Posts that are engineering edu-ish
As the oldest of 14 grandkids on my mom’s side and the first in my extended family to grow up outside Asia, I’ve done a lot of “Schools! They’re Different In America!” coaching for my aunts and cousins. As an engineer, I’m big on optimizing systems that allow me to be lazy. So when I found Cal’s book in a used bookstore in Seattle and realized (1) it had a lot of my systems in it, (2) had improved upon most of them, and (3) was already written down, I did a little jig right there in the Bellevue strip mall. Here’s my new, more-efficient cousin-college-coaching system: I sketched my take on the book (below, in black-and-white and color versions, click to enlarge) and handed it to my cousin Mia, who’s entering her senior year of high school, instructing her to add her own thoughts and pass it to the next cousin in line when she was done.
Short version? Maximize your interestingness. If you have Asian(-style) parents, they may look at you funny because wait that’s not a real metric like GRADES AND STUFF!, so get your teachers/mentors to back you up. And if you’re related to us, feel free to point at me and Jason as case studies, because that’s what Big Cousins are for.
TL;DR – if my work in open source has helped you in some way, please donate to the Ada Initiative, which supports women in open technology and culture. Not convinced yet? Here’s why I donated.
There’s a world out there to patch. I love the universe of open technology and culture where I’ve built much of my career and friendships. It’s a wonderful world that can be wide and welcoming — but it also has horrific bug reports of sexual abuse and gender discrimination, along with many more that haven’t been reported out of fear and shame. I’ve lived a few not-so-good stories myself; some I’ve told, some I haven’t. What saddens me most, though, isn’t the bad stories that have happened; it’s the good ones that never will — stories of women and men working together to hack the universe in marvelous ways. If we want to see these stories happen, we’ve got to make a world where they can happen, a world where it’s safe for them to happen. Don’t WONTFIX that ticket; do something. When you care about something, you want to make it better.
We change the world with millions of tiny patches. I’m a grad student; money is tight, and my $64 contribution represents half a month of groceries. I was initially ashamed of my “tiny” contribution, even if it’s a nontrivial one for me. Then I remembered: our world of open technology and culture is built one patch, one line, one edit at a time — and that’s precisely why it’s powerful. It brings billions of tiny, ordinary moments together to transform the world. If we teach it for our code, we can preach it for our giving. If you’d buy me a drink, or treat an open source newcomer to dinner, send that $3-$20 to the Ada Initiative tonight.
Someone’s got to integrate these patches into a whole… and it’d be nice if they didn’t burn out in the process. Honestly? I support the Ada Initiative because it does this work so I don’t have to. I’m young and energetic, but I’m often wiped out just being a woman in open technology and culture. It’s not just physical and mental exhaustion; it’s emotional and psychological, which is worse. And being an activist is harder still. Do I agree with everything the Ada Initiative says or does? Nope. But it’s a job I want done, and I don’t want the job. This is why we hire maintainers for Free Software; we give them the gift of bandwidth so they can help us contribute more for a project with less effort by supporting and connecting our patches with the bigger picture. Val and Mary are good maintainers for feminism in our open universe — and I’d like more. After all, it’s a big world out there that we’ve got to work on.
The last day of their fund drive is tomorrow. (I’m coming late to the game; summer travel + school year start + RSI = no internet for Mel.) But it wasn’t too late for me to throw in my $64 patch this morning — and it’s not too late for you to contribute your patch today. If my work in open technology and culture has touched, helped, or inspired you in some way, please help me pay it forward and create a supportive, welcoming environment for everyone in the open world.
Typed notes from class because I arrived on campus too late to sketch, may not be as interesting to others. This post does not contain notes from Contemporary Sociological Theory (Wallace & Wolf, 5th ed. 1999) because that ended up being a 1-page comic on Marxism that Alice is going to scan.
