It is that time of year again in which the timelines and retrospections and evaluations flood our heads, hearts and mailboxes. It is the time of year that forces us ruthlessly to succumb to neoliberal and societal pressures and ask ourselves: what have we done? What have we reached? These questions hit close to home when I look at anthropolandia, where I haven’t posted anything in over three months now. Lack of time? Lack of inspiration? Or is this maybe not just an example of individual failure, but a reflection of something that is wrong with a broader structure?
I have recently read an article about Slow Scholarship from a Feminist collective. (You can find it here at the ACME journal.) In it, the authors Alison Mountz, Anne Bonds, Becky Mansfield, Jenna Loyd, Jennifer Hyndman, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Ranu Basu, Risa Whitson, Roberta Hawkins, Trina Hamilton and Winifred Curran advocate for an approach to scholarship that makes it possible again for good scholarship to ripen. The idea shouldn’t surprise:
Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire. (p. 1237)
This was the first article in weeks that I read because I wanted to, not because I had to for whatever kind of obligation. Where is innovation going to come from, if there is no time to explore? Among my colleagues and friends pursuing doctoral degrees, I know literally no-one who hasn’t struggled with their project at some point. Sure, this is not just, or in every case, a question of slowing things down. And the position from which I look at the problem is exceptional, because most doctoral students either don’t have the same financial security, or a much higher workload to comply with while trying to write their dissertations. But the longer I look at this phenomenon, the more I think that something has to be done. Something that is not limited to individual (self-optimizing) coaching sessions, but something that will make space for the uniquely personal, even, and maybe especially if, it doesn’t fit into an overarching scheme of profitability.
Some propositions from the article on how we can make space for the slow moments of scholarship, those that include the best ideas and the dearest projects, are these:
- Talk things slow! Let other people know about the slow scholarship movement, discuss is with your peers and organize! The more, the merrier, and the more likely you are to find time to thin if the people around you are aware of the situation.
- Take care of yourself and others! While you can only take care of others if you also take care of yourself, you shouldn’t forget about them, either. Especially if you find yourself in a position in which you have the power to influence in work schedules, make plans that work for as many people as possible.
- Write fewer emails! Have a look at how writing, sending and receiving emails can be improved for all people involved over at emailcharter.org!
- Good enough is the new perfect! When it comes to things you have to do (compared to the things you want to do), reach for the minimum. Perfectionalism is a real time killer, and this way you might get back some precious time to think.
For 2018, I wish for you and me to have the ability and strength to tackle some of these, and make the niches we’re inhabiting a little more inhabitable again.
Can you still call it reading, when it’s actually comic drawings? I’m gonna go with Yes, here. Gemma Correll’s beautiful The Worrier’s Guide to Life (2015, Andrews McMeel) is most definitely something you want to read or look at in a time of crisis. The “World Champion Over-Thinker” created some wonderful illustrations of all the things one can worry about, spanning every issue from health, fashion, social gatherings, work, travel, leisure, and of course love. You might just have a look at her beautiful tumblr here to get some impressions of her work.
Does it work?
Well, the one thing that’s for sure is it will make you laugh, and maybe that really is all that was missing for your day to be a tiny little bit nicer than you thought. Also, especially her work on periods and body positive attitudes help make some serious troubles more visible and raise awareness without the niggling. My personal favorite? The impostor-syndrome suffering fetus: “I bet all the other fetuses are way further along in their development…” – “What am I doing with my life?”
“To be a good teacher, you have to be part stand-up comic, part door-to-door salesman, part expert, part counselor.” – Bob Solomon
Halfway through the semester, it’s evaluation time again! And just because I like my seminar, that doesn’t mean my students do, too, especially considering that lately I forced them through tough theoretical readings and noticed an increasing disatisfaction on their parts. But, and that might be worse, I also noted an increasing disatisfaction on my part, because discussions would become slow and time and again they tried to force me to give them some ready-made answers to questions where “it depends”. Plus, many times I just feel they prefer to stick with their preconceptual ideas of affect, when for 8 weeks now we’re actually reading different approaches they could chose from to have a fruitful discussion. However, I also see evaluation as an opportunity to reassess my expectations and impressions of my performance, because in the end the important thing is that we all learn something from this.
