Category Archives: Languages

Understanding the Dialectic

When I was at school, my favourite subject was Latin. I liked learning languages in general, but Latin stood out. Maybe it was the teacher, Mr Shaw, who was unforgettably unique. Maybe it was because I had a thing for the Romans. Or maybe it was the relationship between Latin and English. Or all of those things. Anyway, after GCSEs, I knew I wanted stick with the classical subjects for A-level. However, I was advised to do more useful subjects so that could get a job.

I ended up studying mathematics and computing. Don’t get me wrong, I liked these subjects too and was just as good at them as languages. They were technical skills. But I didn’t see them as technical skills but as forms of expression, creation and communication. They were languages. Ever since I was 6 years old, I loved messing around with programming languages and writing programs; what fascinates me most about maths is its role as a universal language. Any problem could be expressed mathematically. There was a creativity in both that depended on the terms or constructs used. So I then went and did a degree in mathematics and computing science. But that is as far as it went. Indeed, all I remember now is the basics and I do so with regret.

Why did I stop? After all, when I look at my transcripts, I can see that I was good at it and was on course to get 2:1 after two years. I think I was attracted by the glamour of journalism. I thought that I had got bored with my degree subject, but on hindsight I don’t think I had. Again, I was good at it and I even had my fair share of exclusives, which was always an ego boost. But what I did really like about journalism was the combination of creativity and communication. Then, I went into law, for various reasons, but what I liked most was the interpretation and analysis of law and understanding what was meant.

All of which brings me to my PhD. Ostensibly, it is about how law is used by the government to encourage recycling and the relationship between the state and the individual. But what I have discovered is that I have been drawn to a Hegelian theoretical framework because I am interested in law as the dialectic between the State and the individual. Law – and I take quite a broad view – is how the state and individual communicate or converse, with their own respective dialects.

This blog started because I believed that a PhD student’s research topic was influenced by a person’s life. Whilst the PhD is a distinct task, it grew out of what went before. But now it seems that at least my PhD is just the latest manifestation of a lifelong project to understand how people and entities communicate and, in particular, how people communicate with their environment. And so, this blog is an attempt to understand how PhD students communicate with their environment. Indeed, studying Hegel has helped me to evaluate my own political views and understand many of the paradoxes within my faith.

The post was inspired a the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson below but not in the way I expected. Robinson says that, as a result of industrialisation, a hierarchy of subjects has been established, with subjects more closely related to jobs being valued more highly. As a result, children are pushed towards a particular direction – not out of malice but out of a desire to prepare them for survival –  without thinking that the child may not be suited to that subject and hence stifling their creativity. At first, my post was going to be how this has happened to me and why this was relevant to doing a PhD. But as I started to write and really think about why I liked Latin and languages and what it was I did like about mathematics and computing that I realised that there might be another possibility. Whatever the reason I have done what I have done, they all seem to have been ways of answering a deeper question. Perhaps this is the problem with our education system at the moment, not that it kills creativity but that its fragmentation silences those deeper questions that we have. Maybe.

But maybe I am completely wrong on this. But, until today, I have always held onto a bit of resentment towards those who advised me regarding my A-levels for not understanding my needs at the time. At least, after writing this post, I am able to forgive them.

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