Kylie Budge is a PhD student in art/design education at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She is also the co-editor of a new blog, the theteachingtomtom, in her role at RMIT University as a Learning and Teaching Advisor.
What do place and home mean to you? This topic has been swimming around in my head quite a bit recently. I’ve been preoccupied on two levels: in a physical sense and on a more figurative level in relation to the idea of academic discipline. This post has come about because I’m curious to see if others immersed in doing a PhD experience anything like this when they think about ‘home’ and ‘place’.
Firstly, on a physical level, I simply have too many places. By this I mean, during any given working week I have 4 physical places I use for PhD work and my part-time employment. For the PhD I have both a home study space and a space recently provided for me by my university, which you think would be ideal. I mean isn’t it good to have to have options? However, what I’ve found is it can also be somewhat confusing and disorienting. Questions like, what day is it? and, where am I going? frequently pop into my head. And not to mention the myriad of data storage questions it can generate!
I value my home study space for the quiet and solitude it provides. But, quite frankly, on some days both the fridge and the couch are just too enticing. And it’s begun to feel a wee bit isolating. This last part is a surprise to me. Going from full-time work (from years and years of teaching and working in busy, people-centred workplaces) to full-time study I thought I’d never be sick of the quiet and sense of being alone that comes with studying from home. I thought I’d be reveling in it, to be quite frank. And most days I do enjoy it.
But recently I started to feel very isolated and actually began to crave seeing people on my part-time work days. I never expected that to happen! So when my university recently offered a study space I tentatively said yes, and am presently trialling it to see if it will work. On my first day there I met 5 new people and was quite pleasantly overwhelmed. It’s too soon yet to say how that space will pan out.
My other two ‘places’ or ‘homes’ during the week are 2 different campuses at the university where I am employed part-time. So, together I have 4 physical places for study/work. Some people might find this too fracturing or to use my favourite word, discombobulating. What I’ve recently realised is that I thrive in the dynamism that all these different physical places provide. Well, for now I do. Ask me in 12 months and we’ll see if I have a different opinion.
The more figurative aspect of ‘home’ or ‘place’ I’ve been tinkering with is in the context of academic discipline. Caroline Kreber writes on the topic of academic disciplines and their role, meaning and power in universities. She highlights how much discipline matters to academics and the profound role they play in university pedagogy.
My PhD topic (creative practice and teaching of art/design in universities) perches me squarely on the fence of two (if not three) quite different disciplines. And while I understand that I’m not alone in this situation, it often provokes questions for me about where my disciplinary home might be. Or even if I have one.
Before enrolling, I went through quite a tricky period searching for supervisors because I (and my topic) didn’t fit neatly into most ways universities organise their disciplines and their academics. This created lots of days when I wondered if there was something wrong with my topic. Surely the fact that there is no easy or natural home for me is an indicator that something is not quite right, I thought (and sometimes still do).
I view with envy students who have a PhD topic which centres them squarely in a discipline without question. Such a disciplinary home must feel safe and warm and nurturing I imagine. Academically, you must know where to call ‘home’ and where you envisage working (in a disciplinary sense) once the PhD is done.
The strange truth is, I like both of my possible disciplinary homes and can feel quite comfortable in either – even if I often have this sense that I’m not going to be there for long. In a disciplinary sense, I feel very transient. Interestingly I’m starting to get used to this and it’s beginning to feel alright. Bourdieu wrote a lot about ‘field’ or ‘habitus’ and the play of power and agency, and the resulting anxieties when we have to navigate a range of these.
I think I know what he means in a disciplinary sense. However, I’ve also realised I don’t have to feel like a visitor in either discipline but can benefit from being able to move between and work within both disciplinary homes. It’s made me think that perhaps universities should start softening those disciplinary boundaries for those of us who don’t quite fit into one in particular. Who knows what creative outcomes might flow from such new spaces and places? What do you think?