Culture & Power: David Swartz, 1997
This book is a homage to Pierre Bordieu, who argued that “education actually contributes to the maintenance of an inegalitarian social system by allowing inherited cultural differences to shape academic achievement and occupational attainment.” (p. 190). In other words, even if education presumably lets “anyone” play the game of getting-ahead-in-society, the rules of the game itself are set by those who are already ahead. The game-makers have created an education system that (1) conserves, inculcates, and consecrates a cultural heritage, (2) reproduces existing social-class relations, and (3) legitimizes them. I think the fuss over unschooling/badges/credentialing and other forms of adding formality to informal educational systems is in large part due to this: people are skipping around the system entirely, so the game-makers try to turn that skipping-around into a system of its own.
My favorite quote is on p. 191: “By consecrating the cultural heritage it transmits, the education system deflects attention from and contributes to the misrecognition of its social reproduction function.” (Bourdieu helped originate social reproduction theory, by the way.) A related quote: “Education’s virtual monopoly over recruitment, training, and promotion of personnel allows the educational system to adapt its programs and activities to its own specific needs for self-perpetuation.” (p. 206)
Sure, it’s possible for “disadvantaged” kids to make it — but they’re still disadvantaged. For instance, lower-class children are less likely to have access to language that sounds high-class and refined, which is the selection criteria for acceptance for things like literary studies. It’s true that social-class background effects lessen somewhat as you move into higher levels of schooling, mostly because the surviving lower-class students represent a highly select subgroup. But it’s still detectable. Lower-class students “smart” enough to make it to the upper echelons of schooling are much more “scholastic” in their cultural style than their higher-class classmates. They’ve somehow acquired a broad base of scholastic cultural capital, but don’t have broader cultural knowledge outside their studies — think of the stereotypes: the international student who wrecks the curve on math tests, but is lonely and isolated from her American classmates in the cafeteria because she doesn’t know the music, the culture, the way party invitations get handed out — or the scholarship kid who writes brilliant papers on the history of Scandinavian cuisine but fumbles awkwardly in his tuxedo when brought to a lobster dinner.
(I had a slight jolt of recognition on this part — growing up as a deaf nerd, I was a lonely kid who learned about the world through books. So while my adolescent self could tell you about the stages of foetal development in great detail — cell division, zygotes, Mendelian inheritance, DNA, the composition of amniotic fluid — I didn’t know sex existed until the assigned health class reading. My scholarly knowledge was great; my broader cultural knowledge was slim to nonexistent, both among my American classmates and my Chinese-Filipino family — whose Chinese dialect I never did manage to learn.)
A close second for favorite quote was on p. 197: “Whether students stay in school or drop out, and the course of study they pursue, Bourdieu argues, depends on their practical expectations of the likelihood that people of their social class will succeed academically.” This was the root of the first — and only — time I’ve (deliberately) flat-out gone against an elder in public: the ancestor in question had expressed views that people of group X didn’t seem to get that studying hard and getting a college scholarship was The Way To Success, with strong implications that group X was stupid/lazy. I stopped and argued that it made rational economic sense not to gamble on something long-term if (1)you had strong evidence that it was an impossibly long shot out of your control, and (2) it had a massive short-term opportunity cost (namely, less food for your hungry family right now).
My dissertation is on faculty development, so I started thinking: how does Bourdieu’s work apply to faculty development? He found a bipolar structure among French faculty: some (like natural sciences faculty) were scientifically dominant but socially subordinate, and others (law/medicine faculty) were the other way around. In other words, law/medicine professors tended to be richer and more politically powerful than, say, chemistry professors.
The middle levels: engineers and the “working middle class”, Robert Zussman, 1983
Zussman argues that engineers are a funny sort of middle class (based on a study of 40 engineers at 2 companies). Although only a few of the engineers in the study had formal “technical knowledge,” they were all valuable because of their “production knowledge” of how to get real things done in the factory. Compared to the factory laborers, they had a lot of autonomy; engineers were allowed to freely physically roam through the space, could decide when to work on which of their multiple projects, and were encouraged to initiate projects. While not the direct bosses of manual workers, they had authority over them via QA checks and so forth.
Zussman differentiates between the employment of engineers and manual laborers; engineering isn”t just a “job” like that of the manual laborers, where labor-time was simply exchanged for salary; it’s a “career” which lets you accumulates more skill/training/performance for future advancement possibilities. (Marx would disagree with this: since neither the laborers nor engineers own their “means of production,” they both belong to the proletariat.) The engineers in Zussman’s study described themselves as middle-class, complaining both about the lower-class (freeloaders who live off public handouts without working) and the wealthy (folks who use tax loopholes to avoid doing work).
