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Scholarship By Any Other Name

What we can't see, because we we are too invested in a dominant narrative.

April 16, 2015

“If you build it, they will come.”

Most people will recognize this famous movie line, taken from Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. The movie itself is based on the book Shoesless Joe by Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella wrote two kinds of fiction: fiction about baseball and fiction about Natives, or “Indians” as he would have called them.

Despite being a scholar of Canadian literature, I never read W.P. Kinsella. I knew the line from the movie, but I saw it in print, not from the book on which the movie is based, but in a short story by Native writer Thomas King, “A Seat in the Garden.” As my professor explained to us that Kinsella once accused King of not writing stories that reflected the “reality” of contemporary Native life, and this story was a direct response to that accusation. While I have never found any trace that corroborates that particular provenance of the story, there are clear indications that King was writing back to not only Kinsella, but also to others who would claim to be better spokespeople for the Indigenous populations in Canada.

“A Seat in the Garden” is about Joe Hovaugh (say it out loud – King loves a good wordplay), a white farmer who starts seeing a “big Indian” in his garden. The Indian is described as a Hollywood stereotype, and the two white protagonists keep saying that he looks like Indians from movies that were played by non-Natives. Jo and his friend Red (another play on stereotypes, but this time, Marxism), have all kinds of assumptions about the Native population that is a part of their community, including that they are all drunks, dirt poor, and contribute nothing to the local economy or community.

Red and Joe are blinded by the dominant narrative around the Native population and what an “Indian” is that they can’t see the reality of the actual Indigenous peoples they end up interacting with, which is nothing like what they think. I still love this story for its wordplay, its layers of intertextual references, and its sense of humor. But it is still a serious story about stereotypes, appropriation, marginalization, and Eurocentric nationalism.

You should read more Thomas King.

I haven’t read or even thought about this story in years. But my mind took me back there, to that phrase, and then to that story, as I have been writing a number of things around my academic social media presence, as well as participating in Rhizomatic Learning (#rhizo15 on Twitter). I’ve been struggling with how to articulate and make known and even understood what it is that I do on Twitter and other social media spaces. I keep fumbling with the argument that the work I do, that others do, is scholarship.

But it isn’t recognizable as scholarship, either in its form or platform. Typically, social media and blogging have been understood as being a tool to promote your “real” scholarship. But what if it’s real scholarship and we just can’t see it because we are too invested in the dominant narrative of what scholarship is supposed to look like and where it is supposed to happen that we just can’t see it?

Before you take it out on me in the comments here, I invite you to direct your intellectual concern on something I’ve written that comes close to “real” scholarship, an essay on #FYCchat appearing in The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. It is presented as an open peer-review experiment – it is still incomplete and I am hoping for feedback, peer-review, but done differently, talked about differently. It is scholarship that is in-between – more than a blog, but not quite an essay.

I want to push the conversation about what is scholarship, what it should “look” like, and where it can appear. This blog post, that essay, with more essays to come, are a small part of that effort. I hope you can participate in the conversation.


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