Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Chapters, New Beginnings

Two months ago I defended my dissertation. Two months ago I finished teaching. Two months ago I graduated. Two months ago I closed a seven-years-long chapter.

Today there is a haze hanging over Seattle, as wildfire smoke blows South from British Columbia. Today the Blue Angels disrupt our skies and demand we acknowledge militarism. Today I am hiding from the heat in my basement apartment and making sure my pet doesn’t overheat.

Next week, I begin a new chapter. I am trusting my gut – leaving academia to find work that better aligns with my skills and passions. I am a people person, a connector. I am a writer and an educator. I am a convener and an event planner. I am passionate about making philanthropy more equitable, passionate about learning how places impact the work we do, passionate about critical thinking and inquiry.

I’m joining the team at Philanthropy Northwest to make philanthropy more equitable, effective and responsive across the Northwest. We support a huge range of members: from tiny grassroots community foundations to large corporate philanthropies. From family foundations to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I will be network mapping and weaving all of these organizations, figuring out synergies and overlaps, shared values and interests. I will be listening and learning, facilitating and collaborating. I will be wearing many hats: something I love. And, I will be working at an organization led by women of color, that is paying a living wage, where I can be independent but not my own boss.


A few years ago, I identified that place was more important to me than career. I chose not to pursue an academic career, at least not at the expense of uprooting and moving. I dug into the process of graduate school instead of the outcomes. And it has paid off: I have landed in a position that feels like a perfect fit of my skills: relationship building, education, program management, facilitation, event planning… I am thrilled.

Here is to the 9-5. To having a boss. To set schedules and flex time when needed. To routine and no more grading papers. To publishing if I want to, rather than because my career depends on it. To new institutional norms and navigations. To colleagues and health care benefits. To an easy commute. To learning a TON and diving into something new. To making impact and connecting to purpose. Here we go!

Relearning poverty knowledge

I recently published a new piece of writing on the blog for the Relational Poverty Network, of which I am a member.

The piece asks what it might look like to acknowledge, unlearn and re-learn our ideas and assumptions about poverty.

It is in response to a TEDx talk by Ananya Roy at UC Berkeley. Check it out at:

If you like the post, consider following and/or joining the RPN!

Today, I fell in love

Well, not real love. Not the oxytocin drunk, I want to spend every minute with you, can’t concentrate on work because I’m thinking of you, smiling so much my colleagues wonder what’s wrong with me kind of love.

Maybe it’s more of a crush. The kind where I  can’t stop thinking about all the good things yet to come, about the great times we’ll spend together, about how unbelievably perfect it all seems to be, about the energy high I felt for hours after our parting, about wanting to share my feelings with anyone who will listen because I am

I am falling for my office. For coworking.  I’m falling for Office Nomads.

I knew it was time for me to get some different office space after I emerged anew from my autumn transition, after some deep reflection about my personal and professional needs. I let go of one dissertation idea and let myself follow all of the obvious signs to accept and pursue a dissertation on social justice philanthropy. I realized I was woefully unproductive in my graduate student office, where the (perfectly normal and totally acceptable and I’ve been there) nervous energy of the new students was putting me on edge. I realized that many of the professional habits I had clung to (see “I’ve Always Been a Juggler“) were being triggered by the familiar space of my office and colleagues.

Two of my friends manage coworking spaces in Seattle (Impact HUB andWeWork) – both of which are incredible, and I would highly recommend them. However, they were both a bit out of my price range, and targeted for actual businesses or self-employed individuals / entrepreneurs who needed flexible but regular office space. I, on the other hand, just needed a place I could go once a week or so to shake up my routine. Where I might meet other hybrid-scholar-activist types who wear many hats in the world. Where I could go, sit down with my computer, not feel obligated to buy a coffee, not fight for crowded space, not risk falling asleep at the library (not like that’s every happened to me, but I’ve heard it could…)

Office Nomads, where have you been all my life?! With a new student priced membership, this was the perfect option for me. Free coffee, tea and printing. Unlimited wifi. Desk space guaranteed. Standing desks available. Meeting rooms to book. A shower (!) so I could potentially run mid-day and come back and work more. Dogs! (At least two so far.) Couches, where people unabashedly take naps. A lovely little kitchen area where I met three people already who have similar interests (one a social responsibility consultant, another who used kickstarter for a social action project in India, another who is discovering GIS for the first time). I had pleasant conversations with lots of other people. I listened to the light KEXP in the background when I wanted to, and put headphones in when I needed more focus. I drank a lot of (free!) tea.

