Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Outgrown Those Basic Feelings Anyway

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.

5 comments:

Phil said...

I don't know if I could have registered for an MPhil when I finished at Cambridge, but I never tried - the prospect of being a full-time postgraduate student appalled me. Even when I realised I'd made the wrong choice - even when I resigned from a perfectly good job so as to do a PhD - I never studied full-time. (There was money that needed earning, but there was more to it than that.) There's something very distinctive, in a very place-bound way, about the postgrad lifestyle - something I found distinctively horrifying - and leaving it behind is bound to be odd.

Rob Jubb said...

I think it's got something to do with the relatively small number of people you'll be interacting with - other grad students in your department, some of the faculty - and what that interaction is about: an enormous, potentially life-consuming project to which you have a fairly deep commitment. I've tried to make it like a job as doctoral student - in to the department in the morning and home for my dinner during the week, never working at home, the weekends to myself - and that may have mitigated the weirdness of it, but there's no denying that it is weird, and that each place is differently weird - or at least, each small university town is differently weird: maybe doing a doctorate in London is not like that at all. I should probably say at this point that I don't think the self-repudiation was to do with work as opposed to other things: to do with the doctorate in that it was something to do with being a grad student, but not to do with the doctorate in that I don't think it was to do with frustrations of the actual process of sitting down and writing 95,000 words on contractualism and agency.

Anonymous said...

What is perhaps even more horrifying is Mr Jubb's solipsism. I have heard you present a paper: a charlatan of the first order.

Rob Jubb said...

Not enough of a charlatan or a solipsist to refuse to own my own words though.

Sarah said...

nice post...
i really like this...
very informative n important ideas.....

thnks...


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