What I’m Reading: Atlas of the Heart

I should actually call this post “what I’m re-reading and still trying to wrap my head around”—Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart isn’t a one-time quick read. It’s like a big beautiful coffee table book, filled with deep insights that make you go away and come back to it later. It’s been visually designed for that, with quotations highlighted and featured like they should be up on your wall or mirror as a daily reminder (apparently her house and office are full of post its with words of wisdom on them).

The theme of my life in recent years–unmet expectations. I’ve been feeling a lot of bitterness about unmet expectations.

-My generation was told that we had to get a good education to get a good job—and we are now the most educated and lowest paid.

-I was told that I was gifted and I expected that to translate into a successful career. It hasn’t.

-I expected to be able to establish my career within the first 5 years after finishing my PhD. Now I’m nearly 8 years post-PhD and haven’t even managed to keep my foot in the door.

-I expected to have a lovely maternity leave with Paul, meeting up with other mom friends over coffee while George was in school. Instead, we were stuck at home, juggling distance learning and baby care and pandemic survival.

Everybody’s had a terrible time over the past couple of years, of course, and it makes me feel like I shouldn’t complain–my close friends and family have all survived, I have a roof over my head and food to eat, etc. At the same time, how can you not complain when you’re trying to process all of…this? The politics, the climate crisis, the pandemic, the gun violence, the racial reckoning, Brexit, Ukraine, the cost of living, wage stagnation, food banks…Comparative suffering doesn’t help anybody, but it’s hard not to go down that route.

The main point of Atlas of the Heart is to develop our language around emotions. Using more precise language can help us better understand our emotions, and those of others, too. I really liked the disambiguation pages, where she explains how different terms relate to each other. On p. 54, she explains how feeling discouraged is about losing confidence and enthusiasm, whereas if you feel resigned, you’ve already lost your confidence and enthusiasm. It’s a step further down that path.

As long as I apply to jobs and get rejected, I’m discouraged, but once I fully give up and stop applying, then I’m resigned. At the moment, I still have academic job applications pending, so I’m not quite at the point of feeling resigned, no matter how discouraged and frustrated I might feel.

Knowing these definitions and understanding that distinction between different shades of disappointment, discouragement and resignation actually does help to make sense of it all.

Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week 3: Abstracting Your Article

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

This chapter was a much needed confidence boost for me–after reading it, I realized that I already had a fairly good handle on abstracts. It included so much of what I’ve taught my students when helping them with their literature searches. Skim reading abstracts is a vital skill when you’re trying to get a good understanding of “what’s been done” on and around your topic. You need to make sense of the hundreds (or thousands) of search results, and you don’t have time to (or need to) read everything. My ESL students, in particular, sometimes felt overwhelmed by the prospect of having to read countless academic books and journal articles, only to find that very few would turn out to be relevant for their project in the end. Many of my students thought that if you cited something, it meant you had read the whole thing–that is a big misconception about academia. We skim and cite. We use indexes and keyword searches to zoom in on just the relevant sentences or paragraphs or pages. We rarely read anything from cover to cover. Those overflowing bookcases in professors’ offices don’t mean what you think they mean–most of their books probably have some margin notes or underlining here and there, and haven’t been read cover to cover. It’s not because academics are lazy–we love reading! It’s because you don’t have to read something cover to cover for it to be useful in your own work.

That’s where abstracts come in. They are a little summary that highlights the argument and key findings, so you know whether it’s worthwhile for you to read further. They can give you a good enough idea of the content to decide whether it’s useful. Sometimes it’s useful in a negative sense, because it helps you to say “previous studies have focused on x, but overlooked y…and this is significant because…”. You can rely on an abstract and a quick skim read to cite examples of the thing you’re not doing, if you’re using that as part of your rationale/justification for the study. It shows the reader that you’re aware of other approaches and suggests that you have a good understanding of where your topic/approach sits in the broader field.

