Saturday, January 8, 2011

Academic Me

I taught a course in the fall on the idea that what we know to be true and real is a product of our time and place. What we taken for granted about ourselves, and the world in which we swim, is a product of our upbringing, our experiences, our cultural norms and rules. The world isn't made up of Truth, some universal, mandated Has To Be This Way reality. Instead it is made up of the truths of the moment and the truths of the prior moments.

I teach my students that who they are has some grounding in their genetics and psychology, but that our enactment of our psychological makeup is a product of how those impulses have been cultivated through our relationships and interactions in a world of rules and norms. For example, I believe I am genetically predisposed to my high levels of anxiety...there's a thread in the family that's hard to ignore. However, because I live in 2011, that's seen as just part of who I am. If I had lived in 1911 or 1811, who knows? As a woman, I might have been seen as hysterical with the common curse of feminine frailty and emotional weakness. As a result, back then I would never have been able to channel an of that anxious energy into education or other diversions. I might have become more recluse, more frail and pitiable because society told me that is who I was and that was what I deserve. I would have been Dena, but a very different Dena--the same genetics with a very different lived experience.

Anyway, what this leads to is that I've been thinking about my own hypocrisy. What I teach my students is that there is no Truth, no Inevitable. We live in a culture, we shape our own and others' lived experience through our interactions. Yet, in my own mind, I am somehow forever doomed to unhappiness. I am a I am a Failure. I am an unchangeable force of pessimism. It's just Who I Am.

But how can that be when I'm such an advocate for the lack of such a Truth? I can point, of course, to the fact that every time I've tried to be more positive I fail and go right back to pessimism and unhappiness. But do those failures to overcome signify a Truth of an inevitable future of unhappiness? I also point to the fact that a majority of my daily interactions in my relationships are supportive and should lead me to a positive self-image, but here I am otherwise. In my head, this is proof of the Conclusive Evidence of my own permanent rut.

But can I really be an honest professor, can I really teach my students about the social construction of realities, when I don't practice this in my daily life? How can I become a more honest professor by taking on my philosophy to conquer my own demons? My tendency is always to use theory and philosophy to think through my opinions and understanding of the world. Can I do the same to think through myself and my understanding of myself? Can I do a research study on myself? Review the "literature" on my own mental health, gather the data of my experiences, analyze it within a theoretical--social constructionist--framework and come to some improved understanding through careful analysis?

Is the answer to my problem the research process? And further, can I get tenure on that?

1 comment:

David Best said...

good stuff. I'm looking forward to the published version.