- The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg, Barbara K. Seeber
I’ve been too stressed and too frantic and too busy to submit this book review on time. Let me rephrase that. I’ve been too stressed and too frantic and too busy with professional commitments, whilst on sabbatical leave, to meet my esc book review deadline. I’ve been a slow professor. But not in the sense that Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber would want me to adopt this term. Influenced by the Slow movement, their book avowedly “extends Slow principles to academia” (vii), rightly claiming to be the first to do so. The main objective: to effectively adopt the Slow practices of simply slowing down and connecting to others, ourselves, and our environment into our academic lives and practices. The second and related objective is “to alleviate work stress, preserve humanistic education, and resist the corporate university” (ix). If you are at all involved in humanities education and research, the argument will most likely be familiar enough. It may even stress you out. Yet the need for Slow, as Berg and Seeber manage to convincingly illustrate, is no joking matter. [End Page 103]
The authors begin by identifying the ubiquitous discourse of crisis, as well as its call for urgent action and the sense of powerlessness it entails, as one of the culprits of the university’s current “corporate ethos of speed” (11). Exposing the false values that we associate to busyness and multitasking in our professional lives, they set out to critique studies and guides on time management to defend instead the merits of “timelessness.” The latter notion they equate with the escape from time or at least managed time, to allow ourselves to think, absorb, and digest or to read, teach, and write more meaningfully—to resist feeling trapped between “corporate time and the time conducive to academic work” (25). Get off line; do less; embrace timelessness; set time aside to do nothing; change the way we talk about time: these are the author’s suggestions and strategies of resistance that close the first chapter. They are backed by carefully cited research that explains, without crowding the text, their necessity and effectiveness. The advice also exemplifies what the authors mean by rendering their book both an analytical study and a practical self-help guide for academics.
If Slow research is the topic of chapter 1, Slow teaching is taken up in chapter 2, along with the beneficial dimensions of the live class as an embodied space for the circulation of emotions. Authored in the first person by Maggie Berg and alive with bits of humour and personal experience, the chapter does a fine job of using Teresa Brennan’s theory of the transmission and residue of affect and considering their implications both for pleasurable teaching and for effective learning. Strategies to alleviate negative emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, and distress draw from Berg’s own preparatory and classroom practices and direct engagement with her students over the years.
Barbara Seeber follows with her own chapter about the detrimental consequences of the corporate university on scholarship. The value invested in quantifiable knowledge and its so-called transferability, particularly by funding structures in Canada, harks back to the race for fast results and thus the issue of time raised in the first chapter. Resisting “the corporate clock,” a risk to be sure in the current environment of annual reports and meritocracies, requires rethinking “our perception of time and the expectations of productivity” (55), argues Seeber, who proceeds to show how she works to adopt and internalize Slow language instead. It’s good to see this part of the book consider graduate students and how particularly vulnerable they are to the expectations of cv-citable productivity and rushed professionalization, although Seeber doesn’t address the mounting and oft unreasonable pressure put on graduate students to speed up their programs. [End Page 104]
The fourth chapter on...