March 23, 2010

Some quotes that are inspiring me as I start the writing journey:

Might it be possible to use other scholarly skills, including the ability to tell a story that both acknowledges imperial power and leaves room for possibility?
-Anna Tsing (Friction, 2005, p267)

What if we were to accept that the goal of theory is not to extend knowledge by confirming what we already know, that the world is a place of economic domination, conflict and oppression? What if we asked theory instead to help us see openings, to enable us to find happiness, to provide a space of freedom and possibility?
-J.K. Gibson-Graham, (A Postcapitalist Politics, 2006 p7)

In a time so widely understood by Hondurans to be one of desperation, it is my hope that they will have full support from one another and from those of us who cannot claim to understand Honduran habitus but who find ourselves struggling against the same agents of violence… it may be unstable but our compassion must not wither.
-Adrienne Pine (Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras, 2008, p203)


Although we are back in New Zealand I have been trying to follow the continuing political events in Honduras, although it is somewhat depressing.  Unsurprisingly the coup goes on, and coup participants have been appointed to important posts.  Fortunately (although under-reported) the resistance continues the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular of Honduras holds its second Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras (National Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras). The Frente is aiming for a constitutional assembly, in order to create a democratic, inclusive and participatory Constitution.  For more information about the Frente and the ongoing events in Honduras check Quotha and the Honduran Culture and Politics blog, both written by academics with close ties to Honduras.

Another blog favourite of mine is Mama PhD, and this week Math Geek Mom wrote a post on her thoughts on “We are the World” asking about what Americans can do to help the poor in other parts of the world.  Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) until I commented she hadn’t had any comments, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to see a discussion on the topic.

On the topic of poverty Delia Christina of  Bitch, PhD has a post up titled If only the poor were more like me, which comments on a post by the Fat Nutritionist. Her final line: “So until we are prepared to solve the ‘problem’ of their poverty first, perhaps we should keep mum with our ‘advice’ to poor families about making better nutritional ‘choices’.” I agree entirely. Interestingly, it follows a similar line of reasoning to two development related posts this week, Drinking our own ORS by Blood and Milk, and Would you be willing to do this by Good Intentions are not Enough.  These posts pose difficult questions about the kind of advice and aid we give people, while we ourselves live comfortably.

Finally, on a lighter note, I really enjoyed Serious Eats bean to bar tutorial on Understanding Chocolate Basics, and this photo from Antigua Daily Photo, which is so me…

Mama, PhD

May 30, 2009

mamaphdNext week I am off to Honduras to do my research fieldwork.  Although I am crazy busy at the moment  juggling home and research preparations, I thought it would be a good time to review Mama, PhD, an anthology of essays by academic Mums (actually Moms, they’re all US Americans).  

I bought the book last year, having followed the Mama, PhD blog for a while, looking for some insights into how others have managed the precarious balancing act that is being a mother and being an academic.  And a precarious act it certainly seems to be. The overwhelming impression I came away with was that maintaining both a family and an academic position is hugely challenging, and at in some cases the two are simply incompatable.  This was neatly summed up by my sister, who is neither an academic nor a mother, after I caught her reading the book and teased her about it.  She laughed and commented that it was kind of like watching a road crash.  It’s often horrific, but you just can’t look away. 

I couldn’t look away either, the writing is compelling with a mix of humor, emotion and insight.  It lays bare the patriarchy of academia, and the reality of work in an environment that seems to still be adjusting to the presence of women.  Over and over the contributors write of the difficulty getting sufficient maternity leave and the lack of childcare facilities.  They also write of the need to disconnect themselves from mothering when at work, of being ignored or worse by collegues, and of missed opportunities and compromises made.  In Scholar, Negated Jessica Smart Gullion writes of how her Sociology department, her “feminist enclave”, attempted to kick her out because she was pregnant.  The reality of the institution seems to override the rhetoric of feminism and equal opportunity. 

Fortunately for me, this has not been my experience so far.  Maybe I have drawn the lucky straw when it came to choosing a university.  Or maybe New Zealand universities are ahead of the US in thier approach to motherhood. I think mostly I have had the great fortune of having supervisors (advisors) who are both mothers, and of being surrounded by an awesome community of female staff and students.  When my husband wasn’t well last week, I had no hesitation in taking my daughter with me to campus.  She sat though an hour long presentation quietly with her crayons and books, but even if she had been disruptive I know the rest of the room (all bar one also Mums) would have been fully understanding.  My daughter knows her way to my office at the “versity”, knows several of the staff and students, and is always made a fuss of when she drops in for a visit.  Conversations over lunch range comfortably from post-structural analyses of development theory to toilet training techniques. And if I am late turning in work or unable to attend a meeting the excuse my daughter is sick is perfectly acceptable.

I do share with the contributors to Mama, PhD a frustration in finding enough time to give to my PhD and to my daughter.  I know the guilt associated with leaving my child in the care of others 4-5 days per week.  I am enormously grateful for on-campus childcare, government subsidies to pay for that childcare, and that my daughter loves her childcare centre, but I still wallow in guilt at times, especially after a visit to stay-at-home Mum friends with perfect (and clean!) homes and home-cooked meals every night. While this frustration and guilt is not unique to academia, Mama, PhD has made me more aware of the peculiarities of academic work, and how motherhood impinges on that – such as the need to be intellectual, and to have space to think.

While many of the contibutors have negotiated, or are successfully negotiating an academic career while rasing a family, many have also left academia or gone to ‘non-traditional’ jobs.  It is abundantly clear from reading Mama, PhD that if the academic community wants to attract and retain great teachers and researchers, they need to address the issue of patriarchal and outdated systems that make motherhood and academic life so difficult for many.  This is I believe the strength of the book.  While it is an interesting read (with plenty of laughs thrown in – anyone game to let undergraduate males choose thier child’s name?), it is the underlying commentary on the institution of academia that is most powerful – and necessary.  

After reading some of the essays my sister has no desire to become an academic or a mum.  I on the other hand continue to have no regrets about either.  Reading Mama, PhD has opened my eyes to both the wider community of Mums in academia and the challenges they face, and to the potential pitfalls and challenges I may have to face in the future.  Here’s hoping that whereever  find myself working I will continue to feel the same support I do now.  If not, at least I know I will not be alone.