In early April, I met with digital sociologist Mark Carrigan to take a sound walk around the University of York campus. I had recently taken up a new post and Mark was on campus running a workshop; it seemed like the perfect opportunity to walk with him. Mark is interested in the sounds of campus life, the changes in Universities and I would also describe him as a biographical sociologist, so our interests overlap. This was to be the second sound walk of the project, as I had started the project by going for a sound walk with Chris Watson on Lindisfarne (See Walk 1) and I was really looking forward to it.
Fig.1. Mark Carrigan
Sound, Speed and Autonomy: tuning in to walking and talking in a University Campus.
Fig.2. Wentworth College, University of York
We met in the café at Wentworth College and sat outside, overlooking the lake, it was a beautiful April day. I opened our conversation with a summary of the Leverhulme project Mobile Methods, Walking, Borders, Risk and Belonging and explained that the focus of the project, for me, was to push the method of using walking as a method for doing social research, but also to focus on issues of walking borders, risk and belonging. Mark introduced himself and why he was interested in going for a walk with me.
I’m a sociologist, a social media consultant, I live in Manchester. I’m interested in lots of things one of which is the way universities are changing and particularly the lived experience of being in a changing university so I’m intrigued by the notion of the sound walk, because I think the soundscapes of universities I assume have changed radically but I don’t know because to compare them, I’m projecting backwards into an imagined past and it’s that contrast between the imagination I have of the slow, quiet university and the loud, fast, modern university which even on a quiet day like this when no students are here, there still is quite a lot of productive background noise.
We could hear the nearby sounds of construction on campus and sounds of the ducks on the lake. It was out of term time and so fairly quiet with only a few students around. Mark said:
But we can also hear students shouting not particularly loudly but I think it’s interesting that they’re shouting as they’ve got the window open to feed the ducks.
Fig.3. Wentworth College Student Residencies
There was a breeze and we could also hear the sound of the wind through the trees that overhang the lake.
Fig.4. Overlooking the Lake from Wentworth College Cafe
We put the digital recorder on and began to tune in to the background sounds, sounds that we would not ordinarily pay attention to, other than fleetingly. Looking at the water was restful and impacted on the sense of space, of the space around us and also how we feel within it. Mark wondered about the extent to which people in a lot of university environments have to tune out the background noise in order to work.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this, it’s something that I notice most frequently on trains where everyone has headphones in, you look round and two-thirds, three-quarters of people on the train have headphones in, often cheap inner ear headphones that leak and I find myself sometimes putting headphones in because I can’t focus on doing anything else while being in that environment; and then the people’s music means turning up the volume in order to try and drown out the leakage from elsewhere, so contributing to the leakage of noise elsewhere and this kind of competitive escalation of distraction, I wonder how much that goes on in universities. I mean I long ago gave up trying to do real work [laughs] in a university campus, I just can’t focus.
I could certainly relate to that and enjoy the social interaction with colleagues and students that being in a department brings but also need concentrated focused time to write and think through or analyse research data. Mark enjoys the social interaction too but spoke about the importance of context as well as place:
Well, I like that but I got frustrated at Warwick after a long period of time just because of the length of time I’d been there and so you know I went there for an MA, another MA when I changed disciplines and then did six years as a part-time PhD. I am now in my third year of working there and during the week I find that it’s sometimes hard to go for a coffee without running into five/six/seven people that I know en route and it’s that kind of weight of casual acquaintance I actually find incredibly distracting. Not pleasurably distracting of having friends around, but you know the kind of expectation of small talk or the feeling of awkwardness if you try and avoid small talk, and that’s something that I think it manifests itself in talk, but maybe it’s something more, the distraction is something deeper, that the talk is just an expression of the distraction.
This point brought us back to a previous conversation about pace and the speed of academic life where I had spoken about the speeding up of academic life over the past twenty-five years and the sense of increased urgency during the working day. We sat for a while in the breeze listening to the sounds around us and talked about the speeding up of academic life, the relationship between speed, slow and autonomy, the layering of time, space and place in academic life, the emotionality of academic life and the relationship to ‘free time’.
I gave the example of temporal urgency “if you’re going to get a coffee but maybe you only have five minutes to get that coffee and turn around to get back to another appointment or you are fitting it in between meetings or supervisions and I think that that absolutely impacts”.
being on Leverhulme research leave I don’t have the pressure and urgency of dissertations, the marking, teaching and so I’ve noticed absolutely how my physical embodied academic self has been relaxing, that is to say, my embodied self in the university context/space. I had noticed that during the last two terms, being on study leave a more relaxed embodied self, taking a bit longer, taking more time to do things, and so I’ve found pleasure in bumping into people and having small talk. This was obviously impacted by the fact that I was soon to be leaving the University, and so that adds another dimension doesn’t it?
Mark asked if this situation allowed me to take the time for these social/connecting moments.
I still felt squeezed for time because I’m doing a lot, but yes I did absolutely allow for that time in the university space, where ordinarily I would be rushing between student supervisions, teaching, marking, meetings. So I didn’t feel less pressured on the one hand, but I did feel it absolutely in my physical being, a more relaxed self in that space if that makes sense; in the relationship between my body, emotionality, time and ‘being’ in the academic environment.
For Mark, this was an example of temporal autonomy.
