Activism, advocacy and academia

This last week went by in circles. The thoughts in my already spinning giddy head went round and round (and I suspect will continue to do so for a while). How to position academia and advocacy?

The question is prompted by my accepting a position at Northumbria University and thereby leaving a clear distinction behind: a professional dayjob (with a ‘sideline’ in cycle advocacy and volunteering) – now switching to researching cycling matters (with the cycle activism sideline being kept).

Here’s my head: Is there a new conflict of interest? Some want me believe so. Have I led two lives, with two heads, before? Is it clearer under the ‘new rules’, than it was before? Or will there be too many blurred lines in the new arrangement? My head was hurting with these kind of questions orbiting my brain like tiny chirpy birds in a cartoon. But. It’s good to think. So. Here’s what I think.

I believe it’s important to combine ‘what you believe in’ with ‘what you do for a living’. If you get a chance to do so – take it. Why leave your beliefs at home when they make an intricate part of you? This would not strike me as a healthy thing to do. Staying true to yourself, must be a wholesome motto for everyone.

Yes, I cycle to work but that’s not what I mean by activism. Perhaps it’s a question of (finding) overlaps too. At my (still as yet) current workplace which has all to do with the environment-at-large but nothing to do with transport-per-se, I attempted to weave my interest in active travel fairness into work activities. I did this by joining the sustainability staff group for example or looking after the cycle parking space at the office (and campaigned for keeping the excellent facility), amongst a few other things.

I suspect there are many answers to the question of activism -vs- dayjob. To the people who want me to believe it blurs too many lines, here’s what I say.

The answers you will give, I would suggest, will most certainly depend on your own ideology, world view and work ethics. I trust doing the right thing and being an advocate for it, where-ever you are, is a healthy necessity for staying true to your (constantly evolving) self.

If you can combine it with earning a living? Even better! So, be daring and open the door and see inside.

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5 thoughts on “Activism, advocacy and academia

  1. Hi Katja. Congratulations on your new “life”!

    A friend of mine has been through similar issues – Pete Wood here in London. He’s just finished his doctorate in Geography (thesis title: “Creating City Cyclists: Understanding Why People Start, and Sometimes Stop, Cycling in South London”) but has worked for Southwark Borough Council while involved with Southwark Cycling Campaign (part of London Cycling Campaign). A lot of the issues you’re writing about, I’ve seen him grappling with too, i.e. conflict of interest questions. I could put you in touch with him if you want a sounding board or sympathetic ear. He’s a lovely chap!

    Liked by 1 person

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