Silences & Selfishness: The Politics of Blogging the Personal

As some of you know, to date I have written two blog posts that deal with what many, including me, consider very personal topics: mental health and money (or rather the inconvenient lack of both). This post is prompted by a thought-provoking conversation I recently had about the implications – not to say the politics – of blogging about such personal issues in a space which represents, for the most part, my professional identity and my work. The concerns were some I had considered before, but had chosen to put to the back of my mind after having weighed up their possible consequences. In this post I’m revisiting the questions which are inevitably produced by any academic (or indeed professional) who blogs about issues which cross the shaky boundaries between private and public identities, if there are indeed such distinct entities at all.

The concerns revolve around issues of professional appearances in the widest sense, the most obvious question being whether I am making myself less employable by discussing my anxiety issues and (now resolved) debt problems in such a public manner. Will a prospective employer see my past struggles with anxiety or my past financial situation and feel I won’t make an effective and lucrative employee? Am I, by admitting to the extent of my anxiety and by discussing my experiences of it, destroying the image of the competent, resilient and hardworking academic, for colleagues and students? Of course the irony here is that I think we all know this image is just that – an image, a mask – usually an ill-fitting one at that (and I doubt none of you have ever been seen rushing through corridors like the stereotypical mad professor, and writing papers and reading notes minutes before a conference or meeting).

Worryingly, it’s almost expected that as an academic your reply to “How are you?” must begin with a heavy sigh and a frantic list of the things you still have to do today, this week, this month. Admitting that you suffer from anxiety, however, is somehow overstepping the mark. It medicalises the issue and thus exceeds the limits of what is all too often perceived as a “normal” level of stress and worry in academia (a level which in itself is very unhealthy and not “normal” at all, at least not in my view). It highlights that I am not delighted or secretly thrilled by being too busy, anxious, worried, and rushed off my feet. I had no problem with sharing my experiences of anxiety because I know how many of my colleagues – at any career stage, including Ph.D. students and renowned professors – suffer from it.

The surprise wasn’t that someone suffers from anxiety, but that this person, too, suffers from anxiety, and the numerous public and private responses to my post were a testament of that. I’m proud of my work, which I’ve always carried out in a reliable and efficient fashion, and I’m especially proud of my relationship with my students, who know that they can count on me, but who usually respect me (at least as far as I’m aware). So does my anxiety or making it public render me a bad member of the academic workforce, someone who is unreliable? No, quite the opposite, I feel.

This does not mean, however, that I do not take my colleagues’ points about the potential pitfalls of blogging so openly about these personal issues. Especially when it came to clicking “publish” for my post on debt (which I have been meaning to revise, and have since taken offline), I had considered carefully the effect it may have on future employers, colleagues, collaborators, but I decided to publish the piece nonetheless. Again, similar issues apply. Everyone is aware of how expensive it is to go through higher education if you are not funded, and I struggled even though I held a scholarship. There seems to be a dangerous yet prevailing opinion that to get into debt, you must simply be bad with money, or greedy, or frivolous.

However, the many of you who have responded – again, both privately and publicly – to my debt post seemed well aware that there is nothing to be good with when there is quite literally no money. Yes, I wasn’t great with money during my Ph.D., but I can also assure you that I wasn’t frivolous. Until now, I’ve never been clothes shopping more than once a year (and in fact that in itself makes the activity seem more elaborate than it ever was), I wear shoes and bags and other items until they quite literally fall apart. I don’t drive a nice car. I hardly drink alcohol and I don’t go out. And as someone quite rightfully pointed out on Twitter, with the privilege of funding all this is one matter; without it, it’s quite another, and even worse. As with so many assumptions, the notion that someone who is in debt has inevitably found themselves in that situation because they are “bad with money” is rather uncritical and shortsighted.

Both money and mental health are issues which are common in academia, the former among postgraduates and early-career researchers in particular, the latter across the entire career spectrum. I wrote my debt post out of relief, and out of the knowledge that other people would be able to sympathise with that relief, and with the difficulties the post describes. I published a piece on anxiety because I was trying to deal with and take action against a problem that was starting to have a serious effect on my physical health, and a problem with which I knew I wasn’t alone.