What stands out to me about that is the extent to which it’s a relief from institutional pressures and I realised that I’m trying and I’m distracted by the fact there’s a massive goose walking off [laughs] in the distance which is a nice thing to be distracted by and then I’m now aware of the students shouting and clapping… but yes it’s the relief from institutional pressures whereas I’m aware that I’m trying to strategically evade those pressures and those responsibilities which sensitises me to the extent to which you know speed and slow are contingent expressions of this rather than intrinsic characteristics of these temporalities or these ways of being. So the extent to which things feel like they’re moving very fast and very slowly at the same time, but in a very pleasurable way, where it’s because it’s utterly volitional, it’s utterly chosen and so it’s moving very fast but in a way that I can take my time with and enjoy or at least I can for the most part, until my hearing goes and then that distracts me from everything and detracts from the enjoyment a little bit but it’s left me thinking about temporality and urgency and that we associate being harried, we associate going fast with a lack of autonomy but I think that’s a contingent association rather than something intrinsic to speed.
I liked this point about speed and slow being contingent expressions of our lived lives and working lives and that speed is absolutely not to be automatically associated with lack of autonomy. The relationship is contingent on many things. Filip Vostal writes really well on this regressive notion of ‘slow’ in relation to the acceleration in the academy.
Looking across at the lake was very calming, it was a slightly dull day. I told Mark how it felt so calm arriving onto campus and into the department that morning. I particularly enjoyed crossing over the bridge, over the water.
The department felt quiet, there was a gentle hub of activity and I could hear talking behind the doors that I walked past. I’m on study leave and obviously it’s been the Easter Break but even before starting the post I was involved in the life of the department online, the digital life and so there is a real contrast between this physical space and the online connections, relationships that I’ve made already, the events that I’ve been invited to, the activities of the department and it’s really interesting to be here sitting with you, a digital sociologist in this space which is you know incredibly lovely, peaceful, quiet and relaxing and at the back of my mind is also that other world that exists within and outside of this space so those kinds of different layerings and different registers.
Mark thought layering was a good term to express this:
because I think when it’s most rewarding it takes that form so they’re not too distinct spaces it’s one there, you know, a set of interactions feeds into another set of interactions and those interactions have different qualities because they use different media but you know they’re both mediated in a way, much as like it’s mediated by coffee, language, the table, a university setting but when going fast. I’m also more aware, I think, of the way in which it can feel like a different space in a problematic way, so I say that when speeding up is an autonomous act it can be rewarding but equally I think there’s more self-discipline required there and a few times I got myself sucked into a pointless, extensive discussion online and then realised that actually, I was getting home at 10 pm. I needed to go straight to bed so that I could get up at 7 am the next morning and that I found quite interesting, because it’s almost like, it’s kind of a counter-argument to what I’m saying that temporality and autonomy is within limits, so the kind of autonomous speeding up necessitates control to preserve that speed kind of balance.
Mark went on to talk about the influence of Andre Gorz
I read a lovely book by David Frayne at Cardiff called Refusal of Work and he draws really heavily on Gorz and Gorz concept of hygiene I’ve had in my head since then. So the kind of minutia of daily life these mundane activities we engage in, the sequencing of these activities and how they prop up or undermine broader rhythms of living is what I took from it.
I said had revisited Gorz when writing an article for the Slow University seminar and Forum for Qualitative Sociology special, especially the concept of free time and Anna Coote’s work too.
Anna Coote, had recommended a three day week, do you remember that, in thinking about the kind of the potential possibility for free time and how that connects with Gorz idea of hygiene. Certainly for me personally the massive challenge as an academic is being disciplined about what I do in order to also have family time where I don’t feel constantly under pressure to get away to do the emails or to get away to finish that bid or to finish the marking, do you know what I mean, how it kind of seeps into everything.
Mark talks about how increasingly he can do his work ‘on the move’, although he hates that term
because it has all sorts of terrible connotations you know kind of construction of a certain kind of lifestyle for advertising purposes, you know ‘in transit ‘and so there’s something quite pleasurable about days when I feel I could get a lot done but I do that purely from my phone and my iPad when travelling and there’s a kind of balance between immersion because I find if I’m too immersed in a flow of activity I sometimes let things slide both work things and personal things and I think I’m kind of having this experience that I can feel more balanced at speed than when going slowly.
For myself, it is also important to think about those things that anchor us, for me having children (who are now grown up). In my early academic life, the children were really good anchors to stop me getting totally immersed and indeed resentful of work time versus free time.
Fig.5. University of York Campus
We looked at the University of York campus map and agreed to end the walk near to where Mark needed to be for his workshop.
I told Mark that the only other sound walk I had done was with Chris Watson, who had led a sound walk following each of the two ‘Slow University’ Seminars I had organised at Durham University. Chris led the seminar participants on a slow sound walk from the Institute for Advanced Studies to Ustinov College in seminar 1 and around the Botanic Gardens in seminar 2.
We ended the first walk outside the college under the branches of a massive oak tree, which I had not even noticed in the two years I’d been living there. We stood under the branches and just tuned into the sounds of the space as well as the birds around us and I found that a really quite meditative moment. When I passed the tree subsequently I was connected back to that moment, even though I didn’t physically go and stand under the tree, I sometimes I did, but it kind of got me back to that space you know that space where I was when we finished the walk.
Mark wondered if “that would eventually become habitual in that that you can kind of do it in a routine way”. He said he was really interested in the psychology of hurrying:
I’m trying to say something more specific than instrumentalises so you can have that rewarding experience when you sit with it, and you are attempting to experience it again, and then it has that anchor to a past experience, you know if you are in that kind of triaging state, but it can become I’m going to go here and calm down for a second, relax and then, I don’t know for the oak tree, but I’ve had that experience with similar things and it can rob it of that resonance, because you’re going from A to B and hoping to get to C and you’re not really sitting with the experience of being at A or B.