I loved the “talking your way to clarity” task–it made me realize how much talking about my work with friends/family has helped me, and how much talking with my students about their work helped them! It’s a bit like talk therapy in psychology–communicating your thoughts to somebody else helps you understand them better yourself.

Writing the abstract helps clarify your article’s focus and argument. Belcher recommends you start with the abstract and, since this article stems from a conference paper abstract I wrote back in 2018, I actually did start with the abstract in this case. The project has grown and changed over the past 2 years, but I was able to build on some of the basic ideas from that original abstract to write this one.

I also loved the task of reading abstracts to get an idea of what they should contain, what to leave out, and to consider the strengths and weaknesses of real life, published abstracts. For someone who doesn’t regularly skim the current issues of various journals in the field, it was also just a nice way to get a quick impression of what’s going on in research at the moment!

My abstract before doing the task of reading recent abstracts in journals:

In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congressional Twitter became a site of partisan debate on gun policy. Survivors appeared on the news and challenged policy makers to take action, asserting that adults had failed in their duty to protect them, the children of America. Despite broad popular support for gun control measures such as universal background checks, Congressional inaction persisted after each mass shooting.  As survivors quickly became activists and organized the March for Our Lives, Parkland appeared to be a critical discourse moment for the gun debate in America. But how did Congress respond to this school shooting and the movement that followed?

This study conducted a critical discourse analysis of Congressional Twitter posts to identify dominant themes and frames, to categorize performances of empathy and calls to action, and to assess the state of the gun control vs. gun rights debate in the wake of Parkland. It found that members of Congress used the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in starkly partisan ways. While some Republicans expressed sympathy with “thoughts and prayers” on the platform, others avoided using the exact phrase. Many called the shooting “heart-breaking,” “tragic,” or said they were “praying for Parkland” instead. Democrats used the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in their criticism of inaction, describing “thoughts and prayers” as an insufficient response and calling for “real action” to prevent future shootings. In this paper, I argue that there was a distinct backlash against public figures using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” as a performative act of caring after Parkland. The study demonstrates that there was a discursive turn towards calls for action from both parties in the turn away from “thoughts and prayers”. Activists’ demands for action elicited significant Congressional Twitter responses from members of both parties, with partisan differences in terms of the actions endorsed. Overall, the study identifies Parkland as a critical moment for Congressional discourse on gun policy. It brought about a new way of responding to shootings, shifting from “thoughts and prayers” to calls for action.

I read 10 abstracts from current issues in 3 quite different journals in my field, from 3 different publishers. I quickly saw that each journal has a preferred style, and some abstracts were definitely stronger than others (also realized that I’m a harsh critic–I read 7 before really liking one!). They were all quite brief, around 200 words, and just one paragraph long. My draft abstract was 342, so one clear outcome of the task was that I knew it needed some trimming down. It also showed some interesting trends about word choice–the strongest ones used “show”, “demonstrate”, “highlight” instead of “examine” or “explore”, and nearly all of them used “argue” or “argument”. My earlier drafts included “examine”/”explore”, and I removed them during the week 2 chapter because they felt too descriptive. I tried to follow the rest of the checklist im my revisions and cuts, too.

Abstract draft after reading 10 abstracts:

In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congressional Twitter became a site of partisan debate on gun policy. As survivors quickly became activists and challenged persistent Congressional inaction, Parkland appeared to be a critical discourse moment for the gun debate in America. But how did Congress respond to this school shooting and the movement that followed? This study used critical discourse analysis of Congressional Twitter posts to identify dominant themes and frames, to categorize performances of empathy and calls to action, and to assess the state of the gun debate in the wake of Parkland. The study identifies Parkland as a critical moment for Congressional discourse on gun policy, one which brought about a new way of reacting to mass shootings. In response to a distinct backlash against public figures using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” as a performative act, there was a discursive turn towards calls for action from both parties. While the actions endorsed were starkly partisan on Congressional Twitter, the findings suggest that Parkland’s March For Our Lives activists were successful in challenging Congress to move beyond “thoughts and prayers.”

