The Challenges of Shifting Gears, Pt 2: Research Edition
It may actually be harder, in the age of social media, to shift gears in your research. But it does't have to be.
I participated in the last #digiwrimo chat on November 30th, and we were discussing what we considered to be digital writing, how we viewed it, and how we practiced it. A friend of mine noted (as he has done in the past) that this resembled discussions that were going on in Computers and Media journals 30 years ago. Look, I get it; many of us who aren’t in computers and composition/communication are late to the party. Most of us come from very traditional PhD programs that frowned upon technology of any kind (other than to use a word processor [badly] to write the dissertation). I never looked down on technology (ok, that’s a lie), but most of us also didn’t have the time or receive any sort of encouragement to explore these areas why doing a PhD.
One of the strengths of social media in higher education is that exposes you to new and different ideas from a variety of disciplines. But as we made these discoveries and start incorporating them into our research and teaching, we often very publicly bumble, fumble, or (worse, perhaps) express enthusiasm and excitement about what we have recently found. The problem, of course, is that for those who are well versed and immersed in the discipline (or sub-discipline) tend to look down at once at our enthusiasm as well as our initial ignorance of the theory/approach/writer/etc.
As I blog about researching orality and performance for my current project on Dany Laferriere, I am becoming more and more acutely aware that I am reading and writing about heavy hitters like Jack Goody and Walter J Ong, people that I have never come across before in my research. And why would I? My dissertation was about translation and canon formation; there are few names in translation theory that I do not have at least a passing familiar with. I am now making my through the equivalent to another comprehensive exam corpus of work, but this time having to do with my current project. But to admit that I am learning these things, discovering them, and wrestling with them is dangerous; I imagine some of these theories and researchers have already been dismissed and the discipline has moved on.
I’m just not there yet.
I’m at the point where I was as an undergraduate discovering postcolonial theory or as a graduate student learning about feminism. I am learning and I am geeking out. I love reading about these new (to me) theories and approaches (particularly because it so readily applies to my current work). If anything, these should be seen as positive; I am able to research and learn independently, not to mention incorporate this research into my original work. Instead, I’m viewed as being late to a party; a party, incidentally, that I never even knew existed. And, like just about everything I do, I am doing it publicly because I think it’s important that we open up our intellectual process, to share our work in progress, warts and all. I think any of us who have shifted our research interests have had these moment, but we know to keep them quiet, lest we be judged as less than worthy by our peers.
It’s one of the things that I appreciate about digital humanities, generally: the tools and approaches are new, but those new to them aren’t usually treated like they are somehow less-than. DH encourages experimentation and play, out in the open. Tools are released in Beta form, and we are invited to test them, give feedback, improve it. How much would our traditional research benefit from such openness, to get feedback on our Beta phases. That, I think, is what is so wonderful about blogging my research.
And, of course, what is so dangerous.
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