Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Emotional Labours

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Emotional Labours

Article excerpt

The research work that academics do is often wrapped up in a wealth of complicated feelings, says Aoife Monks

When people ask me about my current research, I tell them I'm interested in mid-19th century Irish theatre. But the word "interest" doesn't seem adequate to describe the complicated feelings that this topic provokes. I find the eccentricities and flamboyance of the artists of the period fascinating and seductive, but I also find myself repelled and disturbed by the racism of Irish blackface minstrels on the American stage, and unnerved by Irish artists' plundering of the news of Fenian terrorism to create sensational spectacles in London theatres.

My "interest" also comprises myriad complicated feelings about the act of doing research itself. The Enlightenment emphasis on disinterestedness suggests that the experience of research should be a disembodied one, with temperaments, passions and personalities left at the library or laboratory door. When academic scholarship is depicted in popular culture, it tends to jump from this solitary monasticism to the elation of the eureka moment. But in reality doing research is far messier, more personal and more richly emotional than either of these pictures implies.

I am an Irish migrant myself, and one whose career has followed the traditional travel routes from Ireland to the US and now London, so the fact that I'm writing a book about Irish performers who took the same path is not altogether coincidental. The ambivalence I feel about the material is a means for me to examine the complicated feelings that migration provokes, illuminating my own (rather more privileged) experiences by the light of historical difference and distance.

To recognise the problematic role that 19th-century Irish immigrants played in the formation of the racial hierarchies of the newly emerging US class system, or to scrutinise the strategic ways in which Irish performers employed stage-Irish stereotypes to capitalise on the English appetite for nostalgic depictions of a pre-modern Ireland, is a means for me to reflect on my own position as an Irish scholar in London. A close identification by academics with their research projects is a prominent feature of arts and humanities scholarship, but anecdotally, my scientist and social-scientist friends suggest that they too feel highly identified with the work that they do, making research a form of indirect self-expression. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.