As part of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum, we interview scholars about a recent article they’ve written for either an academic journal or popular publication. We ask these scholars to discuss their article, as well as some of the books that have most influenced them.
This week’s featured scholar is Moya Bailey. Bailey is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University. Her article is “The Ethics of Pace.”
Roberto Sirvent: Can you please share what led you to conceptualize what you call “the ethics of pace”?
Moya Bailey: I was inspired by the work of disability studies scholars like Simi Linton and Susan Wendell who note that the way we are expected to live our lives now, demands we move at a pace that is untenable and disabling. As a graduate student and a junior scholar, I felt pressure to publish more, apply for grants, all part and parcel of the job yes, but to do so at a speed and level of productivity the scholars before me did not have to (could not?) match. This ever-increasing demand on scholars to do more for the academy, can keep us from focusing on life beyond the Ivory Tower. Sara Yasin, managing editor of the LA Times, tweeted, “everyone is allowed one conspiracy theory, as a little treat,” and mine is that the academy is designed to distract us from doing the work of local movement building that would make a more ethical pace of life, a more equitable world, possible. While we could be using our research acumen and resources to fight climate change, racism, poverty, etc. we are set up to work towards tenure and chase goals within the academy, often at the expense of being present in the communities we come from or where we currently reside. I do not type these words without indicting myself as someone who has done what I can to advance in this career. I felt guilty for not expending even more of my energy to the academy, even though as a Black queer disabled woman, I was already doing a lot of additional labor in terms of service, teaching, and mentoring that my other colleagues did not have to do. I used “the ethics of pace” as a way to think through how I had internalized ableist expectations of my productivity and begin to consider some alternate ways to relate to the academy. This journal article was a slight push back on the overfunctioning expectations I have for myself and an opportunity to consider how the academy can warp our senses of agency and urgency.
You draw on the field of disability studies and argue that “we must radically reconsider our insistence on ‘jobs with dignity’ and begin to question the meaning and need for jobs themselves.” Can you elaborate on this anti-capitalist critique and how it applies specifically to people working in the academy?
I just saw a 60 Minutes clip about how radically civilization as we know it is going to shift in the next decades because rich nations are using well over their fair share of the world resources. In the academy, we can see a microcosm of this phenomenon, with wealthy institutions also getting the lion share of grants, government contracts, etc. despite producing research at these very same institutions saying that the way we use money and resources as a society is unsustainable for the planet. These same institutions bristle at the idea of graduate student unions, while relying heavily on their labor, that of adjuncts, and poorly paid staff to keep the engine of academia running. Universities recruit students who are looking to get credentials and skills for jobs that dig us deeper into our current reality that we know is depleting the planet’s resources. There are many people working to recalibrate work and jobs such that they aren’t required for survival or at least allow us to live in more right relation with the planet. When I think of my own research on misogynoir for example, I am working to put myself out of a job. I don’t want there to be need for a word to describe the synergy of anti-Black racist misogyny and I hope, through the students and others who read my work and find it useful, we are that much closer to creating a world where misogynoir no longer exists. I dream of higher education that is free to anyone who wants to attend and folks can teach if they like but they can live well without this particular line of “work.” Global capitalism had so many societies abandon principles that all humans deserve food, clothing, shelter, and in the place of that ideal, we have individual organizations that promote policies of job equity and job dignity so that we can work to buy these essential needs ourselves. What needs to shift in society such that we believe that we are entitled, by our very existence, to the stuff of life?
What role does “participatory action research” play in resisting the violence of the university?
The research that we do in the academy is often done with the principal investigators’ ideas at the forefront. Most grant and fellowship opportunities are set up with a top-down structure that requires someone with specialized writing skills to apply. Participatory action research calls on researchers at institutions to collaborate with the communities they study, allows for these communities to come up with the questions and research priorities that would be useful to them and not just do what a researcher wants. Participatory action research is a helpful intervention to the traditionally extractive relationship between researcher and researched. I have written elsewhere about my preference for the term “collaborators” as opposed to “research subjects,” and part of this preference is rooted in the potential of participatory action research in giving more control over outcome and deliverables to those most affected by the issues being studied.
A lot of organizers, artists, and academics can often point to books that helped radicalize them. Are there any books that radicalized you? How so?
Most of the texts that radicalized me were novels. The first to do so was The Girl Who Owned A City by O.T. Nelson. Apparently, Nelson is a libertarian and wrote the book as a way to espouse some of these ideas but as a child, I read the book through my own yet unnamed transformative justice lens of democratic socialism. I was enamored with the idea of kids banding together after a virus wipes out adults to make a world that worked for them by figuring out how to resolve conflict peacefully, grow their own food, and care for each other. Rereading as an adult, I see the violence, the individualism, property protection, benevolent dictatorship, I missed when young. Despite these limits, I still think it’s a worthwhile read as we try to imagine life at the end of the Anthropocene.
The Street by Ann Petry is the best sociology book I’ve ever read even though it is novel. I find a reason to slip it into my classes if I can. It’s so rich and vivid in its descriptions of how society and the built environment can shape so much of our lives. It’s devastating in the most beautiful way. I highly recommend both versions of the audiobook, with one of the versions featuring my fellow Spelman, Alumni, Tayari Jones and Danielle Deadwyler.
Last but certainly not least is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, my gateway drug to her work. Hot take: It’s better than Kindred. Parable of the Talents also gives Parable of the Sower its proper context. She’s so good at making us question how we want to live with each other. Parable of the Sower actually follows the themes of The Girl Who Owned A City in some interesting ways.
Which two books published in the last five years would you recommend to BAR readers? How do you envision engaging these works in your future scholarship?
Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown has these principles that I have already incorporated into so much of what I do. The ethics of pace is also partially inspired by the emergent strategy principle that asks us to move at the speed of trust. This principle asks us not to work more quickly than everyone feels comfortable with each other and as we know, trust takes time. Moving at the speed of trust means that when conflict inevitably arises, we trust each other to show up and address it directly. I find the principles themselves helpful as we imagine what lies beyond societal collapse and what skills and practices will best serve us as we reimagine how we move in the world.
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the 21st Century edited by Alice Wong has some powerful narratives about disability in this contemporary moment. I think a lot of BAR readers might be surprised to see themselves and people they know reflected in the pages. We don’t get to hear from disabled folks of color let alone disabled Black people very often, so I am interested to know what BAR Readers’ make of the narratives within. This text helped me be more vocal about calling myself disabled and also reflects the way I am thinking about my next project, Misogynoir in Medicine, which will feature narratives of Black women and people read as Black women’s experiences within clinical settings.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.