Still a student

I am still a student. Although I officially plan to submit my dissertation sooner, a more realistic evaluation is that it will take me a year. In this, if nothing else, at least I am consistent. It is now a few years that I have been giving this same answer when friends and family enquire how much more time it will be until I finish. (This evaluation of myself as ‘consistent’ is lifted from a joke about me and my ongoing project made by a family member of mine last year.)

Such a joke is valid, but I am far from having to deal with the administrative burden of taking a long time. Thanks to leave I have taken, I still have time left on my candidature. I have not ‘lapsed’. But the years have ticked by and, ideally, I would be finished by now. However, I take a lot of pleasure in living in a non-ideal world, and so this post is not being written as an expression of embarrassment or shame as rather an attempt to understand an aspect of my increased confidence.

I am becoming less apologetic when I talk in academic circles. I now find myself confident enough to say something without clarifying that I am aware that there are many reasons able to be offered as to why I possibly should stay silent. There are two, almost contradictory, factors I contribute to this change. Both of these I can link to my intellectual commitment to equality.

(1) If I think anybody has the right to talk so their words are taken seriously, why I would worry about ‘ticking the boxes’ to talk in a way that is perceived within the group as sensible to speak in or from an identity that is recognised as sensible to speak from? There often are good answers to that question. However, sometimes this question displaces the question I have often been too quick to impute onto my interlocutors of why I am there or why I am saying something.

(2) Following from my commitment to equality is my presupposition that each person potentially has the capacity to observe and analyse social interactions. I have observed that to state I am aware I have no particular right to speak, or even a particularly good point to make, when I am trying to say something else simply takes up time and conversation space. Furthermore, starting with an apology for who I am [not] and what I [do not clearly] say gives people more content to process. It can therefore act as a distraction from what I actually wanted to ask or say and so reduces the likelihood of receiving the engagement I would prefer.

By stopping myself from presuming to be able to predict what people will think (and attempting to deal with this), I feel like I give myself a better chance of being heard. By giving up an attempt to demonstrate that I can preempt what people think, sometimes I can be more effective at controlling the discursive space. If I can be heard, others can respond, and I gain the opportunity to hear and learn from these responses.

Perhaps I can quieten (or still) my doubts about what I am saying and how I am expressing it long enough to focus on, and ask about, something other than , ‘Can I say this? Can you understand me?’ And then maybe even move on.

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