The Material Collective is sponsoring a session, “Counter Productivity: Valuing Scholarly Processes,” at the 4th Biennial Meeting of the Babel Working Group in October 2015 (see the full CFP here). The session is based on idea I had at the 2014 Babel meeting in Santa Barbara: I remember walking alongside a lagoon with Jennifer Borland and saying that I wanted to organize a conference session where we talked how we do what we do, rather than what we were doing, and so did not present the finished products of our work, but instead turned our attention to the processes of the work itself. With more time and thought and input from other Material Collectivists, that idea became the following session description:
This session shifts attention to that which typically remains “off” of our own scholarly books, journal articles, essays, conference papers, and the like, that is, the practices through which we develop exactly those works, those “finished products.” The existing discourse on scholarly practices, and on scholarly writing practices in particular (hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, among other venues), is typically focused on reforming practices or adopting new ones in order to enhance productivity and so meet career goals (earning tenure, for example). While this material can be valuable, and while the goals it supports are valid, it is also unfortunately of a piece with other contemporary pressures on those of us engaged in academic work to be increasingly productive in order to justify our work and so ourselves to our employers, to politicians, and to a public increasingly skeptical of higher education. This session instead shifts attention to our practices precisely in order to counter such a heightened emphasis on productivity. Thus, the session is not intended to present tips and techniques for increasing productivity, but instead, to foster reflection on our own practices as a way of granting them value independent of their final products — indeed independent of their success or failure in generating final products. To do so, we (The Material Collective) ask the following questions of the members of the Babel community: What do you actually do when reading for a research project? When you get to the library, archive, museum, or other site of research and encounter the manuscripts, collections of papers, works of art, or other materials that you have come to see? What do you do when you are thinking? When you sit down to write? And what do you find yourself doing instead when you are meant to be doing any of these things? Finally how and why did you develop your own scholarly practices? Have your practices as a scholar shifted over time and if so how and why?
For me, this session is a product of my sabbatical year in 2014-15, which I spent working on my book, with “working” being the operative term. I was getting up in the morning and spending a hour or two or three at my computer, writing, but without feeling that I was being very “productive” or “producing” much of anything – because the writing I was doing was actually rewriting existing drafts of sections of the book, because each of those sections is going to need further revision, because the book was still under review at the press and so there was no guarantee that there ever would be a finished product even after all of this work, and because without a finished product the work will not “count” towards my university’s expectations for scholarly productivity for post-tenure faculty. To be able to do the work, I found that I needed to give value to the process of working itself, rather than investing all of it in the finished product, and this despite the value set on finished products by my institution. With this session, I invite others to join me in that process.
The session is also a product of Babel’s encouragement to think differently about ourselves and our work and so to take risks in that work. That includes taking risks in the content and format of conference sessions. This session will consist of two parts, each 30 minutes in length. The first part will be a roundtable in which approximately five participants will give brief (approximately five minute) presentations in which they reflect on some aspect(s) of their own scholarly practices. The second will feature small breakout group discussions, each facilitated by one of the roundtable participants, that will encourage members of the roundtable audience to reflect upon their own practices.
A survey that will inform the discussion will be circulated online before the conference and at the registration table in Toronto. Those interested in participating in the roundtable/facilitating the discussions should send a brief statement of interest that identifies the practice(s) you plan to discuss to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 15, 2015.