This blog is my outlet for all the things that aren’t allowed in a thesis.
Not allowed, not even in a thesis that pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in academia. A thesis that is “action oriented”. A thesis which is, and I quote, “difficult to pass off as academic work since none of this lends itself to publication in peer-reviewed academic journals.” In other words, it’s a thesis that smells vaguely of political activism.
Even in a thesis like this, there is no room for the author’s grief, anger, or fear. A thesis is a place where facts and data are accumulated from previous theses or journal articles and then reconfigured to allow new ideas to emerge. Some of those ideas are useful; some can have the power to change the world in some small good way. Others are truly beautiful. Most are, at best, interesting topics for brainy late night conversations over hoppy beers or cheap red wine. No one writes a thesis or a journal article hoping to invoke tears of grief or contrition.
But how does a researcher study climate change adaptation, inequality, disempowerment, melting permafrost and shrinking polar caps, without a single mention of her human reaction to such nightmarish scenarios? How do I write a 40 page thesis proposal related to climate change impacts without using the word “sacrilege”? Or the word “anguish”? In which chapter of my thesis do I describe the sleepless nights filled with mental images of exploratory sonic bombs detonating under Arctic waters, blasting through the delicate bodies of the narwhals and belugas feeding in Clyde Inlet?
There is no place for any of that in my work. I’m allowed to have personal feelings, of course. And I’m lucky enough to be on a research team composed of strong and emotionally courageous women who allow themselves to speak of their feelings over drinks when the work day is done. Sometimes, even before work is done, discussions veer toward talk of hopelessness, or frustration. Suddenly the standard for professional language drops and steam is vented in the form of “fucks” and ‘”shits”. It’s a way we prevent ourselves from building up too much feeling, risking melt-downs which might sabotage our work. I’m proud of these women. Proud of their determination to carve out some space in the discourse for things that actually matter in the real world. But I also feel impotent. All our talking, all our objective analyses and recommendations and advice. Wouldn’t it maybe be more appropriate to scream? Wail? Shave our heads, throw ashes on our naked bodies, sit outside the doors of Enbridge, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Prime Minister Harper’s office, and demand a national day of mourning, a year of mourning, for what we have done, what we are doing, what we are powerless to stop?
Maybe it would be more appropriate. But I can’t do it. I’ve been cultured to keep those feelings contained, push them down, and get back to work. But as I’m scrolling through my news feed on a hurried lunch break, I might find a video of a Sami woman shaving her head to mourn the loss of her people’s way of life as the ice melts earlier each spring, or I might find a sound clip of a Peruvian farmer singing the story of how her sheep and her house were destroyed by the police in retaliation for refusing to sell her land, of her determination to protect the water and the soil she loves, even if they beat her. Again. And then I am reminded that I am not the only one who feels grief, and that even if I am gagged and inhibited, there are others who are not so shackled, not so powerless. They are my priestesses. They speak when words fail me. And so, with my professionally objective, boundary-pushing thesis, I pay clumsy homage to their magic.