As early as my undergraduate years I got to know academics who were struggling physically and mentally with the stress their jobs brought with them, and this image was further normalised for me when I began my Ph.D. research. Being selfish and not speaking about the issues – and thus not risking the potentially bad impression future employers and colleagues may have of me – continues the silence which often surrounds these and other problems. I don’t advocate that everyone lay bare their financial or psychological difficulties, but the further we stay silent and selfish – no matter how great the personal benefits – the more these issues will spiral out of control, perhaps now more than ever, with increasing economic and government pressures in higher education.

And yet, I find that I will have to be selfish. As my colleagues so astutely pointed out, there is a fine line to be drawn between raising awareness through personal anecdotes and protecting oneself and one’s professional identity – selfishly – to not render the situation worse, on an individual level. Perhaps blogging and other social media – no matter how openly, cautiously, personally or professionally it is done – can help us find that line, as a sector and a profession, and thus to raise awareness without harming ourselves. It’s this line that I will have to learn to walk, though I doubt I’ll be doing it in silence or on my own.

Nadine Muller

Nadine Muller

Nadine is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research covers the literary and cultural histories of women, gender, and feminism from the nineteenth century through to the present day. She is currently completing a monograph on the Victorian widow (Liverpool University Press, 2018), and is leading War Widows' Stories, a participatory research and oral history project on war widows in Britain.

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28 Responses

  1. David Gilligan says:

    ‘To lie or not to lie, that is the question’ to paraphrase Hamlet. If we lie it makes life much easier, we might get the girl/boy, job/promotion, last seat on the lifeboat/bus/train, Degree/PhD, accolades etc. If we tell the truth we might get commended and our bus fare home but that’s about all.

    Great Art lies both directly and indirectly. Professors, historians and critics are constantly telling us what this or that means. Was Milton, in Paradise Lost, really ‘of the Devil’s party without knowing it’ and does it matter if Thoreau left his cabin at Walden every day to go home to do his laundry and did George Orwell really say ‘In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act’.

    The last quotation of Orwell is a appealing because it sounds Orwellian (I almost said ‘honourable) but Orwell probably never said it. Mythology often overshadows the facts and the blog of the Quote Investigator (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/02/24/truth-revolutionary/) unravelled this in their wonderful exploration of the origins of the quote.

    Confession is good for the soul but I suspect too much is bad for you in the long run. Telling someone you have HIV/AIDS is certain to put you at a disadvantage in Society and whispering ‘I love you’ when you don’t helps you win the girl/boy of the moment.

    But keep writing and fighting Nadine, I love your blogs, posts and tweets. I really, really, really do.

  2. Charlotte says:

    I agree with the comment someone made about mental health stigma in this country, so I commend you for speaking about your anxiety. I have Bi-Polar and thus far have chosen to have a ‘personal’ blog which discusses this, and a ‘professional’ blog for everything else. I hope that one day there is greater acceptance and I am able to combine the two.

  3. Joe says:

    As an aspiring lit academic with (now resolved) debt problems and ongoing chronic anxiety, it’s almost as if your blog has been precisely tailored to my needs (which I suppose, in a way, it has). Hearty, heartening, heart-warming stuff as usual.

  4. Katie says:

    “I don’t advocate that everyone lay bare their financial or psychological difficulties, but the further we stay silent and selfish – no matter how great the personal benefits – the more this issues will spiral out of control, perhaps now more than ever, with increasing economic and government pressures in higher education.” Nadine I can’t express to you how much this post has both upset and inspired me, I am a student of yours and like so many commenting here I’d like to point out the air of total confidence and self assurance that you exude (something which I also give off when I actually suffer anxiety as much as you seem to be). The stigma surrounding mental illness is something I campaign to banish because I know as a student dealing with it, it can be embarrassing to admit, so I cannot imagine how hard you find it being an academic. What I can’t seem to understand is how human beings can’t seem to summon compassion for others when it comes to something as hard to deal with as mental illness, I think it’s fantastic how you publicise your thoughts and feelings about your problem and it’s been a great comfort to me to read and identify with you. As well as that I am younger than you so as a lecturer I look to you as inspiration more than anything, the fact that you post these blogs has absolutely no affect on my education and like I said, when you lecture you wouldn’t have the faintest idea that you feel any of the things you write about. Please don’t stop speaking out and voicing how you feel because you really are helping so many people out there who are maybe afraid to be as brave as you are.

