Following my previous post (Ph.D’ing as a vocation), I found myself immersed in a number of interesting conversations. Of course there’s tons to talk/write about but for now I’m going with a similar theme as last time…well sort of anyway.

I want to talk about the notion of “in-between”. Let me say right up front that my reaction, admittedly quite visceral, to this idea is that those who think they inhabit this space just haven’t pushed their own thoughts far enough. Even if this sounds dismissive, I'll admit that I find folks who describe their respective positions and/or vocations as “in-between” simply too lazy or uncommitted.

What do I mean? Let me refer to a conversation I was involved in earlier last week to explain why “in-between” doesn’t make any logical sense, at least to me….

After my last post on the difference between being a scholar and doing politics, a colleague pressed me to share my views on the example of feminist IR scholarship as a way to combine and collapse ‘feminist politics’ and ‘international relations scholarship’ into one neat package. I’m glad she did or else I would probably not have realized that I needed to further clarify the point I was making.

As an individual, I think one can be both a feminist and a scholar and anything else….we wear many hats during the course of our lives… I’m guessing it’s somehow relevant after that too – or so I’ve managed to convince myself but I’d like to think there is some ‘there’ there :-).

But back to the point I’m trying to make….

I find that the idea of wearing a ‘feminist’ hat at the same time as a ‘scholar’ one leaves me feeling suffocated. Why? Because I think of scholarship as a journey separate from politics – one that inspires an exploration of possibilities (always negotiated within the boundaries of what has been imagined thus far which is why these are never infinite) without predetermined results or fixed notions about the destination that must be reached. [Please note that I’m not making a case for classical objectivity here but, rather, drawing a distinction between prosthetics and politics that will hopefully become clearer in a minute.]

Feminism & Politics: Adopting a feminist agenda as the basis from which to “do” scholarship would mean that one doing so has already decided what the world looks like at any given point in time and should probably transform into at another. Any “research” I produce as this kind of “scholar” would necessarily offer a prescription for the change I want to see in the world – if I were a good feminist this would have to be the case.

Feminist IR seems to me to be the perfect example of an “in-between” position where, IMHO, feminist politics are what such “scholars” work their way back to in their research…an exercise often referred to as a marriage between “theory” and “praxis”! In this case, the norms held by such scholars determine the fruit of their intellectual labors. To me this is an uninteresting exercise to engage in as a scholar. What’s the point if you are so committed to a position already that you miss other stuff relevant to it along the way?

‘Being a woman’ as Prosthetic: On the other hand, incorporating or using one’s voice as a ‘woman’ (which I see as emerging and stabilized within ongoing negotiations about identity rather than a realization of what it means to “be” one; in this sense it’s a discursive practice rather than objectively defined category of existence) while engaging in ‘scholarship’ makes perfect sense if one thinks about political in the Foucauldian sense or “objective” in the sense that Weber uses this word in his 1949 essay.

I see my position as ‘woman’ articulated and emerging in what I do as a prosthetic rather than politics. I.e. it doesn’t determine my vision of what the world should look like and it certainly doesn’t put me in some ill-conceived “in-between” space where theory and praxis meet but it does influence the questions I raise and how I explore them in particular ways at particular times. From this perspective, ‘being a woman’ is a wound among many others that spur a scholar such as myself to engage in research…not a wound in the sense of implying an oppressed and tortured mode of existence but in the sense of perhaps being pissed off at certain stuff which I understand and, simultaneously, reconstruct as part of ‘being a woman’ as I interact with others and then use this ‘being pissed off’ as the starting point (of course I’d probably be able to legitimize it as such in retrospect) of a particular journey. This journey that I speak of is the kind where one is free to think things through without feeling encumbered by other stuff which is precisely the kind of intellectual freedom I think being a scholar affords and perhaps even a luxury that I would like to see preserved.

Point being that scholarship and politics are very different activities; an individual can certainly do both but I have reservations about combining the two activities as if it was merely a convenience of killing two birds with one stone.

Speaking from a position is a different activity than speaking for one. It’s the former that I think scholarship ought to be concerned about primarily because I think being a scholar means being committed to making an effort to confront what Nietzsche refers to as “uncomfortable facts” that then paves the way towards better thinking (which becomes evident in our articulations whether written or spoken). Being ‘in-between’ scholarship and politics gets in the way of that because it requires an obsession with the latter that leaves no room to sit back and reflect (which is, IMHO, a good thing since politics is intimately connected with empirical transformation…something one can’t quite do if one is always questioning the change one wants to see in the world). My hunch is that if you’re busy changing the world you’re likely to miss out interesting stuff about it – I think most folks would agree that these are precisely the kind of insights (i.e. the interesting stuff we wouldn't notice otherwise) we demand from our scholars. Therefore, given that both activities are inspired by different commitments and bring with them different expectations I’d say that being a scholar at any given time means that one cannot make a good political activist simultaneously and vice versa….so why bother if you’re not going to do either one of them well? I’m all for ‘eclectic’ food options at a restaurant but using that logic to do scholarship and politics in the same breath worries me.

So if you ask me (you might not but this is my blog so I’ll proceed as if you did :-)!!!) I’ll opt for doing things well and taking my commitments more seriously rather than inhabiting any kind of “in-between” space. If you’re still wondering why…well the only example that comes to my mind right now is my dissertation….I’d rather explore how difference is imagined in the India-Pakistan context than continue to make a largely unreflective stink about the fact that difference is why the India-Pakistan conflict thrives. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think imagining the ‘other’ as ‘neighbor’ or ‘friend’ is still a statement of difference….a point I’d surely miss if my sole concern as a “scholar/political activist” was to provide a recipe for peace that made use of activities such as people-to-people contact and high-level diplomatic talks. I relish being a scholar as it leaves me free to indulge my present focus on how what we refer to as the ‘India-Pakistan conflict’ becomes meaning-full in bounding practices…that’s where the interesting stories lie anyway :-)!!!!


Blogger Jenny said...

This is particularly interesting to me, as I'm still trying to figure out where I fall on all these issues (and it may very well turn out that I am a Feminist IR Scholar, or a feminist who's also an IR scholar and happens to do lots of work on gender, or whatever).

Here's the thing: the ontological assumptions I make about the world are very much a result of my value system. These assumptions can't help but shape my work, and the research I happen to be interested in tends to be research that looks at how actors (specifically women) are produced. Just as war does it for some people and self/other distinctions do it for others, gender does it for me, and for value-laden reasons at that.

So--what to do? Stop researching gender issues and focus on something else (there's always Poland!)? Continue researching gender issues but ignore the question of "knowledge for what"? Continue researching gender, knowing that it's possible for my work to be used for purposes I support, just not taking that final step myself?

At the moment, I lean toward the last option, but who knows?

12:33 PM  

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