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Slow down? It's ok for those who can

As academics look to the ‘Slow’ movement to combat the accelerated pace of Higher Education, Dr Heather Mendick of Brunel University London argues that its principles may only serve to create divisions on the grounds of class and gender.

Carl Honore’s best-selling book ‘In Praise of Slow’ has gained increasing traction across corporate and academic life, espouses the theory that when we slow down we end up working better and faster.

But in her paper ‘Social Class, Gender and the Pace of Academic Life: What Kind of Solution is Slow?’ Dr Mendick identifies a fundamental flaw in the approach – that some people aren’t afforded the privilege of being able to slow down. Placing value on doing so, she argues, will stall academia’s progress to equality and entrench a two-tier workforce.

Using post-structural theory to unpick Slow literature, Dr Mendick finds familiar patterns of inclusion and exclusion. Slowness itself is not valued. Instead it is calculated slowness, which is chosen not forced, by middle class proponents with rewarding jobs. Shift workers, the unemployed or people on zero hours contracts, are excluded. As the tasks do not go away, slowing down simply pushes the burden of unwanted labour to others, often women, to cook, clean and look after children.

Dr Mendick said: “Beneath the appealing simplicity of the Slow movement lie assumptions that exclude people for whom slowing down is not an option. For those that do slow down, somebody else has to pick up the slack. So, far from being a radical solution, Slow Scholarship is simply the other side of the coin. For meaningful change, we have to change the currency.”

The paper acknowledges that Slow could offer resistance to the status quo if it was less nostalgic for a so-called golden age of academia. However, Mendick proposes that to challenge the ever-increasing pace and expectation of the Higher Education sector, academics could treat their work more as a job and less as a vocation.

‘Social Class, Gender and the Pace of Academic Life: What Kind of Solution is Slow?’ by Heather Mendick is published at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/2224/3694