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So, What’s Your Thesis About?

The most important and frequent question that you will ever get asked about any research project is: “so, what’s it about?” It’s a question that I particularly struggle with, not because I don’t know, but because I struggle to actually know how to say it. My Asperger’s brain hasn’t quite figured out where that bridge between ‘thoughts’ and ‘speech’ is, so what tends to come out of my mouth is far less coherent or elegant than what is happening in my head. Sometimes I genuinely worry that I sound far too generalising, and perhaps less intelligent, than what I actually am because of this major issue in expressing myself. Lately, I feel even my writing has been failing to hit the mark.

How exactly do I get these things in my head out, the way they are inside??

Thankfully, my Asperger’s support group have been super helpful with this lately. Every day, someone from the group asks me: what’s your project about? In response, I have to write a fresh answer each time, no ‘copy & paste’ allowed! Tonight, I made two attempts, the second of which I finally feel I might be happy with.

So without further ado, here is a summary (at last) of what my thesis is actually about, before I bombard my blog with complicated, confounded ramblings!

“That’s not a very good explanation of it sorry. Let me try again please.

My thesis is a shared project between myself and a Tanzanian man who started a school for young adults out in the bush. He trains them to be safari guides, but there is something special happening at the school, because many of the students go from just seeking jobs to being environmentalists in their spare time as well. Some have even started projects like community clean up days and an environment club for children. My idea is that because the school is Tanzanian owned instead of being based on foreign ownership and values, the ideas generated there are more relevant. We forget that African cultures are different to our own, and sometimes for things to be successful they need to be done in a way that is relevant to the people and places they are for. So together, we are going to investigate how living and learning at the school affects the environmental values and ethics of students, and why. We will then investigate if this is connected to a specifically Tanzanian way of seeing the world, and if so, we will consider what conservation efforts might be able to learn from this in order to encourage greater success.

Most importantly, my project will give voice to ‘the little guys’ who don’t get heard much against the big conservation organisations. I want to show that they too are doing inspiring things for the future, and deserve recognition and perhaps some additional, practical support to make their efforts reach further. But support, not control. I think that’s an important difference to be clear on: support shouldn’t mean unreasonable influence, requests, demands, expectations, or conditions. That’s exploitation for personal gain or agendas, and Mkuyu is not about that. Mkuyu has such a powerful spirit of sharing and working together…that’s the kind of support they welcome and offer.”

Underwater Worlds

If you have ever been underwater, you will notice something immediately: everything is much slower, quieter and all around deeper down there! Maybe my sensory difficulties make it more obvious to me, I don’t know. All I know is that sound tends to be heavily filtered and usually of very low frequencies…the kind that doesn’t hurt all of my senses. Water conducts life – it slows movement to the rhythms of tides, currents and waves. The underwater world is far less stressful for me than the one I inhabit most often. Down there, my senses can be delighted rather than affronted, and

I can hear myself breathing, living, in time with the rhythm of the sea and the earth.

I wanted to share a video I made underwater. I made it recently during a visit back to my childhood home on the south coast, in what I now know to be Dharawal and Elouera Country. Underwater – as you will see in my video, particular towards the end – organisms dance with light and water. So much of what is synesthesia for me everyday is just the way of things underwater.

I feel like my mind-scape has suddenly become the living land-scape!

Sound and colour, light, movement…they are all connected and interacting. When I see these things, and the striking and/or amazingly camouflaged creatures, who innovate, navigate and illuminate in their worlds, I can’t help but feel that

I am bearing witness to an intentionality and creativity in nature and evolution that does not get the recognition it deserves.

Our world, our home, is beautiful! And mysterious. There is so much we still do not know, and this becomes so clear when you encounter to intricate underwater worlds.

Please enjoy some extraordinary clips of the underwater worlds of Dharawal & Elouera Country (the light show and seaweed dance at the end is just incredible!):

Lifework (Part II)

Recently, I had the great honour of being part of a two day workshop with Audra Mitchell and a collective of great minds and hearts to consider how we do work with each other, and with those our work is for – both human and more-than-human. The following blog is the culmination of that workshop. It discusses issues of more-than-human communication, plurality, knowledges, experience, (co)creativity, love, trust, power, hatred, violence, and – perhaps most significantly – care.

