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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2020


  • academia
  • activism
  • autoethnography
  • gentleness


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