On Still Being an Academic

I want every academic to ask themselves: is what I’m writing about important? If so, write a book accessible to more than 100 people.

— Sara Goldrick-Rab (@saragoldrickrab) July 30, 2017

I wrote some pretty strong words last week about putting both the alternative and academic in alt-ac.

Now I’m living with the reality of putting those words, that ethos, into practice.

It’s been a while since I’ve really found a project I’ve wanted to sink my teeth into. Or rather, it’s been a while since ideas that I’ve been playing with for years (and years) and have managed to come together in a coherent way that might actually lead to something that looks like scholarship.

Except, of course, I have no idea what that means anymore.

I’ve started a bibliography for affect and emotion in faculty development. I’ve included stuff on affect, on critical pedagogy, on ethics of care, on gendered labor, on intimacy, on feminist praxis (ok, it’s not all on the list yet; I got lost in both the stacks and in the suggested reading algorithm)…I’m slowly making my way through it and it’s left me feeling largely…frustrated? Disappointed? Sad? Discouraged?

All of the above and more?

Maybe it’s because most of what I’m reading right now is peer-reviewed work that appears in traditional journals or by traditional academic publishers. So while the author talks about affect or intimacy, its done in such a way that sucks just about all the affect or possible intimacy from the piece. The theory is there, the experience is there, the analysis is there, but…there is something missing.

I want to do scholarship differently. I want to do it with feeling.

Another issues I’m having is that in these pieces N=1.

[Stop laughing at me. No, really, stop it. I get the complaint is rich coming form me.]

The issue I’m having is not that N=1 (because awesome starting point), but that it’s also the ending point. I have no problem at all with idiosyncratic research that starts from a personal vantage point, especially when it’s acknowledged. But it’s frustrating to see it be the end of the argument.

Actually, it’s not entirely clear what the argument in a lot of these pieces actually is.

So this is challenging me, now: what is my argument, anyway? And while I don’t want to write an academic essay (or book) because of the clear limitations of the genre, I don’t know exactly what I want to write or create.

But I do have a space here to think out loud about what I’m reading and thinking. So, here is the really bad version.

Feeling matters. Feelings are hard work. We ignore feelings because professionalism, quest for knowledge, neutrality, etc, especially in higher education. We at once don’t want to be feminized and devalued, but also need the work to be recognized. Because this work is essential, as educators, as faculty developers. There is also intimacy necessary for learning to take place. This is also hard work, that is equally, or even more, awkward and difficult. But it is also necessary (I would argue).

So then it becomes a question of how we do this work safely, effectively? How do we reward the work? How do we meet the feelings of our students, of the faculty that we work with, while also managing our own? How do we talk about the work in a way that does remove the feeling, the affect from the explanation? How do we ensure that it is, for lack of a better word, authentic, and not commodified?

Who am I writing this for? What would the point be in writing it? It can’t just be because of a hunch, one albeit that’s been stalking me for years. But as I make my way through the literature that I can find, I keep coming back to this idea that, what I want to read doesn’t exist, not yet. And I can’t be the only one who wants to read it, who needs to read it.

So I guess that’s why.

I guess I do have a new project. Form still TBD.