Ultimately, we talk about ‘lifework’ –

conducting ourselves and our research work in ways that promote, nourish, and emphasis more-than-human life in plural, multiple, complex and dynamic ways. 

For me, it is particularly about not constraining or limiting my work to frameworks of suppression, violence, colonialism, or exclusion, but rather allowing my work to be an act of service towards those that I research with and for. Reciprocity, sharing, patience, humility, respect, love, care. This includes towards myself, as an excluded human person and as a researcher.

Lifework is nourishing, something that grows us, together.

Please do read Lifework – Part II (also below) for a full engagement with our collective ideas.

Worldly

Macquarie Mural Leanne Tobin This mural at Macquarie University, by acclaimed Darug artist Leanne Tobin, expresses Darug eel, goanna and other Dreamings that have shaped Wattamattagal Country 

Last autumn, I published a short piece – ‘Lifework’ – that reflected on my ongoing journey towards more committed, responsible, meaningful and respectful forms of research. The post provoked some wonderful responses that gave me the opportunity to learn from others’ journeys towards honouring the life of the work they’re engaged in, and of the other beings with whom they learn and create.

On a recent research visit to Darug Country (Australia), on the land of the Wattamattagal/Wallumattagal[1] clan, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop on the theme of ‘Lifework’ with a talented group of Masters and Doctoral students from Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales. The workshop was jointly hosted by the Environmental Humanities programs at each of these universities…

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The Thesis Begins In Earnest…

*Featured image: Mkuyu Guiding School.

The building of the project that will very soon constitute my thesis has been a lengthy process steeped in meaningful relationships with people who I feel as ‘family’, and a place that I increasingly recognise as ‘home’. It has always been undertaken with love, excitement, enthusiasm, and friendship, with goals and hopes attached to it from all sides. But at some point when undertaking research, things quietly shift from conceptual into phenomenal, sometimes in such subtle ways that it happens unnoticed. Twice now, in the past week or so, I have been hit by the gravity of realisation around this shift.

What can I tell you about Mkuyu Guiding School? Sometimes I feel that my descriptions are so lacking – they never seem to express the fullness of the reality. I will attempt to write a separate post, because here it would simply be far too lengthy and take away from the experience I need to record now, in this moment.

All I can say now is that the humble determination, the cheerful resilience, the love and care that stretches through time, the visions for the future, the persistence against the odds, the deep sense of responsibility and the nourishment of acting on it…make Mkuyu a deeply felt place. For me, for those who know Mkuyu as their home, and for those whose lives have been enriched and nourished by what is generated at and by Mkuyu. And there are many – both human and more-than-human.

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Left to right: Leonard, myself, Abel, Innocent, Jema, Moses.

I just made a draft of my literature review for the research project with Mkuyu. I started to cry, looking at the headings and what we hope to achieve together. I feel so much about this project, and about the African continent, people and ecosystems…I have wanted to contribute something meaningful, just, empowering and responsible for so, so long. When I look at this project and see it beginning to take shape, so many thoughts and feelings flood in. I recall the photos that were just sent to me yesterday via WhatsApp showing the guide students teaching children about the environment, sharing their incredible, experience-based knowledge and passion, being inspiring role models for future generations. I recall conversations with Mkuyu teachers that have blown my mind and filled me with excitement and hope for the future.

But I also think of the challenges and opposition we have faced, the doubt and dismissal – because Mkuyu is not a Western registered organisation overseen by Western conservationists. It is Tanzanian. Humble, and largely unknown. But it is Tanzanian, and that is so unbelievably important. Anyone with an honest eye on conservation in Africa – and anywhere, really – ought to be able to recognise that importance. We care for what is our own; we love what is part of who we are. It is Tanzanian, and it is successful and working, and it is achieving incredible, tangible, practical things for an ecological Tanzanian future.

And they are doing it so damn well, it moves me to tears!

I am just so humbled and so honoured to be witness to it. I am slow working on this project most days, because there is such a huge responsibility to give Mkuyu the position they deserve. Every word is so delicate, so important…this project needs to be loved, nurtured. I feel that together, we have planted a seed that we are now caring for and encouraging to grow. In which case, like the growing of a tree, it is a sacred task we have ahead of us…one that calls for both responsibility and often overwhelming joy. The growers grow with what is grown.

