Warning: This post includes photos of food
The U.K. has just declared a lockdown in response to the coronavirus. This means, among other things, that the police will be enforcing no social gatherings with people who don’t already live with you, and banning all but essential travel (infrequent trips to the grocers, or trips to care for somebody, etc.) In Malaysia, we say, ‘Duduk diam-diam di rumah‘ (like ‘stay at home’ but with the force of a stern kindergarten teacher, or Prime Minister).
I thought it would be interesting to begin a series of daily blog posts to chronicle the experience and write whatever I want, without any expectation of length or quality (okay, so business as usual then, you say).
For the past two weeks, C and I have been practising social distancing, persuaded as we were by the literature. We recognise that we are really privileged to be able to work from home in these circumstances and so see it as our part to do that to make it safer for everyone else. At the University’s strong encouragement, many of the students usually resident in Cambridge have left, including many of our friends. I felt very sad to see them leave. The university buildings (including college libraries) have also shut, which means that we have to find new habits to meet these new circumstances. All in all, our challenges are not so acute, and so we’ve been trying to be a source of support to other people who need it.
Today, I had a morning video-call meeting with my research group colleagues, via Microsoft Teams, the University’s preferred digital solution to our collaborative work-from-home needs. I am glad to say that it works very well, fingers crossed as we explore more of its functionality. It was nice to see my colleagues again. In this case, ‘colleagues’ refers to other PhD students working with my supervisor. We are quite a diverse lot but broadly speaking we’re all interested in professional learning and change.
The main item on the agenda for me at least is to establish a new normal and keep up with my PhD milestones. It was quite hard to do so last term, what with the UCU strikes, Malaysia’s ‘soft coup’ and now COVID-19, all in quick succession and escalating disruption. As my supervisor pointed out, however, the pandemic highlights just how important societal expertise is, not just in the obvious areas like virology and epidemiology, but in economics (as we try to respond to a looming recession), education (as school systems suddenly have to scramble e-learning) and more. And so, those of us committed to training ourselves to be experts in our field have a legitimate motivation to try to keep going (varying circumstances notwithstanding).
Lunch was very enjoyable as I heated up some leftover aglio olio from last night and baked some fresh aubergine and bacon (yes, bacon) to go with it. During our lunchtime chat, C asked me if there was anything I felt grateful for (yes we are cool like that), and I said, ‘This meal’ before going on to list other things. One thing is that the weather has been really very nice (sadly a contributor to the masses of people defying social distancing advice last weekend as they swarmed parks, seasides and Scottish highlands). The other is that I really couldn’t ask for a steady and cheerful companion than C. She’s gurreat.
Today I did some work on my meta-theoretical and theoretical frameworks for my PhD. I think I am basically done with the former, and still have lots to do with the latter. My meta-theoretical position draws from Roy Bhaskar’s (1975) critical realism, which has been like a pet subject for me since my first year. I have since read lots on it and its methodological outworking, but I found myself really refreshed by two recent reads: Christian Smith’s (2010) What is a Person? (University of Chicago Press) and Andrew Collier’s (1994) Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. The latter is considered a rare book by some and so I was grateful to acquire my own second-hand copy recently.
Philosophy aside, my study relies a lot on Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) theory of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP). I am really excited about this theory because it has done the most to help me make sense of and interrogate the patterns and relationships I see in my data, which I suppose it’s fair to say what theory is for. In the coming days I hope to explain more — but I’ve got to stop here — it is time for our (government-approved) daily exercise outdoors!
Collier, A. (1994). Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. London: Verso.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, C. (2010). What is a Person? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.