  5. Bill says:

    2nd year student here.

    First off I’d like to point out how surprised I am that you are facing these issues. In my opinion, you are one of the most confident and assured lecturers that we have.

    As a sometime anxiety sufferer myself it is comforting to know that are people are facing similar problems. I think Britain prides itself on the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality. Well screw that, because it is a mentality that is detrimental to frank and open discussion . By talking openly about these issues we diffuse their power.

    I’m not going to sit here and write how ‘brave’ you are, as if this is something truly transgressive, because far as I’m concerned it should a non-issue.

  6. Leanne says:

    I think nowadays as we are “supposed” to live in a world of free speech then everyone should be allowed, within reason, to write what they want. Wether it be on blogs, facebook or twitter ect. Even lecturers, or as I and obviously lots of other people see it, especially lecturers. By you writing your blogs, which us students who read them really enjoy, you are certainly not alienating us or making us think different of you. Far from it. In fact your blogs, personal or otherwise, make us as students realise that rather than all our lecturers being above us, some of them like you are on our level and experience or have experienced some of the same problems that we do or have. It just helps us to connect with you that little bit more and means that we find you more approachable than we sometimes do other lecturers. I know that I and many other students are grateful that we have a lecturer like you Nadine who as well as being a great lecturer, we know is just like us and will understand us.

    So I say keep the blogs coming and thanks for all your great lectures and seminars so far. 🙂

  7. Imelda says:

    I found your blog very inspiring and an eye-opener for future lecturers. Having that connection and understanding of your lecturer even if it just a blog you read on a laptop screen, gives us as students a better insight and connection with your lecturer which I personally have a lot of respect for.

    From reading the other responses I think we all share a mutual understanding that it is necessary to an extent to express inner feelings whether it is on facebook, twitter, or blogging though I do feel blogging has a more sophisticated vibe. It is very comforting to know someone who I look up to and learn a great deal from has issues that would not necessarily cross our minds if we were not told. It does emphasise that you never know what someone may be going through or feeling behind closed doors and I do agree highly that it does have an element of selfishness holding back which could potentially help someone going through the same issues.

    I feel you highlight Nadine that anything is possible if you really want to achieve something in life through hard work and eagerness to succeed and not letting an issue such as anxiety attacks stop you from achieving, though it can be sometimes a struggle. I found it very influential.

    Please keep blogging. =)

  8. Nadine Muller Nadine Muller says:

    This is a kind of collective response to some of my students who have taken the time to comment on this post.

    First of all, thank you for your thoughtful comments, and also for the kind things some of you have said here. You are an absolutely fabulous bunch (all of you, not just those who have posted here, of course), and I couldn’t be more proud of how eloquently you’ve expressed your opinions here. They are also incredibly valuable to me, and I’m sure they will be of interest to other people who work in academia. After all, we can’t ever rely on second-guessing what students may think of certain issues, and it’s important that you make yourselves heard.

    On a different note, I feel I should perhaps clarify that there has been no criticism of my blog on an institutional level – the post was merely prompted by various conversations with colleagues inside and outside of LJMU. However, sooner or later, I think, these are discussions which will have to be had in universities as more and more members of academic staff take to blogging, tweeting, etc.

    I think you’ve all raised some really interesting points here. Becky’s point in particular is one I hadn’t connected to this issue explicitly so far. You’re absolutely right, Becky, and I think there are more questions to be discussed regarding the boundaries of the classroom (i.e. where it starts and ends, in the age of social media).

    I really appreciate that you all took the time to respond – I’m genuinely impressed! 🙂

  9. Sean says:

    Very simply I think it is your blog Nadine therefore you can write what you want. We are not, as students, forced to read it so any decision we make to do so is an entirely personal one. If you were posting extremely right-wing racial slurs or extremely homophobic abuse or anything positive about the Daily Mail then it would be a different matter – clearly this isn’t the case. Anxiety and debt are a part of many peoples lives, students especially, so I see no reason why a lecturer such as yourself cannot post a personal blog on the matter. From a student perspective I can only see the positives.

    In terms of effecting employment within LJMU I think it is a non-issue, LJMU is supposed to be a modern university – it should live up to its own billing. Other companies/institutions I don’t know, but if writing a blog on anxiety is considered too radical then the world is fucked.

