Continuing complicity in crime?

Oili-Helena Ylijoki recently pondered in her recent Nordwit blog post what we are actually doing when we eagerly participate in funding competitions and continuously prepare research applications, thus putting our planned future achievements up for a critical evaluation. Are we simply crazy? Is it our moral responsibility as decent academics? Or are we good people, trying to offer employment opportunities for those whose precarious job contracts are about to end? There are also more painful questions, such as are we co-producing and maintaining the academic system, which may cause frustration, anger and burn-out, as well as hierarchies between the successful and those whose applications are not evaluated as ”outstanding”. 

Whether academics are ”like accomplices in crime” is a crucial question. Certainly involvement in the research funding game means some kind of support and acceptance of the system. However, involvement in the system can, at its best, result in fruitful research communities, which provide a lot of energy to concentrate on interesting matters. It is wise that we recognize what it means to simultaneously hold two positions which appear to be fully contradictory. And as Oili-Helena asks, ”what could be done otherwise”? I do not have good answers.

I prepared research applications for a very long time before I retired, and often failed to receive funding, but not every time. Although I’m not eager to confess this, I perhaps have exercised symbolic violence, as Lambros Roumbanis (2019) suggests, when I have convinced and pushed people to apply for funding. Receiving funding is a truly happy occasion, but sometimes success can even lead to guilt, as there are always other, brilliant applications, which did not receive funding. Still, working in a research community, in which various interests meet and contradict in a safe atmosphere, is always a wonderful experience. Within the funding game they provide empowering bubbles, where one can feel safe to present non-conventional ideas and reflections. Last week, for example, the Tampere team of Nordwit had an extremely fruitful discussion on what gender means to our interviewed women. What are we to think, when the interviewed women clearly state that gender makes no difference, while we, based on the same interviews, find as researchers that they talk about discriminative gendered practices in academic institutions. How do we do gender through not doing it and through downplaying gender? What kind of gender game do we then participate in? 

Päivi Korvajärvi

Roumbanis, L. 2019. “Symbolic violence in academic life: A study on how junior scholars are educated in the art of getting funded”, Minerva 57:2, 197-218.

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