I understood what Mark meant here, but for me, it was the element of surprise, the disruption from the every day, even though it was a kind of very calming disruption, that was a powerful attunement that day. For Mark, the concept of habit and habitual might reduce or minimise the experience-accommodate it into the everyday and mundane.
I’m trying to sort that in my own mind because I find the dead weight of habit slightly terrifying. There’s this phrase of Roberto Unger’s where he talks about that we all die thousands of little deaths which and we become mummies you know by taking that kind of hardening of habit and we stop feeling and attending to things but my instinctive response to that has always been to try and fit more in and that is a kind of parallel problem you know because it is that point of Harmut Rosa’s that when I first came across that I found that really jarring because it’s an extension of the ethos that I felt for as long as I could remember thinking in these terms, so to see it written out on a page was bizarre – that the good life is the full life and that the more you fit into that life the more fully you are living. I think he offers a really convincing case of how that has sociological origins, but I’m not sure if that helps disrupt the deadweight of habit but I think this has this corresponding problem of rushing.
For me, this related to Stefan Mestrovic’s idea of compassion fatigue and paralysis in Post-emotional Society (1997). When things become habitual, like the refugee migration reporting constantly on our screens t it becomes, akin to that notion of hardening, because we switch off, or turn over, it’s too much, or we are unmoved.
Mark gave another example referring to rough sleepers in Manchester: When I moved back in November, I was not there for long periods of time, I was often only there a couple of days a week and it was really upsetting me for the first month or two and I realised that it’s completely stopped upsetting me. I still care politically, but in terms of the felt experience, it’s not jarring to me. I’d previously been walking around thinking what the fuck is wrong with this society that this is happening and that felt outrage is gone now and equally I realise that I’m giving less money on the street as well. I mean that might be a practical thing because there are so many rough sleepers in Manchester that if you give everyone fifty pence you soon find that you’ve given out ten pounds by the time you’ve walked half an hour through the city centre, but that feels like a hardening to me. I don’t know if it’s a hardening that is inimical to action, that maybe that kind of distance is necessary to go from feeling to actually thinking about things you can do that express that concern.
We talked about social interventions and returning to Mestrovic the importance of ‘disrupting’ the hardening or paralysis or compassion fatigue. I mentioned Brechtian theatre, creative methods and also walking as a method and intervention that could make a difference in terms of how we see or experience the world, in relation to social issues such as homelessness or migration. Walking helps to tune into people’s experiences in a way which is different from sitting across a table and then to see what emerges through that immediacy and through that connection and attunement; what might emerge to generate a deeper or richer understanding for the broadest possible publics.
Well thinking about my experience of walking, when you were talking the phrase that came to mind is making the familiar strange as an intervention, but I was thinking about two walking experiences that I’ve had that actually made the strange familiar. One was at a conference in New York, they organised urban sociologists to do urban tours and these bits of York that was very unfamiliar, very strange to me actually, the narrativisation that he did made it familiar and thinking about the thing I did with Les Back around Catford an area that was very familiar to him, but I’d never been to before, kind of conveyed a familiarity.
This was absolutely my experience too in walking with people and also that it could be both, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. I was thinking about the refugee groups that I’ve worked and I say that
I remember talking to a mum and her son about how she found her way around the city by getting lost, so walking first of all to find her way and how it took her three weeks to find the city centre/city centre because she’d get to a point and then she would turn back literally just around the corner and would get a bit worried about where she was and so turned back; so she found her way by getting lost. I also think that the kind of dialogue that emerges when you are in an interaction, on a walk, where people have led me along their walk and I have absolutely felt a real sense of corporeal embodied but also emotional attunement, for example, the last four walks I have done were in Belfast. So parts of the city are familiar to me now but also I feel a deeper understanding of sectarianism through the dialogue and the engagement and encounters that we had along the walks.
I say that I am also interested in what walking does to the dynamics of the relationship with the other, and to the encounter and engagement with the environment as well as the material aspect of moving, mobility and what that does to your thinking processes. In the first walk with Chris Watson, he talked about resting your thoughts on a sound, which I thought was really provocative and I knew what he meant. It is also a great way to describe the visual experience of sitting overlooking the Lake.
Maggie: it would be good to explore that particularly around the campus. So should we set off?
Mark: Yes and my legs have gone slightly to sleep actually.
The following is our verbatim conversation on the walk, illustrated with some visual images of the places and spaces and the wildlife we stopped and talked about and around.
Going for a Walk: Transition Spaces & the Campus under construction, getting lost and rushing
We set off and Mark said he is interested in the transition between spaces.
Mark: I guess what shook me about the building site was that I was certain I knew the way through the building site and then I’m not sure if they blocked it off because in the last month since I was last here you know the work has changed but you know these, the way in which pathways through a space get disrupted by building. I found this really disconcerting at Warwick when they did a year’s worth of building work near my old office and every day it felt like I’d leave the office and have to negotiate a different route.
Mark: I was thinking about what you were saying about the difficulty of and the pleasure almost the utility of getting lost. Just by getting lost you can find your way around a place because I used to do that a lot and I found it hard to find the time or hard to kind of account for the time, but I did that when I was in Bucharest over the summer. I got there in the afternoon and had nothing to do for the evening and yes, just wandered for a few hours and it was really nice.
Maggie: That is great, yes and I think there is something really so pleasurable in that, that you have time to get lost.
