• On 14/11/2020
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Slow work

For the last several years there have been an increase in publications and attention to the idea of slow research or slowing down the pace of university life. I have written before about what I refer to as the cult of overproduction, which is the unhealthy move to focus so much on publishing to the detriment of the rest of the parts of the job and more so to the detriment to your health and life.

The book, Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber invoke the ideas of Slow movement as a way to counter the forceshttp://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-slow-professor, such as corporatization, that are eroding the humanistic foundation of higher education. Their book joined a chorus of other voices that all focused on slowing down, including a slow scholarship manifesto.

For example, Soko Starobin wrote abut the necessity to slow down, even before tenure, to ensure that you don’t lose your authentic self. And in rhetoric and composition, Lynn Worsham lamented fast food scholarship where she writes “true intellectual work requires deep dedication and a willingness to labor long after the amateur would have quit. Too many of our colleagues, I fear, have forgotten that and are focused on the pressure to produce a quantity of works to satisfy hiring or tenure committees.” While a feminist collection voice their concerns that “involve the ever-increasing demands of academic life: the acceleration of time in which we are expected to do more and more. The “more” includes big tasks, such as teaching larger classes, competing for dwindling publicly funded grants that also bring operating money to our universities, or sitting on innumerable university administrative committees.” They end with arguing for slow scholarship as a feminist politics of resistance.

I could likely find more examples, but these are ones that I have on my computer for several years. I’ve thought about this idea of slow scholarship for years. The years from ca. 2010-2016 there was a lot of words spent talking about slowing down. The pandemic brought this idea of slow scholarship back to the forefront as we are starting to see some of the effects of scholarship during the pandemic, particularly for women.

And of course, and rightly so, there have been criticisms of slow scholarship because it is indeed a privilege to be able to think and to work more slowly. But that criticism brings to the forefront the necessity to think through how to make the work of highbred education, from scholarship to teaching, more equitable and push back to the ongoing need for more.

I’ve found myself telling graduate students and early career scholars/teachers more and more that slow and steady will get them there. And there means whatever they need it to mean. The pandemic will create a different university. I hope that university starts to recognize different ways of working, different ways of valuing knowledge, and different ways of what work may mean. What has always resonated with me about slow research is that it is incremental and builds in deliberate ways with what came before. Incremental work also opens up the potential for thinking through what work and research actually is in 2021 and what they mean for a different future.

More so, the connection between work and the rest of life needs to be considered as closely as the research itself. The other reason slow research resonated with me because producing less and thinking more should lead to better results as measured by stronger research. More importantly, however, it should lead to happier and healthier researchers and teachers.

I so hope–dream even–that thinking about slow research through the lens of the pandemic and a changing higher education may lead to the concept of slow as the norm that reaches across all of us who work in higher ed. To create room to do slow work the encourages the type of engagement in research and teaching that the university is supposed to do. Slow work can be thought of the beginning of more equitable work that encourages inclusive practices in all the work that we do.


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