academy · research

Clarity for interdisciplinarity

Do you know anyone who doesn’t do interdisciplinary research? I don’t, but my acquaintance may be self-selective. As the buzz-word of at least the last decade, interdisciplinarity should be not only supported, but built-in at every level. If that’s the truth of your situation, I envy you, because in my world, I have to pragmatically acknowledge the barriers every single day, and take strategic decisions. Far from an idealized goal, interdisciplinarity constitutes many academics’ lived reality, yet research infrastructure still clings to the old disciplinary boundaries. For better or for worse. I think we should do more to explain our disciplinary assumptions, and to bring down those boundaries through clarity. You know, not in a “but I do important work, too,” defensive manner, but by doing what we know best: education.

The Better: Publication Expectations
Sometimes those boundaries are put in place to protect, rather than hinder academics. Case in point: publication output when it comes to funding. We all know that nowadays, *cough, cough* quantity rules. However, expectations regarding quantity differ wildly from one discipline to another. I follow people on Twitter who seem to be submitting another article every fortnight. In English, publishing the equivalent of one peer-reviewed article a year is the unspoken norm or median. Sure, there are exceptionally productive people whose output makes everyone else wonder about that person’s brush with divinity or his/her sleeping allotment. There are also people who publish less. And even though I’ve put this topic under the header of the “better,” there is a problem with the secrecy and disavowal of actual “expectations.” I’ve gone out on a limb to say this is the expectation, but it is a tacit one that I’ve heard of spoken in hushed tones in the hallways. No one, in my experience, puts it in the English Graduate Studies manual, unfortunately. This lack of transparency contributes to the culture of anxiety and fear, that ultimately works in favour of the neoliberal system by pitting us against one another. Clarity, people, clarity!

The Better: Methodologies
You do what? And you call it research? Well, fortunately, nobody has said anything like that to my face, but, especially for the humanities, our methodologies may seem rather murky to outsiders, and, dare I say it, even to ourselves. I don’t want to generalize, but I do wish we’d be more clear on what methodologies we work with, and how and why they are as rigorous as empirical studies. For our benefit as well as of people unfamiliar with scholarly practice, this is the best time to explain ourselves in a clear way. Start from scratch and lay out assumptions. You know, like we do in our introductory courses. If politicians or the general public seem to be at a loss as to what we research and how we do it, why don’t we educate them? Strike two for clarity.

For Worse: Lack of mobility
We can view these categories used to create benchmarks and standards as a pharmakon or, to make correct gramatical agreement, pharmaka. The same criteria that make one’s fellow discipline-dwellers acknowledge one’s research profile hinders others from conferring the validating nod. In the absence of clarity and education, someone from the social sciences would read even a prolific English Literature researcher’s CV as a study in slackerdom. You’ve published how much? And you’re still employed? By a university?

I know we *know* these issues. They’re part of the mythology of the university, right? The problem is with who “we” are. Academics become enraged, and with good reason, when political posturing targets them, with dire material results–as in stringent budget cuts–or when bureaucrats decide how research “excellence” is to be judged, more often quantitatively than not. So, can we find a way to educate the general public on what our standards are? Can we do more outreach? Can we bridge the gap that “inter-” leaves? What do you think?

What are your personal experience with interdisciplinarity and what do you think should be done about the obstacles?

academy · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · grad school · ideas for change · job market · notes from the non-tenured-stream

On the trauma of the dissertation and making academic work "count"

My facebook feed is filling up with friends and colleagues bemoaning their choice to do a PhD and status updates that express hatred and anger about their dissertations. I felt this way too during my very long revision process. I think most people have moments of deep regret at some point on the road to completed dissertation. Moments of doubt and loathing seem more the norm than the exception.

In discussing the emotional impact of the PhD with one of my colleagues – also a recent graduate – we noted the difference in attitude post-PhD and post-MA. We left our MAs believing in ourselves. We carried an arrogant confidence that we knew everything and could do anything. Getting a job after my MA was no problem. I was bold. I spoke with authority. I’ve watched friends complete MAs and hit the ground running filled with a sense of immense accomplishment.

I contrast, at the end of the PhD, everything seems to be thrown into question. A PhD teaches you that maybe you don’t really know that much at all, that all of your knowledge can and will be rigorously questioned at every turn. PhDs self-deprecate too easily. We say things like, “I don’t have any work experience,” or “being a grad student sure beats getting a job.” We characterize ourselves as being outside of the real economy. But the truth is, no one gets a PhD without working. Be it for pay or not, we have experienced real work. Research, writing, deadlines, teaching, all-nighters, life-balance negotiations, alienated friends and family –  our PhD work lives have had their toll and have allowed us to develop a number of crucial skills, both academic and non-academic.