Mark: I remember when I was eighteen it was the first time I’d ever been in a foreign city alone and I spent three days in Paris doing that and really felt a sense of the city in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise and so that sense of finding the navigation slightly overwhelming became a virtue because you know I didn’t know how I was struggling to navigate and therefore I wouldn’t try and navigate and just walked around endlessly. In a way it feels to me now as if I didn’t take full advantage of things to do in Paris, the pleasures of Paris and yet actually it felt exactly the opposite at the time and that mentality of trying to take advantage of all the location has to offer can actually disrupt the pleasures you take from that location.
Maggie: And it comes back also to what you were saying about the good life, sort of filling in and then, how much of that filling in is really to tune other stuff out?
Mark: Well I do wonder about that because I have made the argument that the kind of mentality of rushing from one thing to the next, it’s kind of pleasurable, because it circumscribes broader existential questions, but at the same time I think those existential questions can often be ends in themselves you know, they can sometimes not go anywhere and so I think the tuning out is an inherent part of that mentality. I do think of it as a mentality I guess, what it is but whether that’s a negative thing or not depends on exactly what it is that’s being tuned out.
We were walking towards the bridge that led from Wentworth College to Wentworth and James College student residencies.
Fig.6. The bridge over the lake at Wentworth College
Academia, expansion, audit and time/space compression
We started to speak about time/space compression.
Maggie: I’m currently finding it really frustrating thinking about finishing the Leverhulme fellowship, writing that up and I’ve just started another project as a co-investigator, so I don’t have the responsibility of leading the research project; and then by the time these projects come to an end, there will be the book that I really want to write on mobile methods, that’s already started, it’s already in process and I’ll really do some thinking about the ESRC project because we’re bringing together theatre based methods, performance methods with walking and there will be that pressure, whether it’s external or internal, for the next grant and so at this point in time, April 2016, I’m thinking about what will need to be done in order to hit the REF targets and that is really, yes, troubling.
Mark: I do find it mildly terrifying though because of the way things stretch out in time and then layer on top of each other and there is that risk of being pulled along and then before you know it time is running away.
Maggie: Yes, exactly.
Mark: But that desire to preserve time, to kind of grab hold of it so it doesn’t run away also kills the value of it.
Maggie: Yes and I was just thinking about the sound of the campus, this is really interesting isn’t it because we’ve moved away from the lake and the sounds of the birds and we’re in between these three buildings in a bit of a square and how the sound, the sound it goes quiet when you are here, the building is a wall against the wind.
Fig.7. James College Residencies
Looking around at the mix of lake, green spaces, student residencies and heading towards some scrubland behind one of the residencies, Mark said:
Well I complain about my university but I realised that I will miss it in the summer; when I’ve been there in the winter I found in the winter holiday the campus when it’s deserted is very depressing like horrendously depressing, but in the summer when most people are away it’s quite beautiful.
It reminds me of here, but I think it’s just the sense of quiet, but I find it sad as well because of the drive for the university to expand. So when I first came here ten years ago, well I guess slightly longer now, speaking of time running away that’s a scary realisation, but the countryside it’s gradually expanding into the countryside and you know it’s, its success destroys the characteristics that make it attractive in the first place. I guess I’m thinking of a point I’ve heard David Harvey make about gentrification you know gentrification destroys the value that drives it, you know the particularity of a place gets destroyed by the process of people coming here because of that very particularity.
Fig.8. Scrubland behind James and Wentworth College Residencies
Maggie: Yes and that’s a really nice point to make while we’re here standing looking at this bit of wild space with trees and weeds and I imagine it may lead down to an inlet for the water.
Mark: I would be tempted to go but I’m concerned about getting my shoes muddy and stuff before the thing this afternoon.
Maggie: We could just go to that bit there, because it does look really inviting doesn’t it, away from the concrete and bricks.
Mark: But I’m always really curious about these sorts of spaces, the kind of functional necessities of an organisation’s life, how it reproduces itself and particularly about how that sits uneasily next to this kind of green space. I mean that almost denaturalises this for me if you see what I mean. It makes it much more conspicuous to me about how planned and maintained this is and particularly the kind of invisible labour that goes into planning and maintaining it.
Maggie: Yes and it is such a contrast isn’t it because over there we were sitting in quite a groomed landscape, it’s not a natural lake and whereas here it is a bit more wild and really interesting to be here and looking back at that.
Fig.9. Walking further into the scrubland
We talked about the relationship between the building and expansion of Universities, the governance of the campus and the presentation of Universities and even departments linked to status, audit, fees and research income and how the VC of a University might lead and promote a particular embodiment of the University.
Mark: I would like to understand that, as much of the work I’ve done is about psychosocial approaches and in my own slightly idiosyncratic way, though I do have reservations about the individualising tendencies, and so I find fascinating how for example the VC’s positions percolate through the campus, percolate downwards from the top of the hierarchy and have all these unintended consequences.
Maggie: Yes and how they might then be internalised, but different people would internalise differently. I’m drawn to the ducks.
Mark: I like the sound of rushing for that actually, I’ve been really intrigued by that from when I was last working at Warwick.
Maggie: The sound of rushing?
Mark: Yes the sound of people rushing and about how that sounds and wondering if people rushing will always be louder because I found myself formulating that as a generalisation and not really sure if I tested it.
I mean I want to go down there now but I am worried about getting covered in mud.
Maggie: Yes, your shoes.
Mark: But that’s another sense of time pressure isn’t it [laughs].
Maggie: Yes totally, totally and obviously you’re going to be performing later so there are certain conditions that you want to preserve in order to do the performance.