I got about two days of work done in four hours.

Like I said, I’m in love.

Here’s to having space that feels welcoming, pleasant, encourages productivity and also play, has all the resources I need. Here’s to work space that is not filled with undergraduate students, is not freezing cold, is not a sleepy library, and is *not* my couch or dining room table. Here’s to an office that brings me into contact with lots of new people, and will foster the hybrid scholar-connector-event planner-writer-activist identity (and work) that I am working on becoming.

For more on coworking in Seattle check out the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance to find a space that might work for you.

Pumpkin pie and philanthropy

I have seen and consumed more pumpkin pies in the last week than in any other week of my life, as far as I can remember.

Last week, Eat for Equity Seattle held its first anniversary dinner, E4E4E4E! A tradition started by the Minneapolis branch, E4E4E4E is an annual dinner that benefits the local branch, to raise money to help buy kitchen supplies, run our program and build capacity. We held our largest dinner yet, and featured 7 pumpkin pies made by volunteers. They were absolutely delicious. We also fed 90 people and raised $1100 for our own work – by far the most we’ve ever raised, and the most people we’ve ever hosted. By all accounts, it was a huge success.

Pumpkin Pies
Then, of course, there was Thanksgiving. I spent Thursday evening with my inherited Seattle family, the sisters and cousins of one of my dearest friends from back East. There were too many pies that night. So many that we, (gasp), had to try a little bit of each one. All four. It was, if I dare to say it, entirely too much pie.

And then I had the gift of opening my home to my new Seattle family. These are the people to whom I’ve grown so close, with whom I can share my vulnerability, who have met me in this time of transition and reorientation and said, “dive in – we’ll catch you”. In fact, many of them have told me that my transition has inspired them to ask questions of their own lives, to have the courage to explore the taken-for-granted stories we find ourselves within; these friends have given me their love and received mine. Given my love of food and friends and gratitudes, it was a no-brainer that I would open my home and share a feast with these folks. Many hadn’t met before, but they all got along with ease. The group were couples, single friends, a roommate, an old friend, an adventurer, soon-to-be-parents, soon-to-be-married, a new friend, a visitor, many chefs; all in all they are my family. And there was another pumpkin pie. And a beautiful gluten-free buckwheat cake with carmelized pears. Oh, sweet goodness.

photo (2)

Enough of desserts. What does this have to do with anything, you might ask?

In the course of these last 10 days, I have also been working on a side project that has spanned all the pies and has energized me when the sugar highs run out. I am developing a syllabus for a proposed class that I could teach independently through the Comparative History of Ideas department on UW’s campus. CHID always hosts a call for classes for pre-doctoral instructors. My class would be called Reimagining Nonprofits, and takes an interdisciplinary and action-based approach to learning about the nonprofit sector. Rather than approach it from a practitioner standpoint or a policy perspective, this small seminar would guide students through an exploration of the current role of nonprofits, how they’ve come to hold this role, and how alternate theorizations might expand our possible expectations for the sector. The class asks students contribute to popular discourses on nonprofits (through blog posts or op-eds). Additionally, students would design a proposal for an engaged project with a local nonprofit (that they could choose to enact, but wouldn’t have to).

I am so.fired.up. about this class. It has been the first thing I want to work on every day, and my biggest source of satisfaction. The syllabus captures what I am passionate about, but also what I want to learn more about. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I suspect that students and I could develop a really fascinating dialogue about what nonprofits are and what they could be. I’ve sent the syllabus to a few colleagues and friends to look over before I submit the proposal, and all of them have responded, “I wish this class was offered when I was an undergraduate!” “I want to take this class!” One of my friends/colleagues, (who recently got hired in a tenure-track position in nonprofit management), told me that I should absolutely plan to apply for nonprofit education faculty positions when I go on the market.

Which leads me to the ‘ah-ha’ moment over all of this pie I’ve been eating (and which I’m about to go have a slice of in a moment!)

Between the amazing article in Crosscut about Eat for Equity (A new model for millenial philanthropy?) writing this course syllabus, the two sessions on Philanthropy I’m organizing at this year’s AAG, and my upcoming membership with Social Justice Fund I realize that my identity and interests in philanthropy are more than just a tangent to my dissertation research. They are the central pieces to a larger puzzle. They are the core of my intellectual passion.

