is not only produced, published and distributed but also commodified and privatised (not to mention controlled, homogenised, and standardised) by for-profit companies operating as part of the cultural industries” (p. 12). This forgetfulness could, I suggest, be read as a corollary of what Bourdieu called skholḗ, the condition of distance from the world, an escape from it necessary in order to think it. If the conditions for skholḗ are being systematically undermined within the accelerated academy, an orientation to systems of production, circulation and engagement represents a central vector of reengagement with the world.
    2. We need criticality rather than paranoia, to invoke Sasha Roseneil’s useful distinction, with Hall’s theoretical commitments often inclining him to the former register rather than the latter. Criticality in this sense entails a practical “emphasis on the potentiality of the present, in all the complexities of our implication in its creation and re-creation” in contrast to a register of paranoia in which analysis is inflected through the sensation that things are bad and getting worse. As I understand the notion of paranoia here, it reflects a fundamental intolerance of ambiguity and ambivalence. What is at stake is recognise the positive and negative inherent in our condition, holding both in the same frame while looking towards the potentiality of the present and the ameliorative possibility latent within it for our collective future. This leads us to construct a world of perpetual co-option and insidious normalisation, with regression and retrenchment lurking behind every putative gain. My claim is not that Hall falls into this, the enormous array of innovative and practical projects he’s collaborated on reveals this not to be true, but rather that his analysis does.
    3. The way Hall critiques what he sees as “philosophical complacency and thoughtlessness” in reengagements with these systems, characterised by “predefined – and sometimes only superficially understood – ideas of copyleft, Creative Commons, open access, and open source and of the differences between them” (p. 12-13) seems unfair to me. He recognises the performative contradiction in making such a critique within a physical book published by a university press. Yet this contradiction seems tellingly under-theorised, a tension that remains on the level of the singular individual to be recuperated through piratical acts of surreptitious open distribution, rather than something which informs the overarching account of the place of the academic as cultural producer within the digital university. These faltering, perhaps thoughtless, steps towards a reengagement with the world reveal the entanglement of these figures within precisely the same systems that he (and myself) operate within. I want to theorise degrees of entanglement, ranges of co-option, which I think remains impossible unless we draw on other conceptual resources.
    4. These systems of production, circulation and engagement have individualism encoded into them. Hall resists “a theory that could be too easily sold, blogged, and tweeted about as my original work, intellectual property, or trademark” which would serve to “reinforce my own expertise and position in the academic marketplace, and thereby gain advance in the struggle for attention, recognition, fame, authority, and disciplinary power” (p. 19). But there’s an suppressed voluntarism implicit within this, as if the ascription of authorship reflects nothing more than the aspirations of an individual to claim that authorship, rather than being a systemic feature of the digital university. This can be evaded, but it can’t be avoided.
    5. Reclaiming this agency serves a crucial analytical function if we are to explain how “the requirement to have visibility, to show up in the metrics, to be measurable, encourages researchers to publish as much and as frequently as they can” (p. 30). But we need to reintroduce the agency of others at the same time as reinscribing our agency in the analysis. Not in the sense of the liberal individual, but rather as the quotidian subject. The living, sleeping, hoping, dreaming, embodied person who gets up every day and sometimes gets bored. This is the agency which academics are often so blind to, the person who performs an occupational role within an organisation, an employee in relation to employers, whose relationality extends far beyond the job they take too seriously.
    6. Claiming we should avoid paranoia should not license naïveté. There are hugely important questions we need to ask about digital capitalism’s transformation of the university, see for instance Hall’s discussion on page 34-37. My point is that we should be precise about the mechanisms through which their influence operates, the implications for scholarly practice and the transformations taking place. No one account can do everything, but even if we’re remaining at a certain level of abstraction, we should try and lay the groundwork in a way amenable to future investigation. My claim is that the largely absent agents within Hall’s account leaves technological change framed as an intrusion from ‘outside’, engendering a tendency to slip into the register of paranoia. This tendency is one that engaging with Jana Bacevic’s work has left me newly aware of.
    7. Academic authority is undergoing a profound change within the digital university. The image of the lone scholar motivated by a “desire for pre-eminance, authority, and disciplinary power” (a quote from Stanley Fish) who seeks to “make an argument so forceful and masterly it is difficult for others not to concur” (p. 58) seems obviously antiquated. Yet the academic scene is dominated by over-producing figures who have come to represent brands in their own right. We’ve seen a transition from authority grounded in mastery to authority grounded in dominating the attention space. My point is not to suggest the former was a simple matter of intellectual merit, far from it, rather a transition from authority being a matter of meeting socio-epistemic criteria to authority being a matter of socio-epistemic efficacy. Nonetheless, as Hall points out on page 64, the book lingers on as something which grounds this authority. Could the book be seen as a transitional object, to which academics feel a fetishistic attraction, while we make a transition from the ‘Gutenberg Galaxy to the Facebook Universe’ as Hall put it in the interview?
     
  • Mark 4:20 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , accelerated academy, , , , , , , narratology, poetics,   

    some thoughts on the poetics of impact 

    In the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the poetics of impact. I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about the impact agenda, initially suspecting that it might open up opportunities for valuable activity to be recognised within the increasingly restrictive confines of the accelerated academy. I wasn’t alone in this. This is how Les Back described his own changing relationship to the impact agenda:

    It is embarrassing to remember that some of us – at least initially – thought that ‘impact’ promised the possibility of institutional recognition for public sociology. Might the emphasis on relevance and engagement create a ‘public agora’ for sociological ideas of the kind described by Helga Nowotny and her colleagues?

