Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Insecurities of an Autodidact

It would not be inaccurate to say that I have not been adequately formally qualified for most of the professional-type jobs that I have held. Of course, it wouldn't be entirely accurate, either, without a fair bit of added explanation -- some of those were when I was a student, and the burden of providing 100% of the necessary skills was considered a good choice by the employers as a gamble that I would stick with them and return value to their enterprise later, or because hiring me (and others in my situation) was seen as a combination of "social contribution through pedagogy" and "source of cheap undergraduate labour." Some work since I have graduated has been professional activity as far as I'm concerned but has been in contexts that would traditionally be considered marginal, so formal qualifications weren't particularly relevant. In any case, I have always ended up being perfectly able to do the jobs, I just haven't usually had pieces of paper proving it in advance. And I do recognize that white and male privilege have contributed a lot in different ways -- ways I'm sure I'll talk about in future posts -- to the somewhat peculiar nature of my work/employment history.

My current work is, in a way, an outgrowth of what I have been doing since I graduated from university -- research, writing, and other media production related to social, political, and social movement issues. My degree is in biochemistry and I have never had any post-secondary education in any of these areas. What I know about society, history, social movements, theory, and related areas I have learned on my own. Now, in general I'm pretty comfortable with that -- I read what interests me, and I read a lot. The path of my understanding of the world has not followed an externally imposed curriculum but rather has been responsive to my own needs and interests. On the whole, I think that's how we should learn about pretty much everything, and I'm glad that I'm able to do that. In the long run it might allow me to have ways of thinking about the things that I write about that are novel and useful and different from where I might have ended up with a more traditional evolution of understanding and knowledge. And maybe that's just silly and an exercise in trying to make a virtue of a necessity, but even so it can't hurt. I'm pretty sure that the ecosystem of ideas churning around in my brain is no less coherent than those gracing the crania of lots of other folk of roughly my age who do intellectual work, including its academic variant.

The thing is, yesterday and today I have been preparing a proposal to submit in response to a call for submissions to a book whose origins are within academia, albeit quite far towards its more activist side. And I have been worried that my non-traditional intellectual path will stick out like a sore thumb and work to my disadvantage in some way.

My partner's advice of, "Say what you want to say however you want to say it, and if they don't want to publish it, well, screw them," was a useful dose of common sense, of course.

And in any case, the fate of this particular proposal is not the point -- it would be a nice collaboration to be a part of, but it really doesn't matter that much. What's interesting is the persistence of internalized (within me) nonsense about the connection between formal accreditation, on the one hand, and ability and/or intellectual value, on the other. It's silly, but it's still there.

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