Author Archive for Alana Stein

A Summer Full of Plans and the Unknown

At this point in the class, I feel that I have spent a considerable amount of time planning my summer project. However, it always seems as if more time could be spent. Between listening to the experiences of past Mellon Public Scholars and listening to other professionals discuss their dissertation projects in another class, I have realized that something will always happen that one is not prepared for. As I begin this summer, I am going to take these lessons with me. I will take these lessons and a plan that I know will probably not be carried out in full. The lessons have taught me that I should be open to new possibilities and that optimism is a well-suited tool to confront hurdles. Although I hope that my plans work smoothly this summer, I also hope to be prepared for the obstacles that may be in my path.

Beyond obstacles, I also hope to leave myself open for unexpected findings. I have spent much of this quarter trying to rid myself of preconceived ideas in order to open myself up to new ways of approaching the project. This is a process that I will need to continuously go through throughout the summer so that I can be reflexive in my scholarship. This is critical for me to best serve the public through my scholarship.

With many lessons learned, a plan that may change, and an open and reflexive mind I hope that I am beginning the summer prepared. However, I know that by the end of the summer I may think that I should have brought an entirely different suitcase of tools in order to complete my project.

The difficulties of planning a realistic summer project

Making feasible plans is central to public scholarship. As I work to plan my project, I am very concerned about planning a feasible project that will still provide meaningful benefits to Yolo County Food Bank. I think project management is a crucial skill to develop for public scholars. Although project management and planning are important to any research project, I believe they are even more important in public scholarship due to the involvement of multiple parties and the more pressing timelines in the public sphere.

The collaboration of multiple parties in public scholarship can necessitate stronger emphasis on project planning. All parties must be able to agree on the goals of the project as well as a feasible plan for each party. This can be difficult to accomplish as each party as obligations out of the partnership, so a lot of coordination needs to go into the planning.

Since the academic world moves at a slow pace, it is often easy to forget the rapid pace at which ideas, movements, and publications move outside of academia. Compared to a dissertation research project that can take three years and wait an additional four years to be published, newspaper articles move at lightning speed. Community partners often need results within months, so it is necessary to carefully consider what can be done quickly.

As I am considering my project, I am trying to very carefully consider what I can do in two months. I have planned my project to be carried out in two stages. The first stage will involve mapping existing programming at the food bank. The second stage will involve interviews. As I work to further plan this second phase, I am very concerned about time required to do interviews, the amount of time each interview will last, and the amount of time it will take to do the resulting analysis of the interviews. These are all things that I need to work on planning more carefully with advice from others who have worked on similar projects before.

Why I am Here

From our readings and discussions, it seems as if many people are scholars first and public scholars second. I mean this in terms of career trajectory, not in terms of importance. Many people became scholars and then later become publicly engaged with their scholarship. I have been fortunate enough to have a series of mentors that have instilled in me a value of public scholarship before I became a scholar myself.

My first glimpses at public scholarship came from my mother. As the daughter of a publicly engaged sociologist, I grew up learning about academia through her eyes. I learned what scholarship was through watching her, and because I saw her engaged in public scholarship I believed that public engagement was an innate part of scholarship.

When I entered the university myself I began to understand that the public engagement I had witnessed was not something that all scholars practiced. As a freshman in college, I struggled to understand how scholarship could differ so much from what I had witnessed at home. I felt dissatisfied with my major. I found a course in service learning in the social sciences, and I began to feel better about the role of the university and scholarship. From then on, I sought out other classes that would integrate service learning and later, public scholarship into my academic experience.

My path to public scholarship followed a different path from many. However, I think my perspective has allowed me to view public scholarship in a different way. My path has allowed me to view public scholarship as a crucial part of academia rather than a nice addition if time allows. Public scholarship is necessary to create a diverse base of knowledge, and it is also essential in spreading that knowledge.

Keep the Change: The Opportunity Present in the Changing Dynamics of the University

The university is central to how scholarship has been conceptualized thus far. Therefore, we must consider the environment that public scholarship and scholarship more broadly inhabit at the university. Many shifts have been occurring in the university, including the development of the neoliberal university. The proliferation of the neoliberal university has profound implications for the state of public humanities.

As universities become a site of greater neoliberalization, universities are run more like a business. Universities are now increasingly emphasizing the bottom line, productivity, tangible outputs, and corporate partnerships. This has led to an increased focus on fields that have greater utility for corporations, thus leaving the humanities behind. This great impact on the humanities as a whole is important because the study of the humanities is central to the possibility of the existence of public humanities.

Furthermore, the neoliberal university influences the scholar’s ability to engage in public scholarship due to the heavy emphasis on outcomes in terms of knowledge production. As neoliberalism penetrates deeper into the functioning of the university, greater weight is placed on the outputs of research that can be seen in scholarly journal articles, thus disadvantaging public humanities projects that do not quickly deliver these outcomes. While the changing values of the university currently pose a problem for public scholarship through their reduced support of the humanities and the an emphasis on quickly obtained academic outcomes within the field, I believe that there is potential to use the opportunity of the changing university for the benefit of public scholarship.

Within the context of a changing university climate, all humanities scholars (both those who engage in public scholarship and those who do not) have an impetus to clarify the central importance of humanities scholarship. While the production of knowledge for the knowledge’s sake can be important, the application of humanities research to social problems is central to the importance of humanities scholarship. The public benefit that can arise from public humanities scholarship will be crucial to the sustained support of the humanities by the university. Therefore, I predict that public scholarship in the humanities will be critical to the sustained support of the humanities.

The Role of the University in Knowledge Production

What is knowledge and who creates it? How is knowledge different from scholarship? These are questions that I have been grappling with over the past week, following our class discussion and as I went through this week’s readings.

For me, an important distinction exists between knowledge and scholarship – the role of the university is what makes the difference. Knowledge can take many forms, such as oral histories, scientific facts, songs, dances, cooking, research, and more. However, the university plays a large role in scholarship. Scholarship comes from someone who has been vetted by the university. Also, scholarship is disseminated through means that the university has defined as legitimate.

The university’s central role in the definition of scholarship begs the important question: who controls knowledge production at the university. Unfortunately, universities have a history full of discrimination against minority groups. This discrimination has persisted in different forms over time. Many minority groups have been denied entry into universities throughout history. Even after being permitted to attend, many minority groups have come to the university only to see the knowledge and history produced by people like them as knowledge not recognized in the university setting. These disparities still persist today and are important to consider as many groups still face great barriers in reaching the university and many more are underrepresented after arriving.

Based on the elite form that scholarship takes, I think we should redefine scholarship in a new form. As we move forward to redefine scholarship in the form of public scholarship, we should make careful note to consider the public – everyone across gender, class, sexuality, and race categories. We should keep in mind the following questions: Who are the people we are producing knowledge for? How is their existing knowledge included and recognized in public scholarship? And how can public scholarship better serve the needs of the public?