Retiring reticence

I’m two years into my PhD now and I feel like I haven’t really done the kind of public engagement that I admire in the research of others. That’s the point of this blog: opening up my learning journey to scrutiny, making myself more accessible and accountable to my peers and colleagues, and making connections with others working with similar ideas. I think that this sort of public communication is an ethical imperative for anyone in the humanities and social sciences, but especially necessary for those trying to navigate complex layers of social privilege.

This morning I met a lovely historian who said that she’d presented work at three conferences in the first year of her PhD. It’s hard for me to imagine feeling so keen to open my thoughts up to others, especially so early in the process. I think a lot of this has to do with personality – I default to reticence when I don’t feel very good at something – and a natural proclivity to want to listen rather than speak. This is compounded by reading a lot of academic work that questions the very presence of people like myself in the academy – who am I, a middle class white woman, to speak about indigenising epistemology, decolonising methodologies, transforming knowledge structures? When the world is built to propel my success, it’s hard to claim that I’ll ever understand systems of epistemic and tangible oppression enough to be an authority on how to dismantle them.

But then – who am I to stay silent on these issues, given my rather astonishingly privileged life and access to resources? There comes a point at which my joy in just listening becomes a problem, because all I’m doing is benefiting from all the hard work of peers and not contributing anything meaningful to the conversation.

I’ve been buoyed over the past week by many rich, long conversations with other students and academics who face similar issues navigating their path through the research process. And the fact that they were conversations – not lectures, not monologues – is what made them so meaningful. So I’m committing here to writing a fair bit more as I go along, trying to tease out ideas in a more community-facing orientation (with less speaking just to myself and my office plants.)

I already know that the answers to all my navel-gazey inner turmoil are in relationships. It’s hard to articulate just how warm and grateful I feel to have been welcomed by so many people into the Pacific Studies community. That inclusion is hugely significant on an intellectual level as it aligns with so many of my methodological goals, but it’s meaningful on an emotional, personal level too. Academia is not an industry in which you’re supposed to show much heart (but let’s be real, I never believed in objectivity to begin with) but I’m certainly touched by the quite personal nature of support from this community. My greatest resource is the people I know and learn alongside: their encouragement, questions, putting in good words for me in the right places. So I think it makes sense to do more writing that speaks to (and with) that community from whose nurture I’ve already gained so much.

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