Following up on last week

24 May

A quick follow-up on my last blog posting (on how many of us feel excluded from our academic disciplines yet feel that we have to carry on the myth of being interested in them for professional reasons). I received quite a few emails – mainly from PhD students and early career scholars – who felt that the blog posting resonated with them. Thank you all for getting in touch – it made me fell less isolated. They felt that their PhD programme or tenure track was in some way intellectually coercive. It prescribed what they should be reading, who they should be citing, what methods they should use, and where they should be publishing. They felt that there was little room for intellectual curiosity and innovation.

What was most frustrating about the emails that I received was that the correspondents felt ‘trapped’. They just had to ‘get with the programme’ in order to get their PhD or secure tenure. They could not express their true frustrations to their PhD Panel or their employers. It’s somewhat ironic that we are in the humanities or social sciences – lines of inquiry that revolve around understanding human beings. Yet, we have created pedagogic and epistemological structures that discourage honesty and encourage dissembling (saying one thing but believing another). Perhaps academia is little different from the corporate world in which many people feel that they have to follow the ‘corporate script’ but they really don’t believe in it. The equivalent of saying ‘Have a nice day’ and having a cheesy smile is – perhaps – sharing in the collective myth that a particular piece of work is ‘seminal’. Maybe the piece of work is seminal, or maybe it is not, but there is often little space for people to dissent.

So what can we do? Well, if we look at the scholars who have really made a difference, who have inspired us through their writings and practice, then they tended to be unorthodox (many were also unorthodox in their private lives but that is another story). They tended to break free from disciplinary constraints. They often spoke ‘their mind’ (note their mind, not repeating someone else’s). And, often, they were iconoclasts within their institutions and disciplines: ready to stand out, and content not to follow the herd. So maybe there is something wrong with a lot of the orthodox career advice out there and encourages the replication of the xerox academic or faculty member, and tends to emphasise followership and ‘playing the game’. But, in actual fact, a lot of scholars ‘make it’ (in terms of being intellectually innovative) by breaking the rules. I am reasonably optimistic. I look around my own area of academic work and I see some younger scholars who are prepared to be unorthodox and who are prepared to take on ‘the big guns’. They are able to read and listen critically. Interestingly, many of them have changed disciplines; they have come to the study of peace and conflict from another field.


One Response to “Following up on last week”

  1. Alan James Bullion (@AlanBullion) 24/05/2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Those were the days!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: