Of All the Monsters under My Bed - Prologue

In this piece, RECOMS fellow, Jingjing Guo shows her experience about doing a PhD. "In the idle moments, she wrestled with the monsters under her bed.  With this post, she opens a series ‘Of All the Monsters under My Bed’. For in writing in the monsters and herself, she hopes to befriend her monsters, who stall and enrich her PhD process. For in writing the researcher in, she could better write out the researched". 

Source: https://gruppenpraxis1190.at/so-erreichen-sie-uns/

At the end of the day, in each other’s company are always only I and the monsters under my bed. Some of them come out regularly screaming for my attention, while others have laid dormant for years biding their time for a perfect moment to jump out and stoke fears in me: fears of failing, of not being good enough – never being so, of letting others down, of recognizing those selves in me whom I’ve tried to undo, remake, or even reject.  Fears of those fears; fears of discovering new monsters.

The perfect moment came for many of the known monsters to join force, as I started my PhD. It’s been a long winding path still with few signposts and no end in sight, almost two years in. On this path, I’m searching to understand the messy and troubled interlinkages in the fields where gender, socioeconomics, ecologies, politics, and collectivity become not only (un-)responsive to one another, but also render one another response-able[1] (or in fact often, un-response-able). 

I hear it, loud and often enough, some say: this is way more than a PhD project could chew. I agree. The problem (for whom and what?) is that I often fail to isolate things and box them. Isn’t everything connected, always, making us look foolish when we attempt to surgically slit and separate with the usual (Western) methodological knives? I think growing up in China and Chinese profoundly marinated my way of thinking with a non-linearity and relational ontology, which has been so resilient as not to give in to 4 years of training in biomedical engineering for a bachelor’s, and a subsequent decade living in Europe. 

It will take a separate post for me to tell you about the wrestles I’ve been having with doing cross-culture research in the conceptual space, quite a monster in her own right – when what I’m crossing is so much more than just geographic boundaries. What I mean to say here is that although living and seeing with a relational ontology comes natural to me as I attempt to research the topics close to my heart, I had no relevant formal academic (read: disciplinary) training to delude myself with an imaginary armory before going into the fray of qualitative social research, especially after spending four years working in the private sector after my master’s. AND, I’m doing it in CHINA, my estranged ‘homeland’, in its rural space with which I had little connection. It’s a double-edged blade - doing qualitative research in the political and economic peripheries of my ‘homeland’, all while my ‘cultural insights’ hold a mirror to me and ask: WHO ARE YOU? Who have you become? 

Have you already gotten a vague sense of why the monsters stir under my bed in the stillness of the nights? It’s hard to rest, when you so often need to wrestle monsters in the nights. 

Only till recently I remembered again. But our own monsters, as the little girl me (the once wise beyond her age girl who saw a few of my monsters at their births) would have us think, don’t mean us any harm. All they want is to be befriended and brought home, to rest. At the end of the day, of the PhD, of my life, I would be ever so lucky to have find a way to come home with all my monsters, and rest together in the bedroom of my mindbody.  

So this series of posts is me writing with a deep sense of unease, in a search for a homecoming with my monsters - the monsters who have often stalled yet also enriched, the progress of my research. It is me bringing the person and the personal to the cultural, in the spirit of not only researching at the intersection of feminist political ecology and an ethic of care, but also learning to live it. It is me, then, writing myself in so I might become better at writing out what I’ve learnt in and along my research. 

Of all the monsters under my bed, let’s begin with Othernessie in the next post – the heavy-hearted little monster who has evolved with me since the start of my PhD. With my partial privilege [2] as an educated and professional (Chinese) woman of an urban origin, who has (been) afforded to live in Europe for a decade now, I thought I was going to research the Others – the rural elderly women and their socionatures. Little did I anticipate the otherness in me to come right in my face, with all its affective and material force, teaching me: otherness itself is relational. So, where do you stand? Which sides do you choose to be seeing from and thinking with? The monster I name ‘Othernessie’ would not quit asking me. 

Of all the monsters under my bed, let me first introduced you to Othernessie. 



[1] It rolls off the tongue, smart but more importantly weighty in meaning, doesn’t it? See Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble (2016, Duke University Press).

[2] See in Joan C. Tronto’s Moral Boundaries: A political Argument for an Ethic of Care (1994, Routledge) for a more detailed discussion.