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Struggling with Time An

Introduction
JANUARY 15, 2015 / VALERIE ROBIN

3 COMMENTS

What do we mean when we use the phrase, in the real world? As many of us are in a
state of transition between school and work, styles of work, or a balance of both, are
we living a less real life if we dont work for a corporation? Indeed, the different ways
humans interface with the world is hybrid. The column below is an inquiry into the
meanings of culturally problematic phrases like the real world, and proper use of
time, and the ways these interplay. It will ask questions concerning digital humanities,
critical pedagogy, and agency. It is an exploration, a discussion, and a journey. Join us.
Having spent about 30 years in the school system, most as a student, some as a
teacher, I am often told that my life will change when I get out into the Real World.
This phrase has always troubled me; it sometimes even angers me. I dont do a fake
job, eat fake food, or pay fake bills, do I? My rent sure feels real every month. And yet,
for some reason, simply because my income comes from a university, my life is less
real than those who pay the same bills by some other means. Despite the universitys
foothold in the capitalist system despite my substantial role in training young minds
to go out into that real world, the industrial educational complex somehow maintains
a protected status disconnected from the places people go when they leave. I am
well aware that education does not stop when I stand up from my desk. And it doesnt
stop when there are no longer grades involved. Still, there is a divide we tend to
maintain between the in here and the out there.
I am a product of the Industrial educational complex. But what does that mean for me,
personally? Physically, it means straight rows of desks and long periods of sitting still.
Psychologically, it means remaining quiet, responding only when expected and as
expected, and predicting what my teachers want to get that A grade. I was disciplined
well and as a result I am very good at working the system (except for sitting still which
Ive never been able to accomplish skillfully). I have the ability to decide how to
accomplish an assignment before the teacher is even done giving it; I work so well to
deadlines that when there isnt one, I get a little stressed out (and have recently met
several others who operate similarly); When asked to make decisions on my own, I
have a hard time if I dont know exactly what is expected of me. I often struggle to see
where others struggle within a system where I am trained to excellence. And yet, I have
never been very equipped to operate in any other system.
But we mustnt be blind to educations position in the larger capitalist landscape. After
all, this is my personal position in the system; my struggles in academia are
contextualized by a systemic illusion that my world is somehow not real. Sustaining this

illusion has consequences. This column seeks to name them, critique them, and
encourage others to do the same. The elusive world of the academy is densely
populated and we all have different experiences that can add to this conversation. Our
struggle is real. Each of us struggles in a unique way. And they need to be heard
collectively.
The consequences of my situation are intricately bound up in the discourse of power.
Michel Foucault, a theorist known for writing about power and subjectivity, makes the
following claim about the real world: Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only
by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each
society has its regime of truth, its general politics of truth: that is, the types of
discourse which it accepts and makes function as true (Truth and Power 131). In
other words, our reality is what our culture our society decides is true. And when
that society says a teacher is valued less than an entertainer (through income
disparity, fame, etc.), imagine the impact that has on the education system.
The results are devastating. If society decides that students should have a stake in
their own learning, the reverse is also true. Imagine, then, what would happen to all
those rows of desks.
The Western World is in flux. Advancements in technology are helping us shift away
from the industrial standards that made the world as we know it today. We are moving
into some new kind of standard that many are calling the information age. And yet,
there remains a state of perfection we all strive for an out there concept that
dictates the way we behave so we too can be perfect. Philosophers have given these
out there standards a name: Martin Heidegger calls it averageness, and Michael
Hardt and Antonio Negri call it the common. By contrast, a queer theorist might call it
normalizing and among the worst possible forces for those who dont (or wont) fit the
mold. What I find interesting is that there remains any standard at all. When we have
an open web that is staying neutral, new concepts of network theory, and the
ability to work however and whenever we wish, why do we still strive for some average,
common, or normative standard?
For me, a lot of what upholds our standards of industrialization is the way we speak. In
a mirror of the factory experience, we are told we must strive for sameness in
learning, thinking, and performing. Both in the school system (at all levels), and
outside it, we use words like production, measurable skills, and average. After
moving through this system, I am left with a value system that makes me feel guilty
when I stay up (or sleep) late never mind that I often work into the morning hours, so
that sleeping until 10AM, when Ive worked until 2AM, is not sleeping in. Any time I
move outside the typical workday norms which very few academics adhere to I
find myself apologizing for my behavior even to others who also do not live
according to an 85 schedule.

And though I apologize often, Im not sorry at all. I chose to live the life of an academic.
I have been in a cubicle, wearing a power suit, finding ways to make my job more
stimulating lest I should run out the security doors of the building screaming. As a
result, I have developed a deep curiosity for the lives, jobs, and value systems of
others. I often ask how people came into their line of work, how well they enjoy it, and
what else they would do if they could. What I am reallyasking, it turns out, is about
their daily experiences with power, subjectivity, and life choices. Chances are, if the
person Im interrogating went through the American public school system, she is
probably influenced in many of the same ways I was, and if she didnt, I have many
more questions.
This article is the first of a regular column where we begin to work towards an answer,
together. This column seeks to uncover the subjectivity of individuals and how they
struggle with power, standards, and how they spend their own time
their personal time. It is an exploration of what we desire to resist, and why some of us
do resist, and some of us dont. It will ask questions like, who creates the standards we
strive to achieve? and more importantly, how do we know when we are contributing
to, or even creating, standards that may exclude or demean others? It will call on a
variety of voices to speak to their own views of, and struggles with, these standards. It
is about digital humanities, critical pedagogy, and agency but ultimately it is about
people. A new column piece will be published each month. They will usually follow a
serial topic, and they will always be open for discussion.
Our first topic, beginning in February, will ask the question, How does your training
(vocational, traditional, etc.) inform the way you spend and/or value your time? I have
asked three individuals to share their thoughts on how they value time, according to
their positions in this world, and the training it took to get there. Over the course of the
next few months, we will hear from folks like an academic struggling with educational
union issues, an underwater construction worker who learns much of his skills on the
job, and a lecturer at a university who is also raising two beautiful children.
Valerie Robin is a Hybrid Pedagogy featured columnist.
[Photo, hollow by Fio, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]