This trimmed down version is 190 words, with far less detail about the findings. It’s clearer, neater and tidier. Although cutting it down was difficult, it made me focus on what was really going on. It’s like on makeover shows, when they give someone a drastic haircut and it makes their eyes pop!

Writing Your Journal Article In Twelve Weeks–Week 2: Argumentation Revisited

Since my last post about the workbook, I’ve gone away and worked on the study. Once I started looking at my data and playing around with it, and reading through the methods lit that I’d long neglected, I realized that all of this lovely data I’ve been collecting could be used for multiple studies with different approaches. In the past that might have made me feel overwhelmed and lost, but now I see it as a good thing. I drafted a book outline and saw where everything I want to do could fit together to make a coherent larger study. The book is the ultimate goal, but for now, I’m working on turning one part of it (discourse analysis) into a journal article-length paper that I can submit to ICA at the end of the month. It’s a great opportunity to get it peer-reviewed at an early stage, whether it gets accepted or not.

Now that I know what my evidence is saying, I’m able to revisit the argument stage in Week 2. A lot of interesting things came out of my data (hence the desire to turn it all into a book–it doesn’t fit in 1 or 2 journal articles), so I narrowed my focus down to a very specific claim about just one feature of the gun debate discourse: the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.

In the initial check of my 4,824 relevant tweets, the exact phrase “thoughts and prayers” appeared 85 times. 341 were coded as “thoughts and prayers” for their topic, so it was a common theme even without the exact wording. Members of Congress often avoided using the cliche phrase (this Slate article noted that several Republicans didn’t use it), instead saying they were “heartbroken” or calling it a “tragedy,” and often still saying that they were “praying for those affected” without using the now-maligned “thoughts and prayers.” Most of my 85 exact phrase matches were actually Democrats using it in a negative sense–“thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” or “we need more than thoughts and prayers, we need real action from Congress on gun violence,” etc. There was a clear partisan difference in the ways people used “thoughts and prayers”, and a clear backlash against the phrase–you could see it in memes, cartoons, in tweets from both Democrats and Republicans.

I used to draw these maps with students when I was helping them sort out their ideas–it helps to just get it down on paper and you can then see what’s strongest, what can be cut, what can be developed further, etc.

As it stands at the moment, my argument is that there was a backlash against T&P and a discursive turn towards calls to action from both parties (Republicans called for action in terms of increasing school security and arming teachers, Democrats called for gun control–but at the end of the day, they’re both “action” instead of just passive “T&P.”)

It definitely still needs some refining, and we’ll see how it develops as I use it to structure the paper! I loved Belcher’s discussion of argument-organized vs. evidence-organized writing, and I’m trying to bear that in mind as I deal with my evidence.

Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks–Week 2

Back to school–my favorite time of year! George’s return to in-person school means that I now have a little writing time every day! It feels so luxurious to have this extra time, especially after 6 months of being together 24/7. Even though I still have one kid at home to take care of, it’s so much easier–he naps better when there’s no big brother to wake him up, too. As I write this, he’s sleeping on me in the Ergo, just like I used to do with George. With all of this newfound time, I’ve been able to get my coding & SPSS done for 3 datasets and actually get my quantitative data for the paper I’m working on about Congressional Twitter post-Parkland.

This week of the workbook focused on the argument–probably the most important aspect, and often the most difficult. When I’m marking or proofreading someone else’s work, it’s easy to spot a missing or weak argument. When it comes to crafting one of my own, from scratch…I struggle to come up with a clear, central argument that covers all of the ideas/angles I want to include.

I thought I had a fairly good idea of my argument for this paper-in-progress. One way of thinking about the argument was to see it as an answered research question, so with that starting point:

RQ: How did members of Congress use Twitter in the aftermath of Parkland?

Argument: In the aftermath of Parkland, members of Congress used Twitter as a political communication tool to express empathy and to display partisan positions on the national gun debate.

