Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I changed my mind: an autoethnographic moment

The PLAN event in February 2005 was a turning point in my dissertation. I thought I had it pretty much figured out, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I'd downplayed or pushed aside differences between academic, corporate, art, engineering and design cultures because I'd been trying to be diplomatic.

(Cue Bjork singing "I thought I could organise freedom; how Scandinavian of me...")

Online/offline conversations about my research interests with so many non-academics had forced me to try new ways of communicating, and the role I'd most often felt compelled to play is what I call the "good academic". You know, against the Ivory Tower, for the People. I believed that anti-intellectualism didn't exist among intelligent people of any class. I believed that we could - and should - forge common ground.

But over the past several years I'd become particularly sensitive to accusations of elitism or arrogance, which are never pleasant but have particular effects if you're a woman. (What passes as confidence in men is still too often perceived as arrogance in women. And even when men are considered to be arrogant, strategies of dealing with the 'problem' are significantly different than dealing with arrogant women. Add to this more individual or idiosyncratic masculine and feminine reactions to intelligent and powerful women, and the situation can get quite messy.) In any case, I believed that accusations of elitism or arrogance indicated my failure to be a "good academic" and undermined my status as a "good woman". So, with a big grin and a fuck-you, I changed my mind. (It's an easy thing to do when you're not at home.)

The change made things hard and harder. But I started to rally for multiplicity instead of homogeneity. I wanted to belong to "the race of words, which homes are built with" and to "get free of myself". I chose to be guided by Deleuzian ethics. I recognised writing my blog as a method of inquiry and began to see my dissertation as writing to get free of myself.

In defence of my tribe, I claimed that to critique something is not to dismiss or destroy it. I said that to critique something is to see how it changes, or how it can be changed. I considered it valuable, an ethical imperative even, and so I looked to hope, passion and love for guidance. I entered into the fray of research and design ethics and I asserted difference without authority.

I imagined myself on a recursive voyage. I absurdly - and as it turns out quite falsely - declared my voyage here complete. Actually, I still struggled to find my dissertation voice. I felt stretched and twisted. I also struggled to find my professional voice. I still wondered how different people and interests could work together. I still looked to how others were doing it.

I started to prepare for teaching. I got better at describing collective values, and I got better at defining what it means to belong with others. I spoke about transduction and protocol to cultural studies types. I wrote a paper with a designer about what I learned as an archaeologist. I was engaging more difference, but not enough had changed yet. It seems that I still sought revolutionary practice.

I hung out with designers in Berlin and told them that I was looking for convergence without consensus. I challenged us to account for, and be accountable to, precisely those interests that conflict with, or seem irrelevant to, our own. Ironically, for some that very position was a perfect indicator of academic impracticality and arrogance. So no worry of consensus, or convergence either. I lost a little hope.

I returned and re-doubled my efforts. I worked through new ideas and practices, both online and with my students. I began to see more co-option than collaboration in certain relationships, and began to avoid them. I felt more at home with people seeking different perspectives, and I actively sought out different kinds of people committed to different kinds of reciprocal relations. I felt hope again.

Now I have to finish my dissertation. I have to make all this stop. Or pretend that it has stopped. Or something. I have to turn this process into a product. And I'm stalling because I don't want it to end. I want this post to be a part of it. But where can I go from there?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feel good -actually great- about everything you do. You rock by all means! (to say it simply and shortly).
It is good (and part of who you are) that you are taking into consideration commentary on your work (eg. academic arrogance) but -what it seems, at least - you are doing what is in your heart as well as mind (assuming for a second theyre separate things, for sake of expressing what i am trying to say). and that is important. as an academic, a good one. i think so, at least. when i read what you write, i get inspired. how many people (academics, to be specific) get others inspired?
do you really even need to pretend everything has stopped? your dissertation is to be only one of the many great output to come from you. it is part of a process. it is just like one of your papers, in one sense. you will continue to exist, you will continue to write, and the world needs much more people -and women!!!- like you.

best wishes,

Anonymous Anonymous said...

we cannot be accomplishments,
only outlive them,
re-purpose/use them...
forget them, cherish them.

Only ever accomplices of our grand-scale constructions of sense,
of our small-scale partying and chatting, and smiling.

With the fear (possible), the will of control, of fore-vision about the concluding sentence (such impossibilities).

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with finishing your dissertation! And keep on blogging!

But finishing the dissertation is not the end. It is the beginning. Believe me, I finished my diss five and a half years ago, and the fun really started after that.




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