  10. Anonymous says:

    First time reader of the blog and must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences. the are elequently writen and have shown me that as a lecturer you have gone through many of the issues that we students are currently gone through (financial difficulties, anxieties etc.). Whereas I can understand the whole concept surrounding the boundaries of professionalism / personal life, it is not one that I particularly agree with. As someone else has already noted, we are university students, not secondary school pupils. We are encouraged to take on individual studies, construct a thesis, meet deadlines and work to a high standard yet we are supposed to be shielded from an academics personal life? Im more than certain that we can handle a degree of empathy with our tutours.
    Furthermore, I am not in any of your seminars, but your lectures are hard hitting and well constructed. If anything I would choose my modules for next year whilst considering which ones you are conducting. For your credibility to be questioned based on your ability to build a raport with others is quite upsetting.

  11. Paige says:

    If we were still in secondary school or even college then this would probably be an issue as kids can be cruel and judge easily, but this is supposed to be an ‘adult environment’, and although some people still might judge it’s not as though we come to you asking for financial advice, you’re an English tutor! It’s just ridiculous that a career could be put into jeopardy just because something you write on the internet is available for your adult students to see.

  12. Vienna says:

    I am a first year, and although I am not a regular reader of your blog or in your class, I have attended your lectures and my opinion of you has not been altered because I now know you suffered from debt, or any anxiety problems. I still believe you to be a very good lecturer and from my friends that are in your class think highly of you too.

    You’re human, you have problems like everyone else and in my opinion should not be penalised because of it. I think it is unfair in the first place for prospective and current employers to pry on our facebooks and blogs, and I believe in freedom of speech. The fact you wish to share your life on a blog, is your choice and a brave one. You shouldn’t have to hide your personal life and struggles like your ashamed of it.

  13. Tawny says:

    Like several others that have posted before me, I too am a student. No, I do not find any of your blogging material “inappropriate” in any way, and no, I do not believe that this should affect the image others might have of you in any negative way. I can understand the fear that may fuel their concerns (what isn’t fueled by fear these days?) but that is as far as I will go. They seem to focus far too much on what may be considered weakness, instead of realising the strength that has been found in overcoming the obstacles put before you.

    Honestly, all this talk of the need for the professional mask is all well and good, but even that concept has its limits: for one to be an accessible, approachable person, others need to be aware of the fact that a real person exists beneath that mask at all. We need that humanity to bring out our own. Personally, I find that in discussing matters that lie close to both your heart and the many hearts of the public an exceptionally positive thing, and those that question this have no right to. You are an inspiring individual and your confessional blog posts only emphasise this fact.

    The fact of the matter is that we don’t exist in a reality that’s scripted for a simple, everything-goes-as-it-should television programme – it’s not all cookies and cream – we live in the real world. A world that is as unhappy as it is happy. And life can be a great struggle because of this. But what your admissions prove is that it’s not completely impossible to deal with – when the pressures are high, you can still stand to seize control and get by. I’ve many family members that work in the public sector and several friends that suffer/have suffered with varying degrees of mental illness, and what I’ve found to be the case for all is that both the paths we choose and the ones we’re given are never smooth ones. Not 100% of the time. But that doesn’t make them any less amazing at what they do. So don’t stop posting.

    We’re losing our right to be honest.

    Sorry to have gone off on one here, but it’s only because I personally think you’re a fantastic lecturer. You’re an engaging, exciting and encouraging tutor; and no future employer (or anyone else for that matter) should ever ignore these attributes simply because they’re reluctant to believe in the possibility that issues, such as mental health and debt, exist far closer to home than they want to realise. Like Ellena before me has said, you speak to the students in more ways than one, and it is through media technology that you speak to a generation that is thriving in a technological world. In all honesty, you’ve been nothing but a tutor that works hard to teach her students, so much so that we’re able to come to you for knowledgeable help with the utmost confidence and trust.

  14. gemma says:

    I read your blog, follow you on twitter, and am a postgrad student at LJMU. Reading your blog on anxiety made me think you are a) brave and b) honest. It is sad that I had to think ‘brave’. This follow up post has made me wonder whether I will be seen as ‘unemployable’.

