How does one reintegrate into daily life after a whirlwind scholarly communication conference? Rather slowly, it turns out.
I was doing so well with the daily recap posts at the Scholarly Communication Institute (see Day 1 and Day 2 here), and then I hit a wall. I think it was partly fatigue, since we were working so hard, and partly wanting to focus on being present, and then it was the strain of returning home and keeping moving to both fulfill my duties there and avoid con drop (my sex ed colleague Reid Mihalko has a great blog post explaining con drop and providing tips for combating it here).
Now that I’ve carved out some time, I’ll recap the 3rd and 4th days of TriangleSCI, and reflect a bit on the whole experience. It’s something I would love for every scholar, institutional or alt-ac, to get to experience, if scholarly communication is your jam (and if you’re a professional knowledge worker of any flavor, I think it should be).
On the 3rd day of the conference, we heard from the remaining teams about their projects. There was the Storytelling Kitchen project (a.k.a. the food team, a.k.a. the Swedish team), who created a format for a shared meal with storytelling prompts to inspire conversations about not only food but also food hot topics like sustainability and poverty. They collaborated with the hotel chef to feed us all a delicate Brussels sprout salad while sitting around a communal table, in order to create the first experience of its kind.
There was the storytelling performance group, which also featured 2 folklorists, yay (Ruth Stotter and Kay Stone, if you’re curious). They had team members who were expert storytellers in addition to wearing other professional hats (as scholars, as therapists, and so on), and they described story structure and narrative frames in order to encourage scholars to incorporate these techniques in our classroom lectures as well as public outreach.
There was the medievalist group, which focused on disseminating lesser-known medieval stories in part to combat the view of a monolithic, culturally hegemonic/white Middle Ages. This was one of my favorite presentations because in many ways, their discipline has more publicly experienced what I’m worried is in store for folklorists: appropriation of our materials by white supremacists.
But, like folklorists, medievalists have something wonderful going for them: the public is already engaging with their materials, and LOTS. Public fascinating with Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and so on helps their cause. The internet is already all over rocket cats and penis trees. So it’s just a matter of harnessing that passion and bringing expertise in to complement it. (their project will include a website, and I’m crossing my fingers to become a contributor)
Finally, there was the digital storytelling/future of new media scholarship group (a.k.a. the Canadians). They’ve got a snappy website planned (and already designed, I think) to help with their outreach project. Their team was very interdisciplinary, which I think is cool, and they were also fantastic to chat with.
That carried us through the end of the third working day. Due to inclement weather, we didn’t go on one of the outings that was planned, but rather my group had some tasty Italian food (which very much functions as comfort food in my life), and then a bunch of us congregated in the bar to play board and card games again.
Day four was a half day, since we didn’t have any more team plenaries to get through. It was mostly strategic meetings to finalize plans with our teams, and then present on our “what’s next?” to everyone, including folks who’d been helping plan/run the conference. The energy in the room was good, and while it was clear that some of our presentations had hit a nerve, the hope was that we’d run with the momentum and make good things happen in the world.
My team has a few things planned – a website, a couple of publications – and once we’ve all decompressed and made it through the ends of our respective semesters, I’m excited to see where it all goes. As the group’s sole folklorist, I’m on the hook for doing the bulk of the work on the storytelling genres toolkit that is part of our project, but that’s something I want to see out in the world regardless.
One unexpected benefit is that I now feel like I’m part of a cohort, not just with my team (who are AMAZING) but also with all the scholars in attendance. I follow a lot of them on Twitter now, and I’m invested in their work. Just now I saw that one of my colleagues liked a tweet of mine from the conference hashtag, and it filled my heart to know that someone’s cheering for my progress.
I might wager that scholarly community is just as important as scholarly communication; not only do we need to communicate with one another (and the public) for our work to have any real meaning, but we also need to have that sense of belonging, of camaraderie, to help situate us in the world. We need to know that there are others who care passionately about the same materials and methods we do, who are committed to researching and teaching them. It makes the grind of institutional (or altac) life feel a little less lonely.
And that, friends, is a huge reason I go to conferences: to connect with my scholarly communities, to congregate over the same beloved materials that we hold in such esteem as to devote our lives to studying them. It doesn’t mean that members of an academic community always see eye to eye, or never fight (goodness knows I’ve witnessed some epic shouting matches at conference panels)… it just means that we’re part of the same community, the same group that is deeply invested in what we study, why, and how.
See also: Reflections on Academic Community
To recap: the conference was wonderful, everyone was great, they fed us really well, I almost didn’t want to come home, and once I was home I had to fight to not completely collapse with con drop feels/fatigue.
Anyway, you can read the whole Storify thread (the tweets in order as they appeared) here. I’m curious now whether it’s got much narrative coherence or not, ha.
Before I end this post, I’ll say that I’m working on a post called “Stories Won’t Save Us,” to provide a realistic (and perhaps cynical) complement to all this “yay stories!” vibe I’m seeing. I do think stories are important; I mean, I wouldn’t have devoted my life to studying them if I didn’t. However, I want to both take a cautionary tone in terms of making sure we’re actually discussing narratives when we say stories, because if everything’s a story the term is bloody useless, and I also want to remind everyone that storytelling alone is not necessarily enough in and of itself to dismantle oppressive regimes. It’s a good first (and maybe middle) step, sure; but story is only sometimes an action.