Posts Tagged ‘public scholars’

Scholars in Crisis

After completing the readings for week 1, I have a clearer understanding of the objectives, goals, and purposes of public humanities and scholarship of engagement. Although the authors stress the importance of thinking of conceptual definitions as a process rather than monolithic theoretical structures, they insist on developing a new epistemology that combines humanistic inquiry and community-based practices for knowledge production. These authors, all coming from different disciplines and adopting different working definitions, advocate for a paradigm shift, an epistemic bridge that links traditionally conceived centers of power and knowledge, such as universities or institutes, with a larger “public.”

On this notion of the “public”, I have a couple of reservations mainly associated with the idea of the public as a consumer of knowledge that circulates around and is part of an intricate market system. An idea of the “public” needs to also address issues of intersectionality, such as class, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. because the public is neither a homogenous group nor responds to similar codes, motives, and needs. In this sense, I question the investment of universities in bridging a knowledge gap between “knowledge experts” and “publics.” Many of the authors question that same endeavor and call out to redesign the curricula, research agendas, and institutions’ missions to respond to a complex social reality that continues to become closely enmeshed with digital tools of sociality and communication.

For my own research and engaged scholarship, I am teasing out the following questions and by doing that I hope to be critical of my own positionality and the methodology I am developing in collaboration with community members to better equip myself to approach our community project. These questions are: who benefits from dong public humanities scholarship? What type of power relations are at stake when building community liaisons? How do we begin to think of ourselves as scholars in expansive ways of producing knowledge outside of academia? How do we integrate affective dimensions into the scholarship of engagement? How do we position ourselves within such structures of feeling when mediating different spaces, and also becoming mediatized through the deployment of new media?

These questions stem from a personal conundrum. I do find extremely difficult, at times, to think and feel outside the traditional terms associated with research practices, such as research variables, working theory, of the names that research partners receive informant, subjects of study, or other terminological denominators that dispossess to a certain degree the agency, expertise, and knowledge other collaborators bring to the research table. This brings up the possibility of reflecting upon the crisis of the scholar. I am not resorting to the sense of crisis here as an apocalyptic one, but rather, as a mode of critical hope that signals that our methodologies, theories, and epistemologies are rendered insufficient in approaching the complex realities that abound around us.

In a very recent conversation I sustained with a very-well established scholar in my field, I recall intervening with a comment during the Q&A session of a panel of transnational writers. In my comment, I was arguing that perhaps we need to think about the “organic intellectual” more than just the “public intellectual.” It seems to me that some artists or writers are well aware of their public, one that is undoubtedly middle-class, White, or that is an international public that responds to a similar identity of privilege. As is very “common” within my field, this scholar “corrected” my intervention and argued that to think of an “organic intellectual” was an anachronism in a Gramscian sense. It is perhaps out of place and time to think of the “organic intellectual” as a valid category of analysis within the scholarship of engagement. What remains relevant is, however, the need to integrate an ethical paradigm to graduate student research curricula and methodology to bring questions of privilege and power into our own conceptualizations of the scholar. In this sense, I am resorting to a crisis of the scholar so that in our community intervention with the public, we are informed and respond sensibly to the struggles that some of these communities face on a daily basis.