    I have M.E and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I battled severe panic attacks for years, upto 20 a day and was severely agoraphobic due to them.I have beaten panic attacks with the help of a psychologist and CBT (Meds aren’t for me). Most people think I am confident and do not guess I have this history, but anxiety is something I have had since childhood in the guise of OCD manifestations, and I accept that I will always have my agoraphobia even a minor way. This doesn’t make me broken goods or inferior, I think my experiences make me work very hard and I am super-organised to work around my health,

    I find talking about my experiences to others helps them, and their experiences help me. I am fighting the stigma of mental health problems by not being afraid to talk, and you have done this on a much bigger public scale. I applaud you for what you are doing, and for not bowing down to pressure.The fact is 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some stage. So gaining valuable insight and empathy is crucial.

    You have your achievements in spite of experiencing health problems, good for you. It just shows students that it can be done, and that there is no shame in depression, anxiety or any mental health condition.

    I hope your blogs don’t change.

  15. Cleo says:

    Having read your blog both as an LJMU student and as somebody who struggles with anxiety, I can say that it was extremely motivating for me to realise that a lecturer who inspires me and who I look up to faces the same challenges. As other comments have noted, I think that this underlines how important it is to remove the stigma that mental health issues (and other issues such as debt) still have attached to them. The fact that this blog is working to remove that stigma is a great achievement, and I certainly appreciate it.

  16. Becky says:

    I am also a student who sees no problem with blogging on personal as well as professional issues if done in an appropriate manner. Both students and teachers bring personal experience into discussion in seminars and it usually makes for a more interesting debate if handled correctly, why should a professional blogging space online be treated any differently to the same subject being brought up in the classroom?
    If the space is professional and leaves personal subjects open for discussion rather than a sort of confessional space I see no problem with creating other ways for lecturers and students to communicate their ideas and talk about topics that they think relevant for debate even if they are personal. Speaking out about mental illness and anxiety encourages others to do the same and I think it is much more common amongst both staff and students than people may have us believe. Your blogs only make me respect you more as a lecturer and you will often tweet interesting articles and opinions too! Much more engaged with the student voice than many lecturers.
    Keep blogging!

  17. Kate says:

    I’ve been a reader of your blog since googling you upon finding out that you were going to be one of my lecturers this year, and I absolutely love the fact that you’re honest about the issues and problems you’ve faced, as well as the pros of academia, and I feel it allows us as students to relate to you on a more human level, for us to understand that we’re not the only ones going through similar issues, and that theres a light at the end of the tunnel (for at least some of us).

    So often the leaders of young people (teachers, parents, lecturers etc.) give us a facade of everything being wonderful, and adulthood being easy-street, and when we actually reach that point ourselves, we don’t know how to deal with the problems that face us, because we were never warned about them in the first place.

    Your blog posts about your personal life are something that I look forward to reading, as I too have suffered with depression, anxiety and money-worries. I work for a bank and see people from all walks of life (doctors, surgeons, bankers, ceos) everyday, struggling with bank charges, the vicious cycle of payday loans, repossession and eventually bankruptcy, and despite this, managed to get myself in a similar situation to yourself. Whilst I have it under control now, I live in constant worry of overspending, and struggle to sleep due to money worries.

    I absolutely do not believe that posting about these matters impacts the way I see you as a lecturer, and does in fact, earn my respect even more so, because of your overwhelming truthfulness and the way I can relate to your story.

    Don’t let anyone tell you different!

  18. Rebecca says:

    I enjoyed reading this thought-provoking post and the different responses it has generated so far; however, I’m not sure I agree with the definition of ‘selfishness’ that is initially offered. It may after all be important at a personal level to keep certain information outside of the public domain as, for example, interpretations of what one’s own words mean also change. But once blogged these words remain forever archived in static form, something that in extreme scenarios can refer to the very opposite of transformation. However, I do take the point that mental health issues need to be shared in order for their prevalence to be taken seriously but again isn’t there a risk here of anxiety, for example, ending up being seen as ‘normal’ and thus as an indisputable part of one’s job description (possibly leading to more anxiety)? Furthermore, what about other mental health issues such as bipolar and schizophrenia, for instance, is it necessarily so easy to share experiences of this sort when both conditions continue to receive widespread discrimination? A recent study published in The Independent suggested that 70% of people with schizophrenia are deemed unemployable solely because of their medical history irrespective of their abilities and talents – again, this might be one reason why a reluctance to share personal details could be deemed politically astute. The question of how academia and mental health issues intersect is a massive one and as is said it is a debate that desperately needs to receive more attention. But the question of whether it is paranoid or politically astute to consider the risks of leaving an electronic footprint behind one’s own personal transformations should, to my mind, always be considered and remembered before blogging is undertaken. Keep the posts coming!!!

