Over the last month it has become pretty clear that when I first set out to learn sociology I wanted to do it with the hope of making positive social change happen. I figured I would aim to become a ‘professional activist’, even in the early years of my degree. Although, I admit that when asked “why would you even do sociology?” [i.e. what are the financial prospects? If there’s no economic incentive, why bother?] being a ‘professional activist’ is what would fly out of my mouth as a defensive mechanism without me thinking too much about it. But that’s the truth. ‘Professional’, as in you have to have some specialised knowledge gained through education of some sort; ‘activist’ as in seeking to create that social change in the aim of fulfilling social justice principles of which much of the literature pointed to in response to inequity.
So, with this idea in mind, I figure there are two ways in which I am currently attempting to fulfill that role that I used as a defence-mechanism from way back in the early months of uni. The first is at my desk(s), which look like this:
These little spaces both at home and on campus is where the majority of work is happening at this point – it’s chaotic, paperwork overload, and totally cubicle-based. This, I figure, is the academic side of it whereby I put my head straight into the literature and write a bunch about my topic from secondary sources. This is where the writing happens at this point (or the drafting, re-drafting and re-re-drafting of writing happens). This is also where feelings of pointlessness and disconnect from the outside world come in.
However, while I’m in the early stages of my PhD, it doesn’t mean that the ‘desk work’ is the only work I feel like I should be doing. The second way I’m trying to fulfill the role of professional activist in the realm of sociology, is by attempting to do just that – by doing activism in any shape or form:
I think this is just as vital as the first method of fulfilling that role – participation and collaboration on a street level will keep my work grounded and remind me of the bigger picture, as the reason for spending countless hours in the spaces of infinite white paint, concrete, and florescent light bulb. There have already been a few times where I question what it is I am doing, and why. By participating and becoming a political agent with my knowledge of social theory on board I want to make positive change occur, rather than just describing why or why not it is or isn’t happening. Any attempts to get out there and do something I’m counting as a success.
If the personal is truly political, and your work is your total passion, then I figure you should be attempting to make yourself into the embodiment of what your work is trying to achieve. That to me is what makes/should make a good sociologist.
Alex Page, June 6, 2014
p.s. Check out one of my rad supervisors Dr. Theresa Petray, and her rad new vid for ABCOpen where she discusses both optimism and activism in academia! http://vimeo.com/96026041