The privilege of academia

Cath Ellis published a post on her blog yesterday encouraging everybody in #rhizo14 to read the introduction to D&G.  I read her post and sympathised with her because it can be frustrating to hear people talk about a topic they have not understood, or complain that their philosophy is incomprehensible nonsense, but then something else happened.

First Maha published a blog post rebelling against the suggestion to read D&G and got me thinking about privilege.  It’s never nice to be called out about that, but over the years I have learned that the only thing to do is to apologise, take stock and try to think about how to avoid it in future.  Now, funnily enough, I learned about all this by listening to a lot of very bright folk who were mostly not as highly qualified as I am.  A few years ago I was privileged to be part of the Free Hetherington, which was a student-led occupation at the University of Glasgow lasting 6 glorious months.  The members of the occupation were a mixed bunch: some were students, some were my tutees, some were students from other institutions, some were graduates, some were not.  A lot of the time I didn’t know what somebody’s background was, it just wasn’t relevant.  This mixed bunch of occupiers taught me so much: they taught me about intersectionality and activism, they introduced me to David Rovics’ music, they inspired me to learn to play the ukulele.  Most importantly they taught me never to assume that I knew more than others because I had more academic qualifications.

So then a tricky thing happened.  Somebody posted in our Facebook group:

I find it ironic that people talk about their qualifications and researches and their ability to read and understand critical theory when that is not the aim of this uncourse at all. As long as everyone “gets” the generic meaning of it, all is well and we progress as a community. How everyone reaches to the end is immaterial. If you get the theory without reading it, you have cheated brilliantly.

Furthermore, I would like to assert my independence and state that I am not an academic and yet wish to be part of this uncourse. Does that make me “Un-qualified” to take it up? If we are to question the very foundation of the education system and try to change it so as to include one and all in a whole big community, then it shouldn’t matter whether I am a phd or a college drop out, should it? This is how a rhizome breaks.

Wow.  Of course that’s right.   I think that some of us might have been forgetting that not everybody was in the same situation as us, and assuming that academic language was the only correct tone to take.  However, here is what is really funny: a few years ago I would have been offended and angry and responded in fairly rude manner, I think.  Yesterday I stopped, thought and replied asking to be slapped if I was being patronising.  I say this not to tell you all how wonderful I am but because the reason I was not as awful as past me is because the Free Hetherington – folk less qualified academically than me-  have taught me to check my privilege when I am called out about it.

About Sarah Honeychurch

I'm a Good Practice Adviser at the University of Glasgow with a PhD in Education about affinity networks and connected learning. I am an editor for Research in Learning Technology. I blog at Twitter: @NomadWarMachine
This entry was posted in #rhizo14, MOOC, Rhizomes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The privilege of academia

  1. francesbell says:

    What can we learn from this Sarah? that each of us needs to listen more carefully, that academic-speak is the norm and that is unproductive? Yes !! I learned a lot from the Facebook discussion that grew from Maha’s excellent post and will engage differently in #rhizo14 as a result
    However, I am interested in the diversity that we can sustain in this MOOC as I believe that means that all voices can be heard – what a challenge for us!

  2. Yes, Frances! I’m learning so much. It’s important not to stifle any of the voices and I’ve also been thinking about that.

  3. Pingback: The privilege of academia | The Networked Ecosy...

  4. Pingback: » A Twitch in the Void

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