So yesterday I handed out the evaluation sheets, and shockingly got the results back this morning already. I was hoping for some time to digest, especially since yesterday’s session wasn’t what I would call a complete success. Now the reason I got the sheets back so early is because they’re computer-based and converted into statistics, and my report is now full of colorful lines and circles which I feel I would need an introductory seminar to statistics to actually fully grasp. But then again, there’s the comment sections, and these do time and again offer clues on what the lines and circles might mean. First of all, let’s say it worked out fine, I’m mostly above average, which I think is great considering the international (50% are exchange students!) and interdisciplinary backgrounds (there is even a sport science student!) of my students and the demanding readings, and especially that this is the first seminar I invented all by myself.
What I learn from this, is that I have to continue thinking about how to make my learning philosophy much clearer, because my students want “clear” and “exact” answers, when I want them to learn that precisely those do not exist in many of the texts we’re reading and the problems we’re working on. In a similar vein, this goes for me chairing the discussions. I do not like to interupt people in class, and of course I do not have something to say about every comment they make. But for them, this might often look like I don’t care, or don’t moderate strictly enough. So I’ll have a look at the university’s advanced vocational trainings on these issues. Overall, the survey left me quite motivated, however, and I will try my best to make some concepts a little clearer in the next sessions. Also, there was this one comment that really gave me the feels: “This is one of the best seminars I have ever had. (…) You’re a wonderful and inspiring instructor. This is university as it should be.” How would I not want to make the most if this class now?
The days in Bogota are counted for now, and with them my opportunities to collect more data. Friends and colleagues here and back home all ask me that one question: So, do you have all you needed? The most terrifying variation being “How many interviews do you have?” And every time someone asks me that, they send me down a spiral of doubts and worries. While I am convinced that there can never be “enough” when it comes to human interactions (to which I count formal interviews, but also participant observation, casual meetings with informants, exchange of material or immaterial things or favors, etc.), I also believe that my work here cannot and should not be translated into a certain number of interviews. In the end, their usefulness depends on their quality rather than the quantity. Yet, even though I am very happy with the quality of my interviews, I cannot but feel disappointed about their number.
There’s a name for how I feel about my time in the field. And apparently, it is a very common syndrome especially among women scholars. Maybe you have heard about impostor syndrome, that awquard feeling of being a fraud and the anxiety that people will find out. If you wanna know more about it, you can check out Chronicle Vitae. Also, the guys from StartupBros have some recommendations on how to get over it.
As for myself, I like to believe that even though I am deceptioned by the number, I am still happy about how well everything went. Knowing that I didn’t even know most of my interviewees before the trip, the depth of the interviews and the levels of trust reached in interactions do indeed surprise me. Considering furthermore, that so far all of them are willing to introduce me to other family members, and in general continue to cooperate with me, I can actually be at least a little proud of my work.
And, of course, I did not spend the whole time on doing interviews. There’s a lot more to being an academic in the field than being able to just run from informant to informant, extracting data from them like I was a cauchero and they the rubber trees. While I was here, I attended the publication of a book which includes an essay of mine. I met with colleagues and advisers to discuss my project and possible cooperations. I prepared a course I will be teaching during the summer term. I wrote a presentation I will hold at a conference in a week from now. I attended a virtual discussion with a research group I am part of. And that’s only the non-fieldwork-related part of the job. Why am I telling you this? Because this way I see there’s nothing to be ashamed of when thinking about “my number”. That’s as good as it gets; and maybe it’s time for me to forget about that romantic idea of simply being in the field and going about my stuff without any strings attached. One of the reasons I wanted to become an academic in the first place was precisely the variety of tasks combined in the world of science (apart from the obvious curiosity about other cultures, and my desire to teach). My way of dealing with impostor syndrome? Write about it, right here!