    Another President, this time of the British Sociological Association, had a very different view. John Holmwood warned in 2011 that it was “naïve” to think that the turn to impact would lead to an enhanced public sociology. Rather, he suggested in contrast that UK research would likely be “diverted into a pathway to mediocrity”. Surely not, I felt when I first read this piece. John you are being overly pessimistic! How right he has been proved to be.

    https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/on-the-side-of-the-powerful-the-impact-agenda-sociology-in-public.html

    Underlying this ambivalence is a tension between the impact agenda as a top-down imposition and a bottom-up expression of a desire to make a difference through research. This tension explains why, as John Brewer puts it, “Impact is at one and the same time an object of derision and acclaim, anxiety and confidence”. While it’s seen as innocuous within the policy evaluation community, it’s irrevocably tied up with the unfolding audit culture within higher education, particularly within the UK. It’s an imposition which seems liable to profoundly reshape working life, in unwelcome and unclear ways, but it also resonates, however vaguely, with a sense of what motivated the work of many people in the first place. I’ve always like Michael Burawoy’s description of this as the sociological spirit:

    The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials. Progress becomes a battery of disciplinary techniques—standardized courses, validated reading lists, bureaucratic ranking intensive examinations, literature reviews, tailored dissertations, refereed publications, the all-mighty CV, the job search, the tenure file, and then policing one’s colleagues and successors to make sure we all march in step. Still, despite the normalizing pressures of careers, the originating moral impetus is rarely vanquished, the sociological spirit cannot be extinguished so easily.

    http://burawoy.berkeley.edu/PS/ASA%20Presidential%20Address.pdf

    The impact agenda both reflects this spirit and is tied up in the apparatus which is crushing it. How could it not provoke ambivalence? My growing interest is in how this manifests itself at the level of discourse surrounding impact. Could the tendency towards what Pat Thompson analyses as heroic narratives of impact be in part a response to this underlying tension:

    You know these heroic narratives – they are everywhere from nursery rhymes to popular films. It’s the knight on a white charger who slays the dragon, the cowboy who rids the town of lazy barflies, the cop who cleans up the burb and sends all those good-for-nuttin drug dealers and pimps to the big house.

    There is a research version of this kind of narrative. You know them too I’m sure. The researcher/lecturer/professional rides into town – usually this is an impoverished neighbouhood/really dumb class/group of people/ hopeless policy agenda. Through the process of intervention/teaching/participatory or action research/evaluation the impoverished neighbouhood/really dumb class/group of people floundering around/hopeless policy agenda becomes improved/enlightened/empowered/transformed. Work done, the researcher/lecturer/professional simply has to write the paper and ride out of town.

    These stories create a rather dangerous division between the hero/heroine and the saved. The hero/heroine knows and can do everything, and can do no wrong. Those to be saved know/can do nothing and are destined for a hopeless future until the hero/heroine shows up.

    https://patthomson.net/2013/04/08/please-not-a-heroic-impact-narrative/

    I realise this is more narratology than poetics but these perhaps constitute two distinct phases of an investigation. What are the structures of stories about impact? What do they share and how do they differ? What rhetorical devices are used in these stories? What linguistic techniques are used in talk about impact more broadly?

    The tendency that fascinates me involves a perpetual oscillation from idealism to pragmatism. Impact is hailed as an opportunity to live a more authentic life as a researcher, change the world with your research and be a better human being. Plus this is the way things are now and you’d better adapt or you’ll be left behind. The invocations are at times explicitly ethical (right or wrong to do), supplementing the aforementioned moral dimension (good or bad to be):

    1. You have a responsibility to tax payers to ensure your research is put to use.
    2. You have a responsibility to knowledge to ensure your research leaves academic silos.
    3. You have a responsibility to society to ensure your research makes a difference.

    At an event in Belgium at the start of December, I saw a senior figure in the UK impact community explain that academics who claimed not to ‘get it’ should be “ashamed of themselves”. The expression varies in its tenor and force but it’s usually there. But this is accompanied by a pragmatism with a similar range. From mild claims that being engaged will make you a better scholar, up to outright threats that you’ll be left behind and won’t be able to survive in the new academy unless you develop your impact skills.

    When I raised this on Twitter, Penny Andrews made the fascinating suggestion that this oscillation between carrot and stick resembled a religious sermon in its tone. I think there’s a fascinating project which could be undertaken exploring this comparison at the level of the texts, as well as detailing the poetics and narratology of impact discourse* and situating them within an account of the accelerated academy.

    *I don’t feel the slightest bit capable of doing this with a sufficient level of sophistication, but if anyone wants to collaborate please get in touch!

     
  • Mark 4:53 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , accelerated academy, , , ,   

