Ill-being and the University

I’m presenting on Ill-being and the University, at the¬†NNMHR Congress 2021:¬†Medical Humanities: In(Visibility)

My abstract and slides are appended below. My work will build upon some thoughts in my forthcoming book on The Hopeless University, connected to work on the reproduction of hopelessness in the University in this article in post digital science and education.

For some earlier work on ill-being, the University as an anxiety machine, alienation and Weltschmerz, see the list available at this post on the rise of academic ill-health.

Felicity Callard’s keynote has helped me to remember my own experiences of cycles of chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. Her conversation took me back to feel the edges of my grief, and how the duality of my forgetting/remembering remains entangled with my soul. It was a stark reminder of how the individualised experiences of life through illness are related to the dominant political economy that demands overwork and productivity as culturally-acceptable self-harming activities. It was a stark reminder of the need to share individual lived experiences, in order to generate a collective front against capital’s social metabolic control, which dehumanises and wastes lives.

My remembering is detailed in a blogpost on academic and life, which also links to other posts at the intersection of corporeal, cognitive and psychological breakdown. The trauma of my remembering makes me want to puke. It brings me to tears. It is an echo.

Abstract

Covid-19 has amplified feelings of alienation amongst those who learn, teach, provide professional services, and research inside the University. In spite of the uncertainties of life inside the pandemic, institutional demands for the maintenance of business-as-usual increasingly reproduces precarious and proletarianised working conditions. Whilst institutions focus upon resilience, mindfulness and well-being, this is entangled with the reality that University work, like all labour, tends to catalyse ill-being. Through the pandemic, it is possible to trace how the intersection of socio-economic and socio-environmental crises both enable the structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures and damage bodies and psychologies. As institutional forms develop high plasticity, cultures become pathologies, and activities are defined methodologically, individuals and communities are scarred. In the pandemic, the scars are made visible, in terms of reports of overwork, self-sacrifice and feelings of precariousness, underpinned by a sense of hopelessness and Weltschmerz, with physical and psychological manifestations, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression. In spite of the pandemic, the University demands the internalisation of specific behaviours as culturally-acceptable, self-harming activities. These subsume the humanity of intellectual work under economic determinations. This anti-humanist terrain and its resulting, widening circuit of ill-being, will be sketched in this paper.

Keywords: anxiety; hopelessness; ill-being; pandemic; University


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