For a long time people have asked me how Eat for Equity fits into my research trajectory and broader commitments. I never knew precisely how to answer that question, because it was never *meant* to be part of my research trajectory. It was a passionate commitment to pursue social justice and community building through good food and positive, welcoming spaces. Now, though, I see a larger arc.

I believe that the current state of the nonprofit sector can never address large scale inequalities and offer systemic change. I believe that large scale systemic change is possible. I believe new approaches to philanthropy and giving are a radically important piece to this puzzle. I believe social justice philanthropy like SJF empowers donors, activists and community members to work together towards collective action. I believe that Eat for Equity allows individuals to realize that no act of giving is too small, that giving doesn’t have to ‘look big’, and that when we come together, we can do amazing things that we could never do on our own. I believe that scholars need to address this sector and use our theoretical toolkit to expand how we understand what nonprofits and philanthropy can do in the world. Quoting one of my advisers, then, I ask “what work does the nonprofit sector do?” I ask this of the sector at large, and I ask it of donors. I ask it of myself and I ask it of alternative forms of giving. As producers of knowledge, I believe academics have a responsibility to advance our theoretical understanding of this sector that influences so many people’s lives, and yet is often brushed off based on its perceived benevolence. In fact, when I say that I study the nonprofit sector, many people sometimes question my motives, “but, don’t you believe in the work that these organizations do?”

Yes! Of course I do. I think any program that makes someone’s life better is a valuable program. But what are the relationships between nonprofit programs and their donors? Between donors and the program recipients? What vision do these organizations have for the future, and for social change? How do organizations address questions of systemic inequality, privilege, wealth and inequality? Can organizations conceptualize ‘leadership training’ and ’empowerment’ not for individuals only, but for the collective?

So, the ah-ha pie moment: I am a philanthropy scholar. I am, maybe, a social entrepreneur (though  I don’t know if I am even sure what that term means anymore). My scholastic interests are not my primary identity. I want to expand and develop this larger broader identity as someone interested and committed to reimagining, envisioning and expanding the nonprofit sector through questions of social justice philanthropy and collective giving.

All of this is to say, I’m making myself some business cards. I just don’t know what they should say.

Call for Papers, 2014 AAG: New Geographies of Philanthropy and Giving

I am re-posting here to provide a direct URL link to the CFP for any non-geographers or folks not on listserves. If you know of anyone who might be interested in submitting a paper to our session, please forward!


Please see the CFP below for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Tampa, FL. Apologies for cross-postings.

New Geographies of Philanthropy and Giving

Elyse Gordon, University of Washington
Helen Olsen, Rutgers University

Discussion of philanthropy and giving are often silo-ed to nonprofit management and public policy circles. However, scholars attuned to theories of social justice, poverty, relationality, policy mobilities, and urban/community development are all keenly positioned to address the changing geographies of philanthropy. On the heels of the Great Recession, the political economy of nonprofits and service provisioning looks quite different than it did a decade ago. On a broad level, disparities in available funding are on the rise due to diminishing resources to address inequality. Nonprofit organizations have responded to this climate of austerity through a variety of means. More specifically, advances in digital technology, increasing reliance on individual donors, crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, and the growth of social justice funding sources mark some of the changes to the geographies of giving.

Rather than addressing philanthropy through a series of measures, metrics, or reports, this session is more interested in new relationships and approaches to giving ushered in during this particular economic and cultural moment. Beyond the question of how much do individuals give, and to what?, this session seeks to examine more critical questions: How have nonprofit organizations adapted to diminished foundation and grant funding streams? How do digital technologies enable new geographies of giving? What are the relationships between middle-class and low-income individuals and philanthropy? How do individual donor values and ideologies come to bear on the work of organizations, social service agencies, and/or disaster relief efforts?  How are individual donors relating to the places and people to whom they give, especially across distance?

Theoretically, our session is grounded in literatures on the shadow state, the neoliberalization of social services, and community/urban development in both the Global North and the Global South. We see this topic as worth revisiting, particularly through the lens of relational poverty studies, feminist care ethics, digital technologies, and/or policy mobilities. We explore the values, relationships, technologies, and politics of giving in this current (post)neoliberal moment.