Despite attempts to “professionalize” engineering in the mold of more “upper-class” professions like law and medicine in the 1930′s-1960′s, it never quite worked the same way. Unlike doctors and lawyers, engineers don’t have strong orientations to colleagues (rather than employers – also unlike doctors/lawyers, engineers don’t often have “private practices”) and the control over the right to practice, also known as “licensing.” I mean, they sort of do. And this article was written in the early 80′s, before little design firms started springing up everywhere. But it’s still hard to be a “freelance engineer” these days — generally, you need to be employed by a company to have access to what you need to make things.
Zussman’s 1983 article feels mostly current, but there are places it shows its age, as when it describes engineers as working 9-to-5 shifts like manual laborers, unlike doctors and lawyers with private practices who get called out at all hours of the day or night. Nowadays, flex time is a common benefit of engineering positions, and doctors increasingly giving up their private practices to work shift rotations in larger medical groups. Zussman’s article also shows its age when describing the international situation; he calls the concept of a “working middle class” something that is a “distinctively American concept, rooted in the long-standing absence of either working class or bourgeois class consciousness as acute as that found in Europe.” (p. 229) However, I feel the Western world has gotten a lot more like America in this regard, and that America itself has shifted working middle class culture a lot because of the rise of the “creative class.”
Alice Pawley asked us to take reading notes for her “Gender, Race, & Class in Engineering Education” course. Naturally, mine come out in visual form. (Click to enlarge.)
Here’s Kacey Beddoes’ 2011 article unpacking how we talk about (under)representation in engineering education, questioning our habits of thought and where they come from. Beddoes mostly focuses on gender, but her article is relevant to race/age/ethnicity/class/etc. too. The full article is open-access and worth reading if you’ve ever noticed we make the same arguments for diversity-in-technology over and over again (“Because it’s just and fair to have more Hispanics in STEM!” “Because disabled people will bring empathy to our field!” “Because more female engineers will help our country be competitive!”) and wondered where those arguments come from and what they might be sweeping under the rug. After all, as a disabled minority woman, I’d like to think I’m more than just a warm engineering body that can Help My Company Compete… and I don’t know I’m actually more nurturing/empathetic/whatever than some of the awesome white able-bodied guys I work with.
EduPsych for Python Hackers 2.0 is about to go live in Toronto in 45 minutes, which means it’s time to upload slides! Questions, comments, etc. welcome as usual. This is an expanded, revised version of the previous EduPsych-For-Hackers talks I’ve given, so if you’ve seen both, I’m curious what you think of the changes.
Also: my parents will be in the audience for the first time (since I started speaking over half a decade ago), so they get a special call-out on slide 29.
Ok, off to hyperventilate!
These are rough, incomplete notes from my getting started in open source session at Hacker School, cribbed from chat notes taken by attendees (thanks, folks!)
We started with a replay of the 5 minute exercise wherein participants dump me in the middle of an open source project I’m clueless about, and watch me think-aloud as I desperately try to figure out what’s going on — basically, “how does an experienced hacker evaluate an open source community?” This time I had 10 minutes, so I got pretty far checking with out Ogre3D (which looks great).
Our first big goal for the session was lurking. You can find projects on a topic by searching the internet for “[topic] open source” (or “[topic] Free Software,” or so forth). When you have a few potentials, ask yourself:
- Is this project alive? Are code commits recent? Are mailing list messages recent and responded-to in a timely, helpful manner? Are people using this software? (Do you want to use this software? Can you figure out how?)
- Is this a community I want to be part of? (Do they treat each other well?) The people are more important than the code; they’re the ones who make the code, and with release cycles that average 6 months, the code moves so fast that your relationships are what will really orient you.
- Where do they hang out and do their work? (What chatroom — usually in IRC — do they use? Do they have a bugtracker or some other giant shared to-do list for the project?) Once you find out where you can overhear things, you can figure out who you’re overhearing, and then start contacting them directly: “I’ve seen you answering questions on X; can you help me navigate X?”