    Pascalian Meditations on the Digital University 

    1. Does the situation of skholḗ still obtain in the accelerated academy? This is what Bourdieu described as “the free time, freed from the urgencies of the world, that allows a free and liberated relation to those urgencies and to the world” (p. 1). This condition was always unevenly distributed, its ubiquity apparent only relative to one’s own elite status within similarly elite institutions, allowing practicalities in here to pass unnoticed and those out there in other institutions to evade recognition. The organisational sociology of skholḗ seems implausible, suggesting the distance is between the institution and the outside world, rather than within the institution itself. There are many changes in the university which have undermined the experienced situation of skholḗ but the one which interests me most is automation. In so far as support staff have been replaced by digital technology, meeting the practical demands of professors now entails their own participation in what Craig Lambert calls ‘shadow work’ (i.e engaging with automated systems) rather than delegation to those within the institution whose role it is to handle practicalities. I’m still relatively new to Bourdieu’s work on universities but thus far, it’s hard to avoid the impression that he sees universities as exclusively populated by ‘professors’ and ‘students’ (see for example p. 41).
    2. If the scholarly vocation involves a form of learned ignorance, in which “base calculations of careerist ambition” are systematically excluded, scholarly blogs and tweets which address professional issues become a crucial site of struggle over shared identity. The lived frustrations of pluralistic ignorance, as well as the more mundane challenge of what to tweet/blog about and the fact this generates traffic, generates a tendency for academics to blog about their own practice. This reclamation of scholarly craft must proceed within strict boundaries, lest it be accused of advocating careerism. I was fascinated by someone who felt the need to comment on sociological imagination that they found some career advice I linked to ‘disgusting’ because it represented the ‘neoliberal subject’. The discursive tendencies of academics who have taken to social media represent a challenge to the disavowal of the practical which, argues Bourdieu, should be seen as partly constitutive of the scholarly field. But perhaps this represents a form of “making explicit what ordinarily remains implicit” (p. 37) which opens up the professional socialisation process to those excluded from it.
    3. Are we seeing the emergence of an organic reflexive sociology of the digital university? It seems to me that we are but we should add a crucial caveat about its organic character. It necessarily reproduces the illusio of its players, with even the most sophisticated accounts taking the stakes of the academic game as a given. This is why arguments about ‘careerism’ and the coverage of ‘ex-academics’ prove so richly divisive. This is when the stakes of the game are seen to be susceptible to challenge, even by those who are party to them, opening up contrasting possibilities that this is just a game that we are playing and furthermore it is a game that we can elect to leave. This mechanism produces systematic blindspots, leading what might otherwise be communally empowering reflections on shared conditions into meandering and myopic alleys which permit of little practical development. There are cultural forms which circulate successfully under these conditions which it is valuable to critique on this basis e.g. the slow professor. The politics of advice in academic social media are complex and little scrutinised.
    4. Social media can prove alluring for the scholar because of the “excessive confidence in the powers of language” which plague them (p. 2). It offers an imaginative recuperation of the “apartness from the world of production” that is experienced as “both a liberatory break and a disconnection, a potentially crippling separation” (p. 15). The combination of a vaguely defined audience on to which one can project and architecture of platforms which encourage contention provides a perfect forum in which those who “regard an academic commentary as a political act or the critique of texts as a feat of resistance, and experiencer revolutions in the order of words as radical revolutions in the order of things” can act out their political ambitions on a safe and inconsequential stage of their own making (p. 2).
    5. Until perhaps they confront those from adjacent fields, their movements similarly inflected through comparable processes of digitalisation. What happens when scholars meet journalists? What happens when they meet policy makers? What happens when they meet their own students? What happens when they meet ‘trolls’? How do these increasingly everyday encounters provide opportunities for the reproduction or transformation of their investment in the scholarly field? The sociology of such boundary encounters is much more complex than tends to be acknowledged. What seems clear to me is that accounts of social media as democratising the academy in relation to wider society fail to capture what is going on here.

     

     
    • Benjamin Geer 6:25 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      “Does the situation of skholè still obtain in the accelerated academy?”

      This is a great question. Maybe an answer could go something like this, focusing on the distinction between scholastic thinking and practical sense: When I’m sitting at my desk, reading about bullfights (which I know only from books, having never seen one), I have considerable distance from the urgencies of the world of bullfights. Even if I only have ten minutes to read about bullfights while preparing a lecture I have to give in an hour, I’m still treating the bullfight as an object of scholastic contemplation. It’s not me fighting the bull. But if my colleague walks in and announces that he’s just published an article in that journal I’ve always wanted to publish in, and which has always rejected my submissions, and I’m overwhelmed with jealousy, I have no such distance. My reaction comes from my practical sense. The accelerated academy reduces the amount of time available for skholè, but that reduced time can still be time spent in a scholastic relation to the object of study. But how little time can we get away with? What happens to academics when they no longer have time to read?

    • Mark 9:36 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      Thanks Ben, that responses makes a lot of sense to me in terms I’ve been writing about as cognitive triage. So we’re talking about objective conditions (a preponderance of time & a relative autonomy in its deployment) and subjective conditions (establishing a relation of attachment to the object of study), right? Your point is that an erosion of the former doesn’t necessarily preclude the latter. But is there a tipping point at which it starts to render it so peripheral that it largely becomes impossible?

    • Mark 9:40 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      And does this preclude scholarship? Or are there other forms of engagement which can produce knowledge which are congruent with the temporalities of the accelerated academy?

      Take this brief exchange, which I’ve found illuminating, much as I found two hours of reading this afternoon illuminating. I’m not sure they can be compared or what the rubric for a comparison could even be. But they seem obviously distinct, even if I can’t specify the basis of the distinction.

      The question underlying this is whether social media by academics, in a context of institutional acceleration, necessarily erodes skholè. Or can social media also prove adaptive, offering faster & iterative forms of engagement which allow knowledge production without detachment. The ethos of the pirate sociologist perhaps: https://markcarrigan.net/2016/11/03/towards-a-pirate-sociology/

    • Benjamin Geer 11:07 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      “So we’re talking about objective conditions (a preponderance of time & a relative autonomy in its deployment) and subjective conditions (establishing a relation of attachment to the object of study), right?”

