September 7th, 2018
Things are getting real now with starting my MA/PhD at the University of Liverpool.
This week, having paused at least for now on much else that I’m doing, I’ve been spending more time around the university. Not that there are many other students around, I’ve just been getting myself acclimatised to the place again. Forty years after I last spent very much time here.
I’ve been reading mostly. Things my two academic supervisors in Sociology and History have recommended. And it was while sat in this coffee shop reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’ by Doreen Massey I noticed an email float across my screen from the university. Not one of the general ‘Welcome to Liverpool’ messages I’ve been getting lately, but a very specific one from the administrator of the department I’ll be joining the week after next. Containing details and times like “1pm on Tuesday 18.” And a list of modules to pick from. This MA I’m needing to do being partly a taught thing, compared with the the PhD that will follow.
So it’s all getting real now, which is good.
Anyway, back to the reading.
I was glad to hear of Doreen Massey and her writings about place, something I’m obviously interested in. So for the past few days I’ve been reading ‘Space, Place and Gender’ a collection of her essays, to familiarise myself with the writings of someone I suspect I’ll get a lot more familiar with in time.
A lot of my own work this past 20 odd years has been in specific places, so I have some practical familiarity with some of the arguments she talks about in her essay ‘Locality Studies.’ Progressive and anti-progressive views on whether places are forever changing or static things. Whether places are things at all or sets of social interactions over time, that change as the people change?
Pausing as I read to think. Something I’m getting more used to. Of places I’ve seen constantly change over time, the welcome of and sometimes resistance to new people. The number of Liverpool’s I’ve lived in now. Times and places really being created and defined by what people said and did. The streets themselves as a kind of background to the places and times we collaged over the top of them?
She talks of the speeding up of some, though by no means all, of much of the male driven world. This time-space compression, so much connection possible so quickly.
Asian business people jetting to California like they’re going out for lunch with some American google-men, whilst flying over the heads of whole island places still in much slower versions of time.
Then this tendency to think of places as fixed, for purposes or types of people. Maybe for nostalgic heritage or antagonistic to outsiders or newcomers?
‘Can we rethink our sense of place? ‘ she suggests as I think maybe that’s one of the things I’m here for?
‘How to hold onto that notion of geographical difference, of uniqueness, even of rootedness if people want that, without it being reactionary?’
She talks about boundaries, of not being able to say specifically where a place begins and ends, and illustrates this with a walk around Kilburn, the place where she lived much of her own life. Where the streets have posters for different cultural events, various Irish, Asian and other meetings, celebrations and concerts. And the newsagents sell newspapers in various languages from all over the world.
’This is just the beginning of a sketch’ she says.
Doreen Massey’s sketch being of Kilburn. Mine being a mental sketch of the beginnings, sat here reading, of making some new sense out of all the places I’ve worked in and walked through. And so many other places I haven’t been to or thought about yet.
Sat here feeling an enthusiastic sense of just beginning. New thoughts and interactions, in a new time and a new place.
I’ll read on. And write more as I go. Knowing some of this will seem naive or maybe even wrong-headed in time. But writing anyway. Sat here at the beginning of this new time in my life.
I’ll read on.