Mark: But I think it’s the sense of making the performing slightly more psychosocially challenging and coming in with muddy shoes would do that further.
Maggie: Yes, absolutely. Yes it’s interesting isn’t it those balances and aspects of our embodied selves, our performing selves when we are teaching or giving a talk. Yes, there was something at the BSA when I had to talk last week that was really bothering me and then when I knew it was going to be OK I was fine you know I was able to settle into the talk.
Mark: That kind of settling in I find very interesting because I think of it as presence that for a long time I wasn’t sure why I enjoy speaking in public so much and it’s not about the speaking, part of it is about the speaking about my work, but part of that I enjoy is the feeling of presence derived from it.
Maggie: Yes and presence in terms of the interaction and sharing and because I guess it’s presence in that sense?
Mark: Yes attending to the experience. Because in the rest of my working life I’m always flitting from one thing to another and in work terms, it’s the point at which I’m most focused.
Maggie: Sure, yes, absolutely and also you know for me those moments when you are delivering something that maybe isn’t completely finished either you get a bit of propulsion to then finish it or a discussion takes you places where it kind of pushes you, that is great I really love that.
Mark: Well ‘ideas in motion’ is Daniel Little’s phrase. Could you try and get a picture of the geese?
Wildlife, birdlife and adaptation on Campus
Fig.10. Wildlife walking near James College & Car Park
Mark: There’s something about the way they’re just waddling through the car park that I find, I always think they look like slightly self-important creatures, I’m never sure why I’ve thought that I think it might be the way their heads are out but I love the adaptation of the wildlife to human presence. At Warwick, the ducks are completely oblivious to cars even you know worryingly so and I’m surprised more of them don’t get killed.
Fig.11. Walking across the road.
Maggie: Right and when I think of Warwick I don’t think about ducks.
Mark: Yes there’s quite a lot all over the place, I mean I think it’s certain points in the year and they wander round in long trails. When I was a kid we used to go to Center Parcs, you know the holiday village place, and a couple of years ago we went there again because my brother had his first child and it was very nice, but I was struck by the wildlife, when I was last there fifteen years ago were already very adapted to human beings. It had gone on to a different level, the swans actually came to the door of the villa and knocked on the door angrily.
Maggie: Right, to be fed?
Maggie: Right, Oh Wow!
Mark: and it felt intimidating, it felt like they were doing their collections, that they were coming round and unhappy. But you know, I guess all animals are always adapting to us aren’t they, it’s just that is a particularly pronounced example of it. I remember getting fixated when someone told me about the dogs on the Russian metro. There’s apparently a blog adapted to stray dogs in Moscow.
Maggie: They ride the metro?
Mark: Yes they ride the metro and often just spend time on the metro and you can see why they do it because it’s a warm, comfortable niche with people who are willing to feed them there.
The Campus as constructed environment & town and gown relations
Mark: I’m very interested in campuses as a very constructed environment because I’ve always been ambivalent about them. I only really learned to focus on a campus, when I came to Warwick, largely because I didn’t know what else I was going to do that I suddenly realised the campus environment started to really focus on things, I was reading and following through on them.
Maggie: Yes, that’s really interesting. Durham is a city centre campus, well it’s not really a campus because the buildings are spread out across the whole city and I was on a residential street, whereas here I have a sense of the kind of circular nature of this campus and so it kind of holds things in it, do you know what I mean?
Mark: Yes, what’s the word, centrifugal.
Maggie: Yes and the lake is at the very centre, I mean it probably isn’t if you looked on a map, but it feels like it is.
Mark: No I think it is, I was looking at the map earlier. But I think that’s nice because I worry about that. Warwick is as well, but in a really negative way, as if it sucks things out of the city around it, things get drawn into it. At the time I lived there, occasionally in the area just around the campus, I fell into conversation with people in pubs round there and there is a real antagonism and hostility towards the university. I spent much of my time in Cambridge for a year and you know the town and gown thing, I’ve seen that in talking to people. So I don’t think it is quite town and gown, rather it’s a sense of the university as a marker of post-industrialisation and you know this guy who’d lived there for a long time explained to me since the university got set up everything’s been going downhill in Canley.
All the industries left, there’s not very much employment and so I think he associated that with the university, all these anxieties, got wrapped up inside the university so in those interactions I wish I could have got a microphone out and started recording him.
Maggie: just thinking about the town and gown in my previous universities where town and gown issues were seen as a problem and you know one was a campus university and one wasn’t a campus university. I don’t know about York, I don’t really have a sense yet of whether that is the case for York. The accommodation blocks are on the campus, certainly these new blocks here and then in Heslington, it looks a mix of residential and university accommodation, but I wonder how much of it is actually university accommodation and I’ll find out in the coming months no doubt.
Mark: I’d be very interested, biographically, about the way in which institutional decisions that have no consideration of the student experience nonetheless shapes the student experience in such a profound way, in terms of geographical dispersal. The standard Warwick trajectory was live on campus for the first year, move to Coventry or Leamington Spa then move back to campus for a third year, I found that very counterintuitive, you know it’s almost the centrifugal thing.
Maggie: Sure, yes being pulled back in.
Mark: Yes before you leave.
Maggie: I suppose if you are in catered accommodation you know…
Campus life, Walkways and Geese
Maggie: This is great isn’t it Mark because we suddenly have these students passing either on their way to lectures because teaching has started, and it’s kind of nice to hear that, after it being so quiet over there.
Mark: But I’m intrigued by these strange walkways that there are in the campus because the Open University has them, which is the only one I can think of that has them so prominently.
