This book by two Canadian humanities scholars makes the argument for Slow culture in academia as a means of restoring well-being and pleasure in teaching, learning, and research.
The authors encourage resistance to pressures introduced by corporate, neoliberal transformations of universities by drawing on the philosophy and methods of the Slow movement.
Carl Honoré makes the case for Slowness in our lives this way:
Despite what some critics say, the Slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary, the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto—the right speed.
Honoré 2004: 15
Berg and Seeber draw on Honoré’s seminal text and an eclectic range of others, from Parker and Craig (2006) through Lodge (2008) to Collini (2012), in order to apply Slow principles to academic life. In a 2013 journal article which they use as the introduction to the book, they suggest
Corporatisation not only speeds up the clock but also compromises academic values. By taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, the Slow Professor takes back the intellectual life of the university.
Berg & Seeber 2013: 6
The book has chapters on university teaching and research, and on collegiality and community. The authors describe their book as a manifesto, and indeed it is short, clear and positive in its recommendations. Not too much space is devoted to documenting the problem, already well identified elsewhere:
Universities are depressed […] they’re terrified and cowering and underfinanced and overexamined and overbureaucratised.
A.S. Byatt (Edmariam 2004)
Berg and Seeber’s diagnosis of the difficulties facing today’s academics rings true and will strike a chord with many. The authors show how experiences many may view as individual problems are, rather, part of a wider culture with far-reaching detrimental effects: time poverty in an audit culture, workplace loneliness, the “shadow CV” and academic shame.
But the authors go beyond handwringing to propose practical suggestions which, if not actual solutions, at least offer avenues to explore. (There is an interesting discussion of the difference between venting and whining, and why the former is necessary if the latter is to be avoided.) The chapter on pedagogy is perhaps especially insightful regarding teaching in the humanities, and the one on collegiality rejects the “network” view favoured in managerial approaches, instead arguing compellingly for a more human notion of community.
For me, the book is a rewarding read for a number of reasons. It puts labels on a number of key features of academic life that are either missing from or viewed quite differently in mainstream discourse. It offers a short but rich bibliography from a variety of sources for readers interested in following up on Slow culture, university reform, or academic fiction. And it offers an alternative vision of academia, with practical ideas for finding and maintaining the tempo giusto in our university lives.
Berg, M., & Seeber, B. (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. University of Toronto Press.
Berg, M & Seeber, B (2013) The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy Transformative dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 6(3). PDF
Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? Penguin UK
Edmariam, A. (2004). Who’s afraid of the campus novel? The Guardian
Honoré, C. (2004). In Praise of Slowness. How a Worldwide movement is Changing the Cult of Speed. Harper Collins.
Parkins, W. and Craig, G. (2006). Slow Living. Oxford: Berg.
Lodge, D. (2008). Deaf Sentence. London: Harvill Secker.