When a good friend and colleague told his son that I would visit Lugano by bike from Vienna this was his reaction. Indeed, sitting part of my sabbatical on a bike and clothing this in the neologism “sabbicycle” may sound as an elaborate way to justify taking a vacation instead of being productive in publishing some additional paper. To be sure, in order to have the privilege to take one year off from teaching I had to sign a research contract with my university promising ‘output’ aimed at major journals. The natural and normal way to take an academic gap year would be to cross the Atlantic and visit some North American academic ‘temple’, something I did in my last sabbatical ten years ago (a very productive and enriching experience, to be true). Instead, sitting several weeks on a bike, crossing six countries and pedaling more than 1000 kilometers may be seen as detrimental for productivity.
I argue that’s not, or better, it is, if we define productivity in modernist quantitate terms and not as the Latin fecunditas. My bet is that time spent in slow travel will not only be compatible with my short-term research-contract obligations but also with the long-term development of my personal academic ethos. Why? Let me offer you three reasons.
First, on the route I will visit several universities, hold talks and seminars, visit conferences and workshops and hang around with friends, colleagues, Ph.D. students, entrepreneurs and activists. According to Zen Master Fleur Sakura Wöss a sabbatical should be lived as an interspace, an unplanned In-between. A sabbatical should be similar to meditation and mindfulness practices that are ways to take perspective creating a fertile interstice in the flow of daily activities. Simply being – without the urge of accomplishing or achieving. Simply collegially being.
Second, a ‘professor on a bike’ is also a symbol, maybe disturbing (hopefully not too bizarre), of a break with the status quo of the post-democratic politics of unsustainability theorized by my colleague Ingolfur Blühdorn. The bike symbolizes the possibility of an ecologically sustainable future. The real symbolic measure of the distance between our actual unsustainable way of life and a way of life that could allow future generations to survive and thrive. I see therefore this ‘sabbicycle’ as an extension of the similar Sustainability & Responsibility Triathlon, one year without flying, owning a car and eating meat.
Third, the bike is slow. Slow travel also symbolizes a slow approach to academy, as in Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s Slow Professor Manifesto. Slow, in the deepest sense of the Slow Food movement, means combining time and pleasure – for thinking and connecting with others (students, colleagues, …). It also means engaged scholarship, where the terms of engagement are defined by a sense of ethics and not by external corporatized measures of impact, such as stated in the vision of RRBM (Responsible Research in Business and Management).
All of this may taste as too much of a good thing. And I know the pitfalls of do-gooder derogation. But maybe, after 50, it’s time to ‘don’t care’, and simply, … pedal.