Lately, a group of us in The Women Who Write have been exploring wabi-sabi. We have been musing on wabi-sabi approaches to doing and writing research. Research that is storied, slow, aesthetic, relational and beautifully imperfect.
Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly…Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time. (Lawrence, 2001) See http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi and onbeing.org/blog/omid-safi-illuminating-the-beauty-in-our-broken-places/
We are finding the value of wabi-sabi for negotiating the demands of the often sterile and sterilising contemporary university. Wabi-sabi asks us to re-consider views about ‘what matters’ within the sometimes hard and cruel spaces of the contemporary university where our bodies are subjected to the violence of the ‘publish or perish’ mantra. For this is a mantra that positions us against each other—we compare and compete, and we push and pull our bodies to live up to the demands made upon us. We secretly count up our outputs to ensure that we will ‘count’ when the ‘counting’ is done. We work on grant application after grant application in the hope of winning that all elusive research dollar. Because if don’t we will not count when the counting is done. But, sometimes serendipity and magic occurs in research spaces. The unintentional, the imperfect, the humble become sites for listening and responding to what research is and can be, and who researchers are and can be. This has been our experience as The Women Who Write.
Taking a wabi-sabi approach to research, we think there is great value in thinking beyond such binaries as ‘publish or perish’ to explore aesthetic and paradoxical notions of research and research processes. There is value in connecting to our ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, and to appreciating rather than perfecting (Lawrence, 2001). Nestled in theories of embodiment, affect, materiality and desire we are now deliberately/promiscuously (Childers et al, 2013) breaking the rules and exploring the cracks and chips of our lived experiences and engaging in kintsugi-like golden repair using constructs of slow scholarship and story. We invite you to join with us and create spaces in research and academia for contemplation, listening and responding—join us in reflection upon theories that resonate, the nature of relational research, and ethics of caring in research worlds.