• Kate West

Dreaming of a Divergent Academy: The Death of the scholar and scholarship

By Anon, a dyslexic Muslim migrant ECR researching global legal governance and its intersections with race, gender, religion and caste.

Usually, at this part of any piece of writing, I think about several ways in which I can write an introduction. In a reflective piece, putting my positionality seems like the right way of approaching the sharing of an experience.

This, however, is about writing and the process of writing. What comes in my mind and what happens all the way between the moment in which my fingers start moving. The disconnect between your thoughts, your ‘motor’ skills, your expression ‘outside of your head’ feels like an imposition, an expectation, which mind – just does not recognize at all.

Staying true to my mind, I am trying my best not to hold my expression back. Not to doubt, or the so called ‘skill of editing’ and ‘being your own critique’ inculcated in PhD student as part of our ‘training’. When the way your thoughts, your experience of expression, your experience of the relation between your mind and body is completely outside of the ‘standards’ of the academy, what do you do?

The scholar and the Scholarship, are both these pedestals created by a system we know to be toxic. To be racist. To be heteronormative. To be capitalist and to be ableist. The Scholar is a label, like ‘man’, whose scholarship is supposed to show or indicate what makes the scholar a ‘man’. A racist, capitalist, ableist, hetero-patriarchal ‘man’. It chops you up because the ingredients of scholarship which is ‘rigorous’, ‘cohesive’, ‘airtight’, follows patterns of thought to make it ‘easier on the reader’ are all in the service of what this ‘scholar’ is: a man.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not always a ‘man’ in this bio-centric sense, and that is the maliciousness of the academy. Anyone can be a ‘man’ if they can show they are a ‘scholar’. If they write and express their thoughts in a way necessary for it to be easy to reader. The reader, despite however radical, progressive, is still looking for those little ingredients. The ones used to arrange your expression, your thoughts, your ‘scholarship’ like a script. You know the ones, where the reader says ‘you have so many typos’, ‘your references don’t make sense’, ‘your writing is confusing’. Its so innocuous because how will the reader ‘understand you’?

When writing about race, gender or caste, critical theorists, activists often say that for those who do not experience these intersections, these experiences are not present in their mind because they do not experience them. All they see is the norm that validates them and so they do not how the erasure of experiences feels like. When it isn’t experienced, it doesn’t exist.

Everything that is experienced by those marginalized along those lines is being felt, seen, understood through and by their experience. Neurotypicals who do not see, feel and think the world that way I do, can, have and will often downplay or straight up gaslight my way of expression by putting the burden on me. You are the problem. You need to change this because – standards of scholars and their scholarship demand it. To make yourself neurotypical in appearance is to chop yourself up in tiny pieces. To throw those pieces in a slow melting pot that violently moulds you into the appearance of and for the comfort of the scholar - the neurotypical, white, cis-het man.

This piece has not set introduction, no set point, no flagging of points, no conclusion per se and certainly no rules of the so called scholarship (certainly very little editing). It is a free flow of thoughts on what being a dyslexic, migrant, Muslim person of colour is like for me in the academy.

If we could imagine knowledge beyond these so called scripts of ‘rigour’ and showing scholarship through – of all things – the right formatting, typos, structure and written expression, what would the academy look like. A divergent academy, whose loyalty is only to knowledge for the sake of growth in its true sense. An Academy that is dedicated to the knowledge in all its forms, in doing, in being, in living and expressing through various wonderful modes and places we inhabit.

Is a divergent academy even possible when the very cogs, parts, components - all large and small – in this academy are made up to uphold the ‘scholar’ who is a ‘man’. From the teaching, seminars, marking, writing for publications, advancing in your career – so called ‘networking’. All of it a reflection of this ‘man’ made up of sexism, ableism, racism and capitalism.

Perhaps then, the creation of a divergent academy is predicated on the death of this ‘scholar’, the scholarship and the academy as we know it.

Until such a dreaming becomes true, I will continue to mask, to survive and find ways of barely keeping me afloat because this academy wants me to be ‘white’ or ‘nothing’. This choice, however, I refuse to engage in. Because I will be neither.