As soon as I wrote mine out, I realised it was a description, not an argument. It was also very dry and put me to sleep. The topic is inherently interesting–a school shooting, hashtag activism, partisan points-scoring in the wake of a tragedy–but how do I do it justice?

The workbook has a series of tests you can use to determine whether you have an argument. Mine failed the “observation test”–it doesn’t explain anything. It needs to be interpreted, in light of the literature and my specific findings. It also sort of failed the “obvious test”–my claim is too general and a bit obvious. It needs to be something specific and clear, and something that you could only find out through deeper research.

Part of the delay so far has been that I didn’t actually have my findings yet. You can’t form an argument if you don’t have the evidence you’re going to use to support your argument yet.

I’m still in the process of figuring out what the evidence is, but my initial findings suggest that there’s the kind of political polarization going on that you’d expect.

  • Democrat Congress members with NRA grades of “F” wrote 76% of all Parkland/gun-related tweets during the month that followed the shooting.
  • Fully 100% of the tweets that advocated arming teachers, supported the NRA, and supported the 2nd amendment were tweeted by Republican NRA “A” grade Congress members.
  • Similarly, 100% of the tweets that discussed gun-control responses from corporations (i.e. DICKS sporting goods and Wal-Mart raising the age to buy guns/ammo to 21) came from Democrat “F” grade Congress members.

The one topic category that wasn’t definitely favored by one party over the other was “thoughts and prayers”. It’s the only truly bipartisan response to the shooting. It’s become a cliched and mandatory demonstration of caring–politicians must tweet their thoughts & prayers as a minimum (and many did just that one tweet and then never mentioned gun violence/policies again that month).

I’ll see how the rest of the analysis goes, but this is one angle I’m suspecting might turn into an argument. In a crisis situation, like a school shooting, members of Congress must be seen to care (whether they actually do or not). Expressing “thoughts & prayers” on Twitter is a low-cost (in terms of effort, time, and money), way to perform that necessary display of caring. After Parkland, however, such performative caring was deemed by many to be insufficient. “Thoughts and prayers” were met with resistance, accusations of failure on the part of politicians to keep children safe, and calls to action. Policy changes were demanded, rather than/beyond the performative act of caring with “thoughts and prayers.”

**But, my data is about what Congress said/did, not what voters demanded of them, so my evidence won’t necessarily support that argument directly.

This is why it’s complicated!

Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks–Week 1 task: Time Audit

One of the week 1 tasks is to schedule your writing time and create a plan. The recommended 15 min-2hr/day, 5 days a week sounds reasonable, and the workbook has lovely helpful charts you can use to assess actual vs. planned writing time–but what about situations like mine, with zero dedicated writing time? I decided to start with a time audit.

Before doing the time audit:

The thought of doing a time audit now, during the Coronavirus when I’m essentially a stay-at-home mom, is hilarious and daunting. We all supposedly have the same 24 hours each day to work with, but it definitely doesn’t feel like I have as much time as I used to, “in the before times.” Off the top of my head, I would estimate that I spend 50% of my waking hours dealing with food (meal planning, shopping, cooking, feeding baby, washing up), and 45% general childcare tasks (teaching George, trying to put the baby to sleep, changing clothes & nappies, playing, singing, etc.), with 5% “me time” that I spend scrolling social media, and working out/showering 3x/week. At the moment, there’s been close to zero writing time, and little reading time (one day I started reading an academic book while we were watching a movie, and George kept telling me to look at the screen!). It’ll be interesting to see what I actually do spend my time on. There may be significantly more social media time than that 5% figure…

How I’m doing my time audit:

-I set up the “screen time” feature on my phone (scariest step of all, because I know I’ve always wasted a lot of time on it, and in quarantine, it’s been my “only window to the outside world”, like the magic mirror in Beauty and the Beast)

-I’m writing down key times/activities with actual paper and pen throughout the day for a week (I don’t always have my phone on me, and besides, tracking it on my phone will only make my screen time sound worse!)

-Once I’ve tracked, I’ll make categories and a chart, and figure out what changes I can/should make.

