Critical Friendship: a Practice of Care and Subversion
Lately, I have been searching for alternative approaches to academic work practices, traditionally overly focused on productivity and the systemic exploitation of the underprivileged. My explorations led me to intersectional feminist models seeking to restructure the current and established systems. Foregrounding feminist theories is a first step to renewing accepted practices because they “...place particular emphasis on care as an ethic, priming caring as a meaningful way of relating to each other and conceptualising alternative ways of working in academia. (Sotiropoulou and Cranston 2022). This ethical ideal of care counters what one can regularly experience in academic settings in many diverse places (certainly, my experiences in the so-called Global North strongly suggest the need for non-traditional, innovative practices). Not success, but mere survival depends on others' goodwill and interest, so imagine the difference that friendship could make. As defined by Sotoridopoulou and Cranston friendship is:
…an intimate interpersonal relationship between two or more people, based on the coalescence of care, respect, trust, and the sharing of emotions and experiences, in which the parties get voluntarily involved. (Sotiropoulou and Cranston 2022)
This description of the vulnerability required by the sharing of emotions, in turn, protected by trust and respect, shares the essential markers of my native language's amistad. It suggests both an openness and commitment I don't often hear in English as characteristics of this type of relationship. But the authors, take the concept beyond what might be its colloquial meaning to concentrate it into a very specific kind of cooperative partnership.
Within a feminist framework, Sotoridopoulou and Cranston develop the idea of critical friendship in academia. In their argument, critical friendship serves as a resistance ethics tool with an impact not only on individuals but also on the system. Critical friendship assists in the decoding of the academic world while contributing to the achievement of desired outcomes. When situated in an academic environment, the experience of shared trust and respect, combined with common objectives, translates into critical friendship.
Critical academic friendship is an evolution of academic friendship. It is centred around collaboration and dialogue, based upon honest, critical reflection, disclosure, active listening and constructive feedback, geared towards mutual personal and professional development in a non-threatening environment. The relationship between critical friends is one that cultivates constructive criticism by prompting reflection and self-appraisal. Critical friendship in substance describes a collaborative approach which results in individuals’ personal development as well as in improving professional practices, like the quality of teaching and learning provisions. (Sotiropoulou and Cranston 2022)
In searching for my own academic space, I cannot help but seek an environment where my contributions are valued. I also want to open a place of resistance within a system that expects individuals to sacrifice others and their well-being for the sake of neoliberal productivity.
In the 90s, a coffee commercial encouraged us to keep the friends who help us move. Today, we should encourage academics to seek friends that help us understand our world while protecting us from systemic harm.
Sotiropoulou, Panagiota (Peny), and Sophie Cranston. 2022. “Critical Friendship: An
Alternative, ‘Care-Full’ Way to Play the Academic Game.” Gender, Place &
Culture 0 (0): 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2022.2069684.