Hysteresis, Time, and Change

I’m not sure if “fun” is the right word here but let’s just go with it. It’s always kinda “fun” when a theoretical concept that you’ve been toying with all of a sudden gets real. This is what happened when the University of Vaasa (i.e. my university) announced last week that they will transfer their  language studies (i.e. about half of their humanities subjects) to the University of Jyväskylä, some 300 or so km east.

In essence, this means that the job I was aiming to employ myself in will no longer even exist in my university. It also means that, practically speaking, my university will no longer be a real university but rather a glorified business and engineering school, one that is focused mostly on making money, and self-avowedly “business-oriented“. As is probably obvious, this decision has created quite a stir within the community of humanities scholars, staff, and students in the university. It has also created something of a personal crisis for me.

The decision that my university has taken has forced me to consider my own options, and they, as far as I can tell at the moment, are these:

  1. I try to hang on and, once I have my PhD Thesis done, hope to get a job teaching basic level English courses for business, administration, and engineering students. I have actually done this already and it’s an OK job as such, but I wouldn’t really be taking full advantage of the special skills that I should acquire during my PhD project. Not to mention it’d pretty much be death to my budding career as a researcher.
  2. I move to Jyväskylä. Not an option, since my family definitely isn’t moving there.
  3. I start commuting back and forth between Vaasa and Jyväskylä (or, some other, reasonably close university). This is a realistic option, though obviously far from perfect from a practical standpoint.
  4. I ditch my hopes of a career in the academia altogether and start doing something else entirely. Wonder if I could still get a job delivering newspapers? Anyway, this number 4 is also a realistic option, though not exactly motivating.

There may even be options beyond the four outlined above but, in the words of a war criminal:


Credit: azquotes.com

What’s all this got to do with the title of this post then, and the word “fun”? Well, I’ve recently been trying to come up with a research design for the ethnographic part of my Thesis. In doing this, I’ve repeatedly come across the concept of hysteresis. Now, hysteresis as a term is ancient but as a sociological term it was taken on board by French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu.

I spent much of last summer reading Bourdieu because I had a hunch that his stuff could be useful. We’d also had a seminar on his concept of habitus that spring in our little, soon to be non-existent English Studies group of people. I reread some of his stuff recently, as well as an excellent article on a practical application of his work by one of my senior colleagues. This reading had made me very interested on hysteresis, and whether  it could serve as a useful framework for my own work. I’m still not sure what, if anything, I might do with this, but at least now I have a more self-reflexive viewpoint into it, something that Bourdieu actually considered to be crucial for researchers.

To put it very simply, hysteresis as a sociological concept refers to a crisis that happens when the field that a person occupies, changes drastically, and there is then a time-lag between that person’s habitus adjusting to its new, changed, field and position in the field. Now I’m not actually sure that I explained it as clearly as possible but I’ll blame this on my current state of hysteresis, i.e. the drastically changed field and my grasping to try to come to terms with it. How all this could be related to my research topic is at the moment so much a work in progress that I’ll not even try to explain it here. I’ll probably do another post pretty soon on the kind of ethnography that I’m doing, and try to maybe open things up a little bit there.


Credit: amazon.com. I actually bought this very book on a recent trip to Stockholm. They have a wonderful bookstore there (Hedengrens bokhandel, definitely recommended) with shelves full of cool books on philosophy, etc. Quite different from the type of bookstores we have around here.

Now I’m afraid this post’s a bit rambling again and might possibly not make a whole lot of sense but I’ll just have to call it good now because I’m not really in a mental space right now to be more cogent. Anyway, I’ll travel to the Alps tomorrow for some time so probably won’t be posting for some weeks, but I hope when I come back I’ll have a clearer head that results in clearer blog posts, too.

Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) of [elastic hysteresis] credit: wikipedia.org


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