  • 42% of my time on childcare/housework
  • 19% on meal prep/clean-up/grocery shopping
  • 13% talking with my husband
  • 11% on writing/research
  • 6% on TV/Movies
  • 5% “me time”–workouts, shower, getting dressed
  • 4% “Nursing & scrolling” (“me time” and childcare combined)

My screen time isn’t that bad—just under 13 hr/week. My messenger time includes video calls with my family in the States, which I thought would be about 4 hr/week. Instagram and Facebook serve the same purposes for me—keeping up with news, friends, family, memes, etc. Obviously, though, 13 hours could be reduced, and some of that time could be spent writing or reading.

After the time audit:

This wasn’t an ‘average’ week, because I genuinely tried to fit in as much writing/research time as possible. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I’ve accomplished. I finally downloaded a RMS for my citations (Zotero) and started using it (can’t imagine how much time I’ve wasted without one–I love it so far). I read more academic literature than I have in months–a whole book and a half! I drafted an outline for my article and finally started my formal coding process, moving my data from a mess of excel workbooks into SPSS.

That said, most of my time is spent with the kids–even some of my research time.

When I was categorizing my time notes, I realized just how much my childcare and housework tasks overlap. Laundry and dishes are very conducive to being paused for a nappy change or story time, and restarted later when I get a chance. I combined them in my analysis, because I soon saw how impossible it was to break it down minute-by-minute. There’s some food prep time mixed in with childcare time, too.

I also had to come up with a separate category for my combined childcare and “me time”activity, “Nursing & Scrolling”. At the end of a long day, baby Paul and I relax on the couch, and I nurse him while I scroll on my phone. He often falls asleep, and while on rare occasions I’m able to transfer him to his bouncer and keep him asleep, it’s easier to just let him sleep on me. I love the cuddles, and I know it won’t last forever–and it’s a guilt-free excuse to look at my phone!

Changes to make?

  • Keep working little and often, fitting it in when possible. I got so much more done than usual!
  • Multitasking is great for childcare/housework time, but not for research time. If I can’t focus properly, I might as well just come back to it later.
  • Cut back on Instagram/Facebook scrolling time. Change some of my “Nursing & scrolling” to “nursing & reading” time—even if it’s reading non-academic books.
  • Unsubscribe from e-mail mailing lists to cut down on the amount of time I spend checking & deleting junk mail.

Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week 1

This brilliant workbook was recommended to me by one of my best friends, and I’m finally getting around to using it. After reading the introduction and the Week 0 chapter on preparing a draft, I moved onto Week 1 and had so many “Aha!” moments…

The first exercise was to think about your feelings towards writing. My initial thought was that I am “all or nothing”—either it’s flowing and wonderful, or I’m stuck and giving up. I thought about the images I have of being a writer—Ernest Hemingway’s description of his little room in St Germain where he writes in A Moveable Feast, and how the writing would flow some days and he’d write a short story in an afternoon. (Every time we go to Paris, I look up at the top floor windows of buildings in the Latin Quarter and dream of renting a little room to write in like he did…) As a more academic example, I remembered my mentor Phil Taylor pointing at his computer and saying the keyboard was “covered in blood, sweat and tears” after writing his latest book.

So, after writing all of this out, on the next page, I saw that my image of a writer’s life is actually a common myth… Her description is almost exactly what I wrote 🤣

That last line is a key part of it for me. I have always resisted editing. All through school, I was told that I was “a natural writer” and I just didn’t think I needed to revise anything. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t getting typed in the first place. All of the years of praise for my writing reinforced my ideas about writing being a matter of natural talent, a gift—which also made me dismiss editing. If I’m a gifted writer, my work doesn’t need editing. I thought I was too good for editing and revisions. I even passed my PhD viva without corrections, which just further reinforced my unhealthy attitude towards editing! There are deeper issues here around perfectionism (see Brenè Brown) and being labelled “Gifted” (see this article from a few years ago in The Atlantic), but in terms of writing specifically, this workbook has really helped!