This session aims to explore new geographies of philanthropy through empirically grounded and/or theoretical epistemologies of ‘giving’. Topics may include, though are not limited to:

–  the political economy of nonprofit funding and the changing demographics of donors & giving

–  relationships and encounters between donors/participants, including those facilitated by digital technologies

–   policy transfer and mobilities informing funding ‘best practices’

–  ideological and discursive analyses of funding structures, materials, publications, and forms of outreach

–   urban governance of social services and public/private partnerships

–  radical and/or intentional social justice funds

 new geographies of giving or caring across distance

Submissions: Please submit paper abstracts of no more than 250 words to Elyse Gordon (egordon4 AT uw DOT edu) no later than Friday, November 1st, 2013

Digging into Empowerment

This week I began a somewhat daunting task. I dug into a feminist genealogy of the word ’empowerment’. My committee suggested this undertaking following my preliminary round of exams, with the hope that I would actually be able to do substantively richer theorizing if I had fully grappled with the long history, diverse lineage and multiple meanings and conceptualizations of the word. As I begin, I am realizing how right they were.

I’m bringing a fair amount of energy and excitement to this project. As my partner alluded the other day, ‘it’s like a scavenger hunt’ – a fun hunt to see what I find, where new definitions lead, where citations take me. It’s also a chance for me to put into practice a methodology exercise I was exposed to recently: feminist recitation (Hemmings 2011). In this practice, we complicate the genealogy and historiography of particular ideas and concepts by mixing up our citation practices. Rather than cite Butler as always following the lineage of Foucault, for instance, we might get a different story about feminist theory’s relationship to post structuralism if we cite Butler in relation to Wittig, a poststructuralist feminist, a contemporary of Foucault. I am trying to keep this idea of recitation fresh in my own reading and digging into ’empowerment’s history and evolution. Rather than assume I know the path and story, I will keep an open mind as to how different intellectual influences come to bear on one another. Today, I stumbled upon an excellent article, now 15 years old, coming out of feminist social work. It is a really interesting piece to re-cite critiques of empowerment that were starting to come out of feminist development scholars in the global South.

However, while I begin this genealogy (a task that, conceivably, has no real ‘end’ point…), I am keeping in mind the reasons that I care about this concept. I am not digging into 30 years of literature just for the fun of it. I’m doing it because I am committed to better understand how terms like ’empowerment’ are conceptualized, operationalized, and experienced by multiple nonprofit actors. In my reading today, for instance, Trethewey (1997), sees empowerment as practices against subordination. Human service organization clients were empowered when they resisted the dominant discourses and practices of the top-down, paternalistic and patriarchal human services they relied upon for support. This is a very different understanding than the discursive work ’empowerment’ seems to do when deployed in mission statements, as donors, staff and volunteers seek to do empowerment for others.

So, part of my process right now is to uncover how empowerment has been utilized in hopeful ways. Hopeful theorizations. Who is doing empowering work? What does it mean to empower oneself? [Can this ever really be true?] Is it possible for empowerment to be deployed, and still be successful? What lessons can be learned from social movements and consciousness-raising (Collins, 2000) that might be applied to nonprofit work?

Tomorrow I am getting lunch with two of my favorite folks, who work for Seattle Youth Garden Works. Empowerment is in their mission. And, while I’m kind of taking a hiatus from volunteering with them right now, I really value my relationship with this organization. I am so curious about what my two friends/mentors/peers understand ’empowerment’ to mean. How they see this playing out in the organization? How they feel about the tensions between short-term change (definitely improving the lives of a handful of youth, undeniably), and long-term change and advocacy (something the organization is not equipped to do, but nonetheless is an important goal).

From a social movement perspective, ’empowerment’ creates enabling relationships of power, wherein individuals and community raise consciousness of collective experience, and then enact multiple forms of resistant to oppressive and hegemonic power dynamics in their individual and community practices (Trethewey 1997, Simon 1990). While I value individual level social services, confidence building, support systems, etc., I wonder about the perpetuation of the status quo.

In other words, it’s great to help these kids, right now. But what are we doing to prevent 10 more kids from filling their spots? What are we doing to end systemic inequality that makes certain young people more marginalized in the first place?

When I say it like that, people seem to get it. They nod. They understand that I’m not in the market to just critique nonprofits til the cows come home (though, I am pretty good at that). If it’s really about ’empowerment’ from a sense of challenging structures of oppression and dispossession, then it’s vital to also unpack and reflect on the work that gets done in the name of empowerment. It is not to say that benefits don’t occur here. But what do we miss? What is elided? What do we presume?