Now, I know I’m generalizing here. Not all MAs leave their degrees to happily land a dream job, and not all PhDs struggle to come to terms with the inadequacies of their dissertations. Some people write awesome dissertations and land awesome jobs. But for many PhDs, there seems to be a prevailing negativity about their work, their life choices, and their prospects. We are our own worst enemies. In discussing my degree with a group of acquaintances, I joked that I was struggling to find work because I have “no work experience.” Now one of those acquaintances mentions the fact that I have “never worked” each time we meet. Because I made a self-deprecating joke, there are now people in my life that believe I have never worked and somehow, because of my fancy education, expect to get a good job without ever having to “work” for it. Of course I have worked and I continue to work, very hard in fact. The point is, we are too quick to characterize our PhD lives as non-work. By self-deprecating, we feed the stereotype of grad-school as a bad life choice. This reinforces anti-intellectualism and makes it harder for us to articulate our skills in relation to the job market, which is admittedly bleak these days.

In part, we could solve this problem with better professional training. Not all PhDs will land academic jobs. This is a fact that grad programmes need to come to terms with. Knowing how to compile an umpteen page CV will not get us a non-academic job. We need a system in place that allows us to articulate things like academic publications and major research projects as “real work” that counts for something in the private sector.

How do we make academic work “count”?

academy · administration · change · equity

Taking care of business

Process is key to issues of equity in the academy. It should be obvious, but I nevertheless feel compelled to state the point because it is remarkable how, time and again, since I have been a graduate student and now a faculty member, process (or the lack thereof) has been a recurrent problem.

And it’s not simply process that is key to equity, but clear, well-communicated, effective, and readily adaptable processes. They are tools for change.

One example: a couple years ago, my department chair, who was new to the position and to our institution, asked if we, as a department, could draft a document that laid out some of the governance structures within the department. I piped up that I thought this was a great idea because I too was relatively new and I figured that making such a document available would help new faculty understand how things worked and how to get things done. To my surprise, a number of my senior colleagues then expressed strong opposition to this suggestion on the grounds that such a document would ossify procedures that were at that time relatively flexible and only create unnecessary bureaucracy.

This point about unnecessary bureaucracy was one that I had heard more than once before, and it twigged that there was something more at play here than keeping our work lives “simple.” I had previously been accused of trying to create unnecessary bureaucracy by seeking clearly laid out governance rules when part of an initiative that was required, as part of its larger responsibilities, to do just that, establish a governance structure. (Funny that!)

Now I get that a governance structure can essentially be a non-governing structure. That for governance you can say, for example, that everything will be at the director’s/chair’s’/board’s discretion. That is to me essentially a non-governing governance structure, or perhaps more simply a non-democratic governance structure, and therefore one that I don’t want to participate in creating or then have to be involved with after the fact.

The argument against process on the grounds that it creates “unnecessary bureaucracy” is remarkably effective in academia. Many of us, not in administrative positions, struggle to keep our service responsibilities at an appropriate level (i.e. at 20% of our work time, in the typical 40:40:20 model). Referring to process as “unnecessary bureaucracy” communicates the notion that not only are you wasting your time in constructing or setting out procedures, but that in doing so you are further burdening your colleagues with new responsibilities they neither want or need. A pretty heavy charge.

Plus, we all hate bureaucracy, don’t we? Two things I don’t like: (1) filling out long, detailed paperwork and (2) being told that something is not possible because it goes against a policy that was not obvious or clearly articulated to me.

But that said, I’m also fine with rules. Part of it is a personality thing. My dad is very much a rule person. When my sister and I were teenagers, she found out that you could use a UK 10 pence piece in parking metres and it would mistake it for a loonie. We were going out to dinner, and when my dad parked the car, she dropped the 10 pence piece into the metre, crowing how about we were saving money. My dad then got back in the car and drove to the next available metre because what my sister had done was wrong. Now, were I to find myself in that situation, I would most definitely not move the car. In fact, if that trick still worked, I would save up 10 pence pieces for parking. But, I will say that his outlook has influenced my own, and I am not averse to rules, especially thoughtful ones.

