Learning at a Scholarly Pace: On the Socialised Temporalities of Academic Work [Guest Blog by Fabian Cannizzo]

The tempo, frequency and pace of activities form an integral background to everyday life. While we ordinarily reflect on time in terms of the mechanical qualities of clocks, calendars, timetables and schedules, our everyday life is also embedded with other habituated and less cognitive modes of timekeeping and temporality. The rotation of the earth brings light, heat, and rituals of dressing, undressing, warming, and cooling; chemical changes in organic bodies bring on cycles of hunger, emotion, and energy; climatological shifts alter entire economies and the habitability of geographies; while the power dynamics within organisation bring in temporalities of career, professional development and the indefinite business lifecycle. These temporalities may take a variety of forms, linear, circular, toroidal as well as sporadic, but each form timescapes that are central to the organisation of rhythm and regularity in social life (Adam 1995). This rich temporal environment leads British sociologist, Barbara Adam (1995, p. 6) to take the view that time is ‘embedded in social interactions, structures, practices and knowledge, artefacts, in the mindful body, and in the environment’. Experiences of time are hence inseparable from our social, spatial, and historical relations.

The study of time has until recently taken a back seat in research of academic work and its political economy. Changes to the power structures within universities that have their roots back in reforms in education globally from the 1970s and 1980s have brought temporality increasingly to the fore of the social analysis of science. In their theory of academic capitalism, Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades (2004) argue that universities have worked to both bring the corporate sector and greater managerial control into universities as they have become central to new knowledge economies. The incorporation of universities into how state officials think about economies and value has pushed academia head on into what Harmut Rosa (2013, pp. 161-162) has described as the ‘economic motor’ of social acceleration: time in academia has become reified as a scarce resource vulnerable to the calculations and algorithms of digitally-enabled management regimes. Time is not a neutral measure of duration for staff nor students. Bennett and Burke (2017) make a case that time is laden with moral judgement: students are seen to be irresponsible if they do not manage their own time. When treated as a resource, time is disaggregated from its qualitative experience, and students constrained by structural limitations (such as family roles or the need to labour to survive) are seen to be blameworthy for taking on classes that they didn’t ‘have the time’ for.

Since Adam’s and Rosa’s social theories of time, a number of projects have emerged attempting to map the temporal experiences of academia. Studies of organisational change in academia have revealed asynchronous experiences, bringing time back to the fore of research. While academic activities have become increasingly dis-embedded from clock time, due to the persistent presence of work through digital media technologies (Menzies and Newson 2007), scholars have sought to trace the contours of the different ‘qualities of time’ produced (Spurling 2015). Oili-Helena Ylijoki and Hans Mäntylä (2003) identify four ‘time perspectives’ for describing the experience of academic time, including administrated ‘scheduled time’, internally motivated uses of ‘timeless time’, the future-setting activities of ‘contracted time’, and the lifelong experience of ‘personal time’. In our own research, Nick Osbaldiston, Christian Mauri and I (Osbaldiston et al. 2017) have identified different rationalities of time use, both instrumental and substantive. While many studies focus on the disjunction between the pace of academic work and managerial evaluation cycles, Vostal (2017) cautions that an unreflexive commitment to ‘slowing down’ social life can both support regressive political objectives and also mask the advantages of moments of fruitful acceleration.

The desire to slow down academic life is embedded in the limited representation of acceleration in academia as something disempowering or undesirable. Metric assemblages that trace the work flows and outputs of academic life are often identified as key techniques through which the pace and frequency of academic work has been accelerated, bringing about self-blame and ‘feeling a lack of productivity and not measuring up’ (Berg and Seeber 2017). Mountz et al. (2015) have attempted to mobilise a feminist ethics of care to combat the individualising imperatives of their ‘neoliberal’ universities, claiming that practicing slow scholarship is about producing ‘eventful time’ in place of anxiety-provoking productivity rituals. In ‘Unhastening Science’, Dick Pels (2003) claims that slowing down is also a deeply professional concern, as science is distinguished from other areas of social order by its temporal politics, which is premised on the autonomy to slow down, freeze-frame, analyse, withhold public comment and deliberate about reality. Taking note of these arguments, Vostal (2016) takes a modified approach, claiming that we must take account of the acceleration of academic life, not only in the form of negative experiences, such as hurry and haste, but also in their more appealing and ‘thrilling’ manifestations.