Fig.12. Campus Walkway
Fig.13. Campus Walkway
Maggie: OK, do you think it’s to do with keeping people dry in the wet Yorkshire weather?
Mark: But if it is then why does it not extend? Because on the OU you can actually walk from one side of the campus to the other purely under walkways.
Mark pointed to the roof of the covered walkway.
Mark: It’s something to hang CCTV off actually. But I like the way it’s adjacent to the light. You know the two core utilities of a contemporary space.
Fig.14. Roof of Walkway
Maggie: Yes and I think it will be interesting to know the way that the residencies and the departments interact here, so the starting point for our walk was Wentworth College, the postgraduate college which is both offices, teaching and accommodation for postgrads.
Mark: Yes I find that strange, there’s almost like a total institution aspect to it. I remember in my first year of university finding that for one of my friends, he was at Imperial and some of his seminars were in the same building, there was the gym in the same building and there was a bar in the same building and you know he could sometimes go days without leaving his student halls effectively.
Maggie: And that model is the Oxbridge model isn’t it where teaching, accommodation, socialising, everything takes place in your college. Here it is different. I only know this because my son was in Goodricke College which is over on the east campus where you are going and then when he did his postgrad he moved to Halifax College outside of the department. I know at Durham accommodation and your social life and maybe some scholarly activities would take place in College, but you wouldn’t be taught in your college.
Mark: But I find even the centralisation of the social life really strange but maybe that’s because I’m someone who I always instinctively kind of go round the edges of things.
Maggie: Yes sure, I can relate to that.
Mark: I almost have that kind of slightly claustrophobic feeling just thinking about it.
Maggie: Yes, sure. One of my students is really happy and is looking forward to moving into Wentworth because she can then literally get up and go to the office, so it is about time and scale for her, in terms of the shape of her day and what she has to do in relation to her plans for her PhD work.
Mark: I complain about this centralisation, but equally I think my PhD was dependent on it, because my PhD experience was mediated through being in a cluster of very close friends; three of us had known each other before any of us joined sociology we’d met independently you know before PhDs and then with another group there’s that kind of day-to-day mutual support and the day-to-day routine. Then you finish teaching and you finish work and go to the pub and there’s a kind of cosy cocoon of experience in that, but its one that I don’t think even with the people I care most about I could sustain for very long, or at least not when there’s the overarching pressure of a PhD.
Maggie: Yes, it’s interesting isn’t it, there are some people who will absolutely want to live out and not want to live on campus, but that also makes me think about the potential isolation for students. Looking at these posters I wonder what the experience for an international student is in a university where you don’t have that more central, holding space, where you can socialise at the same time as get on with your lectures and get on with your work. This then makes me think about belonging.
Mark: But I think the relational goods or you know relational evils for other people because I’m thinking back to someone once saying to me actually who had just joined the PhD programme at Warwick that she found the department, the PhD students cliquey and I thought oh that’s horrible and then I realised that she was very gently saying that she thought we were the clique.
And that’s one of those moments that’s stayed with me because I don’t think, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as ever being in a clique in my entire life, you know my entire identity is kind of defined in opposition to cliques and I realised that it was the proximity you know the kind of closeness, that to the outside is exclusionary.
Maggie: Yes and that’s really interesting isn’t it in terms of borders, you know what I mean the kind of
Mark: Social borders.
Social Borders, Bridges and Belonging on Campus
Maggie: Social borders, yes and things that we don’t experience as borders are experienced by others, in this case, as a border, as a wall. Having come back from Belfast where walls are everywhere in North Belfast that makes me think about these walkways again you know, they’re bridges, aren’t they?
Mark: I actually really love this architecture around here. Because there are social spaces for the geese.
Fig.15. Social Spaces for the Ducks and Geese
Maggie: Yes and we’ve got a little cluster here. Yes the architecture is really interesting I think it’s listed you know this campus, the buildings.
Fig.16. Ducks at rest on a landing on the lake
Fig.17. Central Hall, a half-octagonal building on the Lake
Mark: Well things like that I think are of their time but you know in a fantastic way. Have you ever been on the Leeds campus?
Maggie: Yes, but only to Sociology.
Mark: Some of the buildings on there, like the sociology building, is a reasonable example of that kind of planned brutalism and I was really struck that in some of the lecture theatres I’ve been to there, they’re tiered and they have a separate door for each tier of the lecture theatre. And you can’t move inside. And the assumptions about the regimentation of students there is really interesting.
Maggie: Sure yes, and I suppose you could also look at it as if they are large lectures, they are organising bodies in space so that you don’t get a crush, do you know what I mean?
Mark: Well I think that makes sense.
Maggie: That kind of ordering.
Birdlife and ecosystem on campus
We were standing near one of the walkways by the lake and watched a duck following someone in quite a pushy way.
Mark: That’s quite an aggressive duck.
Fig.18. Duck claiming space on campus
Fig.19.Looking for food?
We were joined by a duck.
Maggie: Oh hello! I’m sorry we haven’t got any food.
Mark: It’s very disappointing. I’m not sure if they’re still following. I saw a wonderful video last year of someone with a camera not unlike that and a squirrel, so I think it was a smaller one, but taking pictures of a squirrel and going ‘come here, come here’ as the squirrel got closer and closer and then it just got jumbled you heard the guy shout and swear and then the camera got carried up to the top of a tree. And you heard the squirrel try and eat the camera and then drop it out of the tree.
Maggie: (laughs) so the wildlife had taken control and actually literally removed it. To see ducks walking alongside students it’s so fabulous.