And I would argue that most of the people who I have heard under whatever circumstances express generalized opposition to rules or procedures are people who are also operating with a certain amount of privilege in these same circumstances – whether that privilege is bestowed by gender, race, class, or seniority. This is different from finding a particular process or rule arbitrary, ineffective, or otherwise problematic. This is about being opposed to creating or formalizing a process in the first place.

This is, I think, a key equity issue. Without process, getting things done becomes about who you know. If you are in a position of privilege, for instance, or have people in power who are mentoring you, then you can effectively navigate the byzantine structures in place at all stages of university careers, from entering graduate school, to promotion to full professor.

There is a lot in academia that is never explicit, that isn’t obvious, but that is really important to succeeding. And if you don’t have someone to whom you can put these questions in a casual setting, or who will advise you about things you wouldn’t have even known to ask about in the first place, your path is a lot harder.

Too often, when someone says, “bah, rules just get in the way,” what they mean is that rules only get in the way of working the system to their own advantage. Business as usual.

Clear, well-communicated, effective, and readily adaptable processes make the inner workings of academia more transparent, flexible for everyone (not just those in the know), and responsive. With such processes in play, if you see inequity, or unfairness, or ineffectiveness, you have the tools to respond and by contributing to building such processes, you can help to likewise build better universities.
academy · saving my sanity · sexist fail

Blogging dilemmas

I’m emotionally exhausted out of frustration from a work issue that is very much about equity, professionalism, process, and fairness. But I can’t write about it! Even though it foregrounds issues that are pretty high on the agenda around these parts, there is no way that I could possibly discuss the details (at least online) without getting in deep s#@!

This particular episode follows upon at least two other instances this past semester of egregious sexism that I can’t blog about because of confidentiality. I am okay with that, on one level. Confidentiality exists for a reason: there are many instances in academia when people have to be comfortable to express difficult opinions on sensitive and important matters. Moreover, having agreed to confidentiality, I consider it unethical to then break that agreement. So my lips are sealed. 

But I’m also not okay with that because that sexism nevertheless hangs in the air, at least in my atmosphere, shaping and colouring my work life. And I know that people take advantage of the protection of a confidential setting to express things that they could not get away with otherwise. So I find it problematic that I’m bound by confidentiality, when that works to perpetuate a sexist, chauvinist work culture. 

With regards to my current situation (which actually reaches back 2 years), there is nothing confidential about it. But to discuss it would only stand to hurt me professionally more than I stand to gain by sharing with you folks. And that is incredibly disheartening because, when combined with the aforementioned sexism, it makes me wonder where can change come from? The hierarchies in my institution make it clear that I have no means to address the issue head on. I could raise a grievance with my faculty association, but that is putting myself out there again in a way that will likely do more harm to me then it will actually realize substantive change. If I put my head down and protect my self-interest, then of course nothing will change. 
I grew up thinking that you always fought back. Every time you saw something that was wrong, you called it out, and you kept calling it out until you got a response. But in our culture broadly, and narrowly within academia, sexism and inequity can be so pervasive that I have to “pick my battles.” So my question to you folks, given that I can’t ask for specific assistance on the matter in question, when you pick your battles, what criteria do you use to decide?
academy · balance

I’m reading a novel

I’m finally there. I’ve made it. I have now been finished my PhD long enough to return to reading for fun. I don’t have any more classes to teach this semester, and all of my grading is finished, except for the final exam which is still a couple of weeks away.
So today, I have finally picked up a novel for the first time since that last Harry Potter book came out. It’s been awhile.
While it is true that I have a number of articles just waiting to be finished and sent out for review, and while it is true that I have job applications waiting in the wings, today I will read a novel.
It is not entirely outside of my research interests of course. I’m not there yet. I’ve picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It deals with humour, taboo, and carnivalesque images and practices, all of which relate very closely to my own research.
But the point is, I’m reading something for fun, actually finding it fun, and not taking notes and anxiously skipping what I hope are superfluous sections that I simply do not have time to read.
Does anyone else remember their first post-PhD novel? When did reading become fun again?

academy · balance · equity · ideas for change

Family affairs

It’s been a crazy two weeks. Just before Thanksgiving, I went down to a conference in Denver, Colorado with my partner and our 19-month old son and then the following Friday the three of us took a group of graduate students and faculty to Banff National Park for a 3-day environmental history field trip. I know that might not sound so bad, but factoring in a toddler’s eating, napping, sleeping, and need-to-be-entertained-by-something-other-than-a-lecture-on-history schedule makes what is otherwise a busy two weeks into a crazy two weeks. My main point though is not to say that we survived, but that both of these work trips were family affairs.

