“Happiness is consistently described as the object of human desire, as being what we aim for, as being what gives purpose, meaning and order to human life. … Do we consent to happiness? And what are we consenting to, if or when we consent to happiness?”
—Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, p. 1
In her book The Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed writes about happiness from a position of what she calls “skeptical disbelief in happiness as a technique for living well” (3). Her premise is to critically consider how happiness is imagined as “what follows a certain kind of being” and becomes associated with “some life choices and not others” (The Promise of Happiness, 3). She questions, in other words, how the wish for happiness is based on value-laden ideas and actually functions in a state of continual crisis as one experiences the constant disappointment of not accumulating enough of it. She helps us to question how we might uncouple happiness from such values as wealth, marriage, and social status. What if one chooses to pursue work that does not pay well, for example, because of the intellectual stimulation that it promises? If this choice produces financial difficulty, is one choosing not to be happy, as a result? The notion of choosing happiness is a problem, Ahmed argues, because “the demand for happiness is increasingly articulated as a demand for a return to social ideals, as if what explains the crisis of happiness is not the failure of the ideals but our failure to follow them” (The Promise of Happiness, 7).
By Janet Mullin
Departments of History at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, Fredericton, Canada
There’s an urban myth out there that says part-time academics (aka “lecturers”, “adjuncts”, &c) aren’t really professors, because they aren’t required to do research. If it ain’t in the job description, it ain’t happening. Part-timers are a) too busy teaching b) working at other jobs to keep a roof over their heads c) not interested in doing something for which they won’t be paid.
As most of us already know, that’s not even close to true. Sure, we part-timers may have to put more emphasis on our teaching – that’s what’s bringing in the bacon, after all – but even course-prep writing is still writing. Besides, there’s nothing like doing lots of writing for undergrads to make you itch to get back to the crafting of sentences, the building of arguments, that got you that PhD in the first place. Most of my lecture notes are peppered with crossed-out clever phrases and erudite references that have bombed in the classroom. The only way I’ll get to use them is to write for other academics.
Editor’s note: This first guest post comes to us courtesy of my partner, a fantastic social worker who has accompanied me to two university towns as I pursued graduate school and my first job. I am interested in his perspective here because I often wonder what it’s like for him to be plunked into a new environment that is at first dependent on my professional life (we do talk about this privately, but having these conversations in public are also important). I think it’s crucial that I acknowledge here that his constant support is a large part of the reason I successfully finished my doctorate, found employment, and have been able to have a child pre-tenure. I know that this is an enormous privilege and one that is not awarded to everyone, and I would like to be able to tackle that as a separate post – it is not my story to tell, but it might be yours, and I would like to hear from you!
I was sitting around my living room this week chatting with my partner of 12 years and her mother about work, careers, and life in general. We were on the topic of the adjunct/sessional professor system in academia, and began discussing how many people find themselves in part-time employment because they are in a relationship with another academic and trying to live within the same vicinity of one another. My partner stated that she started writing her blog to help her think about issues such as these. I chimed in, as I so often do, with a sarcastic quip about every professor needing a social worker as a partner and how she should write a post about this for her blog. She then suggested that I stop the “oh so important task of editing my fantasy football team” and write the post myself. Since I am still waiting for a trade for my quarter back and running back I thought I would give it a shot.
I’ve commented already on the goals I have for this blog, but I’d also like to reflect a little on my inspiration for it. I was very lucky to work with three fantastic women as graduate students during my first few years of teaching. All have since finished their MAs with me and have gone on to either doctoral programs or law school. They were all a joy to work with and I learned so much from each one of them. I know they are already doing amazing things with their lives and I look forward to seeing where they end up in a few years.
I spent some considerable time today trying to craft the perfect post about all the exciting topics I’m hoping to cover over the next few months. However, making that list of ideas readable is more difficult than I thought it would be. I’ve also bugged some people to guest post for me, and am exciting to receive them (you know who you are!). Who will win the guest post race and be the first to orient us? Stay tuned…
In the meantime, I thought I would offer some thoughts on my own experience of transitioning the great divide from graduate school to the tenure-track treadmill four years ago. These are probably tainted reflections at this point, because I’m remembering them from my current position of increased confidence and security. But nevertheless, I think they hit on a theme that I’d like to raise on this blog in a couple of different ways.
My friends over at Hook & Eye posted today about dreaming communities of care in the academy. What a wonderful thought. I love it. And I have to say that I have experienced the generosity that they speak of here more often than I have not in my academic life. I try to pay it forward as much as I can, but I am also someone who is imperfectly generous and who can have difficulty setting boundaries on such things at times. I imagine most of us struggle with this.
I have given a couple of invited lectures on what might be loosely described as “professional development” since finishing my PhD. Along with a colleague and friend, I have also organized a few sessions on this topic at the annual meeting of my scholarly association, the Universities Art Association of Canada. I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on these lectures and sessions (good, great, bad, and ugly!) and I’d like to find a way to continue these conversations online. I’m also thinking about my former graduate student self and some of the things I worried about at that stage in my life (not being good enough, getting a job, if and when I would have children). I don’t have any easy answers to these subjects now, because I am still figuring a lot of it out myself. But in conversations with graduate students and emerging faculty a lot of these same themes reoccur. What I would like to do here is write about some of these things myself, while also soliciting the writings of others who inspire me.