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For diffident geographies and modest activisms: Questioning the ANYTHING-BUT-GENTLE academy

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This commentary interleaves autoethnographic reflections and qualitative data to develop two critical reflections on “gentleness” in contemporary spaces of academia and activism. First, somewhat autoethnographically, I question how normative styles of academic performance and self-presentation often lead us to efface and devalue gentleness, and be complicit in presenting ourselves and performing research in ways that are ANYTHING-BUT-GENTLE. I argue that, consequently, all kinds of everyday academic awkwardnesses, worries, and anxieties have come to be positioned as non-normative personal-professional failings. Second, reflecting on research with young anti-austerity activists in England, I consider the unsettling, but often characteristic, presence of modesty, awkwardness, and self-doubt in spaces of activism. I argue that normative idealisations of “impact” within the contemporary academy can often lead us to value only those modes of social impact which are unabashedly substantial, muscular, large-scale, self-confident, and readily narratable as such. By contrast, I am often struck by the way that affirmative, transformative activisms are done and described in ways which are much more hesitant, self-doubtful, or modest than this: for example, through narratives of “just getting on,” “just coping,” or “just what we do.” Through these reflections I argue that an attunement to gentleness should permit greater appreciation of awkwardness, diffidence, shyness, modesty, and self-doubt in spaces of academia and activism. Moreover, I argue that these kinds of gentleness might form points of critique and solidarity within and against the ANYTHING-BUT-GENTLE academy.




Horton, J. (2020). For diffident geographies and modest activisms: Questioning the ANYTHING-BUT-GENTLE academy. Area.

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