    • Nadine Muller Nadine Muller says:

      Hi Rebecca, Thanks so much for this! You are absolutely right with the points you raise here, and I think these are exactly the kinds of discussions that need to be had. I also think, when it comes to the electronic footprint, it’s something that’s a (fairly) new issue for academics (for some more so than others, I admit), and again, I think these are discussions which are probably going to have to happen sooner or later within each institution, and I just hope that they do actually happen, rather than decisions being made without any real consideration of those involved in these kinds of practices. The posts certainly will keep coming, and I’m sure that, consciously or unconsciously, I’ll be having all these comments and debates in the back of my mind when writing. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your thoughts, here, too. I really appreciate it!

  19. Donna Alexander says:

    I can totally identify with this post. I too have blogged, and probably will again, about issues not typically considered “academic” by my peers. I have written posts about abortion, rape, victim blaming – these posts have a more subjective tone than my posts about academia. These have been referred to by my peers as me “being political” and people have felt the need to tell me that it’s only okay that I write these because my research touches on political issues – thus it seems that I am only able to have personal/political thoughts because of what I research in my academic life. In reality, I feel that all of these parts of who I am, a human being, a researcher, and activist and mutually informing, and exist in spite of as well as because of eachother. I think therefore I blog, if you will.
    I have worried about whether or not I should be publishing these posts in my “academic blog.” But I am, as all academics are, a human being. I have thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions. I am not arobot or a one trick pony. I admire you for blogging with such honesty. I think writing the personal, professional and political are important, liberating, and necessary expressions of who we are and I wish more academics would blog in such a way.

  20. Sam says:

    On the subject of talking about mental health, there is such a stigma attached to it and that reason is because the issue is such a taboo in this country. We desperately need more people like you to talk about it openly, I don’t think the majority of people realise how common it is to suffer from a mental illness may it be big or small. As a student, I’m probably speaking for most other students when I say a blog about your, or any other lecturer/proffesional’s personal life doesn’t bother me in the slightest, pretty sure we’re not primary school students who need sheltering from reality.

  21. Ellena says:

    I can see how this may be an issue if it was a secretive blog nobody knew about, but you’re clearly open with its content and actively inviting people to read, so I fail to see how it would be deemed “inappropriate” in any way. It’s nice to know lecturers are human beings, and this being university level, I think students expect some forms of personal or informal interaction with lecturers, be it general chats or meeting in the pub and so on. This blog the same, but on a scale accessible to all. As someone considering a postgrad and finding it impossible to fund myself at even undergrad, it’s comforting to know that academics are not invincible against money and anxiety problems, and the general feeling I’m left with after reading your more personal articles is “here’s a lecturer who I could talk to about this issue”. It also goes without saying that more needs to be done with regards to highlighting prejudice against mental health problems, so I feel it’s important that you have made a public blog about your own problems, as it may go some way to dispel some myths. I feel if anyone were to be put off hiring you based on your blog content, they show a clear sense of close-mindedness (many people in this day and age have blogs, after all), and perhaps are not worth working for at all. I know I speak for many, however, when I say I hope you remain at LJMU. I know of no other lecturers who engage with students on social media levels, and it shows a clear sense of being in-tune with students and how they communicate. If anything, perhaps more lecturers should consider the idea of a blog themselves, and to make themselves more easily accessible.

  22. Alistair Brown says:

    It’s one of the ironies of academia, isn’t it. Here you are, a scholar of the humanities, of the world that explores the conflicted state of being human, but you are expected to portray an air of invincible inhumanity to that same scholarly community, tireless, unstressed by any workload, the consummate professional.

    I entirely agree with you that there is a really dangerous myth that we have concocted: the myth that if you’re somehow failing personally (such as by feeling stressed) then you’re not good enough to cut it in the scholarly game. If you were *truly* dedicated to the Platonic world of ideas, then you’d still be checking those emails well into the night, never having a weekend off, earning money but not having the time or desire to spend it on anything other than books…until you slump dead on your desk as an aged Emeritus professor.

