A PhD Experience: Jorge Diego Sánchez

Jorge Diego Sánchez (PhD, Universidad de Salamanca, Spain) teaches at University of Salamanca (Dpt. of English Studies). His academic background centres on Postcolonial Theory and Cultural Studies in English with a focus on literature, cinema and dance from India and its diasporas. He has published articles and book chapters on Anuradha Roy, Tishani Doshi, Aravind Adiga, Meena Kandasamy, Sarojini Naidu, Jhumpa Lahiri, or Cornelia Sorabji, as well as on filmmakers Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair, and singers like M.I.A., Speech Debelle or P.J. Harvey. He edited, translated, and commented the first volume in Spanish gathering a selection of Rokeya Hossain’s writings (Rokeya Hossain. ObraSeleccionada, 2018). His current research studies the (mis)representation of transformative resilience and dissent in literature, cinema, and songwriting. He has carried out research and taught at Jadavpur University (Kolkata, India) and University of Hyderabad (India). He was a Visiting Fellow at Centre for Advance Studies at the School of English at Jadavpur University during (pre-Covid19) 2020. He is a member of the Research Project “Narrating Resilience, Achieving Happiness?” (naresh.usal.es), funded by the Spanish Ministry of Innovation (PID2020-113190GB-C22) 

Why did you choose Humanities?
I was always curious to read, explore and tell about things I would have experienced. There were two particular teachers at High School that inspired me to think about the relations among language, history and human beings. Somehow they gave shape to the passion a teacher at primary school taught my friends and myself to value the role of monuments, writers and facts in our day-to-day existences in a town like Salamanca.
I also loved going to the cinema and reading, I was passionate about getting to different places, and I believed in the power of Humanities to entangle/get-entangled in the world. I considered a degree in Journalism, Spanish Philology or German Philology but it was English Studies what I felt would allow me to question more about different places via a language and a history that was interwoven to various locations.
I still choose Humanities because I still have a passion for movies, series, books and new spaces that are found in places [yes, all in present simple, Humanities allow you to inhabit the present and always question from that point to understand past and future]. This is why I believe I chose Humanities: It allows us to utter an act of choice that is renewed, changed or rejected at all times. Not all paths in life offer it so openly.

What drove you to pursue a PhD?
It is a long story that can be cut short to three books: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Woolf’s The Waves and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. I was in my first year of Undergraduate when the film The Hours (based on Michael Cunnigham’s novel) was released. I went to the local bookshop in Salamanca where books in English could be found. [Please bear in mind that I was born in a generation without mobile phones, the internet or Amazon.] That bookshop, called Cervantes, is no more in Salamanca, but I still remember the rotatory shelf in aluminum with books in different languages. I went there looking for Virginia Woof’s Mrs Dalloway to read it before the movie was released in theatres.
I could only find Woolf’s The Waves in a Penguin edition of silver spine and a photograph of some waves. That book changed the way I related to literature after I read it that very same summer. But there was a second book I bought: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. I purchased it because the cover caught my attention, and I did not understand why such a name had won an international Prize. I didn’t read that book during that summer. Nevertheless, I carried that book to my Erasmus year in Ireland and to different trips. I would read some pages or a story but only got to all of it when I signed up for a PhD (earlier on you would not study an MA but enroll in the PhD programme).
I had come back from a year abroad in London (UK) teaching Spanish. I had obviously taken the book with me and could relate the stories of that book to the cultures of the South Asian Subcontinent in the United Kingdom. I had hardly got to read or know about them in the degree so, even though I was not 100% sure about the PhD [in fact I also joined for a Teaching qualification and a Degree in Spanish Philology], I started to work on the stories of Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies for the different modules that you had to study in your first year of the PhD. I realised that I had many questions and that there were answers. There and then I decided to focus on the PhD and take it seriously. I did an MPhil Thesis on the cinemas of Gurinder Chadha and Mira Nair to illustrate some of the questions that Lahiri’s book and my time in Ireland and the UK had ignited in relation to postcolonial English-speaking cultures.
Then the questions got more serious, and I had the opportunity to do field trips and research stays in India (University of Hyderabad, Jadavpur University and working at a local NGO in the state of Bihar) as well as live in cities and small villages in India (Kolkata, Bodhgaya…). I did not have funds and I did not write anything during my months there. I only experienced the cultures and read, talked and kept on adding questions. This is where I realised that the PhD thesis would make sense as an expression to be interwoven in the true sense of Humanities.