Mark: But also threatening people very slightly.
Maggie: Yes, well I think it really is looking for food.
Mark: a few years ago I remember when there was a cat that was briefly living on the Warwick Campus that disappeared and it just used to nestle in little intersection like this, it’s a slightly different kind of sociability to humans, because I think the cat was lost and a little distressed, but being comforted by all the attention it was getting.
Maggie: We should really have that on video.
Fig.20. Preening or territorial behaviour?
Mark: Competitive individualism.
Maggie: Yes but have you noticed we’re near the snack bar. There seems to be a cluster of them around here.
Fig.21. Signpost to the snack bar
Fig.22. More ducks by the lake
Mark: It wasn’t what I was expecting to get fixated on along this walk, but I’m actually fascinated by the ecosystem of the animals on the campus and how that’s over-layered on to human activity.
Maggie: Yes and it does have a sense of a bit of a park about it doesn’t it, you have a sense of a park.
Mark: Yes and the social spaces for the animals provided by that.
Maggie: I wonder how the students feel about it, maybe we could ask somebody. ‘Hello! We’re just doing a bit of an interview walking around the campus and we just wondered, how do you feel like as a student to be surrounded by the wildlife?’
Female Student: ‘It’s much nicer, it’s nice yes’.
Maggie: ‘Yes, so you like it’.
Female Student: ‘Yes definitely. I have a lecture to go to’.
Maggie: ‘Oh no, don’t worry’.
Mark: ‘Oh sorry, thanks’.
Maggie: An example of rushing.
Mark: Yes exactly, that’s quite appropriate but also the way that rushing can be invoked because it could be that she was going to a lecture but that’s the same thing I say to the charity mugger.
Maggie: (laughs), Yes, absolutely.
Mark: Because I don’t want to ignore but equally I don’t want to engage and so it becomes something you can use to account for your own desire to end the situation.
Maggie: Yes totally and I did get the feeling that there was somebody over there waiting for her, but when I turned to look there wasn’t.
The organisation of labour on campus: mechanisms for managing and maintaining experience, people, space and place.
Mark: Yes this is becoming very, very park like now but again it’s the work that goes into reproducing this environment and the extent to which in places that’s shielded. Like I mentioned Center Parcs earlier and I think this campus does remind me of Center Parcs. Or at least provoking the kind of pleasant memories of it.
Maggie: And also Center Parcs, they’re kind of formed aren’t they you know what I mean, rather like this, because this isn’t a natural lake, this has been created.
Mark: Exactly and they try and naturalise that, I’m not sure that the same amount of work is going into naturalising it here, because it’s not a holiday village. I remember once when I was a teenager, seeing you know realising for the first time that these elaborate large fences were actually these elaborate mechanisms to shield the upkeep of the place, by the cleaners who were bussed in, from the tourists.
Maggie: Oh wow!
Mark: And you know I went to Euro Disney last year and I was looking out for it there and you can see the same kinds of things. That’s a beautiful garden.
Fig.23. Garden in the centre of the campus
Mark: I’m just suddenly struck by the beautiful red brick building and how charming that is next to the kind of sprawling brutalism.
Fig.24. Heslington Hall behind the trees
Mark: I remember when I was at LSE once and needed to get into the office by seven in the morning and at ten minutes into starting the working day the cleaner came in, who I’d never met before. In universities maybe there’s kind of a temporal occlusion, yes sequestration is the word I’m looking for I think, and you know physical spatial ways of doing that are the most common form but are there temporal borders too?
Maggie: Yes and that’s an interesting one isn’t it in terms of day and night. I used to commute and stay there (Durham) during the week and so I would often be in my office working until seven/eight at night and what would happen is I’d have a chat with the cleaner when she was there around seven and then security would come round and say ‘we’re just checking that you’re all right’ and I found that quite comforting because it was. It didn’t feel like he was telling me to leave or intimating that it was time to go.
Mark: I remember being in a pub with a friend near his university and being surprised to find they actually get kicked out of their building, there’s no negotiation at six o’clock if they’ve not moved their stuff it gets locked.
Maggie: I have had that experience too, where everyone has to be gone by seven because the building is locked.
Mark: Yes and when I first encountered that I found it amazing though because I was used to this kind of Warwick friendliness and you know my friend had to literally go sprinting off from the pub because it was a Friday night and if he didn’t get his stuff out of the office he couldn’t get it till Monday. But that’s a temporal border, isn’t it?
Maggie: It is totally, it is absolutely a temporal border.
Mark: But rigidly enforced.
Maggie: Yes and I also get the sense of that here because there’s a porter on duty in the college twenty-four/seven and when I said that I’d probably come in at weekends to unpack my books, there was no resistance to that it was just, OK you’ve got your key. My feeling is of a welcoming, hospitable space.
Mark: But I guess borders by their nature are contrary to that aren’t they. I mean the last time I was here I was struck by the fact that at no point was I asked to account for my presence or had any kind of, there was no physical barriers to this campus.
Maggie: Yes I think that’s a really great point.
Mark: Whereas at Warwick you know, there are. I’ve always thought those long roads leading to Warwick with the big Warwick signs they’re like battlements guarding, symbolically guarding the outskirts of the campus.
Maggie: I think it also depends on how you present as well.
Mark: Can you do a panorama or something? I think the fact that’s in the same
I find it oddly unnerving to see all this in the same field of vision.
Oh, it’s quarter past one.
Maggie: Oh crikey, OK we’ll need to move to get you back. Well if we walk back to where we came from we are not too far from the entrance where I can direct you out.
