The guide to keeping grounded and maintaining a sense of humour while engaged in academic pursuits

  Authors: Ann-Marie Hanlon and Stacey Pope

Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer renowned for his wit, once wrote: ‘Life is too important to be taken seriously.’ In the academic world this aphorism carries little import: humour has traditionally been bound in an uncomfortable relationship with academia. Humour has little or no role in lecture theatres, in academic writing or in conference papers: ‘serious’ work should not be funny and humour has no place in the often elitist rituals of academia. In recent years, particularly with the advent of post-modernism and its ensuing cultural and critical theories, the traditional canonic boundaries of academia are now subject to constant challenge. Finally we are beginning to take humour seriously, a fact witnessed by the blossoming field of parody studies and humour studies in general. Previously considered an anti-intellectual pursuit, in reality humour possesses a dual critical function in that it can be used to subvert or to reinforce dominant ideologies, conventions and behaviours. Many great minds of the past, such as Aristotle, Wittgenstein and Bergson dared to acknowledge its power. Simon Critchley reminds us that:

‘Humour is an exemplary practice because it is a universal human activity that invites us to become philosophical spectators upon our lives. It is practically enacted theory. I think this is why Wittgenstein once said that he could imagine a book of philosophy that would be written entirely in the form of jokes.’

This manual invites us to use humour to critique and hopefully rethink how we perform academia and the conventions of the academic systems within which we work. Humour can function to destablize conventions, but it can also be irreverent, inconsequential or silly. Let us ‘become philosophical spectators upon our lives’ in playing with the ideas of how we do academia, and refuse to take ourselves too seriously in the process. The manual should be fully read through and the points that resonate strongly with participants should be role-played/ told in anecdotal form to the group and discussed together. Perhaps we could even follow Wittgenstein’s lead and even rewrite this manual in the form of jokes. Laughter is not only permitted in this process, it is positively encouraged.

The guide to keeping grounded and maintaining a sense of humour while engaged in academic pursuits (self-help manual)

‘Life is too important to be taken seriously.’ (Oscar Wilde)

  • Academic Skills

Practice controlling your language rather than let it control you.

Language in should serve communication not obfuscation

Just because it sounds academic doesn’t mean it is

Break out of your closet: knowledge should not have boarders

Discover other people’s ideas but do remember to come up with some of your own too.

Remember that the best academics are the best communicators.

Done is good. Doing is also good.

  • Deportment

Don’t be selfish with knowledge, what’s the point in being the only person in the know?

Be social with your ideas – you can learn as much from people as from books.

Bring sexy back. Remember to smile in your work – it becomes instantly more accessible and appealing.

Never sound stupid, but never make people feel stupid either.

Remember that non-academics are not of a different species, much can be learned from them.

Confidence is indispensible, but arrogance comes in handy in certain circumstances.

  • Reality checking

Your primary concerns are theoretical, not life-threatening

Always remember there’s more to life than academia

I’m sure what you’re staying is interesting, but does anyone else actually care?

Just because you’re better educated does not mean you’re morally superior.

Remember how lucky you are – billions will never have this chance.

  • Self-reflexivity

Remember to navel-gaze but don’t lose sight of your own head

It might be your own work but you shouldn’t do it all on your own.

Always remember that some people will never understand you: that’s their problem, not yours.

Let your passion guide you. Study what you love, but remember to leave room for other types of love in your life too.

Paranoia can be good, but sometimes not, I bet you think this point is about you

Make learning fun

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