      Yes! Your habitus is adapted to the kinds of thinking that go on in your field. They’ve become second nature for you. So you can turn on that kind of thinking any time, even for a few minutes, just as a skilled pianist can sit down any time, at any piano that happens to be handy, and play. But to acquire that habitus, you have to go through a long, gradual process of adaptation and integration into a field, which in academia means spending a lot of time reading about and thinking through ideas and problems that are considered important in your field. I think that in the humanities and social sciences, the main time when people get to do this is during their PhD. But if time for reading and thinking becomes very scarce after the PhD, what happens? Perhaps people’s academic habitus is durable enough to allow them to keep repeating the same patterns in teaching and writing, year after year. But original thinking, or serious engagement with other people’s original thinking, must become very hard to do.

      “Take this brief exchange, which I’ve found illuminating, much as I found two hours of reading this afternoon illuminating. I’m not sure they can be compared or what the rubric for a comparison could even be…. The question underlying this is whether social media by academics, in a context of institutional acceleration, necessarily erodes skholè. Or can social media also prove adaptive….”

      I’m guessing that it depends on the objective relation between the people involved. Today I got an email announcing the latest issue of a journal I’ve published in, and as usual I had absolutely no interest in any of the articles. Whereas when I saw the title of this blog post, I was immediately interested, and in the post you brought up a lot of things I care about. I’m guessing that these shared preoccupations reflect a homology between our positions in academic fields. Given that sort of objective relation, I think you can have a great interaction with someone, whether it’s in person, via email, or on social media. On the other hand, getting trolled, or just subjected to everyone’s relentless self-promotion, clearly isn’t going to do you any good. What I look for on social media is people who are exploring things I’m exploring, trying to go in directions that I want to go in. Then I think there really is value to an interaction that’s faster and less formal than academic publishing. In a format like this, we can compare possible ways of thinking about a problem, without having to wait three years for the peer-reviewed article or book.

      I feel like social media aren’t really designed to facilitate these kinds of connections. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out who to follow on Twitter, and Twitter’s suggestions of academics for me to follow usually aren’t much help. I could imagine a social media platform that does something like the analysis in Homo Academicus, where Bourdieu identifies a whole group of scholars like himself who, at a particular historical moment, had similar positions and career trajectories. But then I’d worry about it selling my data…

    • Mark 12:49 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      “What I look for on social media is people who are exploring things I’m exploring, trying to go in directions that I want to go in. Then I think there really is value to an interaction that’s faster and less formal than academic publishing. In a format like this, we can compare possible ways of thinking about a problem, without having to wait three years for the peer-reviewed article or book.”

      I couldn’t agree more with this but it’s a theoretical question that interests me. Do you see this as a matter of habitus? Because for me this seems archetypally a matter of reflexivity…

    • Benjamin Geer 10:52 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      “Do you see this as a matter of habitus? Because for me this seems archetypally a matter of reflexivity…”

      I think it’s both. In Homo Academicus, Bourdieu argues that in the 1960s, young academics whose professional aspirations were based on the old mode of academic recruitment were surprised and angry when it didn’t work for them. The shock of this hysteresis of habitus led them to question the previously taken-for-granted social structures of academia, and then those of society at large, and some of them then became leaders of the mass uprising of May 1968. I take this to mean that a person’s habitus and social trajectory can predispose them to become more reflexive.

      You and I both have unorthodox career trajectories. We occupy peripheral positions in the landscape of academic institutions, in sort of no-man’s-land between the worlds of research and of applied technology. Simultaneously insiders and outsiders, we have an intuitive feel for how academia works, but we lack the total investment (illusio) of those who occupy dominant positions. I think sort of position is ideal for developing reflexivity. Bourdieu studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, but as the son of a provincial postman, he felt like an outsider there. However successfully he adapted and gained access to the centres of academic power, his trajectory would never be the same as that of someone whose parents were normaliens. This experience of being different no doubt had a lasting effect on his habitus, helping him to gain the reflexivity needed for a study like The State Nobility.

    • Benjamin Geer 10:56 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      *in sort of no-man’s-land

      *this sort of position

    • Mark 6:09 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      I see what you’re saying but the impression I’ve got from reading the Pascalian Meditations thus far is that Bourdieu conceived of the university as consistently solely of students and professors. He may have had conditions which were epistemically conducive to understanding the rules of the academic game, but does that necessarily entail a comparable insight into universities as organisations? I’m not sure if I’m being unfair, but it’s the thought I keep coming back to & relates to what you’re saying about our respective positions as people who are not students, professors or researchers in the straight-forwardly post-doctoral sense.

    • Benjamin Geer 9:00 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      “does that necessarily entail a comparable insight into universities as organisations?”

      I don’t think it does. Although I think Bourdieu’s initial trajectory has something in common with ours, his experience of universities was also very different, and not just because he ended up in a dominant position in his field. For one thing, I think French universities in the second half of the twentieth century enjoyed greater institutional autonomy, and were more firmly under the control of professors, than universities in most other parts of the world. Perhaps struggles between administration and professors weren’t as big a part of his experience as they are of ours. And France hadn’t (and still hasn’t) introduced precarious, low-wage academic employment on a large scale, as the US has, or subjected academics to anything like Britain’s REF.

      Bourdieu was definitely concerned with threats to the autonomy of academic fields, including ‘the more and more frequent recourse of university research to sponsorship, and of the creation of educational institutions directly subordinated to business’ (The Rules of Art, 344-45). He explored some of this in The State Nobility, but that book is mainly about individuals’ academic careers, and about the field of academic institutions, rather than about considering each institution as a field in itself. His response to these threats was to call for cultural producers to engage in a collective struggle for ‘power over the instruments of production and consecration’, and I think that’s more relevant than ever. In his day, that meant things like creating his own academic journal. Today I think we need to do much more, and I think projects that seek to transform the economics of academic publishing, like the Open Library of the Humanities, are part of that.

