Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Paper

Sean Watkins

Second paper

The past few weeks have been incredibly important for my growth as an academic. I have begun to think about several different ways for me to connect to my own work. Several projects that have been stuck on hold have started to emerge as viable pieces of academic work. It is interesting to understand affect in terms of connections between bodies or ideas and watch them organically grown in your own life. Here, I think it is important to talk about the connection between one’s work and life. In my short communication experience, I have been exposed to many debates over the objective vs subjective nature of academia. Scholars create binaries between these ideas in order to distinguish themselves from each other- I blame capitalism, but I suppose ego (shall I be daring and also connect this to patriarchy?) can be thrown into the mix as well. Anyway, critical scholars have gone the route of subjectivity in their epistemological understandings of the world. We connect to our work in varying levels. Often there is debate within how far we can connect to our work. Ethnography is fine, but autoethnography pushes the boundary too far! There is a limit to how much we are allowed to talk about ourselves in our work, because otherwise it becomes too much about ourselves. I tend to agree with this, but at the same time our work is something that is a part of us. The further invested I become in my work, the more my body responds to it. I wake up with knots in my shoulders the more stressed out I become. Probyn really brings up some significant points to the shame of writing. She argues that: "My argument here is about writing shame, a phrase I use to capture both the affective, bodily feeling of betraying interest, and also about how we might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice" (73). The ethical practice, for me at least, is the idea that my work will eventually get the point to where it can directly inform large groups of people. I feel like I have two forces going on in my head at the same time. The first is the activist, idealistic, ‘who gives a shit’ attitude that wants to push the boundaries of academics. This part of me wants to do important work that reaches a great deal of people, it doesn’t care about getting a job in order to pay the bills, and it isn’t afraid to stand up against unnecessary abstractions that push us further from praxis. The other half is scared that I am an imposter, and that I am only doing this because I can afford to and that the second I have real responsibilities (family, large SUVs) that I will abandon my principles and get a job teaching public speaking. I feel this battle and it physically hurts me. However, it seems the danger of this is to forget our areas of study and simply talk about ourselves. It sometimes shames me that I complain about my own position when people have it much worse off. I know that ‘worse’ is truly subjective, but there needs to be a balance or at least a connection between our suffering as academics and the suffering of those we write about.

With this, I think it is important to point out the affect we feel toward other’s work. Here, I use the term affect to mean emotional connection. While reading Logics of Empowerment – Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India by Aradhana Sharma, I got really excited because she was doing the type of work that I think would be most useful to me. While her theoretical work seemed a bit pieced together, it helped me to better understand my own position to nonprofit work. I feel like we are all being taught to pull together theories rather than create our own. Some of our mentors push us toward thinking in binaries and through the voices of white dead men rather than come up with new and fresh ideas. It makes me think of how Stuart Hall talks about how we sometimes need to abandon theory because it no longer works in certain cases. I know some of this sounds harsh and by no means do I want to blame ALL mentors, but it seems that part of the game is to please your superiors. However, Sharma does an amazing job of connecting her experiences to greater issues in Indian society as well as the neo-liberal market. While I don’t always agree with all of her interpretations, I felt myself being pulled to this book because I could tell that she was grappling with the same sorts of issues that I have been for the past few years. I found her chapter on looking at the MS workers to be really significant to my own work. She questions: “How does mobilizing empowerment on the ground affect the self-image and work lives of MS personnel and alter the very meaning of empowerment?” (62). To her, empowerment is directly connected to the minds and bodies of MS workers. I would really like to interview the people the work at the Medical Foundation in order to get at some of these complexities. I was recently given permission to start talking to the webmaster at my organization. I hope to use some of the emotions I had while reading Sharma’s book to inform my future interactions with Medical Foundation staff.

Works Cited

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham [N.C.: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

Sharma, Aradhana. Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008. Print.

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