Tuesday, July 31, 2007

August is for writing

After a couple of weeks of weather in the mid 30s (celsius) I'm mostly used to it, but the humidity here is killing me. It makes everything more difficult to move through. Plus, I'm having one of those slightly shocking mornings when I realise that I've way more work to do than I anticipated.

I'd like to write a short essay about my single greatest challenge during the BNMI residency: understanding how "research" is differently defined and practiced by social scientists and artists. I think this has interesting implications for collaborative work, and for how we approach creative interventions and technological innovations.

In other news, I'm teaching a new 2nd year undergrad course this year: "Power & Everyday Life." I'm currently working on the syllabus and deciding whether or not to assign textbooks or compile a reader myself. And it runs full-year so I have to plan twice as many lectures and seminars and workshops and assignments as I have in the past.

I've got two journal papers due by end of August: one for a special issue on software and space and the other for a special issue on wireless technologies and mobile practices. That's 14000-18000 words currently unorganised and/or unwritten and/or lost in dissertation.

Which reminds me I've also got a dissertation to submit. Because as we all know: "A good thesis is a thesis that is done."

So all things considered, I'm really glad that I'll be home for awhile. I want to make it back to Oslo and London in the fall, and there's the 4S Meeting in Montréal in October, but that's all the travelling I've got planned and it's quite enough. I'm also hoping to have friends (you know who you are!) come visit.

But thankfully summer's not over yet. There are still flowers to smell, dinners to cook, cats to take naps with, novels to read, walks and bike rides to take, and garlic festivals to attend! You know what they say about all work and no play...

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Over the past five weeks I...

admired magnificent mountains and stunning lakes; saw hundreds of prairie dogs, a small herd of bison, a dozen mule deer and one elk; visited with a much loved friend; looked out over rolling foothills and down over waterfalls; engaged in countless stimulating conversations; appreciated the moving beauty of barley, flax and wheat fields; attended one family funeral and then, as if that weren't enough, went to one more; drank a lot of red wine; stood impressed by small armies of windmills; hid from thunder and lightning; appreciated hundreds of bales of hay; read one mostly enjoyable book and then a very good one; laughed from deep in my belly and cried from somewhere deeper than that; took in many herds of cattle and one small flock of sheep; spent wonderful days with my mum and dad, and with my little sister and my nephew; contemplated piles of dead buffalo and several tipis; stood in awe of river valleys and big skies; and ate too much good food.

A blessed life, for sure, and special thanks to Andreas Broeckmann and Sarat Maharaj for taking such good care of me.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Johnston Canyon

Today we went to see the falls in Johnston Canyon. Beautiful.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

"Anne, I have a question for you about the future...

Will the iPhone become a Mother Box?"

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Deep thoughts

"Act as if your adversaries are great teachers. Thank them for how crucial they've been in your education. Consider one more possibility: that the people who seem to slow us down and hold us back are actually preventing things from happening too fast."

A friend just reminded me of some Leonard Cohen lyrics that seem strangely related: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

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Observation # 457

It is only with artists that I become a scientist.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Collaborative work is hard, and other thoughts on research residencies

When I was invited to be a peer advisor or mentor for a new kind of research residency at the BNMI I was absolutely thrilled at the possibility of exploring research outside of a university setting. At the end of the first week I can definitely say that I'm still excited, but it's also much more difficult than I anticipated.

On a personal level, I find myself wondering if it was an unforgivable kind of arrogance that allowed me to believe that the past ten years of research and five years of teaching hundreds of students from over a dozen different disciplines in the arts and sciences would serve as some sort of preparation. On an institutional level, I find myself wondering if the university really is the only place where people have the desire and opportunity to explore interests that are contrary or irrelevant to their own. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that a research residency modelled on artist residencies is fundamentally different than university or classroom-based research, and probably should not be evaluated by the same criteria.

Unlike my regular working and learning environment, we are here for a short and intense period of time to work specifically on our own projects. We come from incredibly different places and perspectives, and there is no expectation of shared concerns except for at a most general level. We find ourselves in unfamiliar settings, at different stages of research inquiry, and we're often unsure of what we're doing. While I do believe that this is an exceptional collaborative programme and environment, I think it might be more appropriate to say that we are actually working beside each other, rather than with each other.

Of course, I want to be clear that I think the BNMI staff are amazing and the residents are an extremely talented and interesting bunch. It's not other people making it so challenging for me, but rather me struggling to understand my own role here. If these kinds of collaborative research opportunities are to become more common, and still be productive, then I suspect we need to start better preparing ourselves and our students for the challenges we may face outside of our traditional domains.

From what I understand, lots of artists don't want to be researchers, or more precisely, don't want to have to be identified as researchers in order to get respect--and that seems completely reasonable to me. But it is also very difficult to exchange perspectives and skills under these circumstances. How long can an academic speak before they are accused of lecturing? What's the difference between a discussion and a conversation? When does an offer to share become an imposition? At what point does autonomy become offensive, or authority become oppressive? Are inter-personal or cross-cultural differences at play?

To be honest I don't have any answers. Hell, I don't even know if these are good questions. But I am really looking forward to the next three weeks--even if if they end up being some of the most challenging I've experienced.

UPDATE 02.07.07

When it comes to how sociologists understand artistic practice and how artists understand sociological practice, Nina recommends reading:

Howard Becker, Art Worlds (more)
Gary Fine, Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art & the Culture of Authenticity
Alex Coles (ed.), Site-Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn

I've also made a note to check out Alex Coles & Alexia Defert's The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity and Becker's New Directions in the Sociology of Art & Studying New Media

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