Friday, 2 December 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front? Academic navel-gazing

Oops, I've not posted for nearly a month. One thing I've noticed as I've ventured into this world of academic blogging is that there is definitely a genre that people (myself included) follow - basically academic insights on current issues, usually reporting some research findings, usually a little bit political and seeking "impact". You very rarely get academic blogs that go for other blog discourse genres, such as humour, or what I'm going to do here - the confessional. For years I kept a blog up-to-date over at the old skool blogging tool Livejournal, which was pretty much set up for the confessional blog.

But that say's a lot about what this post is going to be about - my last post was all about regeneration policy and the CLG Committee report. Since then I've been busy wrapping up my middle-class community activism project and attended a couple of interesting conferences (Urban Geography Research Group in Edinburgh, and a Regional Studies event on strategic housing supply at the University of Manchester).

And I'm left in a bit of an existential crisis. I've spent the past two months bashing out course notes for distance learning and have probably written more (some of which is of dubious quality) over the past few months than I've ever done in my life. I've had two papers rejected. I've got two papers I'm waiting to hear back about. And I've got three research council proposals and a government grant I'm waiting to hear back about. I'm in limbo, but the CLG committee report, the latest stuff in academic journals, and the conferences have left me thinking that my particularly topic of greatest research strength, urban regeneration (specifically programmes like the New Deal for Communities) is dead. In fact, this was why I did my doctoral research on it and a point I make in a paper I have actually had accepted. Government no longer has the money, nor wishes, to invest in programmes like this any more. I'm sure in a few years time when the spatial concentrations of unemployment that the current coalition is creating become unmanageable we will see the return of area-based initiatives, and the likes of me and other academics will do what us academics have done since 1975 (at least) and point out they don't work.

So, what to do with myself? Part of this is due to having my confidence knocked by the paper rejections. I do just have to find the time to rework these and submit them to a couple of other journals. I also think I need to do one more article from my PhD; this would untangle what is meant by "strategic" and "partnership" from a governance and governmentality perspective (Mark Bevir [my new favourite] recent paper has helped inspire this). I also need to keep banging my drum and keep the ball rolling on focusing our research gaze on concentrations of affluence as well as deprivation. I'm also increasingly interested in marine renewables and marine spatial planning, and transport policy and discourses and meanings within that. But to get up to speed on these areas I'm going to have to read a helluva lot more and I just don't have the time.

So here ends my confessional. Like all good confessionals I actually feel better for having emptied my mind onto the page. By the way, if you like the paper idea above please let me know, it'll will encourage me to start writing again. So, to return to my original point, why don't we get confessional academic blogs? I've just been doing a piece of coursework - my reflections on teaching practice - for my postgraduate certificate in academic practice. In it I highlight how modern, managerial discourses of higher education frame our approach to teaching and learning even though we actively resist them. And I think the same insight applies here. The discourse of academia is the heroic early-career researcher working 18 hour days to carve their niche, never admitting that they've actually just not got the time to do things, or that they want to have a life outside of academia. Being honest that "I don't care if you've got more research grant income or more citations than me" isn't really the done thing in academia, is it?

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