Thoughts on being an #ECR: personal stories and privilege

I never blog about ERC (early career researcher for the non academics) problems and job instability. There are many others who have done it great, and have expressed far better than I can what I think -and what I feel. But, within three months of the end of my fellowship, I wanted to share my experience to say, to anyone who can relate to it, that hey! you’re not alone in this! And that this precarity it’s not your fault. NOT YOUR FAULT.

Like most of my women colleagues, I’m not particularly good at thinking high of me. Even if I love what I do, and I think that the stuff I research is the most amazing thing in the world, I always have this constant insecurity about what I do -about what others are going to think of what I do, to be more precise. Like my girl friends, I will only self indulge myself thinking that, at least, I’m doing my best. That I’m trying to do my best.

Of course, comparing myself to others does not particularly help in this.

But one morning I had like a “click” in my mind, and something changed. Let’s change the perspective for a while. Do I lack skills that others have? Yes, of course. I don’t have a degree from Oxbridge. I didn’t do my PhD in a top university. Nobody in my current network knows my supervisor. For god’s sake, I don’t even speak English properly.

But these things are not my weaknesses. These are my strengths. In spite of all this, I made it. I got an amazing fellowship and I’m working with the best colleagues ever -both intellectual and personally. I came from nowhere, and now I’m here.

I don’t want to turn this into a ‘self-made’ myth. That’s neoliberal crap and it’s usually a lie -working hard does not guarantee success, in the same way that ‘success’ does not mean having worked hard. Besides, any story is the story of *one* individual.

But I do believe that we have to take into account privilege when thinking about ‘success’ and opportunities in academia. Caroline Magennis recognised in a fantastic blog post that “I don’t have that relaxed confidence that people have when they’ve been to certain institutions or have never had to worry about rent.” Nailed.

But again, as I read in twitter other day -and sorry but can’t find where!-, I won’t admire someone who have never had to think about making dinner. That’s the point. Our concept of ‘merit’ has to change. If success comes from having someone taking care of your daily needs, sorry, but I’m not impressed. If you have been struggling to take care of children or relatives while doing research, or just needed a paid job to survive -impressed.

So let’s change the perspective. If, in spite of all this, we have made it through here -we can do it. This is not positive thinking, it’s  just self love. Of course being positive does not change the fact that there are very few jobs -to change that we need political action. But I find much easier to deal with the whole job application process if I remember that I came from nowhere, and now I’m here.


Call for Papers: Panel on Photographic History at SHS Conference (Lancaster University, 21-23 March 2016)

Call for Papers

Photographic History: A New Direction for Social History?

Panel Proposal “40th Anniversary Open Strand: New Directions”

Social History Society Conference, Lancaster University, 21-23 March 2016

Panel chair: Dr Beatriz Pichel, PHRC, De Montfort University

L0056449 A Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images China: a Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl, Beijing. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869. 1869 By: J. ThomsonPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0056449 A Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869.
CC BY 4.0

Photography has changed the way in which the past is represented and remembered. Let’s take the example of the key role that photographs of the liberation of concentration camps have played in the formation of the collective memory of the Holocaust. However, photographs remain a rather marginalized historical material. They usually belong to the realm of art and visual culture, and when they enter into general histories is usually as illustrations or anecdotes.

Following recent approaches to photographic history, this panel interrogates what happens when we situate photography at the centre of historical analyses. How can we do social history by examining photographic sources –photographs, cameras, illustrated journals, albums and photographic manuals, to name but a few? What are the main challenges of visual history? And what are the main advantages?

This panel invites contributions that tackle how photographic history can contribute to develop further questions traditionally explored in cultural and social history. Based on particular case studies, papers will show different methodologies and research strategies to use photography as a historical source. With this aim, they will explore questions such as how the use of photographic sources has brought to light new problems or has changed the way in which a particular event is related. The aim of the panel is to demonstrate that photographic history is not (only) the history of photographs, but rather a new historical approach.

