Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Personal, professional ... and industrial!

Hello again; I've spent part of this evening catching up on the posts and comments of the last few days. As I read Hall I find myself--as other posters also have done--reacting to different facets of his argument and storing (or trying to store) ideas to comment on later. Now's as good a time as any to note down some of my thoughts, some of which relate to ideas we've already discussed.

One thing that struck me right away is that a number of the anxieties Hall rehearses--in particular related to the status of one's employer in relation to other universities--are perhaps not felt quite so acutely here in New Zealand. The main reason for this is that all universities here are state-owned and partly state-funded. Although there are strong moves on behalf of the different campuses to distinguish themselves from each other in a hierarchical model, these are recent.

Having said that, many of the status anxieties described by Hall could be reframed as applying here between the local and the international. Certainly in my darker moments I question my decision to stay here, wondering what it says about the "quality" of my work, or maybe my courage about shopping myself out to the open market.

More generally, there are things in Hall's discussion of self in chapter one that make me feel uneasy. I think principally this comes from ways in which his argument is framed. Universities in New Zealand are highly unionised (I am active in the union) and relations between staff and employers testy nationally. At the same time, there is to my mind a certain amount of solidarity between and within the universities, so that, for me, discussions of the university as intellectual community necessarily evoke the university as employer, as industrial community. (This is something to which, it seems to me, shadows was pointing in this comment.)

So, to Hall's second maxim, that "All our careers are also subject to certain forces beyond our control", I would add that a big part, for me, of being in academia, is being mindful of just for whom I am working, performing (in the sense that the professional self is performed) and reflecting. I work in a hierarchically-managed section of the university, in a programme whose interface with the open international student market is considerable. One thing that this has made me aware of is that it's useful (both personally and professionally) to keep a rein on the extent to which my reflection informs my collegiality and my professional behaviour, since the vagaries of our programme's structure mean that our labour can easily be absorbed and then become surplus to requirements (in the very bald equation by which a drop in student numbers means a drop in staff numbers.)

I can see a benefit in this in working in a low-status part of the university community (although I'm aware that even as I write "low-status" I'm committing the kind of fallacy Hall urges us all not to), in that it has enabled me to separate the personal and professional far more effectively (and at times brutally) than I did as a research student, and to look critically at the systems that, until I began working, I assumed were sustaining me. I suppose if I were to add a further maxim to Hall's five on pp.11-17, it would be something like this: having regarded our academic selves with the same critical, reflective eye as we do our texts or subject areas more generally, we should be judicious in which conclusions we then decide will inform our professional interactions and which we will let seep, silently, into our writing and classroom work.

More than anything else, I'm aware while reading Hall of how much my thinking about the university, and my field within the university (both as an area of specialisation and the programmes in which I teach) has changed since I was a student. My academic ideals were once embodied by the university--this was the place in which it would all happen--whereas now, I tend to see the university as an site of industrial relations which, equally with the professional and personal contexts and constraints of which Hall writes, must be daily negotiated in order even to begin the business of academic praxis.

(This is all sounding very Platonist, no? Curiouser and curiouser.)