Fantasy spaces and emotional derailment: Reflections on failure in academic activism

Jamie Callahan, Carole Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Against a backdrop of contentious political landscapes of Brexit and the Trump victory, we reflect on our own experience of an attempt to engage in an activist event for academics that failed. We contend that our experiences of failure in this event, revealed by fantasy spaces and emotional derailment, serve as lessons for reinvigorating possibilities for academic activism. To provide background, we describe an event designed to form a policy as a collective response to the populism of Donald Trump. We then reflect on our role as critical scholars in this event that failed to meet our objective, and taught us other important lessons. Our analysis leads us to address three orthodoxies: diatribes decrying the awfulness of Trump and his administration cronies create fantasy spaces that might ‘feel’ good, but are actually counterproductive; academia itself is a site for activism that has far-reaching implications; and that hiding failure is a form of collaboration with performativity. Our provocation is, in part, to resist the ‘heroic’ and grandiose success story narrative – both in academia and activism. We do this by foregrounding vulnerability through sharing our own story of failure and reflecting on some of the devices that derailed our attempt at academic activism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506-514
Number of pages9
JournalOrganization: the Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society
Issue number3
Early online date1 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


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