Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Feeding the hand that bites me?

I've come to a rather banal epiphany. Possibly.

I'm going to shamelessly confess that I was one of those PhD students in love with Academia. Academia was my dream - being part of the ivory/sandstone tower of intelligentsia - discussing obscure things and sharing them in a kindly way with colleagues and hungry young minds was the dream that sustained me through all of the life disasters, writing blocks and sleepless nights of the TOME.

Now I'm finally out the other end of it, sitting in my not quite secure but not as precarious as most academic posting I'm coming to realise thatyes! surprise surprise -that Academia is not all it's cracked up to be.... I mean, it's even less of a space for contestation and intellectual challenge and engagement than I had thought.

I'm not dissing it entirely - and Sarah Ahmed's facebook updates about teaching AMAZING courses on phenomenology and identity at goldsmiths and how like hell I wish I was there doing something with or like or around that - are totally and incredibly inspiring... but....but.....

Maybe it was Tom Ellard's post that did it.

Maybe it was the 2 days spent by myself and another research fellow - printing, photocopying tidying, filing, arranging the research centre while our esteemed admin colleagues sat around at their desks doing whatever they do - or interrupting us to gossip about their daily lives that did it. Maybe it was the visit of the Provost, resembling just a bit too much the tour of Catherine the Great to the Russian Peasantry and her dissmissive comments about the research centre where I work - stressing quite rightly that the only thing that mattered were research outputs.

Maybe it is the agonising frustration of trying to generate any research outcomes in an institution that has a journal subscription level of a 3rd rate wester suburbs state highschool, the most unnavigable Website of an institution I've ever come across (try an find your's truly's name on the institutions website! I've been working there as a researcher for 18 months!), maybe it is the supercilious empire building approach of the vast majority of ancilliary - and yes - I am going to describe resource/HR/admin/management/PR colleagues in an institution ostensibly dedicated to teaching and research as ancilliary staff - where they treat academic work as a sideline activity, and academic staff and students as annoying obstacles to their corporatised dream world.....


Maybe it's the numerous stories of friends in Academia of the depressing, cut throat bitchy competitiveness of institutional departmental wrangling. Maybe it's the lack of smiles.

It's definitely the lack of time and energy I have to read, to write, to think about anything more substantial than a gant chart.

I don't regret my PhD. I don't regret allowing myself to expand and make it the unwieldy immense, interdisciplinary, unmarketable wrangling erudite 100,000 word and 6 year beast that it was. Six years is a DECENT amount of time to spend immersed in a PhD, and I'm so proud I did it in an immersive, process oriented, mind blowing way - and didn't get sucked into the absurd product oriented 3 year post-doc fishing research report model that we all have to dissimulate to anyway.

So glad.

And - now - I'm not going to jump on the ECR train. I'm going to look for quality of life in my own life, and return to pursuing oppen ended engaging practices - not a research 'career'. Not any 'career', just a life that may continue to be rich and rewarding.

Maybe the art-market versus art practice dichotomy is a more productive way of thinking about the 'tension' between genuine research and academia. Just as the 'art-market' forces the creative play of the studio into a goal oriented production that is NOT creative, so too finally and bluntly, academia can be described as something that does actively thwart research.

And hasn't it always been thus? I mean surely even in the good old days of free education and whatnot - the majority of lecturers (if not students) were white/middle class/straight/male, and the resulting epistemologies and knoweldges were prfoundly biased and narrow?

Intellectual creation is always contested and precarious. I'm glad as hell to see and support students of colour, women students, queers, working class people and ratbags have access to the learning. I'm still intending to do what I can to make the walls of the institution as porous as possible.

but I don't dream that this is where I can pursue my life's work or love work either. I don't want to lose my centre and chase a career dream anymore. I want to be present and ethical, but free enough to be genuinely creative somewhere.


Grant (Falcon124) said...

Sounds like you had an ivory-tower/academic view of the ivory towered land of academia, no? Reality is all too quickly sullied by petty politics and the corruption of pure ideals :(

lauren said...

oh dammit - just as i was finally taking your caveat-laden advice and starting to shop around for a suitable phD supervisor...

mayhem said...

lauren! lauren! do a PhD! it's a wonderful thing to do - and you get paid to do it! just don't have any dreams that academia is a decent career for an artist.