      I think it’s important not to limit Bourdieu’s theoretical tools to the ways in which he himself used them. It’s tempting to get frustrated with him for not being interested in some of the things we’re very interested in today. But it’s inevitable that his horizons were different from ours. We can ask a lot of questions about reflexivity and autonomy that he never asked, and that’s as it should be. It could be very interesting to try to find out what sorts of habitus and social trajectories are likely to give people insight into universities as organisations.

    • Benjamin Geer 9:30 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      A further thought: in The State Nobility, the people who don’t succeed in their academic careers end up as schoolteachers. Bourdieu emphasises that the division between those who succeed and those who fail is often arbitrary, but he doesn’t envisage any academic future for the rejects. All they can do is try to convince themselves that they’re content not to do research anymore. But now there seems to be a greater variety of non-academic or quasi-academic positions in and around universities, occupied by people who, in one way or another, are turning their knowledge of academia to their advantage. A lot of this seems to involve various kinds of servile roles (such as selling advice about how to game the system in order to succeed as an academic). But I’m wondering whether it’s possible for such a position to lend itself to autonomous research. In particular, if nobody expects you to do research at all, you’re under no pressure to publish, and this might make it possible to do certain kinds of ‘slow’ research that would be more difficult for others to do. And getting back to your theoretical question, what would make someone in such a position want to do something like that, while others don’t?

    • Mark 8:04 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink

      That’s exactly why I’ve been interested in alt-academic careers since I first came across them (as well as the practical concern of being fairly sure I wanted one) – what I’m now realising is how theoretically significant this is for academic labour and academic self-conception. An obvious empirical question: do alt-academics seek to consecrate their research as research? If so, how do they do this?

    • Mark 8:05 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink

      So you think it’s a matter of focus in a given context? That fits very nicely with Margaret Archer’s critique of Bourdieu which I think is pretty much uniformly misunderstood. Her problem isn’t with the sociology as much as the unthinking transposition of it from a very particular kind of centralised and relatively stable structural context.

    • Benjamin Geer 11:01 pm on February 5, 2017 Permalink

      ‘So you think it’s a matter of focus in a given context?’

      Yes, and I think that in general, as insiders in any context, we’ve internalised certain assumptions about what sorts of things are important in that context. That’s part of our insider’s habitus. For Bourdieu, reflexivity in social science requires a constant, conscious struggle against our habitus. We need all the objectifying tools that social science has to offer, such as ethnography and statistics, to make gains in that struggle. He used those tools to gain some reflexivity about the academic world he had been initiated into, but his reflexivity had limits.

      I think one striking example of this is his relative neglect of the topic of religion. Despite having developed field theory through an engagement with Weber’s ideas about religion, and despite using all sorts of religious metaphors (‘consecration’, ‘theodicy’, ‘prophecy’, ‘heresy’), he didn’t pay much attention to religion itself in his research. I have a suspicion (though no direct evidence) that this was because, like many French intellectuals of his generation, he assumed that religion was a spent force, one that had become nearly irrelevant. It must have been easier to hold that view in France than in many other parts of the world, especially at that time, and perhaps if he were alive today, he would see things differently.

      I used to read a lot of critiques of Bourdieu, but I ended up finding it a tiresome activity, because they nearly always turn out to be arguing against straw men, and usually it’s clear that the authors have read very little of what Bourdieu actually wrote. I suppose that many have read a bit of Bourdieu for the sole purpose of dismissing his ideas, ‘as a shortcut towards visibility more convenient than producing work of their own’, as he says in Pascalian Meditations (in the section ‘Digression: a critique of my critics’). I’ve just had a quick look at Archer’s critique in Making our Way Through the World, and it seems to be based on a common caricature of the concept of habitus, which Bourdieu rejects in that same passage, and which takes habitus to be a ‘monolithic’, ‘immutable’, ‘inexorable’, and ‘exclusive’ principle. I rather think Bourdieu saw habitus merely as a guide to improvisation, much as a song is a guide to a jazz musician’s improvisation. It makes certain things more likely and other things less likely, and provides ready-made categories that can be used to make sense of new situations, but in no way does it rigidly determine thought or action.

      About the consecration of the work of alt-academics, this just occurred to me: perhaps in the old days, academics whose work was too heterodox (e.g. because they didn’t fit neatly into any academic field) would simply be ejected from academia. Or if they were very lucky, like Bourdieu, they might be able to cross over from one field to another (from philosophy to sociology in his case). But nowadays, they might also get a ‘second chance’ in alt-ac jobs. If those jobs really tend to be populated by such individuals, and if they still want to do research and publish, it stands to reason that they would need to engage in a struggle over the means of consecration. The question of how they do it is a good empirical question.

    • Mark 7:12 pm on February 6, 2017 Permalink

      that’s very interesting, thanks. I’m certainly becoming much more open-minded since engaging with Pascalian Meditations.

      I wonder if the key problem is how to avoid the research being construed as effectively a hobby. the desire to avoid playing the game of seeking high-status journal publications is definitely one factor in the alt-academic discourse but, without this consecration, what’s the status of the work that’s not being written up? I wonder if it would be as straight forward as simply asking self-identified alt-academics about how they see their research & analysing their construction of the problem?

    • Benjamin Geer 9:28 pm on February 6, 2017 Permalink

      ‘I wonder if it would be as straight forward as simply asking self-identified alt-academics about how they see their research & analysing their construction of the problem?’

