I’ve been postponing writing this final blog for SAYAS. Why? For one thing, I’ve always been bad at goodbyes. Although in this case, as our fabulous editor Jennifer Fitchett aptly said, ‘it will never be goodbye, just less contact’. Even parties I usually prefer to leave quietly without drawing attention to my exit. But writing for SAYAS was an experience that warrants at least an attempt at finding some recounting words. Also because I find the blog’s mission of creating a platform for genuine stories, shared by young academics, imperative to creating an environment where support and openness trumps the overwrought image of the academic as a stoic, objective, singular figure. At least, that’s my own interpretation of the platform. 

Blogging for SAYAS spanned quite a few significant experiences for me: from submitting my PhD thesis, via having to revise and re-submit it after that, to finally learning that I will receive my degree. I also got to share my thoughts while searching for work, figuring out which of my interests to focus on in the process, and starting a postdoctoral position. This all transpired during a time when academic life is still almost exclusively happening online (due to COVID-19), providing an additional spin to grappling with the social and political fundamentals embedded in academia.

Overall, it was a period of really pondering whether academia is where I envision myself for the foreseeable future. In my introductory blog for SAYAS, I said that it is ethnography, the immersive research method in anthropology, rather than the discipline itself that I feel at home with. But what is increasingly relevant for me is the institutional dynamics within which I can apply myself and whether they can form a place of conviviality. The latter is a concept that has been developed and dignified by the works of my PhD supervisor, Professor Francis Nyamnjoh. It has been significant in how I think about being human, being a scholar and imbued in the webs of power of universities. For the moment, I suppose, you will still find me at one of those institutions – as difficult, hierarchical and frustrating as they sometimes are.

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An ivy-covered door to a building at the University of Cape Town. For me, quite symbolic of the elitism (like that of the US-American so-called ‘ivy league’ of hight-status colleges including Harvard) that tends to get reproduced through academic conceptions.

My decision to apply mostly for postdoctoral positions after the PhD also had to do with attending various events that were accessible for free due to in-person conferences, symposia and seminars being moved online throughout the pandemic. Apart from interesting content, I picked up the gist that there is more desire for invigorating exchanges than I had thought. There are always people who seek to reimagine what seems unshakable. My hope is that such spaces for conversation will be made more accessible, even after restrictions on global movements are eased, as many scholars won’t have the luxury of access to the lavish funds that are needed to attend. 

Writing and thus creating some coherence to the messiness of being human is a practice that can be very calming for me. It has been for long, yet I spend most of my writing time writing for something – for a degree or for being published. Rarely do I set time aside to write for just myself. Which is a pity! If I were a person to make new year resolutions, this may be one. 

So taking ‘writing time’ to just think through all the things that were happening this year, the ordeals and moments of relief, was rather curative. However, sharing my thoughts and vulnerabilities in this blog was not always easy. Publishing quite personal reflections is still quite new to me and has, sometimes, put me out of my comfort zone. But it did encourage me to advocate for (and practice) a less varnished form of academic communication. And I believe that it takes this openness and putting one’s guard down to really achieve a more approachable, companionable scholarship. One that illustrates some resistance to creeping ivy coverage – as presentable as it may be.

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