Para-Academic Handbook – 1st Anniversary!

The Para-Academic Handbook is one year old!

To mark the occasion the editors have written these reflections…

If you have any para-academic stories, inspirations or grumbles get in touch and we will share them on the HammerOn blog!

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When we decided to produce a collection of ‘para-academic’ voices it was because we felt that certain experiences were being marginalised, feelings were not being discussed and some things needed to be said. Knowing that our experiences are a small shred of what it means ‘to be’ a para-academic, we invited others to contribute.

We received texts, illustrations and photographs from people in Australia, South Africa, US, Ireland, UK and Germany. Contributions came from people who were employed at universities and from that myriad population who hover in that space in, between, alongside, against or outside the academy.

It is fair to say that the book is rooted in complex feelings associated with trying to find a way to express individual and collective dissatisfaction, anger, and discontent.

We know that some readers of the book have found it a little too bleak and in that bleakness not all that helpful. Negative criticisms of the university can perpetuate a certain tendency of academics to bemoan their lot rather than make reflexive and revolutionary changes of consciousness, sentiment, and practice. To be cynical is to stay rooted in a hegemonic posture; it doesn’t shift positions.

Our introduction was written from a place of political desperation and profound anger but we wanted that anger to be mobilised. The rest of the collection is populated by diverse voices, working experiences, writing styles and creative practices. The variety of voices and stories is itself an act of resistance against academic practice that is all too often homogenised, and stultifying.

The impulse to produce The Para-Academic Handbook was as a mode of resistance against the cannibalisation of the academy by neoliberal capitalism. It aims to create a platform for voices that share similar political affiliations.

It was also an opportunity for precariously employed, hourly paid lecturers to discuss how they felt, and how flexible labour conditions in the academy—which are of course not exclusive to it—affected them. Often this revealed frustration, but it also indicated points of negotiation and scholarly independence.

When we were editing the collection we didn’t consider para-academia in relation to debates about #altac (alternative academic careers). Indeed, nobody contributed an essay drawing on these debates.

This oversight of #altac debates perhaps reflects our concerns as scholars interested in the fate of knowledge and education within the university, and society at large.

We did not intend to highlight supportive networks and practices for those seeking to exit academic life; we wanted to foreground possibilities for the emergence of Other scholarly lives.

An #altac collection would, no doubt, offer many welcome resources for the large amount of people in this situation and we hope someone is collating it right now.

Crisis and worry, as Ruth Barcan has noted, might actually be the very architecture of the university – shaping it with a cynicism which can guarantee its authoritative position.

Hannah Arendt, across whose work hope and its discontents operates, was also painfully aware of the centrality of crisis for education. Writing in 1954 she wrote that, “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable.”

For Arendt to write about education as that which can save the world from inevitable ruin in the spatial, political, physical and psychic devastation of the Second World War is a profoundly brave hope which, we fear, has been left unrealised.

Placing education as the fulcrum between a love and a responsibility for the wider world is learning to enact a little of utopia in the here and now.

The Para-Academic Handbook is not perfect. Its imperfections make it. In not being perfect, in being both bleak and hopeful, in being rough around the edges, it allows for possibilities, languages, feelings, practices, bodies, and imperfections all too often refused by the academy to take up some space.

The stories – the very different stories – collected in the volume are a performance of the education Arendt hoped for; one that aspires to responsibility and love.