I would argue that the unhappy academics were creating and adding to what I described in my thesis as affective swirls of discontent, and that they were doing this as a means of bonding, or collective self-comforting. Anthropologist Nigel Thrift (2004), in discussing spatial affect, might argue that these swirls gather momentum, affecting the moods and feelings of others as they circulate. As they get translated into different, perhaps more durable contexts — such as via technologies like online chat and email — the affect begins to bed down into the objects (such as emails, or policies), as well as into the humans, strengthening the network and the feelings of discontent further. This is where collective trauma may become an apt description.
At the end of a day of academic work, you may not want to talk to anybody else, and giving yourself that option is a form of self-care. But that kind of self-care doesn’t help you to play well with others, so it becomes a vexed choice - be a good academic, or a good wife and mother.
"Rather than always studying poor, peripheral peasants, pastoralists, and fishermen, let’s turn the critical gaze of our discipline, which we do so well, let’s pivot it round like a telescope lens and focus upwards at, [Laura Nader] coined the phrase, ‘the hidden hierarchies of power.’" Cris Shore, professor of social anthropology at the University of … Continue reading Ep. #16 The costs of efficiency: Cris Shore talks neoliberalism in the public sector
Outside the academy, I’m sure the perception remains that academics sit in leather armchairs, gazing out the gilded windows of our ivory towers, thinking all day.
That has not been my experience, nor that of anyone I know.
My colleagues and peers have, however, experienced levels of anxiety and depression that are six times higher than experienced in the general population. They report higher levels of workaholism, the kind that has a negative and unwanted effect on relationships with loved ones. The picture is often even bleaker for women, people of colour, and other non-White, non-middle-class, non-males. So whether you think academics are ‘delicate woeful souls’ or not, it’s difficult to deny that there is a real problem to be tackled here.