Most projects have communication methods for code and not-code, and for asynchronous and synchronous work. Try to lurk all four. The table below may help.
|Synchronous Code: git commits (announced by a bot in chat, sent to a feed, etc)
|| Synchronous not-code: chat (typically IRC)
| Asynchronous Code: issue/ticket/bug tracker
|| Asynchronous not-code: mailing lists or forum, AND wiki
Our second big goal for the session was introducing yourself. This usually happens by sending an email introduction to the developers mailing list, then referencing that email (find the URL of your message in the mailing list archives) during initial chat conversations with people. Maggie brought up “submitting a pull request as your intro letter,” which is a great idea. What this means is that your introduction email should explain how you are:
- already in the middle of doing a specific helpful task
- and what you’re asking for is help doing that specific helpful task.
This sounds intimidating until you realize “something useful to help” can be very, very small. For example, Rebecca emailed tent saying that she’d been working through their documentation and had ideas for how to improve the clarity of the particular docs at a certain URL (specific helpful task!) and was wondering where to submit her changes (help me do it!). Jade emailed GIMP offering to test patches (specific helpful task!) and asked which branch and patches would be most helpful to verify (help me do it!). None of these tasks involve deep knowledge of the code; that comes later. They involved “writing in English” (not a problem for most Hacker Schoolers) and “compiling C” (not an impossible thing to learn, especially when you’re surrounded by programmers eager to teach).
It’s helpful to pair with someone and peer-pressure (positively!) each other to ship your intro emails.
My “engineering learning styles” session yesterday was based on work done by Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman at NCSU. We adapted the content to programming/hacker-school-specific descriptions, shared where we fit on each scale (with big surprises as we looked around the room), and swapped tips on how they affect our coding/teamwork, and drew a bunch of pictures (I’m a visual learner). If you missed the session, you can take the learning styles quiz on your own and read the descriptions of the styles. Case-study stories are at the bottom of this page along with tons of additional reading.
Warning: within 5 minutes of taking the quiz, you will think “but Mel, I do [weird-thing!] that doesn’t fit inside the model!” You’re right; the model’s broken. All models are. They’re just languages to talk about your learning with, which is what I wanted to give you; use what works, chuck what doesn’t. We often wobble across a wide range on the scale depending on context/topic/skill-level/people/breakfast/etc. because many of us have learned to adapt ourselves to a wide range of educational environments; the trick (and my great hope) is that you’ll start adapting your environments to work for you.
Tips I remember from yesterday:
- Active learner? Do study and discussion groups. Pair program (especially with a reflective learner); you’ll likely enjoy “driving” the keyboard. And please, please, please do test-driven development; it’s a discipline you may find hard at first, but taking that one step before following your natural impulse to dive in will lead to cleaner code and fewer bugs and world peace.
- Reflective learner? Write notes and take time to digest them afterwards. Pair program (especially with an active learner); you’ll likely enjoy the “shotgun” (non-typing) seat. Also: stop reading stuff and push yourself to just write code.
- Sensing learner? Make a list throughout the day of Concrete Things I Am Learning. You see the world as made of concept-nodes (that happen to be joined by edges), and you’ll be way more comfortable when you concretely know what those concept-nodes are.
- Intuitive learner? Every time you learn something new, sit down with a person/project/book/idea that seems to be completely unrelated until you figure out how the ideas connect. You see the world as made of concept-edges (that happen to be between nodes) and things won’t click until they fit into the stuff you know already.
- Visual learner? Tweak your editor’s color scheme, font style, etc. until you’re Really, Really Happy With It. Draw pictures of everything, on everything; use physical movement and space (computer windows in the same arrangement, books in the same place on your desk, waving your hands in the quicksort-dance…) and think about “translation to/from words” as “good communications work,” not “what a waste of time.”
- Verbal learner? Write. Talk. Learn to use powerful text manipulation/search tools like ack. And think about “translation to/from pictures” (when working with visual learners) as “good communications work,” not “what a waste of time.”
