Is there an aesthetic of academic practice?

A- A A+

Priyadarshini_webMeha Priyadarshini (HEC MW Fellow 2014-2015) (*)

If you had to think about what we do as academics, how we behave, dress, the way we present our material, both in person and on paper, could you think of certain trends and norms? The answer is most probably ‘yes.’ On May 27th we held an interdisciplinary workshop at the EUI to discuss our craft and our role as academics. We did so especially by focusing on the aesthetics of our practice, asking questions about how it is we fashion ourselves and our work as academics.

Marco Musillo from the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence started the day with a historical perspective on how scholars chose to be represented in Europe and China, starting as early as in the time of Machiavelli (1469-1527). The ensuing discussion dealt with the question of scholars’ engagement with society. To what extent does a scholar need to separate herself from the wider world to be able to produce intellectual work and at what point is she obligated to re-engage? We also asked whether, in contemporary society, an academic is different to an intellectual or scholar.

Having set up some of the themes for the day we moved on to a panel on how academics choose to express themselves. Max Weber Fellow Garvan Walshe (SPS) presented on the detrimental use of jargon by academics and Kristina Cufar, a researcher in the Law Department, asked whether we know who the imagined ‘reader’ is that we are writing for. For both papers the larger question was about the intended audience and how our practices of communication as academics have developed over the years.

The following panel dealt with normative practices in certain disciplines. Max Weber Fellow Antonio Marzal Yetano (LAW) focused on EU Law and explored whether the question of aesthetics could help legal scholars think about how EU Law is formulated. Julija Sardelic (SPS), Max Weber Fellow, analyzed the practices of scholars who write about Romani minorities and inadvertently aestheticize inequalities through their uncritical use of images. Both papers showed how the concept of aesthetics can be a useful tool for interrogating our professional work

The final panel dealt with the self-fashioning of academics in India and France. Karni Pal Bhati, Associate Professor in English Literature at Furman University, U.S.A., studied Indian intellectuals’ attire to show that they often had to fashion dual identities, both a Western and an Indian one. Max Weber Fellow Thomas Raineau (HEC) investigated a series of academic textbooks created in France in the 1990s to reveal an attempt by French academia to present itself in a more personable manner. Both papers revealed how academics negotiate the boundaries between their public and private lives to fashion themselves as intellectuals.

The Aesthetics of Academic Practice is an ongoing project, for more information please consult or contact Meha Priyadarshini at [email protected].

(*) The MWPBlog is a platform for MW Fellows to address scholarly topics and comment on current affairs. The thoughts expressed in the posts represent solely the views of the posting Fellows and not of the Max Weber Programme