Tuesday 3 January 2012

Find a place to fart (and to think...): reflections on forms of life in academia

I'm in the pub at the moment because my university is still closed for Christmas! The pub has a different atmosphere to the University: it's relaxed, is aesthetically interesting, people around me are also relaxed and very varied (the old drunk in the corner, the young students around a table... and the geeky academic blogging on his laptop!)... and the food is better (and cheaper) than the University. And it's got WiFi, so I can Skype my colleagues, catch up on email, etc. But I'm conscious that the form of life I live here is different from that which I live when I go into the University. Here I can reflect, think, write, eat, drink, piss and fart with relative impunity. With regard to the latter two, I simply wouldn't risk it in the University! But the others are not so easy either. Because my form of life in the University is to walk (from office to office), talk, drink (coffee), bump-into (whilst drinking coffee), organise, strategise, talk to students, bemoan, nudge, remind... and struggle (sometimes) to find time to piss, but certainly to find a place to think. And farting is out of the question.

Not that any of that is bad... it's just different. A different form of life. But it leads me to reflect that my academic life needs both the pub and the University. It also includes a bigger library  (where I can occasionally fart) and the church (where I would never dream of farting). But these reflections lead me to the astounding conclusion that my favourite places to think are places to fart. Farting and thinking seem to be related. But more than that, I seem to benefit from traversing different forms of life (I wouldn't want to think (or fart) all the time.. I benefit from the stuff on-campus too, which gives me something to think about).

I am lucky in being able to traverse forms of life and to integrate them. But also it is important to recognise the barriers between forms of life within an environmental setting. My experience of the pub is different to that of the barmaid. Her experience of the pub is much like mine of the University, except that her time is filled with serving customers, pulling pints, making coffee, organising rotas, etc. Farting is probably out of the question. She told me about her disappointment about not being able to spend Christmas with her family. That is another form of life, but for her, quite separate from the form of life behind the bar... and the two sometimes conflict. But she doesn't seem too unhappy.

All this leads me to focus on a particular question of education:
"How can one move from one form of life to another?"
We do this all the time, and the business of education is to prepare individuals for a new form of life. But the difference between the novice engineer and the expert is the extent to which they not only inhabit the form of life of the workplace, but integrate it with other forms of life they experience. The difference between the student and the novice is the extent to which attachments to teachers and academic structure for support in the environment of work is lessened. The difference between the student and the delinquent is the extent to which attachments are formed within learning environments that nurture development, rather than being spuriously formed to transitory objects (things and people) in an attempt to avert emotional catastrophe.

Particularly in the latter case, the language of 'opportunity' is hollow. In cases of damaged attachments, deep sensual togetherness is required which goes deeper than linguistic and strategic communications of 'opportunity'. Technology is partly to blame for the macroeconomic forces which have damaged attachments. A sensible strategy for dealing with this is to use technology to fix the things that technology has broken. And we all need a place to fart/think!

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