This is really the first week I have worked in earnest since arriving. Luckily the arrival of my work ethic and autumn coincided, they are good bedfellows. There is a new cosiness to working as the weather gets cooler and the sky is a bit more overcast.
One of my main tasks while I am here is to turn a part of my PhD thesis into a book for this series: https://www.routledge.com/Concepts-for-Critical-Psychology/book-series/CONCEPTSCRIT
The title of my book will the “Subjectivity, Language and the Postcolonial: beyond Bourdieu in South Africa”, an intimidating topic to be writing on at this tumultuous time in the South African academy, but also, hopefully, it might offer a timely theoretical reflection on the role of language in constituting us as people at this particular historical moment. But a limited, if timely, contribution.
Anyway, I don’t really want to write about what I am writing about today, but rather about the process of writing itself.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I can’t help but feel really young, and inexperienced and without the right to fully express what it is I want to say. I always imagine people thinking I am playing at being precocious, or stating the obvious, as if it were some profound observation. I hate the feeling of literally shaking with the urge to say something, and having that urge battle it out with my self-consciousness, and the self-conscious insecurity winning.
And while I am a young academic, with very limited publication experience, I am also 32 years old, and I want to stop feeling like I don’t have the right to inhabit my full self and my full set of opinions. It is mostly out of fear really. Fear that someone will say that my writing is bad, or poorly researched, or missing the point, or politically dubious; the list goes on.
I think what is also justifiably daunting about something like a book, is that you are making a claim, you are situating yourself within a range of theoretical debates – but there is always so much more to read, to understand, to take into consideration. Sometimes I am paralysed with fear that I haven’t got the full picture, so I frenetically try and read and cover ground, before I find the courage to actually start working.
Everything takes so much longer than I initially anticipate, because through reading and writing there are always new avenues, topics, and authors to pursue. But then there is also a very real deadline and one has to take the plunge and get going and just put words on the page and hope for the best.
I think another thing that feeds my insecurity is how much of a disciplinary bastard I am (that buzzword “interdisciplinary” is really a ruse, people are very attached to their little ivory towers of expertise). I started in politics and philosophy, moved to the sociology of education, and then to critical social psychology, and now I am in a sociolinguistics department. I always feel surrounded by people that are more strategic in their reading, their careers, more knowledgeable of the big players, their contributions, their politics. I feel equal parts intimidated and bored by this. My approach has always been more organic – as lame as that word has come to sound. I kind of just start reading in an area and see where that takes me. I don’t track journals, debates or individuals. I swim in the flow of ideas and somehow it forms its own internal coherence. I am always reading with my own particular lens though: I am interested in power and subjectivity (who we are as people in relation to other people), and how the big political ideologies of the world come to feel like our own idiosyncrasies. At the moment I am particularly fascinated by language, but it could be anything really.
I guess what is paradoxical about this paralysing insecurity is that, truth be told, I don’t hold too tightly to the academic games of disciplinary boundaries and methodological constraints, because I believe you could take almost anyone’s individual “story” and understand the type of society we are living in, what it values, who is powerful, who is not, what we desire, through that individual story. I think sometimes this unsophisticated approach makes me academically sloppy. But it also allows me freedom and creativity, and I enjoy that. That’s when I am happiest, and at that moment I don’t care at all about where I am in the pecking order of academic life.
But just when I reach the sweet spot of enjoying what I am doing, and feeling like I am doing something well, I am confronted with the institutional politics of academia and its accompanying insecurities. I am not from a prestigious institution, I am not some prestigious scholarship winner, I am not an astute player in the publication game, and I am too cowardly even to engage in public debates that I feel passionately about. Why is this?
I want to grow up, and stop feeling apologetic for who I am and what I am doing. I want to spend more time fully immersed in my work, and less time immersed in thoughts about my work – like this blog post, ha! Hopefully this post will have some kind of cathartic effect and I will approach my work with more bravery.
4 thoughts on “101016”
Han, we’ve discussed this, the undermining effects of knowledge creation, and how in the quest to create it we are stunted with doubt in our worth to make a claim. You have to approach it with the same belief that if every person’s story has worth, so too does every academic, or someone who has authentically taken the time to think and read, have a point to make. X
Dear Hannah, I truly enjoyed reading this blog entry! The feelings you graple with, please embrace them. Academica needs people like you, people who are not dogmatic, who perhaps lack a little bit of confidence, yet have the courage to go their own ways. It will always be politics in academia, but you need to develop elephant skin. Keep true to your values, maintain your integrity, speak up when you have something to say, don’t follow the crowd. You can only shine if you do the things you love! With lots of greetings from Hiroshima, Heidi
Thank you for your encouraging words Heidi! I so appreciate them! I hope all is well in Hiroshima? Warm regards
Hi Hannah. Feels like ages since I have had any contact with either of the Botsis girls. As you may know I am very fond of Pastors Kids. Looking forawrd to reading your academic Thesis when you start to make some headway! Much love Brendon Asch (Fellow PK)