Looking at time and space to understand the life of Bangladeshi academics: Seminar Reflection

By Roxana Chiappa


What are the pressures and conditions that underly the time/scape of life as an academic? This was one of the questions discussed by Riyad Shahjahan​, Tasnim Emma, Nisharggo Niloy, Carolina Guzman-Valenzuela and Fadia Dakka in the first ACUSAfrica webinar, held on the 17th of March 2021. Entitled “Navigating Shomoyscapes and Faculty Life in the Global South: Bangladeshi Faculty Perspectives”, the webinar was organised under the ACUSAfrica banner and co-hosted by the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET), Nelson Mandela University. A recording is accessible below.




In the seminar, Riyad (Michigan State University, USA), Emma and Niloy (Dakha University, Bangladesh) presented their analysis of the inter-relationships between temporality and work experiences in the daily life of Bangladeshi academics.


Shomoyscapes

Drawing on the notion of ‘timescapes’, a term coined by the British sociologist Barbara Adams, they argue for the need to root the notion of temporality in specific cultural context. In the case of Bangladeshi academics, the term ‘shomoyscapes’ illuminates the relationship between temporality and culture. Shomoy means time in the Bengali language and connotes more than clock time. It includes the relationship between the past and future of one’s life.


Riyad, Emma and Niloy explain that shomoyscapes are similar in many ways to timescapes, but that the terms reflect different understandings of individual agency over time management. In the framework of timescapes, academics are seen as individuals with agency and capacity to determine how to administrate time. In the context of Bangladesh, collective subjectivity underlies an individual’s desires and agency in relation to time. The term shomoycapes reflects this.


The study upon which the presentation was based drew from data collected through interviews with 22 Bangladeshi academics working in different universities in the city of Dakha. The data show three main conditions shaping the shomoyscape of academics: a) traffic of big cities, b) the involvement of political parties in university administration, and c) the concern for the future and well-being of one’s parents, children, and/or family. As they describe, the precarity of living in a large, exponentially growing city with heavy traffic is entangled with familial responsibilities, often working together as temporal constraints on faculty lives.


Carolina Guzman-Valenzuela (University of Tarapacá, Chile) and Fadia Dakka (Birmingham University City, UK) commented on the presentation based on their scholarship and experience working as academics. Carolina commented on how the temporality of Chilean academics has been greatly affected by the privatization of universities. The individual agency of Chilean academics regarding how they manage their time has been ‘colonized’ by a managerial model.


Fadia, drawing on her scholarship of rhythm analysis, highlighted that this paper shows the co-existence of different temporalities and their tensions. She pointed out that the Bangladeshi case reveals the co-existence of the local temporal structure of the traditional society, which is cyclical and recursive, with a linear/fast-paced clock time. This co-existence is enabled by the expansion and incorporation of technology and industrialization. In Bangladesh, and other places, different temporalities co-exist, configuring a landscape of temporal hybridity. In this landscape of temporal hybridity, the speed of transformation and control over that temporality is felt in different magnitudes for the agents working in academia.


More about ACUSAfrica webinars


The Advancing Critical University Studies Africa (ACUSAfrica) network was born out of a need to move beyond the templates of Higher Education Studies, as well as to address the limitations of Critical University Studies. Therefore, the series of ACUSAfrica webinars seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners with an interest in radical approaches to the study of the university, in order to re-imagine how to study the higher education sector, its institutions and cultures with the long-term goal of re-imagining the university itself. Access the concept note and more information here.


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Recommended reference:

Chiappa, R. 2021. Looking at time and space to understand the life of academics: An analysis of the life of Bangladesh. Blog post on ACUSAfrica 17 May, available at https://www.acusafrica.com/post/looking-at-time-and-space-to-understand-the-life-of-academics-an-analysis-of-the-life-of-bangladesh