Posts Tagged migration
I have been working at the Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Kobe University, Japan, since October 2010. This is my first permanent academic job after temporary positions at Tohoku and Kyoto Universities. Now, I have been promoted to professor this April, feeling very old… So, yes, in this climate, I should be really happy about my work situation. But, as you all know very well, it’s hectic and getting worse.
As an Essex sociologist, I sometimes look at STATISTICS and compare them with my own personal experiences: among many notorious figures in Japan (and I have no intention of mentioning any sexist/ultra-right-wing remarks by st*p*d politicians at all here) are the long working hours. There is a warning that beyond 60 hours a week, the rate of karo-shi, or death by work-related exhaustion/stress, increases considerably (surprise, surprise!); and among my colleagues we say, ‘60 hours? We should have died 1.5 times by now’. Yes, I am exaggerating; academics do not work so much during summer and so we don’t exceed the karo-shi line on average, except that summer ‘holidays’ are the only time we can work as researchers.
At the moment, I am very much looking forward to the end of my service as chairperson of the International Exchange Committee this autumn – anyone fancy a teaching, research or student exchange with a Japanese university?
Despite feeling overworked, I’m not giving up this job quite yet, though, because I have a mortgage for the first time in my life, too, and I still think this is the best paid job in which I can follow my research interest. I am still working on global sex work issues, very much built on my Ph.D. project. The difference now is that I do not focus only on migrant workers but also Japanese workers and increasingly leaning towards participatory action research. After coming back from Essex, I keep finding myself in situations which people in academia need to engage in in order to make certain issues, otherwise swept away as personal troubles, social. But it’s nice, seriously, to find a good use for what I enjoyed so much in the process of learning:
– Ken’s artistic lectures and creative talks, Rob’s crafted lectures and pinpoint supervisions, Paul’s interview methodology, Lucinda’s book launch, Colin’s ‘way of life that does not exist’, Pam’s hands-on ‘how to finish in three years’ class, Yasmin and Maggie O’Neil’s tough viva, departmental seminars, brown bag seminars, our little individually organised seminars and chats in the student offices, teas here and there, expensive but fine campus accommodation, the lake in rain, the smell in the library, Ph.D. conferences at Aldeburgh, mulled wine in the common room, the TESCO junction towards Wivenhoe village, the foot path, estuary, the house on Chaney Road, pints at the Rose and Crown and the list, with deep-felt thanks, never ends.
Besides, I do find the Essex brand of sociology is an excellent tool to keep reminding us that people ‘out there’ are much more knowledgeable than anyone in academia, never mind in national politics, about the issues they should have been at the centre of. It has also equipped us with theories and methodologies that distinguish sociologists from others’ ways of being useful; the awareness is with us that we need to question the theory/practice divide particularly in handling the West/East divide. The pain is that at the moment this type of sociology looks like it is losing funding and so on around the world. Let’s wait and see if our connection to the real will pay off in the end.
To be fair, life in Kobe is not bad overall. It’s a nice city with a working port, beach, mountain, hotspas, lively centre and history of modernising Asia. We will have trouble visiting all the good-looking eating-out places in a lifetime – anyone fancy Japanese dinner around here? I’m from Tokyo originally but I don’t want to go back to live there anymore. Being away from Tokyo overcrowding it’s also good that you don’t have to queue too long to see films and exhibitions (when you have time to visit them at all).
Here, I live with my partner who I met at Essex as my housemates-cum-course-mates’ friend. After struggling with a too-long-distance relationship, we decided to get a civil partnership and live together in Japan. The partnership is not recognised here but we are openly and civilisedly demanding university, municipal, sometimes state offices to give us equal welfare and legal treatment. Of course we fail every time because this is a sovereign state ruled by its own law. But never mind, this can be another participatory action research on migration, gender, sexuality, intimacy, citizenship and nationality combined anyway. Moreover, we are expecting a baby in a week’s time! Ask me about the adventure of bringing up a child in a queer family in Japan next time.
Memories of Essex in the late 1980s to early 90s: social theory and qualitative methods
The Reading Room, with filter coffee and a bowl to throw in your cash payment.
Ken Plummer, impressive because he didn’t just use one overhead projector – he used two!
And he flitted between them.
And he showed film clips, and played tunes.
‘Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing’.
Catherine Hall telling us to expect no fancy tricks from her like OHPs;
She just talks in her lectures and we’d better get used to it.
And we did.
David Lee teaching us about Durkheim and anomie by getting us to think about what motivates a soldier to go to war, and to die for his country.
Ted Benton. Marx. The 1844 manuscripts.
I even bought a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto.
That caused a bit of a stir at home among family and friends.
It looked terribly out of pTlace next to The Sun on the coffee table.
The Graduate Weekend!
Singing ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ on the bus on six different languages.
And Ken Plummer telling us something about tap dancing.
Social anthropology, Richard Wilson and Roger Goodman, with their enthusiasm for understanding exotic worlds, and familiar ones. Those guys really turned my world on its head.
And they showed films!
And through it all, I loved it and hated it. Loved it because I felt so challenged, enthused, intimidated, enlightened. Hated it for all the same reasons.
It turned out I was quite good at doing quantitative research! The truth is I found it so difficult that I worked three times as hard on that topic. That’s what explains the 80% grade, and, 3 years later, the job in the Institute for Social and Economic Research (in The Round Building).
I was never fully happy there, despite the lovely people I worked with. I had done my PhD using ethnographic methods, and supervised by social anthropologists. That was my intellectual and spiritual home. I want to understand what makes people tick.
My research questions are likely to be: why do people do that? How does this happen, over and over again? What drives people to be that way? What is going on here? Those sorts of questions – about real people, with real (yes, real), messy, complicated lives, people who can’t always articulate their reasons, who don’t always get what they want (or perhaps even know) – those sorts of questions are answered by getting to know people, by getting involved, getting in there. It’s tricky, and entangled, and it involves very little mathematics.
I think, to do qualitative research you have to, basically, like people – and perhaps yourself a little, too. Because, if you really do simply want to know about their lives, it’s my experience that they let you in. And that is amazing, really.
Such a privilege.
And that privilege is an outcome of being taught ethnographic methods by such enthusiastic teachers all those years ago.
When I remember Sociology at Essex I feel an incredible sense of gratitude. Being there changed my life. I was able to be part of something a few lucky people have shared. I feel an invisible thread connects me to every other student and staff member that was there around the time I was. And I feel sad, because those times have gone.
“Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Karen O’Reilly is a Professor of Sociology at Loughborough University. She is author of The British on the Costa del Sol, Lifestyle Migration (edited with Michaela Benson), Ethnographic Methods, Key Concepts in Ethnography, and International Migration and Social Theory. She also helped design the UK National Statistics Socio-economic Classification. Being a humble person she doesn’t like to show off any more than that about her achievements. She also finds it weird to write about herself in the third person. Above all, she is incredibly proud to call herself a sociologist who was once at Essex.