      I think that would definitely be a place to start. Bourdieu placed a high value on understanding the author’s point of view: what were the alternatives the author faced? In his examples of revolutions in fields, he often talks about authors who were confronted with a field divided into two opposing camps, and who rejected both of them. I’m wondering whether a refusal to choose between ‘high-status journal publications’ and ‘work that’s not being written up’ could lead to new forms of research and consecration.

      Personally I want to keep publishing, but since I no longer need to care about how a publication looks on my CV, and since I don’t think aggressive peer review adds much value, I don’t care how high-status the journal is. It’s more important to me that it’s an open-access journal and doesn’t make me wait a year for a decision, and it’s even better if it’s interdisciplinary. My feeling is that the consecration that matters happens after publication in any case, if it happens at all.

      I would also like to reclaim the respectability of doing work as a hobby. In historical terms, all scientists did research as a hobby until very recently. Today, someone like Charles Darwin wouldn’t be able to spend thirty years working on the theory of evolution before publishing it, because no institution would fund him for that long. He was able to do it because he was independently wealthy, and science was a hobby for him. But perhaps alt-ac careers offer another way to do science as a hobby, and thus to escape the pressure to publish quickly.

    • Mark 9:54 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      But I’ve had the argument put to me that the questions which can meaningfully be investigated as a hobby are not the meaningful questions. There’s something self serving and dismissive about this but I’m worried there’s also an element of truth to it.

    • Mark 9:55 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      I wonder if consecration within the market place of ideas is (unfortunately) most likely to emerge under these circumstances. Your work is taken seriously if it can garner engagement by others (particularly outside of the academy) even if it lacks formal consecration within it.

    • Benjamin Geer 8:39 am on February 18, 2017 Permalink

      “the questions which can meaningfully be investigated as a hobby are not the meaningful questions”

      The history of science shows that this is not true. I’ve mentioned Charles Darwin, all of whose scientific work was done as a hobby. Some other examples are Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, Henry Fox Talbot, and Ada Lovelace.

      “I wonder if consecration within the market place of ideas is (unfortunately) most likely to emerge under these circumstances.”

      One doesn’t need to be a salaried researcher to publish in scientific journals. Albert Einstein published his groundbreaking papers during his seven years as an employee of the Swiss patent office.

    • Mark 10:24 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      But it’s telling that all those examples are historical: we might see professionalisation, disciplinary specialisation & the fragmentation of the knowledge system as regrettable. But they are, I think, all barriers to what you’re saying being possible now.

    • Mark 10:25 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      Btw it occurs it might be nice to compile our exchange into a new blog post and see what people make of it. It would be interesting to get the perspective of wider alt-academic community on these issues.

    • Benjamin Geer 10:44 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      “But it’s telling that all those examples are historical: we might see professionalisation, disciplinary specialisation & the fragmentation of the knowledge system as regrettable. But they are, I think, all barriers to what you’re saying being possible now.”

      I think it depends on what kind of research you want to do. If you need a particle accelerator, you probably have to be a professional scientist. But in the social sciences and humanities, a lot of research is done with nothing more than a PhD plus time, thought, publicly available data, and a bit of computing power. Time seems to be the scarcest resource for academics. I actually have more time for research now, with an alt-ac job, than I had when I was a Visiting Assistant Professor.

      I think it’s important to distinguish between academic fields and academic institutions. Perhaps the biggest barrier to what I’m suggesting is the illusion, promoted by academics and academic institutions themselves, that having an academic position equals participation in an academic field. I think this is a bit like when priests say that there is no salvation outside the Church.

      “Btw it occurs it might be nice to compile our exchange into a new blog post and see what people make of it.”

      Definitely!

  • Mark 10:42 am on December 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , ,   

    The challenge of writing in the accelerated academy 

    In the nine years since I first entered a Sociology department, I’ve had a deep interest in academic writing that has only increased with time. In my past life as a philosophy student, writing had never occurred to me as a topic of intellectual interest. Despite having once aspired to be a writer before concluding that I wasn’t good enough at writing political polemics to stand much chance of joining that small class of people who write them for a living. This self-critical concern with the quality (or otherwise) of my writing has perhaps been more of an animating force than I’ve tended to admit to myself. But the other driver was the inspiration I derived from ‘On Intellectual Craftsmanship’, the appendix to The Sociological Imagination, the first book I read as a Sociology postgraduate. As Mills puts it on pg 217-218:

    I know you will agree that you should present your work in as clear and simple language as your subject and your thought about it permit. But as you may have noticed, a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences … Such lack of ready intelligibility, I believe, usually has little or nothing to do with the complexity of subject matter, and nothing at all with profundity of thought. It has to do almost entirely with certain confusions of the academic writer about his own status.

    I’m fascinated by what sociological writing can reveal because of where it sits at the intersection between sociologists, sociology, higher education and the wider world. In such writing we find an (often unintended) disclosure of sociologists, the discipline they have been socialised into, its status within the wider academy and their conditions of labour within it. All while purporting to be an examination of the world ‘out there’. In fact, it’s through concern for how we can produce knowledge of this world, as well as put it to work in changing that world, that it becomes imperative to address writing in a diagnostic mode. How does actually existing sociological writing impede knowledge production? Can we strive to ameliorate these pernicious effects? As Andrew Sayer has put it, the alienated writing of social scientists reflects their own alienation. In addressing one, we unavoidably encounter the other.