With these things in mind, I am excited to continue this scavenger hunt. I am also feeling energized and honored and slightly nervous to get lunch with my peers/friends/mentors tomorrow. It should be a formative, fun and enlightening conversation.

I invite comments on this one: what does empowerment mean to you?

Reflections on Digital Humanities, Collaboration and Play

This quarter, I enrolled in an exploratory course called “Hybrid Humanities: Critical, Digital, Geographical”. While I did not know precisely what to expect when I enrolled 11 weeks ago, I am now quite pleased with the course and the new skills and questions learned/posed.

Our aim was to play with digital humanities, explore code, and create new interventions from a critical cartographic and geographical perspective. Many of the questions about how knowledge is made, how arguments are visualized, and how we support our claims through new platforms and technologies have been the domain of digital humanities. However, critical geographers interested in representation, GIS, and the geoweb have also questioned how we can better represent relation space. To this point, this has mostly been done through qualitative GIS, critical GIS, and theorists who have not yet linked theory and digital practice.

This is where our class attempts to intervene. A persistent question on the table is: “how can we make the technology and form of our arguments best suit the arguments we want to make?” In other words, rather than constraining our arguments/claims to existing platforms and sources, can we make this process more iterative, playful and creative by learning and adapting the technology TO our own work? Can we harness the skills, at whatever capacity we are able, to be both digital producers, consumers, theorists and analysts?

We have approached the quarter through two paths: one, theoretical, reading about new ontologies of space and knowledge, better understanding the lineage and aims of the digital humanities, exploring the ways network society impacts our studies and technologies. On the other hand, we’ve been encouraged to play through praxis activities: learning some basic Python, experimenting with javascript and D3, and encouraged to apply these skills to our own projects and interventions.

A consistent question seemed to emerge. One of my colleagues, Lila Garcia, and I noticed that many of the technologies and projects were doing really amazing things with multimedia, creating interactive platforms that served as archives as well as stories, pathways as well as explorations. However, we saw a significant arena for geographic work: how are current digital humanities projects conceptualizing and operationalizing ‘space’ and ‘place’? How could we adapt and intervene with future work to specifically address this question? Can we make our own critical interventions in representations and theorizations of relational space through platforms like SCALAR, D3 or even something like Prezi?

Lila and I decided to apply some of our basic coding skills to a network visualization platform called Gephi. After conducting a multi-modal literature review of existing examples and projects, we tagged and cataloged projects based on their use of technology, their platform, their use of ‘space’, their collaborations, funding sources, and goals. We are hoping to do two types of visualizations: one network will show how a sampling of projects are related, via their tags, to show similar trends among existing projects. The second will attempt to more concretely visualize how space is currently portrayed, and expose gaps as to how geographers could better visualize and represent relational space in the future.

The thread of comments that follows will include our reflections on this process. This project is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. In the spirit of the digital humanities, we are approaching this as an experiment, a chance to play, and perhaps a chance to fail. It is iterative, and we are learning as we go, even if there is nothing conclusive to say at the end.

Join us through these comments, reflections, screen shots, frustrations and insights!

Reflections on Writing

This month, I feel very lucky to be joining a writing workshop of 8 of the most inspired/inspiring women I have ever worked with. We are working with Victoria Lawson, [who has more credits to her name than are even worth mentioning here] in a Writing for Publication workshop. The final product of this class will be a submission to a journal article. I have chosen to aim high, and am going to submit an article to the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Wish me luck.

Vicky’s advice to us is to write every day. Don’t put it off. Make space for it. Protect that space.

There are a million and one excuses not to write. One of our colleagues just had a baby – surely that is reason enough to put the pen down [or laptop, as it were]. Others have relationship concerns, physical ailments, teaching conflicts and expectations, discomfort with the journal writing process… there are a million and one reasons.

But, today, I am sitting with one that I have not yet figured out how to navigate.


I cannot talk myself out of this excuse. I cannot just nudge myself, close a browser, turn off my internet, eliminate distractions. This is one that I have confronted throughout the year, and has reared its head, hidden and haunted me in various ways for the last 9 months. When I was first beginning to write my thesis, a dear friend of mine was brutally murdered. His murder goes unsolved, to this day, and it probably forever will.

At the time, I found solace in writing. The thesis was a project I could devote myself to, with a clear purpose, clear deadline, and clear outcome. I would write. I would argue my points. I would tell a compelling story. I would defend the thesis. I would eventually publish.

