Follow us
Jennifer Hamilton & Anna Kaijser: Malexander Walkshop – No outputs, slow scholarship and lots of food

We started planning the Malexander Walkshop in earnest on a bus from Rindö to Artipelag in June 2017. The moment of conception is important to note because it represents the problem we explored on the walk. On the bus we snared a tiny piece of time to make a plan for a big scholarly event. “Quick!” we said. “Let’s talk about this before you rush off over here and I rush off over there!” In the lead up to the Malexander walkshop (eventually falling on October 30-31), there were mixed emotions in the group; some of us were eager to get out into the forest, some quite stressed by the imposition of an overnight work trip to a strange town and others apologetic they could only stay for one day. But the divergent feelings soon subsided as we headed out of Linköping towards the town via lakes and rivers, stopping once to get supplies. At that point we had committed to head out of town together, and in so doing had physically agreed to set aside a decent portion of time to think, talk, collaborate.

Arriving in Malexander, we packed our backpacks with thermos coffee and sandwiches and headed out into the autumn day. Icy winds blew from Lake Sommen, but the sky was clear and the sunlight bright and golden. As we crossed the cemetery, a woman invited us into the church, keenly narrating the local tale of the mysterious fire that destroyed the previous church. We thanked her and continued our hike through the village, passing sleepy rows of empty summerhouses, and into the forest. At lunch, as we sat lined up on a footbridge across a smaller lake, the plans for the rest of the day were presented, and everyone shared their feelings and expectations regarding the activities.

We received permission from a senior participant not to have an outcome. That is, we were able to proceed without instrumentalising the activity in advance. We knew we were going to write this blog post, but we didn’t have to know what else the retreat might yield. After lunch the walk began in silence. We had half an hour of walking together without verbal obligation. The idea was to try to clear mental noise. This activity was devised by Jennifer Hamilton, in light of her own experience with walking meditation and teaching about perambulatory writing in her ecocriticism course. What is interesting to observe when walking in silence for a short time (when it isn’t a habit) is the amount of internal noise, which is what participants reported after the walk. Although it was not very long, the activity was just to try to encourage us all to be present in the place, to settle the mental traces of the world we’d driven out of earlier in the morning.

The silent walk brought us to a vindskydd – an open shed by a forest lake, where we sat down on some logs of wood to reflect upon what we had just experienced. After a short break, we took off for the next exercise: a walking conversation in pairs, where we discussed the topics of “pleasure” and “resistance”. These themes were suggested by Anna Kaijser, drawing on her previous experiences of organizing workshops on academic survival skills. The idea is to identify situations where we experience pleasure in our work and resistance towards our work (from others or from within ourselves), respectively, and how we may become aware of and work with those feelings. The pairs changed every twenty minutes, which made the conversations direct and dynamic. Some of us could not resist stopping occasionally to pick the mushrooms that we found among the fallen leaves. On the way back, we paused again for fika (coffee, tea and cookies) in the last minutes of sunlight before heading out of the forest and towards the village before it started to get dark.

On the way home, we passed the memorial to the police officers from Linköping who were killed in 1999 on the outskirts of the village in an event that placed Malexander on Sweden’s criminological map. The engraved plates are always surrounded by fresh flowers. That evening, we cooked an incredible dinner of vegan coconut dahl with a side of broccoli. But before proceeding with our chronology I want to back track to the primary theme of the pleasure and resistance dimension of the walk. It was extraordinary how the resistance (where resistance was generally understood in the negative) mostly took the form of a sense of encounter with institutional structures (in particular: the way precarious employment conditions shapes lives and the way heavy workload constricts intellectual labour), but that pleasure was pervasive. Most of us deeply believe in the work we do, we just need to make ways of making time to do it. Over dinner we conversed for hours until we were all tired or had departed about ideas – about the value of lofty theoretical inquiry versus empirical “grunt” work, about the dominance of English language in the humanities and the fraught voices of scholars for whom English is a second language, about the need to recover space in our working lives for what matters, namely rigorous, conceptual, embodied, critical ecological inquiry. At the same time, then, the walkshop was actively opening space for the work itself. By the time we had eaten too many helpings of dahl, tea and chocolate, we headed for bed, and planned to meet in the morning for a pre-breakfast yoga session.

At dawn on the second day, the remaining four academics (two had left on the night before) found their spots on rugs and camping mats on the kitchen floor, sharing their yogi skills. Stretching out together in sun salutations, far from the ordinary office choreographies, created a feeling of intimacy and bodily presence. The exercise, like the conversations of the day before, also provided a source of both pleasure and resistance, in a very physical sense. After some oatmeal, we spent some time cleaning and packing up – another kind of bodily practice and engagement with the material world, from folding old woolen blankets to composting leftover food. The remaining hour was dedicated to a walk around one of the smaller nearby lakes, during which we brainstormed on how to take our walking collaborations into the future. We played with the idea of slow motion science and how it might be mobilized in practice, in resistance to the stressful imperatives and conditions of academia.

What we emerged from this two-day retreat is not an outcome but an emergent collaboration. We have devised an experimental model for international scholarly exchange that practices the slowness we desire in work and we think is required for both body and planet. The slowness we will practice invests in rigour, relationality and environment, while not shirking some of the pleasures of the fossil fuel age (which has brought about speed and stress) such as the very possibility of collaboration between scholars based in Australia and Sweden! We will elaborate on the logistics of this particular practice later in the 2018, for now we leave you with a few more photos – all taken by our Seed Box colleague Emelie Fälton – and the promise of the update!

/Jennifer Hamilton & Anna Kaijser

 

Anna Kaijser did a 2-year postdoc within Seed Box, and is now one of the programme’s Deputy Directors. She is working as a research fellow at the Department for Thematic Studies: Environmental Change at Linköping University.

Jennifer Mae Hamilton was a Seed Box Postdoctoral Fellow housed at the University of Sydney and Western Sydney University. She has just accepted a job as Lecturer in Literature in the School of Humanities at the University of New England.

They decided to recount the walkshop by writing chronologically, one paragraph each (batting back and forth like a friendly tennis match!)

 

Photos by Emelie Fälton