Against Academic Pessimism

The thing is, however bad it gets, we will always have at least a small amount of freedom. It might come at the expense of something else, possibly something ‘strategic’ career-wise – but it is possible to use that freedom to turn the resources of intellectual life toward something that makes a contribution which we can see reflected in the way it improves the lives of others, however small or fleeting that contribution may be. Away from the newsletters, the conference plenaries, the interviews in mainstream media and surnames being used as shorthand in place of ideas, there are plenty of people doing this we hardly ever see. People working in academia who are using their training and experience in positive and vital ways outside of RAF-able impact. It might be through volunteer work, or just by providing informal advice to people in other areas, or a thousand other things.

The pressure to publish despite any links to impact is an issue, but we should also feel glad that although the structure pushes against it, many people aren’t buying in. Everyone working in this environment knows people like this, the type of people who are ethically committed to the people whose lives lie beyond the textual representations that we make of them. The people for whom ethics and epistemology are two sides of the same coin, whose frame of reference for shaping their intellectual products always includes ‘what can I do, and for whom, with this?’. They’re usually the ones who are the clearest in writing, the ones who can make the most sense of otherwise abstruse theories and get them working productively.

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2 replies »

  1. I guess you are being too optimistic about this – the pressure to publish cannot be avoided so easily.

  2. Are there no ways it can be subverted or diminished?

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