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the para-academic

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of being back working with students in the classroom-studio at Roehampton Dance. Their questions were fantastic, they were curious, engaged, and of course a bit nervous on the first day of their Masters programme(s). I was reminded of just how delicate the teaching and learning environment can be, but also how privileged it is to be working with such motivated, articulate and intelligent people (students and colleagues alike).

But I also know that these are difficult times in academia. My experience is increasingly of being subjected to a near endless stream of checkpoints, checklists, and A3-size forms (with special plastic sleeves). The irony of course, is that this pressure (pressure to conform, pressure to produce, pressure to communicate, pressure to tick those fucking boxes, pressure to respond quickly, pressure to be on on on, now now now) prevents me from doing the work that I love: teaching and researching.1

It is into these anxious times that Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers have published their open-access PDF called The Para-Academic Handbook: a Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting.2

Here’s a taste from their introduction:

Scoundrels have infiltrated the academy—bureaucrats, managers and marketing experts’—some of whom know very little, or even care about, education. Armed with training manuals that outline best practices’ and productivity mantras, permanent academic, administrative, and facilities staff members buckle under the increasing strain of paper work and mandates, emotionally drained by petty fights over room allocation and resource management. — p.6

Life as an academic is, I suspect, a fight to continue making decisions that are in the best interests of the students and colleagues that I work with; decisions that can help protect us from the burdens of managerialism and bureaucratic wrangling.

I’m proud to call myself a para-academic.


  1. This is not to say that I don’t expect to do administrative work, or that somehow I should be exempt from doing work that’s not exciting, rich, etc. Rather, it’s a question of how much bureaucracy and admin is actually serving the best interests of the students.

  2. Wardrop, Alex, and Deborah Withers. 2014. The Para-Academic Handbook: a Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting. Bristol: HammerOn Press. http://www.hammeronpress.net/PHA_PDF_SPREADS.pdf.

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