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For students, where does work end and rest begin?

Print Production Editor Lucy Pegg examines the difficult balance between work and rest for students. In an environment that blurs the line between productivity and recreation, can we ever feel free of our responsibilities?

What is work and what is rest? It seems an easy question, but as apps take over our phones, freelancing prevails over traditional careers, and jobs move beyond conventional work environments, the division becomes less simple.

It’s a divide explored last October by Late Night Woman’s Hour, in an episode which – as typical for Radio Four – fails to quite account for the experiences of young people, particularly students.

So, as a student, what is work and what is rest? It’s surely not as simple as saying that time in spent in seminar rooms and lecture theatres is our work, whilst our non-timetabled time is rest – particularly on a low-contact hour course, such as those in the Arts and Humanities.

Quite obviously, our reading, essay writing and presentation making is done in our “free” time, immediately blurring that division between our work and rest spaces.

But that breakdown of the work/rest binary goes further too. What happens when we love the subject we study?

As an English student, I genuinely enjoy most of the reading (The Pilgrim’s Progress excepted…) that I’m set, and even if I wasn’t doing this degree the main requirement of it – reading – would still be something I’d do for pleasure. Does this make my seminars a place of rest, or does it mean that when I curl up in a bed with coffee and a novel I’m actually doing work?

Taking this further, societies and student groups also blur that line between what is labour and what is leisure.

They are usually places we choose to go to and at which we have fun yet, even if our society isn’t overtly career focused, there’s still a sense that these kinds of activities are productive and will look vaguely impressive on your graduate CV.

How many of us have joined a society committee because we know that that fancy title might get us a job, however passionate we might simultaneously be about feminism, folk music, or Doctor Who.  Once again, our university based social activities – perhaps a push against the divide as a concept itself – break down any easy separation of work and play.

Why does this really matter though? After all, life is confusing and in our post-postmodern era is it really that radical to suggest that binaries might not work?

Yet, I think that the loss of any division between the realms of work and rest suggests the source of many of the stresses of student life. The absence of the work/rest binary creates a liminal space which dominates the student experience.

It’s from within that liminality that that annoying voice in our head tells us we could still be doing more work instead of having a pint with friends, even if you have been to the library, two lectures and suffered your way through an Aldi shop already today.

There’s an inescapable guiltiness that comes with the knowledge that you could always be doing more work; outside of student life, apparently people leave work and know they’re done for the day (though admittedly the omnipresent spectre of constant communicability hangs over them too, and increasingly I’m sure many leave one job just to head on to another in order to make ends meet).

To make matters worse, under neoliberalism the liminal space has become an opportunity for marketisation and commodification. Perhaps in the past the boundary-free space of university life allowed students to explore themselves free from the rigours of timetables.

Now, any self-exploration we do during our rest threatens to become co-opted into our work, whether that’s because your social life is haunted by anxiety about your studies or because your genuine passions must be spruced up for a LinkedIn profile.

In fact, those halcyon days where students frolicked across Sussex campus with their flares and long hair are now themselves fodder for our university to recruit more £9250-a-piece students to our “radical” campus.

The flexibility of studying at home or in a café, at 1pm or 3 am, the chance of making our hobbies or interests into our careers, is sold to us as freedom when in fact its anything but. During the UCU strike supporters told us to stay in bed to support our lecturers.

Perhaps today we should stay in bed – or go the beach, watch a film or have a party – to defend our right to a rest space in student life that’s truly from the shadow of our work.

Image: Pixabay- PIX1861

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