Well, here I am, trying to complete that final step by writing a journal article drawing on one of the primary chapters of the thesis. Except that today, [MLK Jr.’s birthday, Obama’s second inauguration, a ‘day off’ which is supposed to be wildly productive], I am feeling blinded by lingering wisps of grief. Tendrils of my memories of Sam are pulling at me, away from the thoughts of nonprofits, discourses of deservingness and subjectivity. Towards future memories, yet to be created, where his absence will be felt glaringly: the first of our friends’ weddings, reunions, eventual babies and families, his brother’s graduation.

So how to reconcile these? There are a million reasons not to write. I suppose I should appreciate that even in this grief, in these memories, are encouragements to write, even if not for today’s stated purpose: this journal article.

I shall attempt to find a bit of focus, a trait that my dear friend proudly lacked. His joyous, frenetic attitude brought unpredictable adventures, projects and obstacles. Perhaps a scattered brain is ok in this moment. It might take me to new places in my writing for which I cannot plan. Or, I will just go home and knit and watch movies. Both of these seem potentially ok, though one is more acceptable in the path of academia. Though as I’ve always said, my life is not about me as an academic. I hold multiple roles in multiple communities. One of those communities is about 3,000 miles away, continuing to navigate this same grief as we hold it everyday.


Thinking through politics, democracy and technology

In the spirit of Loader and Mercea’s  claim that “testimony, story telling, greetings and rhetoric can all be employed as discursive forms of democratic engagement” (2011, 761), I was inspired to write a weekly response piece for one of my seminars in a slightly more narrative form.[1]

The acquisition of an iPhone or access to a social networking site does not determine the engagement of citizens (Loader and Mercea 2011, 761).


“What’s on your mind?”

Habermas’ public sphere has not materialized. Web 1.0 never even had a chance. A sphere free of social difference and politics? That would and will not come to pass, regardless of the digital space and technology. Web 2.0 – does it necessarily lead to ‘politics’ and ‘democracy’? What do these terms even mean or look like in practice?

what do I mean when I talk of ‘the political’ anyway?

…a more open conception of democratic citizenship…open instead to a more personalized and self-actualizing notion of citizenship… that recognizes the multiplicity of identity positions that citizens are required to grapple with in contemporary societies, where the spheres for democratic engagement reach into the private spaces to enable the personal to become political (Loader and Mercea, 761).

The personal becoming political. Reaching into private spaces. I retreat to my screen, a safe place to write. Yet I don’t have the courage to speak up in a crowd. To stand up as a worker, for labor, for my own politics. My politics is by making my home public. I bring people to my table to build community, compassion, relationships. My personal becomes… political? these politics. what do they look like .  what work do they do? through small actions, I activate changes, make small challenges to larger systems. even in  questioning the larger structure and system, I grapple.  I become political.

Although various modes of communication, institutional structures, or technological systems may appear to remain stable over time, in fact mediation is a continuous process of countless small adaptations – interrelated reconfigurations and remediations that gradually produce new practices, artifacts, and social arrangements, and thus whole infrastructures, like the changes that occur when small parts of a building or machine are replaced over time (Lievrouw 2011, 234).

Ok. So I enact the political through small change over time. Technology, society, institutions, individuals, collectives… we reconfigure and remediate our systems and content in a dialectic process of mediation. Constantly adapting, constantly reworking, constantly producing new knowledge and ways of knowing; we create new frameworks and technologies and simultaneously construct new epistemologies. This is the making of knowledge politics. Again, the political.

New spatial media knowledge politics… [are] deeply intertwined in the political-economic and institutional contexts of the types of organizations [profiled here]. The hardware, software and other digital capabilities of new spatial media are of course part of the story, but also deeply implicated are the material and discursive contexts in which NGOs, community based organizations and civic engagement groups operate (Elwood and Leszczynski 2012, 13).

Purchasing an iPhone does not make an activist an activist. A reconfiguration of that technology to help make sense and remediate the artifacts, encounters, interactions, practices and relationships of our current time, current material/discursive context… this can activate the activist. This can open up private spaces for political expression. This can enable narrative to tell a political story. Multiple forms of rhetoric, multiple forms of democratic engagement.

Access to sites of citizen(ship) does not determine the engagement of social networks or the acquisition of an iPhone.

[1] Credit to Magie Ramirez for inspiring this type of writing.

