At the outset, let me say that I am all for people wanting to make a change in the world. I think it is important for everyone to think about the way the world is today and what we can do to make a difference. Even if not to go out of our way to make a change in other people's lives, small lifestyle changes in our own lives is also necessary, possibly even more so than the larger changes. It is, indeed, in these small changes that the larger changes lie.
Having. Said. That. More important than it is, to simply think about the way the world is today, is the need to do so critically. It is not enough to wake up one day and say "I want to be the change I want to see in the world." You have to go about trying to understand what it is this change you want to see in the world is. For which, (and this is where I am possibly a snob), you have to read.
For every single grand or little idea that you have, there are hundreds of people who have had ideas around it. Have written about it. Have worked on it. Every single little tiny idea that exists in the human brain has history. And while I'm not saying that you need to know the genealogy of everything you want to say or do, I *do* think that just a brief look at the debates and the discussions that people around the world have had on this idea give a person perspective.
I find (as do most people I know in academia) that it is extremely difficult to carry out a conversation with people outside of academia. With someone who is in a university, regardless of whether you agree with each other or not, whether you study physics or sociology or urdu, whether you care about the topic in discussion or not, whether you're left or right or center or liberal or believe in post-postmodernism; I think it is much easier to engage.
The obvious explanation, of course, is that we-grad-students-in-academia live in a bubble. We live in cloistered spaces where we all know what we're supposed to think and what the other opinions are supposed to be and we know our own opinions and where we come from and what the counters to those opinions are and what one is talking about when one is saying something as random as socially necessary human labour (excuse the examples i'm reading marx).
So when I have a conversation with someone who is not from a university, I am at a loss. I don't know what to expect from the person I am trying to talk to. I don't know how to argue. I don't know how to discuss things. I just don't know where they are coming from.
Which brings me to what I started with. Added to my university snobbery is my I-work-in-development snobbery. So when I meet people who, from the goodness of their hearts, want to do something to bring a change to the world but have really no perspective at all, I get pissed off.
I know that it is not right of me to get pissed off. I know that it's not my place to tell people how to think about their initiatives or judge the work that they are doing without even giving them a chance. I know these things. I can't help but ask these questions that I was trained to ask. Where are you coming from? What do you mean by this? How do you see people? What do you mean by community? Are you thinking about gender at all?
It irritates me when people who want to or DO work in the field have not even thought to ask questions of why they are doing what they are doing.
hazaar a thousand* ways to think about your neighbour employing a child in her
house, for example. Ranging from 'She is doing the kid a favor by
employing him' which I would rate as extreme on one end to 'I am going
to call the police' which would be the extreme at the other end; there
are all sorts of responses. Which response you have obviously derives
from how you think about children, rights, labour, poverty, development,
the role of the state, community, freedom, education, I could go on and
on. Even if you don't think of these things when you're tackling
something as small as child in neighbour's house, I don't mind. What I
do mind is if you make an initiative out of children in neighbour's
houses without thinking about these things.
Because if not anything else, I believe that change needs to come from the grassroots. If you're coming up with an initiative of any sort, it is important to think about who you are working with and why. It is important, especially because you have the money and you have the sanction of the people who are supporting you; so you need to be sure you're not making a scapegoat of the people you are working with. You need to question and theorize every aspect of your work if you're planning to work on changing other people's lives. And an absence of such theorizing can be very very harmful if you don't.
The bottomline of this post, I suppose, is don't ever venture into a conversation about, say, queer fiction, if you're talking to someone who may not necessarily know that you could punch them in their face if they say something random like "but gays are just pretending."