‘We need to stroll more, observe more, make more pilgrimages’ – Evelyn Runge

‘We need to stroll more, observe more, make more pilgrimages’ – Evelyn Runge

„Like a bird on the wire / like a drunk in a midnight choir / I tried in my way to be free –“      Leonard Cohen

At the moment, I am working under the auspices of a research stipend at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, which is co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. For four years, I get to enjoy the freedom to research and write my project Image Capture: The Production Conditions of Photo-Journalists in the Digital Age. Along with some 25 other Fellows in the humanities and social sciences – historians; cultural, social and medical anthropologists; religious studies scholars; literature scholars; linguists; Sanskrit scholars, and more scholars from many other disciplines – I get to experience refreshing interdisciplinary and international dialogue on a daily basis. We are free in our research in the very best sense.

"The counterweight to academic freedom is an increasing introspection and strategic alignment of one’s own performance with certain metrics"

And yet, one thing which keeps coming up in conversation is the fear of not publishing enough, or publishing in journals that are not as renowned and thereby losing our chance at a lifetime position in academia. The counterweight to academic freedom is an increasing introspection and strategic alignment of one’s own performance with certain metrics; every publication, every presentation at a conference or in front of a non-academic audience, every application for third-party funding is worth a new line on our CVs.

Has our personal Twitter account gained more followers? Shouldn’t we be blogging about our latest discoveries? And, of course, shouldn’t everything be extremely new and cutting edge?

A wise colleague once said ‘Start dreaming!’ And he was right. Dreaming shouldn’t be lost under the stress of fulfilling (often unwritten) requirements. Dreaming and the freedom to think are prerequisites for freedom in academia. Instead of sitting at a computer, we should be leaving our desks more often, strolling around, making pilgrimages, observing – and let the beginning of dreams be followed by many more.

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