    Such a myth of course plays very nicely into the hands of employers, as it gives the rosy glow of “scholarly dedication” to what is, in reality, a classic capitalist market: if you don’t cut it, then there are plenty more who will work harder, longer, for less.

    So I think you’ve absolutely nailed something here: “I don’t advocate that everyone lay bare their financial or psychological difficulties, but the further we stay silent and selfish – no matter how great the personal benefits – the more this issues will spiral out of control, perhaps now more than ever, with increasing economic and government pressures in higher education.”

    You’ve been very brave in blogging openly (perhaps I should as well), but it’s the only way we’re going to get a more humanitarian humanities!

  23. Holly says:

    Thanks for yet another thought provoking and very real blog post. I think the issues you raise about the often tentative and yet ever-tangible line between the personal and the professional are so so relevant. There is a constant struggle to find this boundary and stick to it, and I think, with higher education rapidly becoming more and more privatised and like a business, this is going to continue to be a significant issue. The debate over whether or not to suffer in silence rages. And we should join in. With mental health still such a taboo subject that faces such discrimination, we have to take steps to sort this. The same goes for the association of academia and education with privilege and wealth, which is so exacerbated by governmental education policies coming from those educated at Eton and the likes. The fact of the matter is, you need privilege to continue to pursue higher education, and this needs to change. As researchers, educators, and academics, we are at the front of our fields and represent a whole body of critical minds to raise these issues. Whilst I recognise the need to strike a certain degree of personal-professional balance, it seems to me that we are ideally positioned to talk about these things. And I, for one, am truly grateful that you have done.

  24. Jade says:

    I’m a student and see nothing wrong with this, or blogging on either professional or personal issues; if the university think it’ll cause a shock to the students to discover their tutors are human, so be it. I also find it hard to understand how a job should restrict freedom of speech, especially in regards to English, which is surely an area for those with strong opinions and the will to have their voice published. The particular problems of mental health and debt make you more relatable (made that word up, I think) to your students if anything, as these are problems most students will encounter at some point. Most students are aware that the staff have blogs; if you can’t find their e-mail for example, the first thing you’ll do is google them. However, I’m yet to hear of anyone who’s been bothered by it.

  25. Sarah Burton says:

    This is all really important stuff. When I was doing my PGCE a lot of questions were asked about the professionalism of blogging/tweeting, and the intimation was made that it was impossible to be both an educational professional and admit to having emotions/holding political views/being open about stress and anxiety. There’s a particularly nasty, pernicious rhetoric in what it means to be professional: the sense that one must be hard-headed, robot-esque, and conform to a particular model of ‘goodness’ or wholesomeness. Talcott Parsons has this idea about the ‘sick role’, part of which is basically that when someone is ill they should remove themselves from public life so as not to infect others – on a literal and conceptual level. Sickness is a transgression and I think something similar could be said about the emotional/professional dichotomy that is so often drawn.

    What’s important here is that we change the culture. Academia is becoming more business-like as the days go by and as we increasingly buy into this (pun intended) we are expected to align our working selves with the model of the ‘good worker’ that helps capitalism to function. Our ‘professional’ self then becomes a hugely reified version of our actual selves and our actual work. We need, as you say, to stop being silent and selfish – to speak out more and to demystify the machinations of our roles (and this isn’t just applicable to academia). We need a critical mass for this and I’m glad to see so many early career scholars willing to speak out, as well as established, senior academics prepared to lend support. There’s a fine line between challenging the stifling boundaries of professionalism to allow for ordinary, inconvenient humanity and over-sharing. No one is suggesting that we reveal our innermost needs in public or to our students/peers. But recognizing this doesn’t mean playing it safe or keeping the boundaries where they are – rather it means negotiating some space for ourSELVES. This might (will) be tricky, but it’s absolutely worth it. Great post!

  1. 21/03/2014

    […] Nadine Muller reflects on some of these issues in her post ‘Silences & Selfishness: The Politics of Blogging the Personal’. Much like her, I have started to give more thought to the potential repurcussions of my writing. I […]

  2. 26/09/2014

    […] speak to if they prefer. My blog has sometimes helped with this. In fact, I’ve had lots of comments and emails from students about my more personal posts about anxiety, and many have said it was a […]

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