London is an excessively populated city. It is expensive and not worth it when you consider the congestion. Nevertheless, many an interesting academic talks take place at this not very exotic location. I travel to the city and stay with my cousin over the week. I get free lodging and free food. She has even packed me 2 lunchboxes with food for the next few days as I return to my Northern Powerhouse location – not too city-like, but only just a town. Today I venture to Kings Cross where my train is to depart from. I’ve taken a train. The difference is GBP 15.
I am a social researcher, or so I like to claim. Today on the tube to Kings X, I was reading one of the theoretical works suggested to me for my research. I want to study the multi-faceted nature of reality that influence decision-making processes. Conscious as well as sub-conscious. There are a number of approaches in the social sciences. One very popular theorists is Pierre Bourdieu. The work I am reading critiques (or rather criticises with big words/jargon) this theory. Margaret Archer calls into question the Sociologist and academic as the only people who can make reflexive decisions, or have reflexive thought processes. Or so I gathered from the words I understood. OF course I agreed. I agreed that the sociologist is privy to lenses of analysis that the commonperson is not. Yet, this does not mean that the commonperson does not themselves practice reflexive thought. The two need to meet.
I’m almost an hour early at the train station now. My cousin dropped me off to the tube station by car so that I would not be late. I was not late. Having been here before, I know that my train would not be announced until around 10-15 minutes prior to departure. I waited anyway, for 10 minutes – before I decided to loiter about the place. My mind had focused on a cooling beverage to beat the 28 degree heat. I am accustomed to hotter climates, but being ill prepared for this “heat wave”, I had forgotten to get my bottle of water.
I decided to amuse myself and look through the shops to buy my beverage. W H Smith tried to convince me that ‘Smart’ water costs only £1.99. Perhaps I’m smarter than smart water – or cheaper- as I didn’t fall for that. It was a bit out of my budget and just a bit ridiculous. I found myself thinking “ha! As if you can convince me, on top of having to purchase bottled water, to pay a ridiculous amount of money for it”. That wasn’t going to happen. With a ‘Nope’, and a laugh, I walked out of the shop. Across me was Waitrose. Waitrose is an overpriced supermarket. There wasn’t much else around, and I was mindful of the time. I walked straight in, telling myself that I would not be making a purchase if the prices were mirrored in this shop too. It wasn’t. It sold Evian – the posh water – at just £0.96. I strolled around the store in search of a flavoured alternative to water, or a cooling beverage of a fruity taste, yet not a juice or thick smoothie. I chanced upon a bottle of Lipton Ice Tea. Lemon. £1.16. The perfect balance of thrifty and middle classy. Of course I bought it. I am a smart shopper.
I made my way to the platforms to wait for the train platform to be announced. I found the trains of the company I was to travel and waited by with observant eyes for the platform to be announced on any one of the 3 services I saw. Got it. I enter the train successfully finding my reserved seat. Before I plant my bottom on the seat, I pull out my laptop, books, Staedtler colour pens, a note pad, post-its, a pen and my bottle of Ice Tea. I write this, in my middle class way. Watching in semi disgust as I behave in the way I want. In my second nature. Or rather my nature. I don’t know.
But then I wonder. What is wrong with this? Why am I uncomfortable, and in what situation would I be comfortable? Today I felt like writing. In fact, when I sat I decided not to have my laptop out as I wanted to read or enjoy the view. Today I want to write. Having a laptop and an internet connection while on board this train enables me to do this. I could have done it with a paper and pen but my typing speed outshines my writing speed. I can also stare outside the window as I type, having used this keyboard before for longer documents. I have privilege. I have some agency. I have constraints. I don’t accept determinism. I don’t want to live in poverty. I don’t want to fetishise it. I want to be aware of my actions and conscious of my capacity to not worsen problems in the world. I want to think. I want to write.
This month, last month, the next month. They have stressed me out with the amount of travelling I have done. More privilege. The thing I miss most of home is the ability to be in one place, to belong to it and feel comfort in knowing that I have power to negotiate the space and my time. It is entitlement to an extent, but I guess we all need that power. How we wield it is what is most important to consider. I’m good at making excuses. But I should never forget my discomfort.
I’ve got an hour left of my journey. I think I might read.
I wish grandmothers lived forever. But knowing you can always hold knitted products of their labour in your hand offers a sense of comfort.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Marx was trying to say….
Yesterday I finally received my computer at my desk in the office I share with other PhD researchers. I noticed it after the library decided to close early and I thought I would try my luck. Turns out it was installed that morning. It was around 1830 hrs when I sat down at the piece of equipment. I was so thrilled at the sight of it that I remember exclaiming ‘it’s here!’ like that long-awaited-for parcel. I left the office at 0000 hrs.
I started my PhD a month and a half ago. I didn’t realise how important it would be to just have a seat and a computer at the table. My situation is somewhat odd. I am a social scientist registered under a natural science department. I know that interdisciplinary research is considered the next best thing in the academic turn, but this situation is different from the norm of having a natural scientist in a social science space. I know we cannot include architecture as a natural science, but it is a rather technical art degree. The inclusion of people with this background into say cultural geography is not new. Another trend I have often seen is Chemists engaged in the social sciences – my favourite undergraduate teacher had a degree in it and my supervisor for my PhD did their PhD in chemistry. That is a great thing. However, I must say it feels a little weird to be in the opposite situation.
This isn’t the first time I have been in this topsy-turvy form of ‘interdisciplinary’ situations. I undertook a diploma in Forensic Science alongside my degree in Sociology, and was the only social science student in the class (psychologist don’t see themselves as being of the social sciences). I ended up doing very well in this course; I was excited to work within a situation where I could see cause and effect immediately. Blood splattered at an angle tells you its point of origin. How simple, yet brilliant? Anyway, being part of interdisciplinary research may sometimes feel isolating for your thinking process. Even though the people around are very friendly, there is only so much you can chat about. Which is why I think some of these little steps have helped me:
- Being a part of an interesting academic network
- Speaking to people who seem interested in your project – this is called “networking” in business speak.
- Re-affirming your position by engaging with opposing perspectives
- Challenge your position by looking at different ways in which people address your research/interest areas
- Meet people from other departments for coffee chats
- Anyone one else you know? Meet them for coffee!
- Don’t think that the people around you cannot be engaged to discuss your perspectives – speaking to a non-specialist audience is seen as important. Natural scientists classify as this audience when speaking about social sciences, something we all forget!
- Don’t take too much work on at once – remember your project!
- Don’t let the admin team get you down with their incompetence (sorry not sorry)
I do feel I put myself at risk of not focusing on my research. Always make sure your work has some semblance of relevance to what you are studying. This can help recover any lost enthusiasm.
If nothing, these are notes to myself. A reflective journal is definitely helpful and here’s a first.
Today I read an
#academic paper in which cultural capital is used interchangeably with multiculturalism and intercultural knowledge. I am disappointed in the publish or perish regime.