There is no question that workers have grown more precarious at the same time that university work has accelerated in recent years. Late last year, we published an article called “For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.” Before its publication in the open-access, online journal ACME, we posted the final version on researchgate.net and academia.edu. The manuscript was downloaded over 30,000 times, mentioned in an article in The Guardian and attached to a faculty member’s letter of resignation. In short, we struck a chord.
As advocates of slow scholarship, we write now to wade into the debate unfolding in response to the publication of the new book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. Critics such as Andrew Robinson and Mark Carrigan and Filip Vostal suggest that slow scholarship is, by nature, an elitist effort on the part of privileged, self-indulgent professors to protect their time while ignoring – or even making worse – the problems of part-time and adjunct faculty in the increasingly neoliberal university. We advocate a very different vision of slow scholarship, one that is necessary precisely to address the increased precarity of academic labour and the fact that precarious labour in the university (as elsewhere) is classed, racialized and gendered. The fuller arguments of Drs. Berg and Seeber’s book, as presented in more detail in their interview with University Affairs, align with our approach.
In our article, we advance slow scholarship and care work as collective rather than individualizing endeavors; as resistance to, rather than reification of, the current system. We agree with critics: if slow scholarship is understood and enacted as a project of the self, it will only make the problems of academia worse. Yet, to stop at this criticism represents a failure of imagination. There seems to be an underlying misunderstanding of feminist politics and ethics of care at work in some of the reactions to slow scholarship. To us, care work is work. As Audre Lorde and Sara Ahmed both wrote, care work is not self-indulgent, but radical, necessary, and risky, imposing a burden on those who undertake it. In the article, we argue for the “need to find ways to shift the culture, not back to an elitist, exclusionary university but towards a more care-full future of rich and creative research and teaching.”
For these reasons, slow scholarship must not be a project for the privileged few, but rather a collective effort to remake the university as we know it. We make the case that those in positions of relative privilege (especially full-time, tenured faculty) must bear more responsibility to resist and challenge, not exploit and reproduce inequality within the academy. Slow scholarship is a way of making visible all of the work of academia that has been rendered invisible, the work not accounted for in metrics designed to evaluate our worth: the reading, the agonizing over writing, the teaching preparation, the mentoring of fellow faculty and students, the outreach to community partners, as well as the failures (grants not received, papers never published) that are never accounted for.
We depart from Drs. Berg and Seeber in the leap from slow scholarship to the slow professor. Slow scholarship is not only about professors, but about how we all work and how we aspire to work. How can we work collectively to change the conditions of our collective labor? For academia, that means resisting the push to churn out as many articles as possible (and the incentive to cut corners or even engage in misconduct that can come along with it).
Instead, we want to ensure that the university makes time to create knowledge that is more than a mirage and to create a space for us to be allies and mentors to those with less privilege. This requires counting differently – just as there is pushback against the influence of the quarterly earnings report. As we argue in the article: “We can push back against narrow quantitative evaluations of academic work, in part by making a wider range of work ‘count’ in decisions about graduate student advancement, hiring, raises, and tenure and promotion. … We can recognize the value of collective authorship, mentorship, collaboration, community building, and activist work in the germination and sharing of ideas.”
While space prevents us from reviewing all of the strategies of resistance discussed in our article, it’s important to note that we do not merely advocate “say no.” Indeed, one of our recommendations is to say no and yes: “Along with saying ‘no’ when necessary, we also encourage those in positions of power (however limited), to say ‘yes’ when they encounter opportunities for slow scholarship collaborations. Take the opportunity to make change one case and decision at a time.
Debates about slow scholarship are happening in a fast-paced, pressure-filled, anxiety-inducing environment. As Drs. Carrigan and Vostal state in their letter, they are responding to an interview in University Affairs about the new book, not the actual book. One of the frustrations of life in the fast lane of contemporary academia is not having or finding time to read.
We articulate a vision of slow scholarship that does not ignore questions of precarity and vulnerability, but engages these as primary reasons we need slow scholarship. For us, this is not a project of the self, but of the collective.
The authors are Alison Mountz, department of geography and environmental studies, Wilfrid Laurier University; Anne Bonds department of geography, University of Wisconsin; Becky Mansfield, department of geography, Ohio State University; Jenna Loyd,Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Jennifer Hyndman, departments of geography and social science, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University; Margaret Walton-Roberts, department of geography and environmental studies, Wilfrid Laurier University; Ranu Basu, department of geography, York University; Risa Whitson, department of geography and women’s and gender studies program, Ohio University; Roberta Hawkins, department of geography, University of Guelph; Trina Hamilton, department of geography, University at Buffalo (SUNY); and Winifred Curran, department of geography, DePaul University.