    One of the most striking things about contemporary scholarly writing is how obviously rushed some of it is. We can read this back from quantitative measures, looking at the increasing rate at which individuals publish, as well as the aggregate growth of publications as a whole. Though there are other factors at work (e.g. digital technology offering time savings in the writing and research process) the basic trend is clearly one of acceleration. We can recognise it qualitatively in a lack of innovation across publications and the well-recognised tendency towards ‘salami slicing’. But as Michael Billig points out in his Learn to Write Badly, we can also recognise it in the texts themselves. From pg 133:

    The trouble is that the specialists do not handle their big nouns with care, but they rush to use them, knocking over verbs in their haste and barging other parts of speech out of the way. In their rush, they fail to tie the big words firmly to the grounds of human actions, leave them flapping loosely, but flamboyantly, in the wind.

    Rushing does not create this tendency towards vague, grandiose and depersonalised language. As this interview with Howard Becker rather beautifully illustrates, we can find intellectual roots for these tendencies in the world views of prominent and influential theorists:

    “Bourdieu’ s big idea was the champs, field, and mine was monde, world—what’s the difference?” Becker asks rhetorically. “Bourdieu’s idea of field is kind of mystical. It’s a metaphor from physics. I always imagined it as a zero-sum game being played in a box. The box is full of little things that zing around. And he doesn’t speak about people. He just speaks about forces. There aren’t any people doing anything.” People in Bourdieu’s field are merely atom-like entities. (It was Bourdieu’s vision that helped inspire Michel Houellebecq’s nihilistic novel of the meaningless collisions of modern life, “The Elementary Particles.”) …

    As Becker has written elsewhere, enlarging the end-credits metaphor, “A ‘world’ as I understand it consists of real people who are trying to get things done, largely by getting other people to do things that will assist them in their project. . . . The resulting collective activity is something that perhaps no one wanted, but is the best everyone could get out of this situation and therefore what they all, in effect, agreed to.”

    But we can find the conditions within which these ways of writing and speaking propagate in the academy itself (as as a corollary, in the work of the great theorists themselves). One thing I’d like to explore much further with the Accelerated Academy project is how we can use tempo as a way to understand the organisational influences upon scholarly writing. Billig rather persuasively diagnoses how the intensification of academic labour, particularly in relation to securing a position when facing competition on all sides, incentivises self-promotional writing. This is how do things, it’s better than how they do things, join my club. But in reality, most of us are likely to join someone’s else club… taking shelter from the cold winds of an organisation undergoing rapid deprofessionalisation by huddling together around a camp fire of shared certainties (not to mention opportunities for networking, publication and engagement). I was struck by the contrast Billig draws between how a figure like Foucault innovated and the contemporary realities of scholarship. From pg 148:

    There is something very old-fashioned about Foucault’s lectures to the Collège de France. It is not just that he cites obscure writers from the early modern period and that he presents no ‘literature reviews’, in which he positions his own work in relation to the approaches of his contemporaries. His lectures were lectures: he did not seem eager to rush them into print to boost his tally of publications. Nor did he place key lectures –such as that on ‘governmentality’ –in influential sociological journals. Instead, he addressed his audience directly. And most importantly, he addressed them as individuals, who might be interested in his ideas, rather than as potential academic producers whom he wishes to recruit to a new mode of enquiry. In this regard, Foucault was not a Foucauldian, spreading the Foucauldian message and seeking to promote a Foucauldian subdiscipline.

    It reminded of David Graeber’s argument about the dead zones of the imagination in higher education. Has rampant scholasticism coupled with inane managerialism destroyed the conditions under which the objects of that scholastic zeal were able to thrive?

    The explosion of paperwork, in turn, is a direct result of the introduction of corporate management techniques, which are always justified as ways of increasing efficiency, by introducing competition at every level. What these management techniques invariably end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell each other things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of our students’ job and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors, institutes, conference workshops, and universities themselves, which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors. Marketing and PR thus come to engulf every aspect of university life.

    The result is a sea of documents about the fostering of “imagination” and “creativity,” set in an environment that might as well have been designed to strangle any actual manifestations of imagination and creativity in the cradle. I am not a scientist. I work in social theory. But I have seen the results in my own field of endeavour. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have, instead, been largely reduced to the equivalent of Medieval scholastics, scribbling endless annotations on French theory from the 1970s, despite the guilty awareness that if contemporary incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or even Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the U.S. academy, they would be unlikely to even make it through grad school, and if they somehow did make it, they would almost certainly be denied tenure.

    The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy pg 134

    In what I’ve discussed so far, there are a number of distinct (overlapping?) factors which these thinkers have diagnosed as harmful to academic writing:

    • Status insecurity of social scientists, particularly vis-a-vis natural scientists.
    • The time pressures of the accelerated academy and increasing tempos of expected publication.
    • Competition in the academic labour market and the imperative to achieve security through publication.
    • Managerialism and metricisation creating an organisational environment within which marketing and PR have engulfed even scholarship.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, what each of these factors have in common is the scholar. Note that when I write ‘the scholar’, I abstract from actually existing embodied persons. This carries the same cost that Billig notes of ‘the subject’:

    It sounds much grander, more official, and less personal. The definite article – the ‘the’ – adds cachet. By using ‘the subject’, the authors turn ‘people’ into another theoretical thing. (pg 158)

    I’m not trying to write about a category. I’m trying to write about the people who occupy that category. The living, breath, hoping, despairing, finite beings for whom ‘academic’ is one social role amongst others occupied in their lives. Furthermore, within the confines of that role, they might aspire to ‘scholar’ and feel constrained by the realities of the organisations within which they work. Writing offers an interesting route into ‘the scholar’. A way to diagnose what troubles them so. Another way of exploring the ‘deep somatic crisis’ that critics like Roger Burrows and Ros Gill have claimed afflicts the contemporary academy. But this is a much bigger project than one blog post can contain.

