After the Conference – The Joys of Participation and Conversation

One of the pleasures of my Fulbright Fellowship has been collaborating on the Everyday Language, Everyday Literacies conference at the University of Sheffield. Julia Davies, Kate Pahl, and all the amazing graduate students at Centre for the Study of Literacies were generous enough to let me be part of the planning of the conference, which took place last week. As in the past, I found it to be my favorite conference experience of the year.

There are several things I always love about this conference. First, Julia and Kate draw together such a diverse group of scholars to the conference. In fact, I often find myself wondering if is perhaps too diverse, too disconnected. Yet, as the conference progresses, there is always an amazing alchemy that takes place as the plenary and breakout sessions start to harmonize with unexpected and original resonances. This year people such as Mary Hamilton, Janet Maybin, Vic Carrington, John Potter, Diane Mavers, Lalitha Vasudevan, Tiffany Dejaynes, Jan Connelly and others spoke on everything from children and picture books to emotions in the classroom to the biography of the iPhone. Yet, as the conference progressed, fascinating and original connections emerged among the various sessions. I always leave after two days with a head full of new ideas and notebook full of new sources I want to read.

Which brings me to the second thing I love about the conference. It is small. It’s really more like an intense symposium than a conference. As a consequence, it’s the ongoing conversations, after sessions, during lunch, online, that make this such a generative and productive time. Rather than sitting in huge crowds and listening, the organization – and ethos – of the conference is participatory and democratic.

And that brings me to the third things I love about the conference. Julia and Kate are committed to creating supportive, participatory spaces in everything they do, from their research to their writing and that certainly includes the conference. The conversations are rigorous, but never mean-spirited. Oversized egos are never a problem, and everyone’s ideas are treated with respect.

It is always an energizing, positive, and provocative two days and I am grateful to have had a hand in helping with it. See you all next year.

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