The yearning to slow down is growing in academia. Much like the ‘slow’ food, ‘slow’ media and ‘slow’ medicine movement, ‘slow’ scholarship is on the move. The idea is that we need to resist the culture of speed dictating our everyday actions. We should be thoughtful beings who savour and nurture what we have so that we can envision what we can become.
The slow science manifesto comes with the by-line – Bear with us, while we think.
While it bravely shouts out the central message of carving time to digest ideas for deep thought, it schizophrenically denies and affirms the everyday pressures that come with this territory:
We are scientists. We don’t blog. We don’t tweet. We take our time. Don’t get us wrong – we do say yes to the accelerated science of the early 21st century. We say yes to the constant flow of peer-review journal publications and their impact; we say yes to science blogs and media & PR necessities; we say yes to increasing specialisation and diversification in all disciplines. We also say yes to research feeding back into health care and future prosperity. We’re all in this game, too. However, we maintain that this cannot be all.
This contradiction reveals the inherent plight we face in the academic system.
Today, it no longer suffices to publish in a top reviewed journal or with a prestigious university press. You need to market your work across digital platforms to be heard, seen and cited. Even the meek do so by their overly apologetic ‘shameless book promotions’ on academic listservs. Grant agencies demand not just an excellent proposal for innovative research but scrutinise its potential for ‘knowledge utilisation’ and ‘valorisation’ to make science accessible to the lay public.
Moments of hashtag conversations at conferences tweet support for the idea to reclaim the public space of Twitter as a forum for ideas and not self-promotions, only to be quickly subsumed by numerous pitches for panels, talks and forthcoming works.
As summer approaches, it promises academics a parenthesis “holiday” and “vacation,” marked by writing in a villa in Tuscany, punctuated by grading theses, designing course manuals and applying for fellowships and grants.
The fact is that this slow movement is an ideal that increasingly seduces in our accelerated thought economy. I wonder, if given a choice, if the academic system were to magically reform itself to give us space to meander without commodifying our meandering, would we even know how to slow down?
Maybe that could be your little challenge this summer break!
Payal Arora is an Associate Professor at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication