Tactics and Praxis:

An interdisciplinary seminar and workshop series on academic ‘outputs’ and creativity in the era of the ‘achievement society’

Image: artwork by Dr Louise Haywood


In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau exhorts academics to adopt what he calls ‘diversionary tactics’, which would foster ‘a return of the ethical, of pleasure and of invention within the scientific institution’ (1984: 28). This series of workshop-style seminars will seek to respond to this call in terms of methodology and practice across disciplines and language areas in modern language and cultural studies research.

The series will be an opportunity to reflect collectively on how and what academic ‘work’ in and across our disciplines should be, considering recent developments in practice-based research and the rise of the video essay.

The seminar will consider creative approaches to academic ‘outputs’ both theoretically and pragmatically, casting a critical eye over the embedding of academic work in what Byung-Chul Han has termed, ‘the achievement society’, in which we have gone from the disciplinary negativity of ‘should’ to the equally imperative positivity of ‘can’: ‘Prohibitions, commandments, and the law are replaced by projects, initiatives, and motivation” (Han,The Burnout Society, 2015: 9).

Inspired by recent work in the USA in the ‘public emotion project’ (see Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling, 2012), the seminar will explore intersections between personal and collective experience and intellectual praxis. It will examine daily and institutional ‘habits’, and how they might be reinvigorated through a creative understanding of ‘craft’, examining the related and cross-disciplinary questions of stitching, (inter)weaving and montage.

Each of the seminars will bring together, in dialogue, a short presentation from an invited speaker on their own research and practice in areas relating to modern languages and culture, with a pre-circulated reading raising theoretical questions of tactics and praxis in academic work. The readings will be circulated in advance and briefly presented by one of the convenors or another participant to ensure accessibility of the discussion to those who may not have found the time to read it.

The series, which will be open to all, aims to inspire creative approaches to academic work for its participants, including informing tactics for reading, writing, creative practice and practice-based research. It will mark out a vital space for thinking and collaboration in the midst of the busy Cambridge term.

It is also intended to generate and nurture informal networks among academics working in different disciplines and periods and with different materials, as well as with creative practitioners.

As part of these goals, we aim to conceptualize and foster spaces, within the constraints of institutional demands, for creativity, play, slowness and pleasure, qualities which we believe to be fundamentally important for intellectual endeavours that provide, as Michelle Boulous Walker puts it, ‘the opportunity to question and to continue questioning in the midst of an age of “work”’ (2011: 275).

Seminars will be held at lunchtime to avoid clashes with childcare responsibilities and will be kept in even weeks to ease scheduling amid busy teaching timetables.

Convenors: Dr Isabelle McNeill, Dr Georgina Evans, Dr Louise Haywood

Kate Rudy, Slide (photograph by Brennan Cavanaugh)

Name Still Spoken: An Immersive Narrative Investigation of 360-degree filming
One of the projects from the Storylab research institute, of which Shreepali Patel is director.