Lazy Sunday Essay
Thought I'd share a recent essay I wrote, just to get more use to sharing my university adventures. I still feel strange sharing these. Blogs are one thing, but work I am graded on, feels more vulnerable for some reason. So, here you go:
From the Sociology of Knowledge to the Knowledge of Sociology: The Experiential Edition
“Knowledge refers to the understanding, awareness, or familiarity acquired through learning, experience, or education, enabling individuals to comprehend and interpret information, solve problems, and make informed decisions within a specific domain or context”
Like Edward Shils’s critique and question about C. Wright Mills: “what does this…” (insert a few sentences of creative 1960’s insults) “– want of sociology?” (Eldridge. 1983. P109) I ask this question to myself feverishly each time I am attempting to read a dusty, long forgotten book from the bowels of the Victoria University library. What do I want with sociology? Frankly I’m still figuring that out myself. However, there was a certain Nihilism that fell over my life prior to sociology, a depression from the inherent lack of existential knowledge, and a feeling of being stuck in what seemed a never-ending loop of nothingness. Nothing I did would change my circumstances. Well, turns out it was this thing called Class: “…although men make their own history, they do not do so in circumstances of their own choosing,” (Jenkins. 2002. P70). I made my own choices but it felt like I was playing a chess game with a broken board and had pieces missing. Stuck in low wage entry level employment; I played chicken with my bank account on a weekly basis. In a “Bourdieudian” sense, I had no economic or material capital, no social or generational prestige, and no education to mention; my life’s field was looking a bit rugged to say the least (Jenkins. 2002). So, imagine my shock at being one paper away from a university degree, when I had all but completely denounced places of schooling or education.
University was seen as this place that was far removed from my existence and unattainable for me personally. I’d never given it thought, nor does anyone in my family. When I started, I came for the student allowance as I was too sick to work but couldn’t get unemployment. Due to boredom and pure curiosity, I ended up going to lectures. Confusion ensued; not for the reasons I had anticipated. “The diversity of experience is matched by the diversity of truth” (Eldridge. 1983), and it turns out experience came a long way to understanding sociology (for me at least). My truth was my lived experience, and the knowledge I’d gained on the way, and here within the course material I finally had found the language to start explaining and describing the world around me. “Knowledge may be accessible to all, but only certain groups of persons can interpret it…” (Horowitz. 1983. P150); I found my lived experiences became very useful in sociology, and that most course work I could relate to easily. I could interpret things like work place power dynamics because I had lived it. There was an elation at first, an empowerment in the knowledge. However, it didn’t last very long before I hit an interesting dilemma.
Rather than it being the understanding of the academic concepts and theories, which is what I thought I would struggle with the most (not to say I don’t). The real struggle came from understanding the way which university and studying actually worked. What are you highlighting? Why do I have to regurgitate things and not think for myself? Where is all this knowledge that helped me going? And what is an essay? Old mate imposter syndrome came in, and started breeding resentment. It became clear that I didn’t have the Habitus of education, intellectual distinction, or the middle-class knowledge of university passed down, as “the conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce Habitus” (Jenkins. 2002. P79). I was just reproducing what I saw around me, which for me was calloused hands, not essay writing. “…rooted in an ongoing process of learning which begins in childhood, and through which actors know without knowing – the right thing to do” (Jenkins. 2002. P72), things in this sense become second nature, a pattern or structure of how things go without it having to be conscious effort. Being born into a social world, means you’re born into a world where you’re already mid-game. This game has rules, which are socially taught, found by coming up against the rules, or observation; which vary vastly depending on your place in the world – socially and geographically.
So, when my field changed from working with my hands, to academia, the elation of empowered understanding of my life then turned into a struggle to understand this whole new board, with new rules and structures. Students seemed to know what they were supposed to do all around me, and as an older student this observation was disheartening. I grew ever bitter, and kept “othering” myself and using self-deprecating language. It wasn’t till extremely recently that a crazy man told me, “you belong here” during one of my many jaded rants about university. And, finally the penny dropped for me (and why this essay is weird and late). Without going into my whole life story: education and places of learning, were places of trauma and constant humiliation from peers and teachers. They became a place to survive. I’d bought the habitus over from prior experiences, othering and self-deprecating language was armour; as “a miss, if you really want to win, is maddening” (Hochschild. P31). Because if someone says I just need to focus harder one more bloody time I will burst a blood vessel. Turns out it was ADHD and dyslexia Mrs. Crawford, not my father’s death causing my bad English, thank you.
Okay, so what does this all have to do with the sociology of knowledge? As I haven’t been seemly very academic up till this point and rather more like a sob story essay (don’t worry I go to therapy, which I now have to add “school trauma” to the list to talk about). Well, experiential knowledge; knowledge gained by lived experience. Through living and now living through university, had given me the tools to understand why things are. As I now have the right tools, and to use this quote again, “knowledge may be accessible to all, but only certain groups of persons can interpret it…” (Horowitz. 1983. P150). Sociology gave me the right knowledge to interpret my lived experience into something useful to me, which is now a form of knowledge and I can now in turn pass to someone else.
Since lived experiences are in the realm of subjectivity. And subjectivity is inherent, but can be shared in all sort of forms: written, art, verbal, bodily, and actions etc. This makes knowledge an action: something you do, and is an act of given (shared) and taken (observed); whether that be consciously, or sub consciously, and it becomes a social or collective process: “…knowledge is fundamentally a group or collective activity; it “presupposes a community of knowing which grows primarily out of a community of experiencing prepared for in the subconscious.” Ideas are “situationally conditioned,” or greatly influenced by the particular affiliations of the thinker” (Horowitz. 1983. P151). Pragmatist thought, I found, aligns with my thoughts that in that the formation of knowledge is the connection between action and thought (Roberts. 2006).
Weirdly enough, when you start actually truly observing and not self-sabotaging, you start to find thinkers and schools of thought that align with your own beliefs; shocking I know. So, what do I want with sociology? It’s knowledge; I realised I want to learn more of what it has to offer, and I realise now that doesn’t have to look a certain way – I had entirely but that on myself. Knowledge looks different for everyone. As for me (currently), lived experience needs to be acknowledged in my work, and this passage by C. Wright Mills encapsulates this beautifully: “...you must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually to examine and interpret it. In this sense craftmanship is the centre of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work. To say you can ‘have experience’, means, for one thing, that your past plays into and affects your present, and that it defines your capacity for further experience” (Mills, 1959. P216). Mills is according to Edwards Shils a “…solitary horseman – who is in part prophet, in part a teacher, in part a scholar, and in part a rough-tongued brawler – a sort of Joe McCarthy of sociology, full of wild accusations and gross inaccuracies, bullying manners, harsh words, and shifting grounds…” (Eldridge. 1983. P109). However, for a rough-tongued brawler Mills seems very eloquent to me, and I would like to study more to find out what Mills wanted of sociology.
Then again, sometimes knowledge just smacks you in the face when you’re sitting in some one’s office ranting about university for the millionth time, and they say something that flips your whole perspective on its head and you have to start your essay over to adjust. Grudgingly, I’ll admit the ivory tower of academia doesn’t seem so bad after all and this written document is essentially my love letter to sociology; much to my own surprise. I just wish sociologists would put some pizzazz into their writing and, I will, gripe on about this till the end of days.