Academic journal article Style

Flying High and Flying Low: Travel, Sabbaticals, and Privilege in Academic Life

Academic journal article Style

Flying High and Flying Low: Travel, Sabbaticals, and Privilege in Academic Life

Article excerpt

I myself find safety in locating myself completely within my workplace.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic

Introduction. Flight Check

In her recent collection of autobiographical considerations and occasions, Getting Personal, Nancy Miller has an essay with a lovely footnote. A version of her essay, she notes, was given as a paper in Dubrovnik. She goes on to mention how, in effect, the comfort of her room was unsettled by the view of a beautiful island. After several days contemplating the island, and then taking an eventual boat ride there, Miller comments:

I realized I had not sufficiently figured in the ambivalence of perspective that double siting creates: the politics of oscillation. (This could also point to another fable about feminism, the referent, and movements of political liberation, but I will leave that for another time.) I thank Myriam Diaz-Diacoretz and Nada Popovich for including me in this event. (120)

The event ostensibly takes place in Dubrovnik. But it can also be understood as the oscillating one that takes place inside Miller's head. The first thing to say about the relationship of academic life to travel is that travel participates in the great Outside of the life of the mind: the Real World, under the sign of the World Elsewhere. Typically, however, for an academic, the result is intellectual: travel finds its eventual place in the life of the mind. Of course, perhaps Miller only gave the paper at the conference in order to be able to go to Yugoslavia. Certainly academics like faraway countries and beautiful islands as much as everyone else.

Moreover, no more than anyone else, they cannot be held responsible for subsequent political developments, which in this particular case serve to make Miller's "politics" appear to be an unfortunately precious notion. But so it goes when anybody travels. Travel crosses boundaries, disrupts distinctions, and puts things in circulation that normally remain in place. Take the difference between being on tour and at a conference. Miller is not a tourist, yet in Yugoslavia she can be compared to one, if only because her temporary presence lacks permanence and therefore becomes vulnerable to some more strict, particular political account. [1]' Just so, it is difficult to extricate academic travel from tourism, for each is susceptible to, if not equally driven by, the lure of beautiful islands. As Dean MacCannell writes in his classic study, The Tourist, the value of such things as trips and conferences "is a function of the quality and quantity of experience they promise.[ldots] The end is an immense accumulation of reflective experiences which synthesize fiction and reality into a vast symbolism, a modern world" (23).

This essay, however, will not attempt to relate academics either to those who travel widely, such as professional athletes or business people as well as tourists, or those who travel for a living, ranging from flight attendants to secretaries of state. (For a broader account of travel culture, see Clifford.) Instead, I want to try to treat the expansiveness of academic travel within its own peculiar framework, where travel appears to exist as a marginal activity, and therefore an unstable one, requiring careful accounting to deans and provosts. A professor venerably abides in the modern world as one of the great rooted figures--teaching regular classes in the same department at one university, year after year. And yet there are many professors who travel widely and often, such as Stephen Greenblatt, for example, who fulsomely acknowledges colleagues and occasions in five countries (other than the United States) in his latest book, Marvellous Possessions. What can we make of such travel?

The first thing to say is that it is exceptionally privileged. If we inquire, for example, whether--if only as part of the "oscillation"--it is subject to some ambivalence with respect to others, we find none. …

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