On the heels of Imagining America 2012. Or, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”

This weekend I had the immense honor and opportunity to participate in the Imagining America annual conference. “A consortium of 90 colleges and universities, and their partners, IA emphasizes the possibilities of humanities, arts, and design in knowledge-generating initiatives. Such activity can span disciplines through collaborations with public health, environmental issues, community education, neighborhood development, and others. We also value the knowledge and creativity-generating components of partnerships among people whose everyday lives produce different kinds of expertise. So the scholar in the library, the teacher in the classroom, the organizer in the community – each provides different expertise that together is greater than the sum of its parts.

This year’s convening was titled, “Linked Fates and Futures: Communities and Campuses as Equitable Partners?, and emphasized creative and imaginative explorations into partnerships between communities (broadly conceived), and campuses (also broadly conceived). Many sessions explored highly successful, generative productive and justice-oriented partnerships between institutions of higher-ed and groups or organizations rooted in communities throughout the US. Other sessions explored vocational roles and how practitioners at different sites in institutions can help activate justice, learning, and access in equitable ways. Still other sessions were specifically tailored for graduate students and how we can find support across networks to support publicly engaged scholarship. An undercurrent of the whole conference is an understanding that the traditional academy does not have language or structures to adequately value or evaluate community or publicly engaged scholarship.

One of the COOLEST things I saw all weekend was Nick Sousanis‘ dissertation work: through the education department at Columbia University, he is publishing the first ever comic-form dissertation.

I presented a poster from my own work with Youth Grow in Seattle, exploring how graduate students can play a unique role in meeting and advancing the work of youth-oriented non profit programs. Specifically, I proposed three realms for graduate students to contribute: through practical research that advances the programming and capacity of the organization; through caring and reflexive mentorship with youth; through creative relationships with the organization and youth, wherein students can leverage their hybrid positions as volunteer/student, tap into the resource-rich university, and recommend new projects that can help link youth to the organization in more effective ways. Let me expand on this (especially because it is the direction I am currently envisioning my dissertation work would take).

Oh! But before I do, I wanted to explore the crazy-eyed look that most conference participants gave when they learned I was a geographer. It looked like this:
As a consortium that caters more to the arts and humanities, I was a bit out of place as a graduate student in geography. As someone who thinks about space, place, scale and power, my language and research questions were a bit out of the element for others.

Of course, I do not want to see my research questions as existing in a vacuum. So, the confluence between my identity as a geographer, as a scholar-activist, and as a community member were all at play at this conference. I found myself reflecting a great deal about how I can, as always, strive to find greater balance and synthesis between these different worlds I walk between every day.

That said, I have also spent some time now preparing for my preliminary examination in the geography department. This will operate independently of my other work in community and in public scholarship, and, coming off of a weekend of enthusiastically thinking about how to find even more linkages between my interests and spaces of interest, I now find that I have to siphon off specific time to address my prelims with specific language that will appeal to my committee.

This brings me back to my dissertation research and interests. While I do not anticipate writing a comic book for my dissertation, (I wish!), I think that the questions and applications of my work are important and worth sharing with different audiences.

My interests lie in tracing how discourses and ideologies of impoverishment, middle class-ness, and social difference simultaneously inform the landscape of social service provisioning in the United States while also shaping particular programmatic decisions and frameworks for individual non-profit and CBOs. Following this more structural approach, I want to trace how non-profit programs help shape the everyday lived geographies of program participants (in my case, young people). Beyond this, how do youth participants see themselves as active agents in the spaces of non-profit programs, in larger urban networks, and as politicized, racialized, gendered, classed, (un)deserving subjects.

I think that there is a really interest possibility to interject technology studies into this work. How are organizations incorporating technology into their “empowerment” work? Additionally, how could feminist media making and technology studies inform the ways that young people self-identity and internalize questions of subjectivity?

This gets me to, I think, a really productive place between my public scholarship / activist tendencies, and my interest in theoretical and intellectual frameworks for thinking about social difference and inequality. It all comes down to this:

– – – – – – – – – – – young people matter – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – technology matters – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – space is in a constant state of *becoming* – – –
– – – relationships and community building matter – – –
– – – I don’t want to be in graduate school forever – – –
– – – – I want my scholarship to matter. to count. – – – –

Oh, and I want to go to Scandinavia. Let’s make that happen, dissertation work, ok? Thanks.