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.


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