The story of the researcher is the story of the research

Image by Marjane Satrapi, from her movie Persepolis. I don’t own this. I’m a fan.

It’s been months since I decided to make this blog a sort of bag of ideas to be able to structure an old project I’ve had in mind for a long time. Most bloggers apologize for not blogging enough and give bunch of reflexions on doing, throwing yourself out there, and how busy life has become. All this is true, and it can be found in a huge number of blogs/tweets/medium posts, etc; so I won’t do it here. What is certain is that I felt the need to some “extimate” writing (as supposed to intimate) to put some ideas in place. I guess that is what happens when you learn to communicate in the blog generation.

The other reason is that I’ve been struggling immensely with the doctoral thesis I’ve been writing for the last 6 years. During this time I’ve struggled with money, work, personal downs, and painful procrastination. Again, there are huge numbers of texts talking about it, and I won’t procrastinate by writing about procrastination. The thing is, this is the first time in 6 years I’m flirting with the idea of letting the thesis go, and learning how to communicate outside academia. It’s not a decision. It’s a feeling. And I think I’m not the only one feeling like this when writing an academic paper or pursuing an academic career.

Academia is silent, judgmental, fascinating, intoxicating, frustrating  and quite scary. Academia in France is all of that + homophilic. But I’ve been, nonetheless, part of a beautiful research group and I’ve been guided by an impressively open researcher who will be a part of my life for ever. Wether the thesis is finished or not. And as it tends to happen in adult life, there are greys and complex colors (in contrast to childhood’s binary understanding of the world in black and white). This is the group that frowns upon my non-French authors of reference and that sigh with boredom when I talk about new media and networks online. But this is also the group that taught me that the main tool for research in social sciences is the researcher.

And that’s the point of depart of this tiny post.

Polishing the tools and moving on

I’ve spent more time thinking and taking notes about the thesis than actually writing it. I often say that if I could just talk about it, I would have graduated already. Writing this, my ideas, what I argue and defend is terrifying. It takes guts, it takes taking yourself less seriously, and being prepared to do a lousy job while hearing stories of academic ‘rockstars’ that are talked about and listened to. Let alone the struggles of writing in a language you may speak well, but you don’t master in writing.

Before doing this, I had completed two degrees: one in Venezuela, one in France. One in English/French language and literature and the other in Education Sciences. I’ve been humiliated in both. I was hardly advised and struggled for the research in the UCV in Caracas, to be then humiliated by the jury and played around for weeks, not knowing if I would graduate or not because of the constant mind changes of two of its members.

Once in the French master’s, I was abandoned by my advisor right in the middle of the research. She got tired of me not understanding her. She got mad when I understood another professor. I had to start over and present my research after changing the date at least 5 times for because of a member of the jury who didn’t even show up at the end (I think I should mention here that the person in question was the professor who had kicked me out).

And I should say here that the last thing I want here is to play the victim card. I’ve been a lousy student. It’s not that these professors are evil. But I’m a fair observer, and I’ve been in some lousy academic spaces, making part of a broken system, being judged by unprepared advisors that made of me, an unprepared candidate back then.

One of my best friends had a similar experience. She, unlike me, is a very good student. But, like me, she’s also Venezuelan. While she was presenting her thesis, her advisor was constantly message-chatting on the phone. The other jury asked why she was invited to talk about the thesis. Both criticized my friend’s accent and language mistakes, and asked questions that had nothing to do with the research paper, in a way that suggested they didn’t actually read the research in question (should we give them the benefit of the doubt?). Nobody had in mind that this was an international researcher, communicating in a language that is not hers, leaving a chain of thought and well worked questions in a French university that could connect to a global understanding of popular power.

I’m sorry the text got a bit angry. But well… I guess the three readers of this blog (hi mom!) won’t mind too much.

The project, finally

In any case, all of this comes because I decided to talk a bit about the main tool of a research project: the researcher. Me. Who also happens to be the main tool in a new project, hoping to get more people involved. The lines I wrote before are not just to complain, they’re also the motivation for a program I have in mind. Again, the program has very little shape, but it certainly has motivations, and they come with the experiences I’ve had in many years of painful academic studies.

I’ve learned a great deal in these years. Because of the thesis. Because of the broken academia I talk about. Because of my job as an editor and as a teacher. To start a project, you need to accept you’ll be scared. You need to put opinions in place, and you need to learn how to suck. I’m tired of hearing younger friends in academia, brilliant individuals, thinking they’re no good because they don’t shine like some sort of other little person glorified by this narcissistic culture we’re in.

I’m also a bit tired of the Western-centric view of the world I was taught to imagine. To move away from this might be a challenge, but I’m happy to take it. I want to think collectively in seeing the world beyond the “North” and the “South”, the “First” and the “Third”, the “Rich” and the “Poor”, or even “Male” and  “Female”, because gender is also part of the big questioning. And I come from the Western-styled, middle class bubble of Latin America that yearns to be like the suburbs of the United States. I’m prepared to discover my many blindnesses.

My research and my project want to bring the idea of opening cultural horizons not only because we’re in a globalized world, but because opening to others is opening to oneself, and viceversa. I want to create ways in which people inside or outside a formal institution can feel that high forms of culture, or the way other communities live, or the growth that comes with expressing oneself, are part of knowledge that can not only be accessible, but that can be seen as a personal right. Learning that we’re both immense and minuscule, and that we’re part of a big chain of thought is something we get educated out of, as we move closer to what we think is high education. Working as a reader of stories in Latin America has confirmed that connections can be made through stories and that can happen online.

I wrote before about building a program based on intercultural sensitivity. I also said the main method would be reading and discussing. Ideally, this would be adapted for a classroom (formal or non formal) but I think we could experiment online first. What I’ve been collecting here are two important things: critiques about academic language and reading/watching material. I think the media can be broad and that there’s material that can be proposed both by the program and the participants.

At the end, part of the goal is that the participants know where to look for material that can help them to broaden their cultural horizons.

So, that’s what comes next. The blog will continue to be a bag of resources, comments and rants. I created a Medium account to be able to follow what goes on there, and probably to publish more serious things. Let’s see how it goes. Part of being a good member of the 2.0 generation is knowing when to switch tools. Let’s move on, and let’s continue.


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