For the first time in 9 years - the first time since I moved here as an undergraduate - I'm leaving Oxford tomorrow without knowing if I'll be back for longer than a night or two here and there. Admittedly, I'll probably be back to teach - and hopefully play football - pretty regularily next academic year, but it's not really the same; even if I do find a spare bed or sofa, it'll only be for a night - I won't be settled here. I describe myself as a Londoner and, more, am quite prepared to attempt to police who gets to make that claim - the postcode plays a generally under-appreciated role: Richmond is, for example, not in the relevant sense in London - but in lots of important ways I was formed here and not there. That's not just because I first lived away from my parents here, and not so much because of the place in a general sense - this is a university town, and for 8 of the 9 years, I've been a student, so I've never really felt like I knew the town separately from being a student in it - but more because of people whom I've been close to: friends I made when I was an undergraduate and lived with when I was a masters student, various people in what I feel really is a community of political theorists, some others I've accumulated, more and less purposefully, along the way.
There was a time when I really wanted to leave, felt like I couldn't bear to be here any more, but even then, that was a fairly explicit piece of self-repudiation: what I thought I couldn't stand was the life I had made for myself here. Like it or not, here is a central piece of who I am: although surely other things underlie them, so much of what has shaped me into the person I am now happened here and in ways that I suspect are often would really only have happened in as a student - and perhaps particularly a postgraduate student - at an elite university in an otherwise rather nondescript provincial town. There are habits, even a habitus, that I've acquired here that it is difficult to imagine having acquired elsewhere; ways of thinking but also habits of mind in a broader sense, learned psycho-social behaviours. This isn't meant as a communitarian paean to the form of life I suppose I now know best - I hope I have the sense to be far more ambiguous about the value of that set of more and less conscious institutions and my way of negotiating them: after all, I did once want little more than to abandon them - but rather an acknowledgement that if I am to maintain a well-founded sense of integrity, of who and what I am and its significance, then I need to see Oxford's role in making me and how suited to it I am. I've not been away for more than 3 weeks for 6 years; it'll be odd to leave.