In their paper ‘“Sharing”, Selfhood, and Community in an Age of Academic Twitter’, Mahon and Bergin (2022) seek to explore the possibilities for building ‘meaningful community’ in the context of our ‘increasingly digitized’ academic worlds. In setting about this task, they call attention to Twitter’s ‘very distinctive brand of manic self-absorption’, critiquing those ‘hyper-visible modes’ of online engagement that have the potential to erode community by encouraging ‘surface over depth and denial over acknowledgment.’ In this, they caution against the potential of ‘Academic Twitter’ to undermine the roles of intimacy, vulnerability, and acknowledgement that so often constitute key elements of academic life, and in this I share their concerns. Taking seriously these risks, while at the same time seeking to preserve something of the value of Academic Twitter, the purpose of this paper is to think through the valuable role social media platforms can play in displacing some of the typical ‘postures’ of academic life, in particular what I would code as masculine postures of rectitude or ‘uprightness’ that continue to position ‘Ivory Tower’ academics as impersonal, disconnected, and productive in an instrumental sense.
Social media platforms can play [an important role] in displacing some of the typical ‘postures’ of academic life
In framing this task, I point to Adriana Cavarero’s work on inclinations as a postural term. According to Cavarero (2016), the idea of the human being as a free, self-made, and autonomous subject in Western philosophy is imbricated in the image of the ‘homo erectus’ – a being whose humanity is realised in embodying a posture that is upright and vertical. Placed alongside homo erectus or ‘upright man’, the image of the inclined subject or the ‘inclined woman’, tends to elicit anxiety in many Western philosophical traditions because it leans or depends on others instead of rigidly protecting its own individual freedom and self-interest. In this sense, the inclined subject is a foil to the atomistic and self-centred subject of Western culture one might typically associate with the myth of the ‘economic man’ whose masculine culture and language prioritises productivity, competition, and self-preservation above all else (Grosz 1989; Janzen 2004). In Cavarero’s philosophical critique, inclinations and rectitude are used as metaphors for framing two different ‘postural paradigms’ or ‘models of subjectivity’: what Bergdahl and Langmann summarise as ‘a feminine, relational model of exposure and indebtedness’ on the one hand and ‘a masculine model of autonomy and independence’ on the other (2018, 313). In contrast to the masculine geometrical imaginary of ‘an erect and self-made subject, the feminine geometrical imaginary of an inclined subject offers an archetypal, asymmetrical relation since it already finds itself “in situation before situating” itself’ (Bergdahl and Langmann, 2018, 313).
I would like to suggest that, in spite of its limitations, Academic Twitter has the potential to displace masculinist framings of academic life by exposing new modes of connection between academics, students, and the wider public.
In reflecting on the value of Academic Twitter through this lens, then, I would like to suggest that, in spite of its limitations, Academic Twitter has the potential to displace masculinist framings of academic life by exposing new modes of connection between academics, students, and the wider public, postures of inclination, if you will, that cut through the rectitude one might associate with the ‘inflamed narcissism’ (Standish 2022) of, for example, ‘Professor Lookatme’ or ‘Dr Loudmouth’ (Conroy and Smith, 2017, 706). I suggest that this can be achieved in two ways. The first way that it can achieve this is through the capacity of the platform to curate opportunities for laughter in academic spaces, which I see as worthwhile not only in terms of diffusing potentially difficult affects in moments of conflict or disagreement (Stengal, 2014), but also in terms of building spaces of provisional safety across difference (Mayo, 2010). To illustrate this, I gesture to some examples of my own engagements with academic colleagues on Twitter, particularly engagements that featured the use of jokes, memes, and so on.
[Academic twitter] can achieve this is through the capacity of the platform to curate opportunities for laughter in academic spaces
I also suggest that Academic Twitter can mobilise community-building in the academy in and through the very nature of digital encounters themselves, which I figure as having the capacity to usher in new, inclined modes of becoming characterised by what Todd (2023) frames as a kind of ‘reaching out’ toward what is not yet. In this sense, I suggest that encounters in digital spaces like Academic Twitter have the capacity to curate opportunities for inclination and becoming by foregrounding what Elizabeth Grosz (2017) defines as the ‘incorporeal’ element of our corporeal encounters, or what Luce Irigaray (1993) refers to as the ‘sensible transcendental’—that is, the ways we have of exceeding ourselves through sensory contact with the world around us, including through contact with digital devices and the images they display (Todd, 2023).
Dr Seán Henry is a Lecturer in Education in Edge Hill University with research interests in philosophy of education, religion and education, queer studies You can find him on twitter @seandhenry.