What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages of having a PhD from a Spanish university studying other countries and cultures, especially when working in postcolonialism and minorities? 
 I believe that there are no advantages or disadvantages as questions cannot be limited to a “place of origin”. Perspectives can be limited and limiting, but it is precisely that limitation that the so-called Humanities challenge. On another note, yes, there are great disadvantages that emerge when the Impostor Syndrome appears or when Spanish evaluators consider Indian universities as “institutions without academic excellence or impact”. The first one still comes up at conferences when people would question, “what makes you entitled to talk about x writers if you are not x?”. At a recent conference, a much-loved friend and colleague (I won’t reproduce her name in case disadvantages appear for her in this her last year of PhD) gave the answer which was “why did you study English Studies if you are neither British nor a US or Canadian citizen?”. Secondly, those assessment institutions find the disadvantage of privileging specific areas and institutions to dehumanise Humanities. It is only a disadvantage if you are too focused and driven by goals, merits and wannabe-an-academic-no-matter-what syndrome.
The advantages are the raison d’etre of Humanities. I had the space to detach, ask questions which firstly proved my ignorance, and formulate answers which were available. My PhD director and I learned a lot from our common questions. I believe that being a postcolonial scholar in any country allows you to formulate doubts and analyse contexts without judging and with a real wish to provide answers to unveil what goes/went/will go wrong in the geopolitics of the world (subjected to interlocking systems of domain based on capitalism, ethnic discrimination or gender inequality). Another big advantage is to refuse the term “minorities” that you used in the question. I learned in Spain, and thanks to colleagues pointing out that term to refer to “what I was studying”, that I was not studying minorities but cultures which had been used, diminished, colonised or victimised. In the end, these are the pillars of the Impostor Syndrome that some institutions and states (as well as individuals) constantly try to instill in our lives.

What was the most important thing that you learned while working on your PhD?
Posing questions, experiencing, learning, listening, travelling and realising that everything is porous (outside and within academia).

And how has your PhD experience contributed to your academic career beyond opening up job opportunities?
PhD experiences allowed me to pose questions, experience, learn, listen, travel and realise that everything is porous (and that academia was great as well as it could be in a life that considered life beyond academic survival).

What was the hardest part of doing a PhD?
The individual doubts about completing it, the lack of funding for travels and the deadlines (my PhD supervisor deserves a new extra existence if she believes in karma, I am very sorry!). However, the hardest part would be my own hesitation towards the utility of it. I learned to stop thinking about the utility of things and only then I enjoyed it and it went smoothly (despite the big efforts, the summers writings and the dependency on my parents and sister’s help)

Would you have done anything differently? Why yes/not?
I guess that nothing could be changed. This might sound as easy verborrhea [my own sic] but all parts, peoples and mistakes contributed to allow me to experience and live. It took me eight years (old school PhDs) but it was a long way home… where I inhabited many homes that I can now go back to.
 What advice would you give to a young(er) scholar?
Formulate your career as a way of living through verbs: Trust your question, believe in activist knowledge, be a fan of someone who is not a Full Professor, see the humanity in Full Professors, hope transformatively (do not adapt only, learn to change little things), listen, explore and then maybe write. Verbs are actions and we sometimes forget that active movement as physical, mental and spiritual beings in community to others.

Finally, on a more philosophical note, what do you think is the meaning of the Humanities?
I believe that the meaning of Humanities are the forces that made you read throughout the many lines that I shared without scrolling down fast: Becoming porous to each other’s testimony, including the earth, the wind and the far outcry of a deer that cannot be measured by assessment agencies of formal education.
Thank you for this interview and the reflection that it favoured in front of a computer on a stormy afternoon that had been preceded by a morning full of bureaucracy and the lingering hope that the 8th ASYRAS Conference (Re)Building Relations held at University of Malaga has ignited in a huge group of people!
It is weird to answer to a bunch of questions sent on a Word document and pretend to be having an interview and yet the Humanities have proven that it can happen, and it can make sense, at least for my self-analysis. Hope it can be of any entertainment and help to the SAAS Community!

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