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Slow Academia

Slow Academia

You’ve heard of the Slow Food movement. Now there’s Slow Academia as well.

Slow Academia is a response to the university as anxiety machine. To a creeping, aggressive brand of academic capitalism, characterised by rampant managerialism and an insidious audit culture. Resisting the neoliberal university, proponents say, means embracing the ethics of slow.

Letting ideas ripen and brewing papers gradually. Striving for quality, not quantity. Connecting with students and spending time on well-crafted, inspiring lectures. Making time to think, digest and reflect.

It all sounds rather lovely. But recently, critics have come out of the woodwork. Slow Academia represents privilege, they say:  it’s for those who can afford it, who have already reached the scholarly summit, and it can only be achieved on the backs of others.

The problem is that not everyone has the luxury of spending years on a single book, or withholding an article from publication until it’s just right. Not everyone can afford to subvert the system by publishing in places that don’t count when it comes to metrics. What’s more, if some people decide to go slow – to refuse extra teaching, for example – won’t others have to go extra fast to pick up the slack?

Slow Academia is privilege, to be sure. But at the end of the day, isn’t academia already privilege, even for those at the bottom of the university food chain?

For starters, the luxury of being a knowledge worker at all means you were born in a time and place where you could get an education. Nobody becomes even a lowly teaching assistant without the right degree, probably several of them.

I made it through undergrad on student loans. Then I worked for several years before I could pay for a master (part time, alongside work). Then it took a few more years of working two jobs and saving, working and saving, to afford the PhD. I was lucky to get a scholarship that covered my fees, and continued working throughout; always on the sly because Cambridge doesn’t condone dividing one’s precious attention.  

But however hard the slog, I’m aware that even the chance to pursue that path was a privilege.

The coal mine was my grandfather’s only option. I get to read and think and discuss and write, however hurriedly at times. Yes, Slow Academia is for the privileged. But then, so is all academia.

Alison Edwards

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