[COVID-19 Pandemic: Worlds Stories from the Margins] F*** Professionalism: or Why We Cannot Return to ‘Normal’

by Sara C. Motta


Returning to this blog post 10 days after it was initially and hurriedly penned as the layers of exhaustion and necessity of not returning to, or acting, normal becomes increasingly urgent and palpably felt-sensed.

Writing from solo isolation with my two youngest and third arriving next week, in my bed, recovering from a virus and sore lungs (not ‘the’ virus, I think), in my PJs and unwashed hair. Youngest watching Netflix (sorry doesn’t work to give him a task he can get on with at 7am until lunch time as suggested in a RMIT article with steps on to how to manage time during a pandemic!- I might just get 20 minutes at a stretch).

Wonder why some of our voices get drowned out?

Anyway back to the article “Instructors, Please Wash Your Hair” which set off the discussion on my FB wall and the many other similar articles that are crossing the public airways which call for our professionalism and maintenance of normality as educators running our courses from home.

Such seemingly benign even laughable articles are more insidious than they might seem; need calling out and can act as important ‘pedagogical’ moments in the struggle we as educators are now in to save, defend, reimagine, decolonise the University. Keeping in the back of mind that there are estimate that up to 20,000 jobs will be lost in the Australian Higher Education (HE) sector.

  1. As writers we need to take responsibility and have accountability for what we write and its consequences in terms of broader power relationships, logics, rationalities and discourses. Accountability applies to communities, communities of educators, communities of kin, communities of struggle. If this is already absent in the writing practise and practices of thought of an academic then we are already in the terrain of Coloniality of Being.
  2. The individual writer of the above piece has apologised for the untimeliness of it, not for the content itself. That stands as far as can see.
  3. My critique was not an individual ‘attack’ on this particular writer (although point one still stands), rather it was a critique of the inherent violence in the type of micromanaging and biopolitical disciplinary control that the piece, and others like it, exude, justify and reinforce.

5 year old comes in with melt down as internet went off and then refuses to leave the bed and tries to stand on top of the laptop…

this continues a while…

I succumb and get out the last remaining easter eggs…

child disappears with an easter egg. Okay so now back to the rushed critique, although my lungs are a bit sore again.

Ooops he came back in for another….

Okay, so in this piece and the many other similar pieces being published, all our labours of care (for self and others), and the specificities and diversities in the conditions that structure and contain/enable these labours of care are viewed as signs of laziness, unprofessionalism and general un-citizenlike behaviours. Unnecessary elements in the efficient running of the University.

In these calls to continue as normal as both staff and students, a particular raced, classed and gendered subject is held up as the supposed norm of professionalism, reason and citizenship.

Such a subject is careless (or has their caring responsibilities taken care for them), has the space and time to detach from the messiness of these caring responsibilities and responsibilities of life, is eager, instrumental and always on the lookout for fruitful opportunities (ie bringing in money and prestige through those funds in the case of the lecturer) and is infinitely flexible and always on call to the demands of the (now) 24/7 (online) university.

This not only reproduces the historic figure of the university intellectual but also a new more insidious version in which we are micromanaging ourselves and behaviours and being micromanaged by others through codes of behaviour for example to conform to particular standards of this careless and ever competitive and infinitely flexible subject.

As I said this isn’t new.

The university is bound up with violent erasure of the deeply embodied knowledges and ways of knowing (which are also ways of life) of Indigenous peoples, peoples of colour and all deviant communities, and conversely in the reproduction of this erasure on the body politic through the attempted (and I stress – attempted – for we always rebel and resist) production of docile subjects fit for work/consumption and global competitiveness of the ‘21st century’.

All knowledges, lineages of thought, forms of knowing-being which emerge from embodied messy experience, struggle and our knowing from these experiences and struggles in this rendition of normalcy and professionalism are silenced and rendered at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous to the smooth running of our professional selves and the project of the modern University itself.

eggs have caused a sugar rush, and another melt down which includes waking my near 13 year old and banging her on the head…

f*** broke the flow….

doubting the chocolate egg solution!!

Now promising innumerable online lego gifts.

  1. Okay, can take a breath again, so why is this important? Why might developing these kinds of critical interrogations and discussions amongst us as critical educators and organisers (in and outside of formal education) at this time be important?

I offer a few brief reflections below.

Well for starters, even though rushed and short I hope my mini-critique demonstrates how such a short article can contribute to the normalising of modes of (un)reason, logics of life (or anti-life) and discourses of professionalism and normalcy that cause harm. How this is yet another micro-violence in an overarching violent colonial, patriarchal and capitalist discourse of what education can and should be, and by extension what we can and should be as intellectuals/citizens/subjects.

Secondly, I’ve been teaching feminist international political economy recently and we’ve been reading feminist critiques and analysis of the Corona Virus, and of course they note that this moment raises societal questions about what we value, which labours we recognise and what kind of society (and I would add education as a project of life and lives well-lived) we nurture.

On the front line are often women and feminised and racialised workers undertaking the labours of care for our communities: nurses, checkout workers, delivery drivers, farm workers, fruit pickers with jobs considered of little worth in dominant narratives of work and value and often with lives considered with even less worth as they are treated as illegals and undesirables.

On the front line in our homes (where we are urged to continue on as normal) it is women and feminised subjects enabling the existence and survival of our communities and families, and the very possibility that someone can sit in front of a computer screen and delivery a live zoom lecture/seminar.

So the question raised for us is now at this moment, when general devalued and invisibilised labours of care and the reproduction of our communities, on the whole undertaken by women, racialised and feminised communities are obviously so central to the survival and reproduction of our communities; what will ‘we’ decide to value and centre in our re-imagining of our communities, lives and education?

Thirdly, it is time to return to the body, to the messiness of our experience, to the complexities of our lived-lives as fonts of knowledge and wisdom in the collective, shared and multiple answering of the questions posed above.

It is time to centre those knowledges and ways of life of Indigenous, Black and other othered working class communities that since the foundation of the Modern University have been denied, silenced and denigrated but have continued to survive.

It is essential to take note how this survival and these knowing-beings and other ways of life which nurture life, our lives and our communities in caring and reciprocal ways is deeply pedagogical.

By pedagogical I mean they bring to the heart of our collective imaginings attentiveness to the processes, practices and ways in which we come to know and engage with ourselves, each other and the living world and in the process create transformation. Of course these traditions do not delimit the pedagogical or the pedagogue to a set of technocratic methods or behaviours as suggested by the kinds of article that originally set off this discussion.

Instead, they take seriously the ‘how’ (and in multiple senses) of embodying an other way of living, loving, creating and being, enfleshing reason and acknowledging that ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for’.

It’s strangely quiet and the bucket of easter eggs have disappeared….

off to prepare breakfast and try to get some rest.

Sara C. Motta is a scholar-activist on the intersections of gender, knowledge and cosmology in new forms of popular democracy and social transformation in Latin American and Europe.

[1] On the need for grieving not normalcy, on our right to grief, and on its capacity to waken our rebellious joy to a return to normal post-Covid.

Part One

Part Two


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