It may take me more like 12 months rather than 12 weeks to get through this workbook, as at the moment, I’m struggling to find time to write–even just for the 15 minutes a day it recommends. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make time in the evenings again soon. But even just reading what I should be doing is a step in the right direction, and it’s more than I was doing before!

The Last Three (Make that Six…) Feet

This pandemic has brought into question one of the basic tenets of public diplomacy–Murrow’s ‘Last Three Feet’ of international messaging. The ‘personal touch’ of a Cultural Affairs Officer or a citizen diplomat communicating with locals overseas face-to-face was the whole point of public diplomacy. Bringing people together, sharing ideas and experiences, learning through immersion–how can that happen at a distance? In this new global context of travel restrictions, what does public diplomacy look like? What is its raison d’être?

The USC CPD Blog has had some really interesting pieces over the past couple of months, and when I get a chance, I hope to read them all & reflect on them here. In the meantime, here are some of my preliminary thoughts on PD in the post-Covid-19-era:

  1. Moving (even further) online

Firstly, I think we’re going to see public diplomacy activities shift online, even more than they already have, with things like virtual exhibits and galleries, and webcasts of lectures, and distance learning versions of educational exchange.

This has tremendous opportunities for expanding the reach of public diplomacy efforts. Where an art exhibition might only reach a few hundred visitors in person, making it available on the web and sharing it on social media platforms could increase its reach dramatically. It also has significant cost-savings and environmental advantages, when compared with the expense and pollution of international air travel.

Craig Hayden’s 2016 chapter “Technology Platforms for Public Diplomacy: Affordances for Education” considered the potential applications of MOOCs (massive open online courses). It highlighted some of the ways technology can enhance PD practices, and raises interesting points for consideration as our reliance on technology increases. The US State Department’s MOOC Camp is discussed as a largely successful endeavour, and it offers a model which could be built upon in the future.

One caveat to techno-optimistic thinking, however, is that while the internet offers more potential for increased audience size and interactivity, it also suffers from attention scarcity–there is too much content and audiences are fragmented. It is difficult to be heard on the internet, especially by the general public (who are unlikely to do a google search for virtual cultural exhibitions). Also, it is always important to bear in mind that the internet is not universally accessible–just 59% of the world’s population are active internet users (Statista), and although internet penetration rates have increased significantly over the past decade, there are still dozens of countries where less than a quarter of the population are online (Wikipedia). A shift towards online public diplomacy can mean ignoring parts of the world that are significant public diplomacy targets for the West.

2) Uniting publics over shared problems

Pandemics have a strange way of bringing people together. Although we’re all going through it separately, this is a common experience that we’re all sharing. Some people are isolating more comfortably than others, of course, and key workers never stopped going out into the world, but for many millions of people, this has meant staying home and limiting contact with others–a weird time that we’re all processing together.

Pandemics are shared problems that demand shared solutions. We have to cooperate on a global scale to resolve the pandemic, whether it’s collaborating in medical research to create a vaccine or coordinating resources like PPE. A vivid illustration of crisis-induced cooperation is the fact that wars have stopped–apparently they weren’t essential after all.

Public diplomacy can play a role in addressing issues that transcend borders. Initiatives like Fulbright NEXUS were aimed at bringing scholars and professionals together to work on shared problems, such as public health, climate change, and food and water security. The program has been on hiatus since 2016, according to the 2019 USACPD Annual Report, but recent events may inspire a reboot.

Work cited:

Hayden, C. (2016) Technology Platforms for Public Diplomacy: Affordances for Education, In: Mathews-Aydinli, J., Ed. International Education Exchanges and Intercultural Understanding, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Humanizing UK-EU relations in the face of Brexit

Yesterday the UK government announced plans to prorogue (suspend) Parliament in the run up to the 31 October Brexit leaving date. The Prime Minister claims the timing decision was about making progress in other policy areas (fighting crime, funding the NHS & education, etc.) but that doesn’t fit with what he’s said in the past. During the recent leadership contest, he considered using it as a means to get Brexit through:

At Conservative hustings in Bournemouth on 27 June

Overnight, there’s been a huge backlash from politicians of all parties and members of the public. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said, “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.” A petition started just yesterday evening has already gathered 1.3 million signatures, and counting–far surpassing the 100,000 signature threshold needed to get the petition debated in Parliament.