- Sequential learner? Embrace tutorials/textbooks, but don’t get stuck on them; if you can’t get past step 3, get someone to kick you out of your rut, or find another sequential book/tutorial/etc and look for their equivalent of “step 3″ (example: stuck on a chapter on compilers? go find other videos/book-chapters/etc on compilers, read them, then come back to your linear track and see if you’re unstuck).
- Global learner? Keep trudging through the “WTF-zone” (the time before The Revelation Moment Where It All Makes Sense) — massive immersion and exposure is the key. Also, remember that having The Revelation doesn’t mean you’re done with a topic; even if you can intuit the correct answer, you haven’t really learned something until you can teach someone else how to get there too.
- Any sort of learner? Work with and talk to people of different and similar learning styles with you and ask them to think out loud for you. You might pick up tricks on different ways of thinking/seeing, or gain empathy for why your colleague does something that seems bizarre to you.
Questions, comments, thoughts, reactions? Hit me up. I was stunned by how packed the fishbowl was and how enthusiastically people responded; I usually don’t need to stop people from talking about research papers, but… but… awesome!
At the last meeting of Dr. Lather’s “Cultural Foundations” (aka. “Poststructuralism WHEE”) class, we tried to summarize a method for poststructuralism. These are heuristics rather than algorithms; notes on “how to think poststructurally” are akin to notes on “how to write poetry” — they’re always incomplete fragments, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying.
- Practice dialogic and reflexive engagement. You are not monologuing in a vacuum; rather, you are in conversation at all times. This is easy when speaking, but in writing and other media where we’re trained to be “The Voice Of Truth” (as opposed to “A Voice of truth,” or simply “a voice”).
- Focus on margins and centers, intersections and crossroads. What do boundaries, positions relative to them, and deliberate efforts to remake them tell you about the evolution and construction of a culture?
- Refuse binaries. When you read a statement, think about the frame of mind it has been written within and against — for instance, a paper might set up a “constructivism vs realism” fight, then have one or the other “win” the debate. Point out those binaries and how they contradict and destabilize each other.
- Focus on contradictory understandings. This is a continuation of #3. The world is tangled and messy; refuse metanarratives and avoid “tidy tales” of the “One Truth,” especially when you point out binaries yourself. “Some people see a constructivism vs realism battle, but I see both of them as parts of a whole!” is a binary of your metanarrative vs “the old binary.”
- Do justice to specificity. Ground theories in specifics and empirical data. (I want to add “…instead of going straight for the transferable generalization,” but having just written #3 and #4, I hesitate.)
- Pay attention to layers of affects as a material force. In other words, people are embodied beings full of feelings. See what resonates for people as you study something (“Affect studies” is a field focused on this). If your audience resonates with “spirituality” in a way that’s academically “improper,” honor that, and honor the tension you hold in struggling to convey it to an academic audience. Howard S. Becker advised that if you couldn’t write something, you could at least write about why you couldn’t write it.
- Include the autobiographical in non-leaky ways. You’re a character in the world and in your story, but you’re not the diva of it; admit your perspective, but don’t spew self-indulgence all over your writing.
- Do justice to difference. Differences between things, within things, among things — insert your favorite preposition here. This is a way to start breaking down metanarratives and start letting in multivocality.
This is hard. In fact, it’s impossible. My writing of #1 already violates #3 and #4 (“monologuing in a vacuum” vs being “in conversation at all times” is a tidy tale). #3 and #4 contradict themselves (“refuse binaries” sets up a “binaries” vs “not-binaries” binary). But we try anyway — the note on #5 is an attempt to use #1 in recognition of a violation of #3 and #4.
Here’s the transcript of the seminar “Psst: wanna eavesdrop on my research?” [materials] I delivered on Thursday about applying Free Culture / Open Source practices to qualitative research (for the engineering education department at Purdue, hence the disciplinary focus). I’ve edited in some context for readers who weren’t there, and anonymized audience comments (except Jake Wheadon’s interview — thanks, Jake!) and the transcript cuts out before the last 2 audience questions, but otherwise this is what happened; click on any slide’s photo to enlarge it.
This will be a slightly strange seminar; I’ve had at least half a dozen people e-mail me and say they can’t be here but would like to catch up later on. So we’re interacting here and it’s being recorded by Boilercast and transcribed by Terry over there.
