Tag Archives: Fulbright

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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Percolation, Fermentation, Rumination – or the Importance of Time and Patience in Research

The greatest gift bestowed on me by receiving a Fulbright Research Fellowship has been the gift of time. I have had time – time to read, time to talk with people, time to think – without the pressure of immediately having to turn every thought into publication. From the time we are graduate students, we are often conducting research on the run. Get the dissertation proposed, approved, collect the data, write, defend. Meanwhile, publish all you can. Once you get a job, start cranking out the publications so you can get tenure. Keep the ideas coming – and as soon as they emerge turn them into publications. This experience is not unique to me, and, even though the pace is sometimes relentless, the scholarship is often strong. I am continually impressed by what the graduate students I work with can produce within the time constraints of their dissertations.

Still, there are times when it has felt as if I was building a bicycle while trying to ride it downhill. Then, last fall, when I knew I had the Fulbright coming up, I said “no” to a couple of invitations to contribute articles. I was lucky to be in a position to be able to do that (even luckier to have a Fulbright, I know). But clearing away any deadlines for the spring, was the smartest thing I have done in a long time. Rather than spend the spring writing furiously to meet the next deadline, and reading for plunder in order to glean enough of what I need to support my ideas, I have had time to read broadly, enter research sites without the pressure of deadlines, and think.

One of the great benefits of time is emergence of patience. When I didn’t have a publication deadline looming over me, I could go to the research sites where I was working without feeling as if I had the gather-good-data-today clock  constantly ticking in the background. Instead, I could be patient and let insights and observations emerge at their own pace. The result was that I had more time for surprise, more time for a deeper set of insights, and a greater willingness to strike off in new directions of reading and thinking without worrying about an immediate payoff. Patience, exploration, and time have been the true gifts of this Fulbright and I am deeply grateful for all of them. I wish all of my friends and students could experience this kind of time to explore and I hope I can find more ways to facilitate this for my colleagues and students.

More to come soon on some of the projects that have come out of this (though, as I am about getting ready to try to pack up and move back, “soon” is a fuzzy term……)

Literacy and Identity – That’s the Easy Part

In a convenient confluence of thoughts and events, I’m coming up on my Fulbright term in January at the same point that I’m ready to start off on another big project. You’d think I’d planned it that way.

This is the stage at which things always seem to get a bit fraught, though. Possibly even dicey. Because I’m getting to the point where the big, amorphous idea needs to get significantly less blobby. I’ve been saying for a while, to myself and to others, that my next project is going to focus more on “literacy and identity.” Fair enough. Also accurate to say that it will take place on Earth and be subject to the laws of physics. All of that will be true, but it’s all so broad and general as to be of no use. Understand, I am a big proponent of the blobby, amorphous stage of research. For about four months I’ve been doing a lot of note taking/noodling on the page, talking with friends, pondering on walks, about the possible contours of this project. These wanderings and noodlings have been useful in helping me run out various tracks of thought to see which ones continued to be interesting and which, in the end, ended up in the high grass of boredom or impracticality or incomprehension (the latter being stored away for further, later exploration). In many ways, exploring the blobby-verse of an idea are some of my favorite times. Everything is possible. Everything is potential.

Still, there comes the time where a path needs to be chosen, a die cast, a choice made (no metaphors here I really like, by the way) etc, etc. With that choice, there is the thrill of progress. With that choice, there is also the regret of the other choices not made, as well as the anxiety that I’ve made the wrong choice. I’ll head down my path, happy enough. But could I have been happier down the other road? What if the other item on the menu that I didn’t order was really what I wanted? Or, even worse, what if the path I chose leads again only to high grass? And, to be honest, the six-month window of the Fulbright at the University of Sheffield brings with it a certain pressure as well as an amazing opportunity. I don’t want to squander this amazing opportunity and the chance to work with people I admire so much by chasing down the wrong road, setting sail in the wrong direction (still no good metaphors, but you get the idea…) In general, I’m not a person given to regret. Nostalgia, perhaps, but not regret. But at moments like this….

Maybe the image that captures it is Michael Caine, teetering with his crew on the edge of the cliff at the end of the The Italian Job, trying to assure everyone that, “Hang on, lads; I’ve got a great idea!”

It helps me empathize with the graduate students I work with who often talk of feeling a similar anxiety when about to commit to a dissertation idea. What I tell them is true enough: That any idea that intrigues them and yields no easy answers is an idea worth pursuing. I know that too. And I know that a focus is emerging out of the noodling and talking and wandering. I know that I have enough of a focus now to help me start with conversations and observations and work in Sheffield. And I know that, not knowing too much now will help me be surprised and let me follow what I find, rather than shaping my experiences and encounters to fit a pre-fabbed idea of what the research should be. I know that.

So I should trust my process, trust my interests. And that clearer focus will be the subject of future posts. Hang on, lads. I’ve got a great idea!