The idea for this book had a long gestation period. It all started in 2003 when I was asked to write a regular column for the university teachers’ union magazine, which at the time was called AUTlook. Initially to write something of interest to academics across the range of disciplines on a regular basis was a real challenge. I loved the idea of being a columnist with all its journalistic grandeur, even though the cartoon portrait of me produced by the magazine gave my friends ceaseless opportunities to tease me. Puzzled by the unrecognizable face my son said when he saw the cartoon for the first time, ‘who is that mixed race man, Daddy?’
After a while I stumbled on a method of producing the regular column by drawing on my anthropological training. In her book Killing Thinking Mary Evans writes: ‘Academic life has become subject to a degree of bureaucratic control which needs urgent anthropological investigation as a new form of social life and universities would repay the investigation of trained ethnographers.’ I began keeping a ‘field diary’, although one with a somewhat broader focus than is outlined here. Each column would begin with a small incident that had actually happened and a larger argument would be drawn out from it about current issues relating to the life of the university. Some of those columns – albeit revised and updated – are included in this book. After several years of writing this column the idea dawned on me that there might be a book in it, albeit an unconventional one.
Initially, I took the idea to a range of publishers. Academic publishing is constrained by its own formats usually concerned with student orientated books or practical handbooks that will secure high sales, although people who work in publishing are, in my experience, very often book lovers. There was a lot of interest, and even excitement but the idea simply didn’t fit. ‘Could you write like an academic self-help book’ one publisher commented or ‘maybe you should write a book about how to be a professor before you are 40’. All this advice was given in good faith but I had little or no interest in following it. I wrote a book proposal which was turned down after getting mixed reviews.
For some considerable time I felt defeated and resigned to the fact that this was an idea that would never be realized. It wasn’t until I met Kat Jungnickel who suggested an online format that it came back to life. Kat has a PhD in sociology but she is also a filmmaker and a professional digital designer. She immediately understood the idea and could envision the project. Kat embodies the intellectual virtues of curiosity, openness, dynamism and creativity that I have tried to argue for in this book and I am eternally grateful for her generosity. In 2011 it was made available online through Kat’s inventiveness and the help of Caedmon Mullin at Big Pebbles Media. The response to it was amazing. One of the advantages of online publishing is that you can see who is reading it and it became clear that tens of thousands of people have accessed it from all over the world.
I always wanted the diary to be a book that you could hold and flick through. When Sarah Kember approached me with the idea of publishing the diary as the first publication of The Goldsmiths Press I jumped at the chance. This book includes many more new entries than the online version and the older ones have been updated. It is particularly appropriate for this to be published by The Goldsmiths Press because, as you will have appreciated by now, this is not a conventional academic book and it is set largely in an unconventional academic place.
I have tried to write with as much honesty as I can muster, reflecting on my failings and mistakes as well as actions and judgements I’d stand by. Many of the diary entries were written in ‘down time’, during holidays, in the cracks of the day and sometimes late at night. The entries are short because I imagine that you will read them in a similar way, in transit, or in a calm moment over a cup of tea or coffee squeezed in between the gaps of more pressing commitments. They are so many silent conversations with myself about how to live a good life in the university. The last entries were completed during the Christmas holidays in 2014. While I have tried to be candid, I am mindful that ultimately, like everyone else, I too am a stranger to myself. By now you – the reader – will have decided whether or not this experiment in writing differently is successful.
Before closing the diary’s pages I would like to thank Pat Loughrey, Roger Burrows, Sarah Kember and Adrian Driscoll for believing in the idea of a book-length version of it. Thanks to Roberto Feo and Stuart Bannocks for all their excellent work on the design of this book and also to Ben Craggs for steering the project to its final completion. Also, sincere thanks to Kat Jungnickel and Caedmon Mullins for helping realize the first online stage of the project. I’d also like to thank Judith Barratt and Jane Offerman for editing and correcting the liberties I too often take with the English language. Thanks to friends and colleagues who encouraged me to pursue this idea, even when I should have been spending my time in more academically gainful ways. In the category a special mention is deserved for Avery Gordon, Anamik Saha, Stephen Dobson, David Yewman, Yasmin Gunaratnam, Nirmal Puwar, Mariam Motamedi-Fraser, Nick Gane, David Beer, Pat Thomson and Fran Tonkiss. I also need to thank my teachers, students – past and present – and colleagues at Goldsmiths with whom I have shared so much – so special thanks to Pat Caplan, Nici Nelson, Brian Morris, John Solomos, Paul Gilroy, Vron Ware, Joe Baden, Simon Williams, Neil Bradley, Chloe Nast, Violet Fearon, Lauren Mehr, Lauren O’Donnell, Lesley Hewings, Carole Bird, Sarah Reed, Bev Skeggs, Noortje Marres, Beckie Coleman, Alex Rhys-Taylor, Lez Henry, Colin King, Yasmeen Narayan, Emma Jackson, Hiroki Ogasawara, Takeshi Arimoto, Charlotte Bates, Brett St Louis, Michaela Benson, Vik Loveday, Miranda Iossifidis, Aisha Pheonix, Anna Bull, Phil Thomas and last but not least ‘Mr Goldsmiths’, Trevor Blair.
Our loved ones and family are the true witnesses to our academic obsessions. They know the true shape of our embarrassment. I need to thank my family for their patience and forgiveness, particularly my wife Debbie, who I kept waiting too many times while off pursuing intellectual distractions and preoccupations! I hope now I am a more reformed character. Also, thanks to my children – Stevie, Sophie and Charlie – all of whom have grown up around the clutter of papers and books, as well as the pressures and scandals of academic life. As you will have read, they appear intermittently through these pages, often as voices of reason and grounding sentiments that bring me back down to earth. I need to thank them for offering those bearings as well as the many other ordinary miracles that are too numerous to name including tolerating my crazy summer digressions and pilgrimages. Perhaps the trips to Hawaii, Austin and Gothenberg compensate partially for all the madness. I hope that reading the diary will explain why higher education matters so much to me and what I felt was at stake when I left home each morning for the first appointment of the day.