I grew up in Cambridge (MA, USA) in the ’70s and ’80s on and around Western Ave, in a neighborhood know locally as ‘the Coast.’ For those not from Cambridge, The Coast ‘back in the day’ – i.e. up to when I left it – was a middle and lower-income mostly African American neighborhood with a smattering of other ethnic groups, from Irish and Greeks to Jews and Jamaicans…
It was a very local and special place to grow up – and a little world that mostly doesn’t exist anymore. (Condos on my old street now go for up to a cool million.) The relentless encroachment of Harvard and M.I.T…and, more importantly, the defeat of rent-control measures occasioned a steady outflow of lower-income folks…including most of the people I knew growing up… the house my folks bought for 36K in 1979 recently sold for 2 million dollars in 2019 (my folks sold and moved out in 2004ish)..
I left Cambridge for undergraduate studies in 1988, which I undertook at a somewhat unimpressive university that will go unnamed. I was, however, lucky to meet Sylvia Federici, an extraordinarily interesting and engaging scholar who got me interested in politics, history, and political thought.
The big, game-changing event of this period occurred in 1989 and 1990, when over the course of nine months I traveled with a group of 30 students from 10 countries to 20 countries across eastern and western Europe, the ‘Middle East,’ and Asia. It was a life-altering experience. I visited the old Soviet Union, saw the Berlin wall fall, traveled to Israel and the West Bank (Palestine/Rahmallah), spent time in India, and then Thailand, Viet Nam, China, and Japan. This on an academic trip led by the irrepressible Johan Galtung, a Norwegian scholar and eccentric, and one of the founders of Peace Research. A retrospective account of that journey can be found here.
In 1991 I earned at graduate certificate in Peace Research at the University of Oslo after which I took a train through eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and into China, where I stayed for several months. I returned to the U.S. in late 1991 to mull my options. I quickly resolved to continue my studies.
In 1992 I began graduate school in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sociology is by far the most diffuse of all the social sciences and offered the greatest flexibility for someone like me who — at the time — was unsure about his exact interests. Basically, I wanted to understand more about the global and local dynamics of huge processes that determine or more broadly affect people’s livelihoods, material conditions, etc.
Grad studies took 12 years, partly because I was clueless about how to ‘do’ graduate school and partly for other reasons I will not delve into here. Another reason is that my graduate studies were punctuated by six or so yrs mainly in Vietnam and a year in Australia. In 2004 I moved to Singapore, where I lived for three years before moving to Hong Kong in 2007, where I resided for eight years. In 2016 I moved to Leiden University’s Institute for Area Studies, where I am currently based.
Leaving my wonderful family aside a courtesy to them (they are the center of my life!) I do interesting stuff and had been largely content in a beautiful, troubled world up until 2020, when things took a dramatic turn for the worse.