Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Agency

(overheated thoughts)

A lot of the material I find myself copy-editing is in the social, political or economic sciences because that's where I've been working, for over a decade in a specialist university and for another decade and more before that in international politics - so the people I know and the people they know tend to be in these fields. Although I've never studied these areas formally myself, I've learned a lot about them - their jargon, their broader expectations of scholarly writing in particular. To revise a text written by a non-native English speaker you need to fully understand the intended meaning and I never take on the editing of anything I can't follow.

But my mind is not just an editor's mind, of course. The social, economic and political sciences concern us all, specialists or not, since they concern the forces that govern our lives as individuals. In this sense everything I find myself working on is of personal as well as linguistic interest.

Recently I've been editing a paper that debates the nature and extent of individual agency in a post-modern and crisis-ridden Western democracy: a topic that touches me, and all of us, very personally. It's the question, really, that determines how far it's worth my while to get up every day, to summon all my hopes and dreams, morality, beliefs, and try again. Just lately, wondering if I can build a different, better life, even in these hard and frightening times, I'm especially aware of this.

Whilst doing ok with the day-to-day goals, at a deeper level I'm struggling. I've been seeing a psychotherapist, conscious that this is probably my last chance to confront my deepest personal limitations. A therapist will treat you as if you have a lot of individual agency - or why would they bother? This doesn't mean, of course, that they're oblivious to wider social issues. They may have strong political commitments. Many are involved in pushing for more psychotherapy (and not just CBT!) to be available in the British National Health Service for those who cannot pay.

But still, personal agency, and so implicitly the question of its limits, is the focus in therapy - the complex and ultimately unanswerable question! There'll be no cut-and-dried answer from my therapist, and none from any scholarly paper either. Social scientists... observe - yes, collect - yes, analyse - yes, theorise - yes, speculate - hmm.

Whatever your perspective, the here and now is really all there is, although all your important decisions imperiously demand some basis beyond this. The therapist may speak of the need to find 'a place to stand' in difficult, shifting times, and this image is a powerful one. The best I can come up with for now is that it's a little (but essential) bit about faith and imagination, a little (but essential) bit about becoming more aware of your own 'blind spots', and a lot about just putting one foot in front of the other.

5 comments:

Zhoen said...

I prefer behaviourists. Work it out, rather than think it out. But then, I don't like philosophers who get tangled up in their words, and forget real people. Get my hands dirty, dig in the soil, find out who I really am by how I tackle the tough bits.

No, what one person does doesn't matter. But if everyone acted as though it did, it really would.

Rouchswalwe said...

I miss western Japan, where I spent 5 years working and living in my youth. I never wanted to go there. But they gave me a job, so I went. It was my first time out of my element. I didn't know the culture or the language. I hardly knew myself. These days, when I have trouble putting a foot out of bed, this past blends into the morning and whirls me into the present. I wish I could explain it better. Dapples of memory propel me into a day here, although the struggles are real. I still keep in touch with a good friend in Japan. Once, when I wrote her that I was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other, she told me that maybe I needed to take my shoes off. I'm still trying to understand what she meant. But I wanted to share this with you, Jean.

Dick said...

This speaks to me very directly, Jean. This time last year was very difficult and the help that I received from two (loosely speaking) therapists drew me towards the very same 'best-for-now' reflections. May both of us within our respective 'here-and-nows' find some stability!

PeterAtLarge said...

Is "individual agency" a little like karma?

Beth said...

I think about these questions a lot, too, feeling more and more limited by age and the amount of time remaining vs. hopes, desires, dreams,ideals. It's best for me, I've found, to just get up, get going, do the work rather than get caught up in my thoughts so much I stop...but that can be hard too.