     
    • Janet Lord 11:01 am on December 23, 2016 Permalink

      Excellent blog, Mark, I enjoyed reading this!

      Happy happy Christmas! 🎄🎄

      Janet

      Dr. Janet Lord

      Sent from my iPhone

    • Alex Rushforth 12:53 pm on December 23, 2016 Permalink

      I’m fascinated by the polarized takes on whether clarity is a virtue in academic writing. There are those from the write clearly brigade who are often vocal in their condemnation of social science writing. But surely there is a backlash to be had against these types of accounts- I’m reminded of a phrase ‘fast food academia’ used by Mirowski (2011) in which academic work now seemingly has to be broken up into easily consumable bite sizes of information, which are straight and to the point. Does the thirst for clarity itself say something about accelerated reading conditions in academia and endorse a particular kind of information logic? One of the conclusions I sometimes feel like reaching is that these kinds of calls for clarity are interesting to reflect on but ultimately a bit hollow – a thing I like about academic work is reading different kinds of writing, from clear and succinct to obscure and mysterious.

      Nonetheless it would be interesting to see advocates of clear versus ambiguous writing actually debate directly with one another – rather than present their sides as polemics which is usually the case.

    • Mark 10:01 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      thanks Janet, you too! (belatedly)

    • Mark 10:07 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      I vacillate back and forth, which I guess could charitably be interpreted as my seeing both sides of the argument yet finding them both a bit unsatisfying. One of the fascinating points about Billig’s book is his argument that everyday language is actually harder work than technical language. So the drive to obsfucation and waffle can be read as symptoms of acceleration just as easily as the demand for clarity: perhaps they’re mutually reinforcing? I wonder also if the inability to sustain pluralism could be driven by a collapse of shared standards. We’re more likely to be intolerant of other people’s preferences as our shared worlds become more and more insular.

    • Alex Rushforth 6:19 pm on December 30, 2016 Permalink

      “One of the fascinating points about Billig’s book is his argument that everyday language is actually harder work than technical language. So the drive to obsfucation and waffle can be read as symptoms of acceleration just as easily as the demand for clarity: perhaps they’re mutually reinforcing?”

      It’s an interesting counter, but we may be talking about slightly different things now: you seem to be talking about writing as equal to production – here it is pretty hard to say whether clarity is faster than ambiguity and if one is more ‘more accelerationist’ than the other. I agree it could be argued from both sides here.

      Does Billig pay attention to reading, or is consumption kept separate from production in his account?

      If we think about academic knowledge production as also including reading (assuming folks actually invest time reading the sources they cite!) then it strikes me the clear writing logic is more in tune with acceleration of academic labour type accounts. So as I think consumption of other works is part of the production process, then production will most likely take longer if the scholar engages with difficult, ambiguous texts and more complicated arguments (again it’s a general argument so there may be counter arguments I haven’t thought of!).

    • Dave Ashelman 6:15 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink

      My belated apologies, and wishes for a happy New Year.

      This entry on writing actually sums up nicely, in a way I’ve had trouble articulating, my critique of my own discipline. Having done my Bachelors and Masters in the United States, and my Ph.D. in Canada, there is a distinct difference in the way Sociology is presented. My first exposure to Sociology was through C. Wright Mills. My foundations in Sociology in the U.S. were with the “titans” of Mills, DuBois, Goffman, Durkheim, et al. I never heard of Foucault until I entered my Ph.D. program in Canada.

      Once exposed to Foucault, I quickly realized that Foucault wasn’t as much of a problem in post-modernism as was the 50,000 different interpretations of Foucault. Canada spends a lot of time on French philosophers as foundations of sociology, and I believe that is problematic.

      Theoretically, I often wondered in the United States how new theory was supposed to be created when all new theory has to be rooted in old theory in order to be academically acceptable. By the time I left the United States, I came to the same conclusion: that there has been no major breakthroughs in theory for a very long time. Canada reinforced this idea when I saw the heavy reliance on 1970s French philosophy – almost at the exclusion of everything else – in its theoretical foundations. One professor described the difference to me as: “Sociology in the United States sees itself as a profession, where Sociology in Canada sees itself as a craft.” It’s an interesting distinction, though I’m not totally convinced (yet) that it’s that simple.

      During my Ph.D. exams, I included such names in my bibliography as Goffman, Mead, and DuBois. I was told to take them out of my bibliography, not because they were invalid, but because they were “too old.” Yet as Ritzer suggests, good theory “stands the test of time.” If theorists are “too old” but have stood the test of time, then that is problematic as well.

      My writing takes the tack of Mills, where I do not feel an innate need to use (what I call) “$50 verbiage.” Knowledge and understanding of social conditions should be accessible to everyone. The fact that not all knowledge is accessible to everyone in sociology may explain why political scientists, economists, and psychologists have way more books in the local bookstore than do sociologists. You point out that the WAY we write can change this, and this will be more salient in my future writing.

    • Mark 12:19 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink

      Hi Alex, sorry totally forgot about this while I was away at the start of January. I really like what you’re saying though and think I agree: do you think there’s any way to operationalise this in a manner that could clarify the debate? I guess, upon reflection, I think ‘sometimes one, sometimes the other’ and I’m quite unsatisfied with that really.

    • Mark 12:21 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink

      Wow, Canada sounds reminiscent of parts of the UK. Really interesting, thanks Dave.

  • Mark 11:33 am on October 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerated academy, , , , , ,   

    The Place That Sends You Mad 

    Thanks to James Duggan for introducing me to this:

     
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