Restor(y)ing power, intimacy and desire in academic work : relational academic development and learning development practice

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In academic work, the discourses of academic development and learning development tend to focus on technical and transactional dimensions at the expense of the affective. This study presents the work experiences of one academic as instantiations of the operation of these discourses within the cultural context of contemporary Australian higher education. Autoethnographic techniques are utilised to present personal narratives as realisations of cultural-historical and sociocultural possibilities. In addition, restorying, a technique borrowed from White and Epston’s (1990) Narrative Therapy, is appropriated to non-therapeutic ends in this thesis to open up discursive space for subjugated narratives that challenge dominant, canonical accounts of academic work. The foundation chapters of the thesis locate academic work within a set of contextualising relations that provide the meaning making potential for the events and encounters that are described. Key among these contextualising relations are the Australian higher education ecosystem, the echoes of the Humboltian ideal and the impacts of neoliberalisation on the resource arrangements and governance of globalising higher education. Ethical, aesthetical and critical dimensions are explored to denaturalise a number of taken-for-granted aspects of higher education. Three key affective dimensions in academic work are identified to encompass taken-for-granted dimensions of academic work: power, intimacy and desire. The first, power, is explored in relation to an academic development encounter focused on constructive alignment and criterion-referenced assessment. The journal entry presents the lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari 1983 & 1987) taken by a disciplinary-based lecturer to resist the power dimensions of the academic development encounter. The chapter concludes by restorying this academic development encounter and to recount an encounter with a student to suggest a pedagogy of ambivalence. The second affective dimension, intimacy, is explored in relation to the attenuated bodily logics of modernity. Journal entries recount a disciplinary-based colleague’s, and a student’s, bodily excess in terms of tears, bodily tremors and personal disclosure in academic development and learning development encounters. Resisting the therapeutisation of these encounters and a liberal-humanist account of disabled others, restorying techniques are utilised to propose a pedagogy of intimacy in which bodily excess and personal disclosure become the plain of emergence in which academic development and learning development operate as educational endeavours. The third affective dimension, desire, is not understood in the Freudian-psychoanalytic sense of lack, but in the Spinozan and Deleuzo-Guattarian sense of production. Curriculum and generic graduate attributes are analysed as desiring discourses that operate within the arborescent assumptions of structuralism. A more nuanced account of curriculum and educational outcomes is advocated through a pedagogy of desire (Zembylas 2007). The study concludes with an outline of a relational academic practice arguing for discursive space for the emergence of a relational academic developer and learning developer subjectivity. Between the experience of living a normal life at the moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense of that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous… In such gaps, people get lost, and in such gaps, people go mad. (Berger, 2001, p. 176)
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