I know I’m lucky that this is even possible. My son is young enough that he’s still a free flight. I have a partner to share childcare and who is also an academic in a similar-enough field that we can attend the same conferences and collaborate in this fashion. We also work in a system that is less hostile to parenting than some.

That said, this good fortune reflects more my personal circumstances than structural advantages. The Canadian academic system is hardly a paradise for parents with young children. University jobs are not M-F, 9-5, but I’m not aware of any university with childcare provisions that acknowledge this reality. The majority of conferences I attend have no childcare on offer, which is a particular blindspot. University careers are, more than most, uprooting. You are fortunate if you have an academic job and extended family in the same town. In my case, our grandparents, aunts, and uncles are all hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away, so we can’t leave our son behind when we go to a conference. But it is virtually impossible to make such arrangements in an unfamiliar city (I’ve tried) and cost prohibitive to bring childcare along for the ride as well.

This is more than a plea for better childcare at conferences, however. It is also a question: might there be good reasons to not only accommodate but also to embrace family relationships as part of universities? And I don’t just mean children here, but families – partners, parents, siblings. 

This assumes, of course, that academia does not already embrace families. Spousal hires are the exception that proves the rule: while they aim to accommodate academic families, they are hard to come by and often perceived in a profoundly negative fashion. Spousal hires are also no use if your partner is not an academic. The academy cherishes the individual. The model humanities scholar is an isolated individual, deep in thought, surrounded by books (do a google image search for “Historian at work”). The model academy is predicated upon gatherings of single people engaged in research and teaching, supported and sustained by families who are not part of that work but who perhaps attend the occasional department party. Recognising this helps us to understand why so many family-unfriendly activities (long-distance conference travel and intensive, months-long field or archival research and writing projects) are so core to academic success.

But our families humanize us and by extension, acknowledging them can humanize our relationships with students and colleagues, acting as a counterbalance to an increasingly corporate and bureaucratic culture. By making explicit the commitments that we have to our loved ones and that can potentially disrupt our work lives, it becomes more possible to accommodate such disruptions so that they are, in fact, less disruptive. If people know that you have a sick parent or partner, they might be more able to assist before you become so overtaxed that you just have to bail on your commitments. Moreover, when family commitments are explicit then colleagues, students, and administrators are less likely to assume that your domestic responsibilities are taken care of by someone else. We are each then surrounded by a range of functional models combining work and family. Lastly, embracing family relationships within universities, however hokey it might sound, offers an opportunity for academia to be a place where social alternatives are imagined and explored, not just through research, but in our daily practice.
academy · administration · best laid plans · day in the life · failure

Keeping track

How do you keep track of all your obligations?

My fall rhythm is out of whack this year, as I’m not teaching my complement of courses on campus (I have a release from my two classes in order to develop an online version of one of our core courses …). Normally, the times and places that I teach and hold office hours anchor my week and fill my calendar with repeating, regular obligations. “Lather, rinse, grade, repeat,” as it were. Uprooted from that regularity, I find I’m having some trouble remembering everything I have to do, and being in the right place at the right time.

Here’s some of what I’m trying to stay on top of:

  • Executive position on national scholarly organization
  • Executive position on faculty association
  • Subcommittee membership related to same
  • Helping rewrite the university’s copyright documents
  • Chairing a PhD area exam committee (co-create exam, meet with students)
  • Department meetings related to urgent, irregular matters
  • Hiring activities, and visiting speakers
  • Supervising 3 PhD students, 2 MA students, and 1 undergrad, and reading their writing and meeting with them about funding and proposal and dissertation/thesis deadlines
  • Peer review for two publications
  • Meetings with the team helping me produce the online course
  • Blogging at Hook & Eye
  • Applying for conferences and workshops
I keep forgetting things, missing appointments or writing them down for the wrong time or forgetting to follow up on things I’m meant to take a lead on or filling out an email survey or offering feedback on something or answering an urgent question or whatever.
Not teaching, I realize, doesn’t mean I have more free time. I don’t. I do have, though, a lot more unstructured time. My obligations are scatter-shot through the week, every week looking different from every other.
I’m pretty sure if I could figure out a better system, I could stay on top of all of this. None of the work is impossible. But I seem to spend a lot of my time trying to manage my time and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing, and waking up in the middle of the night having forgotten something important, and racing to catch up.
I try really hard to use my iCal, which syncs across all my devices (two computers, a phone, an iPad, the cloud). But I forget to check it. And I am trying to use Things, a great organizer and to-do list for iOS, but again, I often forget to check it. My paper lists are really good, but not if I leave the notebook at school and I have a day at home.
I guess everyone is right: the post-tenure years really are super jam packed with … the drip drip drip of professional obligation. I’ve never ever been trying to do so very many different things where I have so much responsibility, all at the same time. I’m not sure how to do this right. I’m used to big responsibility in a limited number of things that I already know how to do well, and that fit large and regular chunks of time (like teaching, or my research). All the professional work, and all these graduate students, and administration work? This is new. I’d like to be proactive in all my new roles: I have lots of ideas and lots of energy. But I seem to be getting really frazzled just trying to make sure I am in the right placea t the right time, and minimally prepared. I want to do more than that. And I gotta figure it out.
Ideas?
academy · mental health · politics · turgid institution

