Independent: How? When? Why? What?

Before I got my doctor’s degree (PhD), different circumstances forced me to choose sooner rather than later, a more independent path. This new path was a very helpful reminder of why I first wanted to be a researcher.

How it all started

I am not quite sure when I got the idea first. I do remember though thinking about what makes you choose the path of independence on the day I met Sara Ahmed.

In 2017, I had the privilege of meeting the feminist scholar at Södra Teatern in Stockholm. Before Sara gave her lecture “Snap! Feminist Moments, Feminist Movements” (listen to it here at the website of the organisers, Tryck), I had the opportunity to join a discussion with Sara and other feminist anti-racist activists. At that time, I represented Interfem and Mana and was there to interview Sara Ahmed.

I already knew some of the reasons that led Sara Ahmed to resign from her academic position. It was an act of protest against academia’s failure to tackle the issue of sexual harassment. I was thinking that there are others who choose to leave academia for similar or other reasons. With that choice, they are leaving behind not only an institution but also the idea of doing research.

Sara Ahmed was different.

I had my own struggles causing me to ask questions about independence. But I did have my doubts, as well. I was writing my doctoral thesis at that time and was thinking that independent scholar is not an available option for everyone. We may lack the qualifications, or we have not made a name for ourselves. So I asked the question: “Who can become independent?” I still remember her reply. For Sara Ahmed, it was never a matter of choice.

This meeting turned into more than an essay on the lecture by Ahmed and her book Living a Feminist Life. Now in retrospect, it seems that the meeting marked a turning point in my own life.

When and why I was becoming independent

When my employment as a doctoral student was about to end, I received an e-mail in my inbox that notified me of the date I am going to lose my account. This happened also later and several times, because I had other academic jobs. Every time I received those e-mails I remember panicking. This meant that I will not have a university e-mail address anymore, and will lose the affiliation. I would not be able to get anything published without an affiliation.  

A a sudden realisation came in the second half of 2019. I found myself writing my articles/thesis, but I had no university employment and I did not know if my university will be willing to prolong my affiliation. The day I got this reality check was the same day I officially started writing on my own. I recalled the words of Sara Ahmed about not having a choice, though my situation was different from hers. I was not willing to give up on research. There have to be other ways.

What does it mean?

Some independent scholars earn a living from their freelance. However, at present when I write that I am an independent scholar, that means I write on my own, without and/or aside an academic employment/position. As was the case during my last year as a doctoral student. It does not mean that I wish to be outside. It means that I have to work outside in order to get (back) in. And that I will go back once I find that place where I am valued for my skills and knowledge, where what I advocate in my research reflects the environment I work in. However, I will probably always have to keep one foot outside so I do not lose my reasons for wanting to do research.  

When my university extended my affiliation, I decided to complete my doctoral dissertation and keep the affiliation for those articles that are included in that work, which was largely written during my employment at that university.

The same year I made my decision, Sara Ahmed visited Malmö University. I attended the open lecture. It felt familiar, but not because of the lecture in Stockholm. I guess I was listening to what I have been through since her last lecture. I just waited for it to end so I could get out, grasp for air.

And so I left.   

The independence is still an experiment and there is much to learn, explore and there are also a few challenges to overcome but I am excited to see how far it will go.

Further reading

Sara Ahmed’s blog feministkilljoys