For what it’s worth
Social expectations to women scholars have been driving me crazy for about 10 years now (my daughter is 9 years old). It has been a daily fight to work, then run errands, pick up the kids from school, do laundry, cook, bring the kids to bed and reopen the laptop at 8 P.M. every single evening, for years. But that, I have become used to, even if it still makes me angry (an anger that I consider as a sign of good mental health). I can’t see anything illegitimate in raising one’s kids while doing research.
Something has become worse in the last year though, because now, on top of the daily craziness, I seem to be unable to assess of the quality of my own scholarly production. Something broke somewhere in my own understanding of evaluation, and I have turned incapable of judging if what I write is of good or poor scholarly quality. I suppose this is partly the downside of the predominant discourse on excellence. There are excellent publication forms (monographs, print journal articles), excellent methods (history of science, materiality inquiries), excellent institutes, excellent schools of thought. If you don’t belong there, it is not that you are average: you are nothing. If you don’t adore the right idols, you are doomed. Interestingly, this does not affect my evaluation competence towards the works of others, which I think I can still discriminate pretty accurately. It concerns only my own work.
But it would be too easy to say that because I am not sure of being excellent any more, I don’t know if I am doing my job properly. In fact, my job ends in December, which means that the question is not about my job, but about my vocation (if this post were in German, you would notice the beauty of the fact that there is one single word to name both job and vocation in German – but let’s operate a clean cut here). I have always felt research as being my vocation. After reading many articles of people stating just the same, I have come to the conclusion that this is just a way of not accepting to do something else than what you have done for years. But although this consideration helps me come to terms with the fact that scholarship will very likely not be my job forever, it does not help me cope with the feeling that my scholarly production is worthless. And this is a terrible feeling.
None of the scholarly endeavors I envisioned a few months ago seems worth the effort. The more I am sure that what I am doing is useful for future scholars, the more it feels like I could just as well have kept it in my head. I have completely lost interest in fighting for my convictions, I am not even sure they are worth something for someone else than me. I have been procrastinating (still am while writing this post) on opening the files of the papers I urgently want to finish writing.
What is a scholarly path about? What makes you do research 20 years long, what makes you think about the things that fascinate you, what animates you to make the beauty of them audible and understandable to others? Nothing but a selfish, childish pleasure, I suppose. Maybe the reason why I can’t tell the worth of my work anymore is that I want it to be a pleasure again, and not a race up the Academic ladder – at the risk of tumbling down said ladder.