Fatigue and the World University Rankings

SSHRC deadline was yesterday. I submitted the application. I seem to be unable to write in complex sentences as a result. And yet, I am attempting to write a coherent blog post. All week long I thought I wanted to write about fatigue. The students’, my own. Yours, too? Why is it that, no matter how much I work to prevent it, the September freight train always hits me. Always. All ways.

And now, when SSHRC is finally put to rest, fatigue. But not just my own. This year, I was struck by just how tired the students are. The ones in my classes are mostly first-years, so you’d expect more bright-eyed-bushy-tailed than weight-of-the-world-crushing-me types. It’s sad, really, how fast they go from the former to the latter. Two weeks? Three tops. And now, it’s the end of week 5 out of 13, and it seems like we’ve all aged a couple of years.

In seemingly unrelated news, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings came out a couple of days ago. Did you notice? Did you talk about them? Have an opinion on them? Where’s your U on it? The Globe and Mail tells us that, on the whole, Canadian universities are dropping this year. The University of Alberta fell in these Rankings from spot 100 in 2011 to 121 in 2012. This news will undoubtedly cause some soul-searching in the higher levels of the academy this week. Either that or some questioning of the methodologies, as it happened a few years ago, some Canadian universities bowed out of the Maclean’s rankings, because of dissatisfaction with their methods of inquiry.

So, what’s the connection between fatigue and the THE Rankings? I’m not sure, but the links emerged in my head as other questions. Such as, does it have anything to do with the the increasingly precarious positions of teaching staff? Or the rising debt levels students undertake to pay for their education? Or the lack of transparency in decision-making, which is part of the very situation of precarity of the New Faculty Majority? And how does the post-Recession permanent state of exception (it’s recession, so no new hirings, no replacement hirings, no budget) in universities affect this generalized fatigue? What non-quantifiable qualities are lost in the ensuing budget cuts and job losses and generalized austerity?

Ultimately, how can we combat this fatigue?

academy · advice · going public · outreach · work · writing

It would be an honour

Here’s an awkward conversation I had last week:

Him: “Yes, the talk you’ve outlined sounds perfect, and of course we’re looking forward to hearing it. But I’m calling to settle another matter with you. What’s your usual speaking fee?”

Me, after picking myself up off the floor from a dead faint: “Um, err, oh, it’s, I goes … zero? I’m an academic. I’m usually just glad someone has asked me to talk.”

Him: “Okay. No. How about $250?”

Me: “Of course. That sounds great. Thank you.”

Yes, it’s a post about honoraria. Honorariums? I don’t know. The money people pay you to talk about your research, money that’s not your salary. Money that’s not your travel or food expenses. Ideas money.

It’s all very awkward. No one ever told me about honoraria when I was a grad student, just like they never told me about negotiating for royalty payments for a textbook. And here I am with both issues somehow having become current in my life. The only thing I ever remember hearing about “speaking fees” was of a Famous Postmodernist who extorted a very large speaking fee from a university I attended, and then read to the eager crowd an excerpt from a book he’d published ten years earlier. The idea I gained from that anecdote and others was twofold. First, superstars get fees, and they’re big. Like prohibitively, we can’t afford her, four digits big. Second, there’s a whiff of jackassery and arrogance about the whole notion of charging money for talking about your research.

Okay, I guess it was threefold, because I also picked up the idea that writing and speaking that paid was not real research. You know that’s true: textbooks bring their authors lots of money and monographs are often subsidized by money the author somehow finds to give to the press. Which book earns the author a gold star at review time?