The title is long and fancy and we’re going to ignore that.
I’m Mel. I think you all know me. I’m a Ph.D. student here in engineering education and one of the things I do is qualitative research, because it’s fun. I also come from the hacker world, the open source, open content world where there’s this radical transparency culture that defaults to open and share everything about what they’re doing.
This is Terry. She is a CART provider and the one responsible for typing super, super fast on our shared transcript document. The URL for the live transcript is on the slide for those of you who are following along on Boilercast. You should know that all of the recordings and the documentation and so forth we’re producing in the seminar will be open data. That means a couple of things.
First of all, the document that Terry is transcribing in is a collaborative text editor and you can type and annotate and fix spelling or whatever you want. It will be the canonical record of our discussion. The second is, as we’re recording this, no names will be taken down. So it’s not going to say I said this and you said that and this person said that other thing. It’s just going to be “person in room” said words. If you want to be off the record, if you don’t want Terry to type down what you’re saying, say that before you speak and she will stop typing for a moment, or if you see something in the document you can go and delete the stuff you said if you don’t want it on the record. The document will be available for editing right after the seminar as well. I probably won’t read and post the final version until sometime after dinner. So you can also take out stuff you said afterward if you don’t want to be captured here. The ground rules are also in the document.
This is what we’re going to be doing today. It’s a bit of an adventure. I’ve been playing are something called radically transparent research. There’s a website and it’s out of date and once I finish my papers I’ll fix it. What radically transparent research refers to is this: what if we did engineering education research, or any kind of qualitative research, as if it were an open project? Make the data open, the analysis open in terms of both being publicly available and open to anyone who wants to participate, and not having a delineation saying “these are the official people” on the project and “these are not.”
What would it look like if we defaulted to open instead of defaulting to closed? So what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a little RTR — radically transparent research — project right here in this room. We’ll be collecting data, going through the licensing process, seeing what analysis looks like, and dissemination — we’ll get back to that. We’ll see a few examples of other projects that RTR is being used in and then we’re going to loop back and and do an instant replay of “okay what the heck just happened?” I’m hoping as we go through the steps they’ll seem fairly logical, but then when we go back and compare them to the normal way of doing qualitative research they’ll start seeming really weird and the implications of the pieces lining up will start piling and piling and piling.
(Note: this was a 45-minute talk, so for the sanity of feed readers, I’m going to say “click to read more” here.)
Continue reading Full talk transcript: “Psst: wanna eavesdrop on my research?”
I am slouched in quiet triumph on the Jadud family’s squishy green couch: I’ve finally finished Patti Lather’s 1991 book, Getting Smart – 205 pages of postmodern feminist critical theory on pedagogy. (Lord, is that a mouthful!) And it only took me a month and a half!
You can’t speed-read this stuff; there’s no objective-fact-picture it’s trying to put inside your head. Quite the opposite. It’s like trying to summarize poetry; I cannot capture it.
I do not really wish to conclude and sum up, rounding off the argument so as to dump it in a nutshell on the reader. A lot more could be said about any of the topics I have touched upon… I have meant to ask the questions, to break out of the frame… The point is not a set of answers, but making possible a different practice… — Kappeler, Susanne. 1986. The pornography of representation. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 212
However, I can (magpie-like) show you a few shiny bits that caught my brain’s attention. For instance — why teachers, classes, schools? What do flipped classrooms and MOOCs and many attempts to “scale” education (in order to “radically change” it) miss about how people actually transform — why do we need environments, communities?
Coming to a radical new self-conception is hardly ever a process that occurs simply by reading some theoretical work; rather, it requires an environment of trust, openness, and support in which one’s own perceptions and feelings can be made properly conscious to oneself, in which one can think through one’s experiences in terms of a radically new vocabulary which expresses a fundamentally different conceptualization of the world, in which one can see the particular and concrete ways that one unwittingly collaborates in producing one’s own misery, and in which one can gain the emotional strength to accept and act on one’s new insights. –Fay, Brian. 1977. How people change themselves: The relationship between critical theory and its audience. In Political theory and praxis, ed. Terence Ball, 200-233. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 232
There’s a steady theme critiquing researchers who seem themselves as liberators, white knights riding in to save others according to their definition of “saved,” whether those people want to be “saved” that way or not. Sometimes researchers will assume an intellectual hegemony over theory, doing theory “for” others in an attempt to be The Hero(ine) of The Story — and to maintain their role as the central character, they position themselves as the bottleneck controlling what can be known and done, what will be written and published and get them tenure. Think “colonialist mentality” — the Spanish riding in to baptize all the Heathen Indians to Save their Souls — and by the way, we’ll take that gold while we’re here. Lather’s message is clear: don’t do that. You’ll become the system you’re fighting — it’s just a different binary, a different name, a different distribution of oppression.
