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Speculative Diction

88 posts later…


Today, it’s my “blogoversary”–that’s right, it’s (only!) two years since I started writing this blog regularly in August, 2010. I started the blog as a way to comment on the increasing amount of higher ed news I was reading; back then it was hosted at Blogger, and in August 2011 it “moved” to its current home at University Affairs.

Over the weekend I decided to go through the analytics for both versions of my blog, and take a look at the more popular posts. I thought I’d do a bit of a re-cap in the form of a list of themes that have come up over time; some of these posts were the more popular ones, and others were my own favourites from the past two years.

1–“Know your value”. This post addresses the ways in which “free work” functions in the academic economy. Specifically using academic conferences as a starting point, I wanted to show how pre-existing (class and cultural) privilege enables the continued professionalization required in academe, allowing those with “supports” to climb the ladder more easily because they can give their time and energy without demanding recompense (other than in academic capital). Published on July 19, 2011, this was the most viewed post from the blog in its previous incarnation at Blogger.

2–“Shameful self-promotion vs. meritocracy” and the “Myth of academic meritocracy”. All the posts I’ve written about academic ideals of meritocracy, and the realities of privilege and exclusion, have attracted a good number of readers. I think this is because the contradictions between those two things highlight problems with a fundamental “norm” of academe that’s still largely assumed/unquestioned, and which many experience as negatively affecting their everyday life (and ongoing success) in the university.

3–“Universities and the media” (parts one and two), and “Start talking back”. I’m very interested in the relationship between media discourses and policy-making, so the media coverage of university education is something I pay attention to and tend to write about on a semi-regular basis. In these posts I’ve argued that universities must pay more attention to how ideas about higher education are circulated and used in public discussions, since this has effects on the perception (and politics) of education.

4–“Future tense” and “Cracking the code for unemployment” were both written to explore some of the ways in which both university pedagogy and our assumptions about what students “need” may not take into account undergraduates’ ideas about the future, and about what education will provide them. What implications are there for the emphasis on economics that’s now taken for granted not only by governments and many university administrations, but also by students and parents?

5–“My grief lies all within” (and its follow-up). These posts on PhD and depression have had more attention than anything else I’ve written for this blog in the past year. I wrote the initial post without expecting much of a reaction, for some reason–it felt more like a personal reflection on something I believed was systemic, but hadn’t seen research showing it. However, the overwhelming response from readers definitely affected my opinion about that. I’m convinced that for a lot of different reasons, mental health is a serious and pervasive issue in post-secondary education and during the PhD, when students are absorbing academic mores and values including the division of personal from professional lives as a show of one’s “seriousness” as a candidate, this is especially difficult.

6– “Bursting a bubble: privilege and access to the academic life” is about why and how graduate education is easier for some people than for others. Another of the posts relating to meritocracy, here I decided to respond directly to a PhD student who argued, in a Guardian piece, that everyone should be enjoying the “life of the mind” as much as she is. Closely related to the posts on depression and the PhD, this one highlights the ways in which those who are “doing fine”, i.e. enjoying a version of the academic ideal, and who may be in a position to ignore and downplay the concerns and experiences of others.

7–“Policy based evidence” and “Do you have a stat for that? are posts in which I looked at the lack of evidence with which we can understand and assess educational institutions and systems, and policy initiatives. This is a problem in Canada specifically, but it’s also possible it’s happening elsewhere; by sharing the details I wanted to highlight how the government’s lack of interest in statistical evidence makes it hard to even begin to understand trends in education (and other policy areas). For a government so keen on developing and maintaining a stock of “human capital”, this lapse seems to show an effect of taking an ideological position rather than a reasoned one.

8–“How the network works” and “More than a storm in a teacup” are both about the use of new media for academic work and as tools for professionalization and career-building; they address Twitter and blogging, respectively. I’ve used these tools for a couple of years now and they’ve helped me with breaking down some professional barriers (and with meeting a lot of great people), and now and then I try to address some aspects of use of technology, since a lot of people seem to find this helpful. However I’m still very critical of the ways in which technology is being taken up in sweeping rhetorics of “disruption” and institutional change, and I think we need to focus on what seems to work on a small scale before we start assuming a techno-panacea for our educational–and by extension, economic and social–ills.

9–“Social mobility, neo-liberal austerity, and the university” and “The aims of education”. I wrote these two posts because I think it’s important that we keep asking what is expected of the university (and education in general), and whether this is realistic and appropriate; when do certain kinds of critiques reflect destructive political agendas? And we need to keep thinking about what we mean when we say “education”–what we’re taking for granted.

10–“Contemplation of innovation” and “Invention vs. innovation”. Because both the concept of knowledge and the process of “discovery” are central to education and to the university, I became interested in how these things are framed in policy and media debates. I find the ongoing discussion of “innovation” in Canada to be a fascinating and revealing one. Canada is perceived by many as having an “innovation deficit”, and this has been raised repeatedly as a policy problem. The trope of “innovation as governance solution” is a larger idea that is being applied at different levels in various contexts, including, for example, in the recent policy report produced by Ontario’s government.

Thanks for reading–and I hope you come back for more!

Melonie Fullick
Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate at York University. The topic of her dissertation is Canadian post-secondary education policy and its effects on the institutional environment in universities.
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