When I went to uni, I was initially delighted to find that, for the most part, my interests aligned fairly closely with the subjects I was studying. During the first year, I had a paper in each of Sociology, Politics, Psychology and Anthropology. By the end of it I came to find the frameworks into which arguments and data were forced in politics and sociology overly rigid, and realised that the psychology I was most interested in was that which was ethnographic in its approach. For the first two terms the anthropology, despite some fascinating content, was fragmented, but in the third term a reassuring and enthusiastic supervisor guided and empowered us to knit together the elements of the course. Suddenly anthropology seemed less bounded and more flexible than the other disciplines. Realising that choosing a discipline was to choose a medium of study, rather than a topic, I continued in anthropology.
I interpreted second year as the year with less pressure, and allowed myself to follow my interests more freely, and to prioritise my sanity and state of mind over academic work. I was excited about my plans for dissertation work based on a participative arts event, “Nowhere”, held in an arid, dusty part of Northern Spain. When volunteering for the event, I consented, despite angst centred on the difficulty of separating out my academic and participant documenting roles, to also help with a documentation project for the community. Once I was on site, I settled in as participant, building, cooking, and hanging out, and once I was established I was delighted to find everyone around me supportive of both the ‘historias’ documentation project, and for my academic work. Not only were people supportive in theory, but were incredibly willing to talk. Seeking out personal stories both made me empathetically tuned in, and emotionally exhausted. However, despite experiencing a snapping point, where my capacity for social interaction shut down, the experience was resoundingly positive. I gained insight into the inspiration that participants gained, and also developed my own sense of the value of the event. Subsequently to the event I was offline, as I cycled round the Pyrenees. Contact with the internet reconnected me to Nowhere with dozens of friend requests and photos on Facebook. However, in September, I felt distant from the community, I felt an inertia that utterly disconnected me from the energised, socially secure and confident self I had been during the event.
Faced with the task of writing, in academic format, about Nowhere, I felt the truth of the critiques I had intellectually appreciated during the past years of studying anthropology. Facing the task of translating the lived experience of Nowhere into a piece of writing with the purpose of getting as good a grade as possible brought up many problems that were not just academic hurdles, but affected me emotionally.
I came to hate viscerally that experience is treated as raw material for a product, judged only by its worth to the academic institution, not its value to people. I produced something of limited interest both to ‘academia’ and to nowherers. Though my supervisor enthusiastically predicted me a 1st, it was marked a low 2:1. Maybe some differences of opinion there.* At Nowhere 2011 I had absolute fatigue of talking about any aspect of Nowhere, and particularly of my dissertation, though I brought a couple of copies along out of debt to the community. And I more or less fell out of Burner circles for a while, not going to Nowhere the next year, busy with other things, not planning to this year either.
A few days ago, however, I went to Nest. And it was transformational for me. Many, many things linked up, and suddenly I was intensely involved, stepping into the gaps left by multiple unfilled lead positions. The thing that allowed me to see what there was to be done, and do it, and link people to things that they would like to be doing, to let their contributions flow, was absolutely my experience of researching Nowhere. Finally, that energy of ethnographic investigation of Nowhere, and the insights I gained through it, has flowed back into me, and into a community. I’m happy to attribute how I’m able to think about things in part to my academic training, and I think I might be revisiting some of those academics that I found exciting three years ago. Feels like I’m become whole, healing my soul, and hell, I’m not going to be studying for the academy for a while, I’m going to be keeping busy building links between all the different awesome communities that I’m plugged into, I’ll be going with the flow, to go go go.