From the foundations of this growing body of literature, further research is needed to understand how different practices for pace-setting and time management are socialised in universities. Amid organisational change, scholars are experimenting with techniques for pacing and ordering, with both positive and negative consequences for scholarly autonomy. For example, writing groups have emerged, coordinated and conducted through social media, which are premised on producing encouraging, productive communal spaces for scholars to work. Going by the names Shut Up and Write! (SUAW), Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) and Shut Up and Write Tuesdays (SUWT), these groups offer motivational techniques and community for writers in both physical and digital spaces (Mewburn et al. 2014; O’Dwyer et al. 2017). Though they are small sites in the context of academia, these writing groups reveal a need to explore not only what techniques of time management academics use, but also how they become socialised into those rituals and what motivations and experiences guide their socialisation. As O’Dwyer et al. (2017, p. 258) note, these groups can ‘make the process [of writing] visible to others’. Social studies of science scholars may broaden their conceptions of time experiences through exploring these spaces of temporal socialisation and transformation.


Adam, B. (1995) Timewatch: The Social Analysis of Time, Cambridge: Polity.

Bennett, A. and Burke, P.J. (2017) Re/conceptualising Time and Temporality: An Exploration of Time in Higher Education, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, published online first. DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2017.1312285.

Berg, M. and Seeber, B.K. (2017) The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.

Menzies, H. and Newson, J. (2007) No Time to Think: Academics’ Life in the Globally Wired University, Time and Society 16(1): 83-98.

Mewburn, I., Osborne, L. and Caldwell, G. (2014) Shut Up & Write! Some Surprising Uses of Cafés and Crowds in Doctoral Writing, in C. Aichison and C. Guerin (eds.) Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond: Innovations in Theory and Practice, London and New York: Routledge: pp. 399-425.

Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B., Loyd, J., Hyndman, J. and Walton-Robers, M. (2015) For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University, ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14(4): 1236-1259.

O’Dwyer, S.T., Jefferson, R., McDonough, S.L., Goff, J.A. and Redman-MacLaren, M. (2017) Writing Groups in the Digital Age: A Case Study Analysis of Shut Up &Write Tuesdays, in A. Esposito (ed.) Research 2.0 and the Impact of Digital Technologies on Scholarly Inquiry, Hershey, PA: IGI Global: pp. 249-269.

Osbaldiston, N., Cannizzo, F. and Mauri, C. (2017) ‘I love my work but I hate my job’—Early career academic perspective on academic times in Australia, Time and Society, published online first. DOI:10.1177/0961463X16682516.

Pels, D. (2003) Unhastening Science: Temporal Demarcations in the ‘Social Triangle’, European Journal of Social Theory 6(2): 209-231.

Slaughter, S. and Rhoades, G. (2004) Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Spurling, N. (2015) Differential Experiences of Time in Academic Work: How Qualities of Time are Made in Practice, Time and Society 24(3): 367-389.

Vostal, F. (2016) Accelerating Academia: The Changing Structure of Academic Time, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Vostal, F. (2017) Slowing Down Modernity: A Critique, Time and Society, published online first. DOI:10.1177/0961463X17702163.

Ylijoki, O.-H. (2013) Boundary-work Between Work and Life in the High-speed University, Studies in Higher Education 38(2): 242-255.

Ylijoki, O-H. and Mäntlyä, H. (2003) Conflicting Time Perspectives in Academic Work, Time and Society 12(1): 55-78.

About the author

Fabian Cannizzo is a sociologist, focusing on the work and careers of labourers in the higher education sector and the culture industries. His doctoral thesis explored the governance of Australian academics and his latest research explores how time management is socialised in universities. You can find him tweeting at @fabiancann.

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