Dealing with Feelings in Social Sciences

The more I listen to scholars and activists who write about coloniality and structural racism in society and academia, the more I understand the origins of the intense feelings I feel as a researcher and learn how to deal with them.

Since I started my university life in 2003, I don’t remember having a single day without shifting from heart-pounding excitement (ex.: figuring out theories that explain how race and inequality work) to depressing frustration (ex.: wondering if I’m good enough to be a ‘proper’ scholar) and suffocating anger (ex.: identifying how some scholars build successful careers by ignoring and/or benefiting from inequalities).

The problem is that the Westernized university doesn’t usually help us deal with the emotional aspect of doing research. By emotional aspect I am not referring here to mental health and well-being (which is important and to which support is also lacking), but how feelings affect our creative production as researchers. For example, I’ve come to realize that of the texts I have written as a researcher, my favorite ones are those in which I didn’t pretend to be objective, even if remaining self-critical and scientifically rigorous. I can feel my love, my joy, my uncertainties and/or my anger in them.

The problem is that the default expectation in academia is that scientific validity requires a researcher to be objective. And even though I know as a fact that social scientists are never fully objective, this requirement still affects my mindset especially when I sit to write. In my mind, for example, preparing articles for peer-reviewed journals leads me to a spiral of inner-conflict between intellectual honesty and pretense of objectivity that often leads me to leaving many articles unfinished.

That’s why listening to academic and activist voices about coloniality and racism in society and academia has been so important to me. Especially if those who speak belong to marginalized social groups. Without any pretense of objectivity, they denounce structural inequalities in knowledge production while contesting inequalities and acting to dismantle them. In addition to what they say, what they do also serve as politically engaged academic practices to be followed. For example, how scholars construct networks for practical action together with activists while not neglecting their intellectual and pedagogical duties as professionals in academia.

In a way, listening and reading to engaged scholarship provides powerful lessons for us to deal with the feelings that our research work cause and, most importantly, to use them – the excitement, joy, frustration and anger – as fuel to our intellectual, pedagogical and society-changing contributions.

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash