Critical Edges participant blog posts

A journey of reflection – personal and professional
by DML October 2019

Listening to the speakers and exchanging details about experiences with the other attendees has really impacted my thinking personally and is starting to take shape with reflections to my professional position in the academy.

The thing that struck me throughout the day was the strength, conviction and proactive actions of those around me, to push against the structures and institutions in which we exist. In many cases, not just striving to be more but thriving in being more than external perceptions and the expectations that attempt to define who and what we are.  Although we were all coming from different experiences, interacting with different structures and institutions ‘managing’ our worlds– society-at-large, the academy, government, etc. – there was a sense of acknowledgement about we are a part of a wider momentum to redefine the ‘normal’ within the institutional structures around us.

A key point made during the day that stuck with me and has tossed repeatedly around in my head – the reality is that for many of us in attendance that day, to be successful in what we are attempting achieve, e.g. the challenging of institutional structures we work and live within, we may have to accept that we will be classified ‘conventionally’ as unsuccessful  by the same institutions we are working to redefine.  We won’t meet their ideas and standards of success.

For myself, it was like a lightbulb going on in my head. The reality of coming to terms with this and the mixed feelings it aroused. On one hand – freedom of acceptance AND on the other, anxiety of failure. Failure that I have not met the self-expectations set for myself within my profession as imagined from the perspective of a newly minted ‘Dr’. Twinned with this, the feeling of acceptance that I do not need to be defined by that old vision for myself – that the path less traditional in my profession is MY path, one based on choice within the confines I found myself, but also that it is a good one.  But then WHY the feeling of failure? I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the sense of failure stems from feeling less than, that acceptance in the academy and by those within its structures is lacklustre at best, not really worth a thought at worst. And like the third variety of the Precariat[1]described by Guy Standing, I realise I could be one of those individuals described as:

“educated, who experience in their irregular labour and in the lack of opportunity to construct a narrative for their lives a sense of relative deprivation and status frustration, because they have no sense of future. One might call them bohemians, but as they are the potentially transformative part of the precariat, the new vanguard, they are open to becoming the progressives.[2]

That my norm is not the norm of the academy, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. With the passing years, I have begun to realise that I am in no way remotely alone in this marginalised status – that many individuals for different reasons from my own, walk a path that leads to the same ‘place’. There is strength in numbers yes, but more strength in using our paths not for special attention but for real consideration.

[1] Precariat – an emerging class, comprising the rapidly growing number of people facing lives of insecurity, moving in and out of jobs that give little meaning to their lives. From the work of G Standing, found at: https://journals.openedition.org/rccsar/585

[2] G Standing, found at: https://journals.openedition.org/rccsar/585