Last year, I was invited to another university to give a talk in a lecture series. They told me up front that they would pay all my travel and subsistence expenses. And they said there would be a modest honorarium, but they didn’t say how much. This year, I gave a plenary address to nearly 200 high school students at a symposium, and I had written the paper before I found out that there was going to be an honorarium, and how much. I gave a keynote to a small gathering of scholars and found out after the event was finished that there was going to be an honorarium. I won’t know how much until it arrives, I guess.

I have written about social media and the professoriate for a Reader’s Forum in a scholarly journal, gratis. I have written about collaboration and the humanities for University Affairs, with Heather and Erin, for a fee. It’s all a mystery, frankly. I am making, I discover, a gagillion dollars a year from the Canadian edition of the textbook I work on, but the American author makes several gagillion more, but exactly how much is a mystery to me.

We don’t, I guess I’m saying, talk in very clear or explicit ways about money in this business. Should we? Myself, I do a lot of knowledge dissemination work, which is to say, media and public talks and such. Some of it is paid and some of it isn’t, but we never talk about it beforehand. I have been recompensed along a sliding scale from nothing (local TV, talks at the library, most academic gigs), through logo-emblazoned coffee cups (The Current), to cash money plus a bottle of wine (private high school).

I am always honoured to be asked. The honorarium is never top of mind. Should it be? Or middle of mind? What do you think about the issue? I find it all terribly awkward and perplexing, but it is nice to be paid for things, sometimes at least. I don’t know, seriously, I just don’t know what I think about the issue. You?

academy · best laid plans · change · ideas for change · research · slow academy · writing

Interdisciplinary? Phooey.

Hey! It’s another post about research! Because I’m on sabbatical!

I’m worried about interdisciplinarity. Mostly that we seem to think that interdisciplinary curricula are great for our undergraduate and sometimes our graduate students, but not for professors who are serious scholars. I don’t know that we’re ready for interdisciplinary research, in the humanities / social sciences. At least, not if you want to publish in scholarly journals.

Because, I begin to suspect, “interdisciplinary” is derived from the Latin for “has no home,” or “you are always a dilettante in someone’s discipline,” or “this journal doesn’t publish that kind of work.” Sometimes, when journals and conferences vaunt their interdisciplinary, they mean that they’ll accept papers from sociology OR communications studies, or that they’re willing to seriously consider work from either the British OR the North American cultural studies traditions. But God help you if you want to do … computer science and poetry, say. Unless you start your own journal.

I won my SSHRC Standard Research Grant last year having been adjudicated by the interdisciplinary committee, to which I had to petition exactly why said work was in fact interdisciplinary. Since I’ve dropped my canoe into that stream, I’ve had my happiest times and my worst, the best opportunities and the most stinging rejections. I’m tired. I thought “interdisciplinary” was the adjective of the future! What happened?

I don’t mind reading twice as much background research, theoretical texts, etc for about half the publication frequency. I am so excited to be reading so many fascinating ideas from so many different fields. It’s a privilege and drawing connections between all these disparate things is a joy. There are problems in the world that I want to solve, and I think I’m on my way to at least understanding what I don’t know. I love the research, the writing, the thinking. I don’t mind that kind of hard work.

What I do mind is being told I can’t use the word significant (to mean, “meaningful”) in an “interdisciplinary” new media studies journal because my data are not statistically significant. I mind when a social science reviewer from an “interdisciplinary” feminist journal tells me that close reading is “not a methodology.” I mind when literary journals tell me that material about the internet is irrelevant to their interests. I mind when digital humanities events tell me a historical take on programming is “not even interesting to this organization.” What I really mind is the underlying implication: It’s not that I’m not doing something well, it’s that they’re saying it shouldn’t be done at all. If you can’t frame a research question legibly in terms of one discipline, there’s no sense in even trying to answer it, is the implication.

And I don’t like that view of the world, either inside the academy or out of it.

I love working in my discipline, English. I love my training in English and what it has taught me to do. But my questions extend beyond the edges of English, and I don’t quite know how to get where I’m going, or even how to convince anyone that the journey might be worth taking.

Disciplines are a powerful generator of knowledge. But they’re limiting, too: the more expert you become, the fewer and fewer people can actually make sense of or employ what you create. What’s the right balance? I’m really wondering, I am! I know this sounds complain-y, like “Wah! Peer reviewers hurt my feelings!” but it’s not that, really (I mean, I got my SSHRC, and so far, knock wood, all my writing has eventually found a home). I am really wondering: what mix of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity offers the right balance between peer-reviewable excellence, and moving the ball forward in the academy and outside of it?