(This post meanders from thought to thought; I won’t try to get it to do anything else. I’ll play with this way of writing/thinking; someday, in my actual prelim document, it’ll tighten up, be put into clear order to support distinct points. But not now.)
The world is multivocal, contradictory, impossible to capture — Lather embraces that, continuously interrupting herself to expose her inner wrestling with everything she can’t say, everything she’s leaving out, everything she can’t understand. The text is fragmentary, incomplete — all texts are; I will tell you I’m deliberately not wrapping ideas into neat packages because I want you to become an active reader, crawl around, form your own conclusions. At the same time, she wrote a book, frozen in time and print; it has chapters in linear order. We all make compromises. She throws in a poem by Adrienne Rich (I’ve ruined the precise formatting/typography below):
How can I fail to love
your clarity and fury
how can I give you
all your due
take courage from your courage
honor your exact
legacy as it is
that it is not enough?
It’s not enough, but it is enough, because it’s all we have and we’ve got to move forward anyway — can’t be paralyzed by overanalysis, gotta get out and be Productively Lost. When we rip out the notion of complete forensic truth as The Ideal of Knowledge, when we leave the safe harbor of postpositivism for the deliberate unsettleness of postmodernism/poststructuralism, the world gets scary — but we can be honest about that fear. I can’t not feel the fear, and I don’t want to hide the messiness — and that’s why I’m here, driving 8 hours every week to learn about postructuralism: it “helps us ask questions about what we have not thought to think, about what is most densely invested in our discourse/practices, about what has been muted, repressed, unheard in our liberatory efforts.” (p. 157)
As a side note, the lack of this in so much Free Culture writing (esr is particularly egregrious) has bothered me for ages. Sometimes those writings claim to speak in the All Knowing Thus-It-Shall-Be Voice of the High Priest, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think everyone in the open source / Free Culture movement Thought That Way. Anyone who’s been in those communities know they’re incredibly multivocal, a large, squabbling, fumbling, loving, mixed-up mess — but our “core” historical/cultural documents don’t sound anything like that! I am grateful for authors like Karl Fogel who try really, really hard to expose their own processes and limitations, and would in general like to write more about this someday.
It’s interesting to listen to my own comments in Dr. Lather’s qualitative methods class. Most of my classmates are just starting to think about what’s not in their data — the silences, the negatives, how their interviewees “performed” in front of them and how they’d tell a different truth in another time or to another person — because of course they hear everything and it fits into a coherent narrative! I, on the other hand, worry so much about what I haven’t heard, am painfully conscious of performativity, wince at the awkward fragmentation that my texts take on when I’m honest in my analysis. (“Yes, good point. But stop worrying about that, Mel!” is probably Dr. Lather’s most frequent response to my questions.)
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my OSU classes this semester, it’s that the hello-I-grew-up-deaf voice in my head that keeps going “YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING! YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING!” is… absolutely correct — and so what? Everybody else is too. You’ve all been loved into being anyway. Be conscious of the incompleteness and the imperfection that’s in everything, but at some point — relax! So what? Go do stuff. It’ll be okay. Be happy.
So I scribbled what I could on Getting Smart and put it down and picked up Getting Lost (maybe I’ll read that one faster) and played board games with Matthew and held Simon and marvelled at his tiny fingers and amusing baby gurgling sounds and ate a brownie and poked a little at my prelim and the notion of teaching professors basic qualitative research methods as a self-reflective technique in faculty development workshops and talked with Carrie and had blueberry beer and potatoes with cinnamon butter and was happy.