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The long way round, by Dipak Panchal

The long way round (to get to where I, ultimately, have always wanted to be)

My first sociology conference, and my first trip to Glasgow.  Yes, of course, I was excited.  I had flown over from Ireland, especially for this event.  As I await the responses from institutions for my PhD applications, I am thrilled at the prospect of embarking upon further academic study.  As an anti-racist activist, my interest in this year’s annual conference on Social Hierarchies and Inequalities is inextricably linked.  Scholarship on this subject is deeply interesting for me both intellectually and because I cannot avoid my visible minority status.

However, it is my minority identity that gives me cause for concern as I seek to enter academia.  Having worked as a police officer and then working in legal practice, race was significant to those with whom I conversed and came into contact with, even if it was, at the time something I personally wanted to run away from.  Especially so, at the initial stages of my working career.

“Where are you from?” and

“No, where are you actually from?”

These and similarly worded questions are still frequently put to me.  It is in the realisation of my minority perspective that I chose to attend the BSA PGForum’s well-being day.  Academic professionals advise me that I need to build a support network and that I need to be proactive.  From conversations with other delegates attending this day, I learned that I will need to manage my time and also co-ordinate effectively with my supervisors’ availability.  Therefore, facilitating this coordination will promote a healthy relationship.  I learned that self-care and mental health are essential for a fulfilling PhD experience.

Meeting with PhD candidates, listening to their experiences, their motivations and challenges, I felt inspired and comforted in my choice to pursue an academic career.  I was able to learn that policing and race are not just the concern of British academics, but research is also being conducted in Australia.  Having had former police colleagues transfer to the Australian Police service, I can appreciate the crossover and similarities.  The chance to pose questions and comments to the President of the British Sociological Association at the end of the event was comforting and reassuring.

While studying at Trinity College, Dublin, I have become accustomed to the colonial style of architecture.  It is found throughout the colonised world, and present not only in Dublin, but also in New Delhi, and it was visible in Glasgow.  This gave me the somewhat unnerving feeling that I was being regulated, coaxed, and cajoled into behaving in a particularised and regulated way.  I wanted to experience Glasgow and see what lies underneath.  Thankfully the marvellous tour-guide on the walking tour was just as passionate about the study of Glasgow, as I am about the study of racism.  Conversations with fellow delegates on the tour were supportive, encouraging, and I felt like I might actually find a sense of community and a network of support.  I was grateful to have chosen this walking tour for many reasons, but particularly because the journey around Glasgow highlighted to me the personal and internalized milestones of my being that have been influenced by a colonising agenda.  Therefore, seeing the imposing structures of coloniality in Glasgow brought home to me how important it is for me to remain cognisant of these structures and to at least acknowledge their presence.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the well-known Bristol Pub on Duke Street.  For some reason, the many Union flags displayed left me with a slight feeling of deterrence.

By way of making the most of my time in Glasgow, and upon realizing that my scheduled departure back to Ireland gave me sufficient time to attend the next day,  I enrolled at the last moment for the following day’s lectures at the main BSA conference.  I justified the enormous personal expense by saying to myself, this really is my treat!  And, well, of course it was a treat.  The first day of lectures and plenary were thought-provoking and the time in between was most valuable.  The plenary by Professor Virdee on The Racialised Outsider as the Conscience of Modernity had engaged a personal moment of safety within me.  I don’t think I would have felt safe in instigating a discussion of this subject matter, or even one linked to it, had I been in any of my other previous occupations.  It was, therefore, a privilege for me to be in a space where discussion of such ideas may take place.  Whereas at one time, I would have had to evade, bury and ignore my curiosity to engage with sociological perspectives emanating from India.  I came away thinking about the value in engaging with sociological scholarship from a country that my ancestors originated, but is now in some ways alien to me.

It was during the intermediate moments, and in between lectures that the most interesting conversations took place.  After attending a stimulating paper session on Whiteness, “Race” and Structural Inequality, I was reminded of the discomfort I feel when class is conceived as a sort of emancipatory shelter.  The perspective that being working class is inclusive and supportive leaves me feeling silenced.  My experience is that I cannot consider myself working class, middle class or any other class, because I need to gain my white friends’ agreement first.

Looking back, it is as a consequence of networking with attendees that I now know about the various ‘BSA Study Groups’ and other forums where I may engage in discussion of topics that align with my academic interests.  I am presently wrestling with the colonising effect of class and hope to emerge out of a rabbit hole soon, perhaps with Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter between my paws.


Dipak Panchal is an MPhil – Race, Ethnicity and Conflict student at Trinity College, Dublin currently writing his thesis which is an autoethnography of his experience of racism in the police service.  His PhD project to be started later this year will further explore racism and the police.  Dipak can be contacted at: panchald@tcd.ie and on Twitter: @dipak892

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