I invite contributions on a wide range of topics –politics, economy, medicine and science, emotions, family, space and time, folklore and dance, among others. Panels at the SHS Conference are a collection of 3-4 papers, delivered within 20 minutes. Please, send me an abstract of about 250 words to before the 9th of November, to allow enough time for submission –conference deadline is the 16th of November. More details about the SHS Conference here

You can download a pdf version here CfP Photographic History SHS Conference 16

Photographing Gestures (V): Chronophotography and the Passions in Movement

As I was explaining in the last post of the series , the collaboration between the photographer Albert Londe and the physiologists and clinicians at La Salpêtrière led to a new conception of emotional expressions. The need to capture the signs of hysteria shifted the focus from the face to the body: facial expressions were meaningful as much as they were accompanied by bodily gestures. But this apparently minor shift also had repercussions on the use of photography. While instantaneous photography seemed the perfect technology to freeze the otherwise fleeting expressions, it had limitations to capture gestures. How could one single image summarize the whole choreography of gestures that patients did under hypnosis?

Londe took very seriously this question. The issue for him was not to reduce exposure times so to capture the ‘instant’ – the key of Darwin’s photographic project- but how to record movement. During the first years at the Salpêrtrière, his solution was the making of photographic series, putting together several photographs that captured the different stages of an hysterical attack -photographs that actually corresponded to several attacks suffered by the same person. This system, similar to the examples examined in the previous post, gave the impressions of movement. However, as Londe explained in his treatise La photographie médicale, the photographs still captured ‘random’ moments:

“It is possible to capture the patient and to immobilize him by means of the instantaneous photography. However, these pictures taken randomly only represent one of the phases of the movement, a phase that our eye might not even perceive because of its rapidity. We will obtain a document, but we cannot accept that this document alone is able to show what we have perceived (Londe, 1893: 96-97)”

The solution of this should be “a special device that allows taking a certain number of pictures within particular intervals as close or apart from each other as we want them to be” (Londe, 1883: 127)”. I think these quotations are key to understand the scientific use of photography in this context. For Londe, it wasn’t enough to capture several instants, but the intervals between instants had to be regulated too, so the movement could be effectively analysed.

Of course, Londe was talking about chronophotography. First developed by Eadweard Muybridge in San Francisco in 1878 and then adopted and developed by others such as Étienne-Jules Marey, Jules Janssen and Georges Demenÿ, chronophotography was the taking of a succession of images in a particular period of time. Therefore, at the time that Londe was working at La Salpêtrière, this technique was already known in Parisian scientific circles. But he still invented his own chronophotographic device. There are several reasons to justify this -including Londe’s ability to invent photographic mechanisms. But, as Londe repeated time after time, each system should be adapted to the movement it had to capture, and the kind of scientific knowledge they were expecting to obtain. His analysis of the physiology of movement, both in healthy and pathological conditions, could not be done through the same means as Marey analysed the direction of movement. Basically, the chronophotography at La Salpêtrière had to fulfill two conditions: both the intervals between shots and the shutters’ speed should be manipulable, so they could be adapted to different kinds of movements (irregular but slow movements, almost imperceptible but very fast movements like tremblings, etc.) The camera that Londe invented with this aim captured 12 images in the same plate (three rows of four).

Among the movements that Londe examined with Paul Richer, there was the “expressive gait”. This was a particular kind of walk, in which the passions of the man were translated in the way in which he moved. Richer put as an example the ‘enthusiastic gait’, the one “of the warrior coming back home” or “the common man singing La Marselleise” (Richer, 1895).

“demarche enthusiaste”, Richer, Physiologie artistique de l’homme en mouvement, p. 3.
Made available under Creative Commons, Public Domain Mark by Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

The book did not reproduced the whole chronophotographic series, but only the illustration that Richer made after the most representative shot. As Richer explained, the most characteristic features of this gait were not on the face of the model, but in the way in which he stepped into the ground. It was through his legs that the passions were expressed. This whole experience challenged the very principles established by the great masters, Darwin and Duchenne. The passions -this school of thought did not use the word ’emotions’- were not mainly expressed through the combination of the facial muscles, but in the movements of the whole body -the arms, the legs, the chest. Therefore, instantaneous photography was not enough: movements had to recorded rather than ‘captured’.

These chronophotographs were taken in 1895 -at the dawn of film. Londe himself made some films, and other chronophotographers such as Demenÿ played a key role in the development of this technique. However, very few studies continued the physiological analysis of movement and the passions in this direction.

Why? We’ll see in the next post!