Brexit has been 3 years of crazy so far, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I know one thing–on a human level, the people of the UK and the people of the rest of the EU are fine with each other. Even the most ardent Brexiteers actually love Europe. They drink champagne and vacation in Italy and Spain, they love the German Christmas markets and shop at Ikea. They drive Audis, BMWs, Volvos, Fiats, Renaults, Citroens, Peugeots, Dacias, Skodas, etc. They eat huge amounts of food imported from the continent–the UK imports nearly 40% of its food, and 79% of that comes from the EU. At grammar school, they learn European languages like French, Spanish, Italian, German–they’re not learning Chinese or Arabic (although Brits are well-below the EU average when it comes to languages: only 38% of Brits speak at least one foreign language, versus an EU average of 56%).

At the end of the day, Britain and the EU are neighbours and friends, colleagues and family members. They were before Britain joined the EU, and they will still be if/when Britain leaves the EU.

Early Career Academics and the Game

A recent study looked at managerialism in academia, and staff resistance & compliance to “the game”–the competitive regime that pits academics against each other in a race to gain publications, funding and positive performance reviews. The authors used an Australian university as a case study, where the structure had recently changed and the rules of the game had become a bit more intense–many staff left after its introduction, to be replaced with Early Career Academics (ECAs) on fixed-term contracts. The authors found little resistance to the managerialism; most staff quietly complied or left the University. ECAs, they found, were committed to playing the game and focused on accruing capital (publications, grants, etc.) to help themselves perform well in the game.

I read the article and blog post about it on LSE’s Impact Blog, and come away from it wondering what the alternative is. We ECAs are being accused of being complicit in this system, but what choice do we have? I’ve been struggling to play the game, because at the moment I lack the capital (publications) to compete with my colleagues, but I don’t know what else I can do. An academic CV doesn’t look right for jobs outside of the academy, with my extra years spent in higher education leaving me essentially inexperienced and fresh out of university when I was 28.

Why do ECAs play the game?

1) Because we feel that we have to–there’s no alternative available to us at the moment.

2) Because even though academia is changing, it’s still a really desirable lifestyle. It’s worth it.

3) Because we love what we do, and society’s always telling us to do what we love. Again, on balance, it’s judged to be worth it.

Reason #1 for not writing: News

I should be writing, but there’s too much crazy political news happening and I feel compelled to follow it all…

Here in the UK, the cabinet is being reshuffled after the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson and I’m curious to know why they left (not just why they said they did, but why they really did…) and to see what’s going to happen next. Is Theresa May going to face a vote of no confidence? (Apparently she warned her fellow Tories that not supporting her could mean Jeremy Corbyn could become Prime Minister, as if that’s a scary enough threat to keep the shaky status quo). Is the economy going to tank? (Even more than it already did after the Brexit vote?)

And in the US, Trump’s announced his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. He’s as conservative as we’d expect, pro-gun, anti-choice, etc. but with the added little twist that he believes presidents are above the law (“Mr Kavanaugh argued in 2009 article that presidents should be shielded from criminal investigations and civil lawsuits while in office.”) –the perfect nominee for a president currently under investigation.

And America’s putting the interests of formula companies above public health (but backing down when Russia supports it…), and thousands of children are still separated from their parents and being detained in cages/”summer camps” (estimates vary from 1,425 to “under 3,000” which isn’t very reassuring)

And Trump’s visiting the UK on Thursday, so I can’t even get away from him over here…


How am I supposed to focus and get any work done under these conditions? How is anybody getting anything done? I need to become a hermit until I get a few publications finished…