The vocation that one takes up determines to a great extent the motivation and commitment that one has for the work one does. Here the author enables us to take an inward journey of self-exploration.
Jharna enjoyed writing assignments for teachers, part of the M.A. in Education course at Azim Premji University, Bangalore in 2012. She, along with a friend, a attempted a failed academic paper on this theme, the results of which are flowing here.
The story applies to you.
– Pierre Bourdieu (1984, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste)
I found these words relevant in helping us judge our own lives. Pierre Bourdieu was a French theorist, philosopher and sociologist.
Sociologically speaking, we are often coolly explicit when it comes to culture and judging other people. We are knowledgeable because we acknowledge the other person’s background and their actions, putting two and two together, their taste and their social belonging, their work and their family upbringing and education. And who says that we are only pointing fingers at others? We are also self-aware adults in our own lives. Our decisions of shopping and career, friends and boy/girl-friends, music and movies, settling down, knowing where to live, where to move to, are, also, sociological decisions that we learn to take by observation, or which we are taught and influenced by our upbringing, our education, our well-wishers and not-so-well-wishers.
At the risk of making an over-simplified understanding, Bourdieu’s work signified how we judge and understand the lives of others we work for and with, or that of others we live with. His words signify if there’s a need for us to apply this judgment to ourselves. The reason I write this is because I, for sociological, philosophical and spiritual reasons, had been critical of others and myself, a little too much. In a good way, I am curious and slow. My judgments, the ones that I was passionate about, were regarding why they would choose that line of work. “Knowing them personally, this doesn’t feel true.” “That’s not authentic enough!” And this question of truth and authenticity, to me, sprang up for questions of professions where people are portraying critical enquiry in their being. From this point onwards, I want to acknowledge that anything you read, in any way, is not a criticism of or an attempt to undermine the valuable work you do and the change it brings to society.This piece is about understanding ourselves and our “life histories” better. We are going to use the curiosity and as you must have guessed by now, some humor to “judge” ourselves for what we do.
Many choose to talk about it, many choose to think about it, reflect on it too. So, going further, I am going to dissolve the word “judgment” for reasons of being positive and for the larger, logical reason of knowing that work happens because of so many necessities. At the end of the day, spiritually speaking, to each, their own journey.I want to bring this up for readers of this magazine who are young (because I am also a younger person and hence, could emote), who are working in the liberal arts stream, or were initiated into a liberal arts education. We could have had an education or have experiences that opened up for us various perspectives about caste and class, power and patriarchy, discrimination and information, capitalism and feudalism.
We acknowledge and sometimes pride ourselves as, sometimes rightly or sometimes wrongly, harbingers of social change.
I want to ask you, why did you choose to be in the liberal arts and social development work and education space? How did you get here?
Please tick one or all or none or other from the options listed below:
- When you were in school or college, you enjoyed the humanities stream. You could have liked studying literature or psychology or political science. Your career options stemmed from being the next interesting and practical things to do.
Or that you didn’t score good enough marks in an education system that still justifies this hierarchy, so you were awarded the humanities.
- A career, it is. It is a practical option and is more lucrative for this generation than their middle-class parent’s generation to build an independent life as a development practitioner in India. Working in the social sector opens up broader opportunities, even those of working abroad, just like your computer engineer cousin.
- Like any other young person contemplating a career, this field would satisfy a need for self-esteem, autonomy (financial and otherwise), growth and professional development.
We work for money. We need money to earn a living.
- Your parents and family could be, practically, in the same field. They could have been your childhood inspiration. You learnt a lot on the job from them.
- Your parents could be intellectuals! I don’t know an exact definition, but they could be the musicians, the teachers, the travelers, the readers, the Brahmins, the priests, as opposed to the manual labourers and the traders, you get me! You would have had a culturally-abundant upbringing, howeverso, you’d like to read into this. So, your choice of career is acceptable to them because it also builds on the knowledge and cultural capital of the clan.
- You were born with a silver spoon(for example, rich / upper-caste / urban / male, etc.), with a privilege that you wouldn’t want to stand to reproduce. Anger and even some guilt are the fire for social change.
- For many, who change their profession after spending some years in the for-profit, corporate sector, you switched to make a meaningful career.
- You strongly, logically believe in ideals and theories of making the world a better place. For example, you want to fight poverty. ( There is a character (the mother) in How I met Your Mother (an American drama about young people) who decides to become an economist because she wants to fight poverty.) You believe that quality education is the right of every child. You want to make health and sanitation, education and empowerment, accessible to all. You want democracy for all. You strongly believe in what do.
Is this all? Is it curiosity and analysis?
Is it all work and no play?
Is it play?
Which one of these are you? Did you check all? Did you check none?
It would be wonderful to read here about stories of how and why people entered the fields of social change.
Your answers to this question could be so many and still on their way to you.
Who am I to judge? What is in it for you? It might help you reflect on your story, the battles you are waging and why you are waging them.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. (R. Nice, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1979).