Mark: OK, excellent. Yes, it’s a shame, the temporal pressures of the university.
It’s quite a nice spot to finish on.
Maggie: Yes and just thinking about how you present in these spaces where there seem to be no borders and I’m just mindful of someone who talked about experiences of feeling ‘out of place’ as a visitor to a university, she felt that that she was stopped and a couple of people asked her could they help her, so she found that quite unnerving rather than helpful.
Mark: Yes I think I’d an insight into that that I hadn’t previously had, because I’m kind of oblivious to that because of being a white male but when I mentioned to you, I think last time we met, when I went to Paris and firstly there was a soldier outside and when I wasn’t with the group of older professors I was asked to account for myself and there was something of a lack of authoritativeness or maybe just my accent, and then they had to get their supervisor who read my name off the list and then apologised and let me in and the same thing happened again, but just that being asked to account for yourself which I’m not used to in the university and the way that unsettled me for the rest of the time. I felt ill at ease and I assumed that’s a fleeting insight into that kind of microaggression that you’re talking about, is that microaggression being ridden through the whole campus, or you know the potential for that microaggression that at any moment you’ll be asked to account for why someone like you is here.
Maggie: Yes, the experience was mirrored elsewhere. So you can feel really at ease and safe and a sense of belonging in one moment but then that’s disrupted in the next just by being called to account for yourself, or when you move beyond the campus on to public transport and then are treated differently because of your status, accent and how you are perceived.
Mark: But I found the extent to which I was endlessly hailed as a student in Coventry very frustrating and so the way in which in a smaller places that have an intensive student population, the student becomes a social type in a way they don’t in a larger city, even in a place with a big student population.
Maggie: Yes, I’m just wondering if we can get a picture of you standing in front of the no cycling on the grass or walkways holding the microphone.
Fig.25. Mark Carrigan by the lake
Mark: Have you noticed as well that there’s SLOW written on the ground all over this campus? Excellent but I was amused when I was rushing on the way here because I was so much later than I expected to be that I was rushing over a big word saying SLOW written on the ground.
Maggie: Oh how fabulous, but obviously Slow traffic because of the ducks probably.
The reference to Slow was relevant in relation to calls for slowing down the pace of academia and the idea of the Slow University including interventions by Mark and me.
Maggie: Thank you so much for taking this walk with me Mark.
Mark: it was really fun.
Maggie: I think there’s loads of food for thought that emerged in the dialogue and maybe when we write it up, we could extend some of the points or just delve into them a little bit more.
We started the walk talking about Mark’s interest in the way that Universities are changing, the lived experience for students in the contemporary University, that includes the importance of paying attention to the soundscapes of the University.
Our walk had indeed focused upon sounds, notably the sound of the geese and ducks and wildlife on campus, the sounds of the wind in the trees and lake, the contrast between the groomed and formed landscape and the scrubland behind Wentworth College; the sounds of people moving around campus and interacting with the geese and ducks; the ecosystem and the ways that the wildlife, the geese and ducks had adapted to the people and human life on campus.
We had discussed the potential impact of the campus on students and staff, what Harmut Rosa might call ‘resonance’, as well as the potential distractions and release from institutional pressures within the context of temporal and actual acceleration for both students and staff. Indeed, when Mark spoke about his experience recently of some things moving very fast and also at the same time very slow, of it being utterly volitional and pleasurable, I thought of how the green, watery, environment of the York campus would affect my experience of the accelerated university; and as Mark had said, how these spaces might layer and mediate experiences such as temporality and speed within academic life.
The walk had been a lovely experience, in one sense, of ‘free time’ in that I felt it was time off or away from regular duties; and at the same time the walk took place for the Leverhulme project on borders, risk and belonging and an interest in Mark’s work, especially the acceleration of academic life and the relational aspects of academic life. I had used Scheff’s concept of ‘attunement’ in the past to describe the connective and relational aspects that happen when one takes a walk with someone and engages in conversation. Mark had introduced Rosa and I liked Rosa’s concept of resonance and think not only was there a resonance in our conversation and dialogue but also a relational resonance that emerged, for me, with the campus, the lakes, water, bridges, walkways and wildlife. Walking with Mark had made the strange familiar and the familiar strange, especially for the latter in relation to the rather menacing behaviour of one or two of the geese/ducks.
Mark said that he felt most comfortable going at speed rather than going slowly and that he was interested in rushing as well as the notion of “temporal borders and chrono–reflexivity for e.g. how the very effort of creating borders between ‘work’ and ‘life’ can knock you out of the orientation where you enjoy leisure properly.” Researching this necessitates, I think, a biographical approach.
As a digital sociologist, this brings us back to Gorz, whose work, a synthesis of Marxist, existentialist and ecology (expressed in Ecology as Politics 1978 as well as many other texts) advocates for the transformation of work by the ‘productivity gains’ made possible by capitalism to enhance our lives. Gollain (2016:127) concludes her article André Gorz: wage labour, free time and ecological reconstruction by “summarising his last writings, in which he argued that the recent crises of capitalism showed that it was more than ever necessary to realise the productive powers of twenty-first-century technology, not by expanding still further the manufacture and sale of commodities, but by creating a social and economic order in which goods and work would be provided for the common good.”
The theme of the good life, democratisation and the common good are present in Mark’s work and his working life. As I was editing this walk I came across this blog by Mark ‘My academic diary’ that speaks to his interest in rushing, academic life and time/space compression and I wanted to share it here, as well as his other fabulous and insightful blogs on the accelerated academy.