Looking at the hidden narratives: Making academics' thoughts about research visible in supercomplex times

Year: 2016

Author: Selkrig, Mark, Manathunga, Catherine, Sadler, Kirsten

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Engaging in research has been seen as an inherent part of an academic’s role. Publications and outputs from research provide cultural capital and contribute to shaping an academic’s professional identity and status within and beyond the academy. In the current unstable, period of supercomplexity (Barnett, 2000), universities and those who work in them need to respond to ‘an abundance of new accounts of the world…new discourses; [and] new forms of professional life…’(p. 417). These new accounts have arisen under ‘conditions of a conceptual overload’ that contribute to a sense of ‘emotional insecurity’ (Barnett, 2000, pp. 415 - 416). Neoliberal ideology and managerial discourses (Davies & Petersen, 2005; Henkel, 2005) have also contributed to this period of turbulence through the imposition of drastic reforms in universities. These discourses have resulted in an institutional emphasis on ‘research performance’ and identifying those who are research active (Probert, 2013). This positions academics as either ‘alpha researchers’ with dedicated research time or teaching and service functionaries delivering learning materials to student/customers with no allocated time to seek, produce and critique knowledge (Blackmore, 2002; Zipin & Nuttal, 2016). In order to speak back to the measured university, we initiated an arts-informed (Butler-Kisber, 2010) research project that sought to open up space for our academic colleagues to [re]present their views and the emotional aspect about the work they do (or can’t do) within a constantly changing university environment. The theoretical lens for the project drew upon critical pedagogies of art and poetry (Duncombe, 2002; Tavin, 2003). We also draw upon Dickson-Swift and others’ (2009) arguments about the emotive work of researching sensitive topics. Just as our research can involve exploring the thoughts, feelings and emotions of others in the context of researching sensitive topics, “there is a growing awareness that undertaking qualitative research is an embodied experience and that researchers may be emotionally affected by the work that they do” (Dickson-Swift, James, Kippen, & Liamputtong, 2009, p. 61). In this presentation we draw on a particular set of visual and textural material that surfaced from the project where academics disclosed and articulated their thoughts about research and what research means for them. Engaging with colleagues about academic work and offering an aesthetic mode of interruption through the use of text and images opens up ways to consider the emotive journey of being an academic and reviving sensual ways of knowing.