One theme that appeared a lot in my twitter feed last week was the protests against the casualization of academic employment in the UK. This evoked an unsettling mix of feelings in me as I followed events from the relative safety of my research fellowship in Denmark. Happiness, that this problem is finally being spoken about openly rather than forgotten in a collective act of looking the other way; and a somewhat perverse awareness that I am fortunate, eight years after finishing my thesis, to have a position that is (a) full-time, (b) fairly paid, and (c) lasts for a double-digit number of months. Things could be very different . . .
It also got me thinking about how this situation relates to the kind of research I do. One of the buzzwords that came up a lot in the Marie Curie application material was the term ‘innovative’. It’s not always an easy one to handle in a climate where competition and the need to seek attention are perhaps more widespread than they were in the past, with the result that such descriptions can easily be overused to the point of vacuousness. Yet in spite of all that, there does seem to be something truly distinctive in what I do, something that deserves to be made more of. How many people in the countries my career has spanned are actually working on the vernacular literary culture of Germany and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages? And of them, how many have permanent jobs?
At any rate, one thing is clearer than ever to me now, nearing the end of this first year: that there is a difference between obtaining external funding to pay for my own fixed-term fellowship, and being employed in a position where there is the security and long-term foundation necessary to think ideas through to their full potential.
How does one deal with that? One answer is by doing. By showing why the questions I ask matter – in academia, as in an article of mine under peer review that shows why the Middle Ages are important for global and comparative literature, and outside it, as in this opinion piece prompted by the right-wing posters of the Dansk Folkeparti that line my trip to work each day. Watch this space for more!