Didn’t ditch; but finally hitched!

In November of last year I blogged about wanting to quit my Master’s degree at Cambridge because I felt under-stimulated, frustrated with lack of collective vision and a general absence of action research. The general feeling I left Cambridge with was that the ivory towers are comfortable and that students should take heed not to shake them up. For the record, I had chosen to go to Cambridge to gain a critical perspective on how critical social discourse views social-ecological resilience. The critique is useful, but its limited scope for analysis and inapplicability render it increasingly meaningless in my mind.

I did not drop my Master’s, despite nearly giving up in despair a few times through lack of support in fieldwork and general disapproval of my mixed-methods approach. Many people told me it would get better and I would learn to like it. I didn’t. However, in the end, I did learn a lot, primarily through my own mistakes. I spent 5 weeks in rural Tajikistan, assessing why some communities manage their forests better than others. I had the incredible support from GIZ to conduct over 50 interviews and 30 surveys.  My department was skeptical as to why I wanted to use such a deductive quantitative survey, but at least they didn’t stop me from doing it. Sure enough, as expected, the survey was unable to pick up the nuances of deceit and corruption that I gathered in my qualitative research.

I found out what I enjoyed. I do not enjoy formal dinners which last 3 hours and only the Fellows of primarily elderly white men get cheese at the high table. I do not like inter-collegiate competition, or reading groups where people are unable to look out the room at the world. So I avoid those things, and instead impose on lunchtime seminars in other departments…

So was this year at Cambridge a waste of my time? No!! I have learned a lot, mostly from my own mistakes. I have enjoyed the intellectual freedom of reading in coffee shops, and listening to and sharing pints in the pub with hugely respected figures like Melissa Leach, Bob Watson and Piers Blaikie, even if I disagree with some of them. And besides, the Universe has an uncanny way of pulling us in the right direction at the right time, which in this case resulted in meeting my most incredible partner.

The Master’s chapter is over, and a new one has begun. Just coming back from a retreat with the Stockholm Resilience Centre on a small Swedish island, the feeling could not be different. Collective action, ‘saving world’, trust and friendship were common words. Sure, many would ask: saving the world from what? For whom? But let’s just accept for a second that science is normative and having an optimistic outlook on how to make the world a better place for the most people, putting the biosphere at its base is a good place to start. This is not a sociological analysis (for that check out Parker and Hackett’s paper on the Resilience Alliance),  but it’s quite obvious to me that great ideas and good science do not emerge through competition, greed and hierarchy, but rather in spaces where people are having fun, enjoying each other and their environment.

What a feeling! to work with people you respect and trust towards an overall common vision of improving the world. More posts to come… with a renewed passion… and I’m finally hitched to resilience!


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