Engaging Autism: My Guest Lecture

Here is a much nicer, much better quality recorded lecture that I gave recently in an environmental humanities class. It is based on the Languages of Sensing: Bring Neurodiversity into More-Than-Human Geography paper that I wrote last year, and triggered some really interesting questions from the students. For the purposes of the unit, I really tried to focus on aspects of what it means to be social with beings and entities that are not human, and what it means to be reduced to ‘less-than-human’ because of this, and because of the myriad of other deficits both impaired humans and non-humans have imposed upon them.

Also, this lecture is SO MUCH BETTER than the one I did for the Geographical Society of NSW, because I have learnt some new speaking tricks to help with my sensory challenges associated with my voice and verbal words: throughout this whole lecture, I had headphones on playing music that triggered positive sensory experiences that ground me and blocked out my unsettling voice and the even more disturbing hum of fluorescent lights and silent students noisily shuffling during the talk! It seems to work well for me, and I am hoping to get to a point where I can use this method face-to-face for presenting, finally!

Academic Research: The Pursuit of Ignorance (aka Farting Around In The Dark!)

“You’re a perfectionist with an inferiority complex!”

That about sums up the standard response to my moping about not being ‘cut out’ for academia, despite being a consistent high achiever. Sometimes, I angst that my grades reflect nothing more than a capacity to ‘bullshit my way through’ assignments, and have little to do with how much I actually know. I put off pursuing an academic career for a long time because of this, believing wholeheartedly that I was a fraud. There are times when I still truly feel this way, despite many achievements, acknowledgements and glaringly obvious realities demonstrating time and again what rubbish that notion is. There’s never enough reassurance…and I am told that even with a PhD in hand, feeling like a professional fraud never really stops popping in to say hi from time to time.

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Where does this come from? What impact does it have on us and the research work we generate? Well, Barcan (2016) suggests that academia is the perfect environment for feelings of professional fraudulence to flourish. Why? Because we operate in a realm that generates lots of new knowledge and information very quickly, and we think that if we don’t digest it all, we won’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s almost as if we, for some strange reason, think that we should know it all.

So, many of us become know-it-all’s.

In a tremendous effort to hide our perceived fraudulence, we employ what Barcan calls ‘academic bluff’ and pretend to know a whole lot more than we really do, relying on rigid knowledge structures to protect us from the unknown – and perhaps also the inherently unknowable. We avoid the messy unknowns.

I am personally guilty of this. In an effort to conform to the rigid thought I once believed was expected of a professional scientist, I accepted facts and knowledge without question. Along with several of my undergraduate peers, I accepted facts as absolute rather than as knowledge emplaced in unknown spaces. To me, all things became ultimately knowable, it was just a matter of time, effort and funding. If it couldn’t be scientifically established and quantified, then it probably wasn’t real. The result was a hurtful suppression of my spirituality and cultural traditions, personal realms from which a great care and curiousity about the world around me had always welled like a desert spring. It stifled the freedom to wonder about the stuff beyond human comprehension, and to believe in possibilities. No one forced me to think this way, and frankly, it is ridiculous to have done so. Just ask all of the deeply spiritual and cultural scientists out there! But studying science amongst the uphill battle for evolutionary biology to be recognised as fact, not opinion, and the loud voices of Atheist scientists can be overwhelming and confusing. Particularly when one already feels that they are an academic fraud.

Mayim Bialik – who not only stars on The Big Bang Theory as a neuroscientists, but actually is a scientist in real life as well – talks about how she navigates being both a scientist and Jewish. Mayim shares very similar spiritual views to me in a lot ways.

But what about the value of what we don’t know? Are we not ‘researchers’, and does not that title implicitly suggest that our role is to seek out the unknown? Or perhaps – as in the case of much cultural and more-than-human geography work – establish why some knowledge(s) cannot and should not be known? In challenging the discourse of academic mastery, expertise and knowledge, Barcan believes that an important strategy is to not be a know-it-all, and instead embrace the unknown by recognising the limits of our own knowledge and capacity to know. In my field, this is crucial. Geography is all about challenging what we think we know by recognising what we don’t.

In his astounding, thought-provoking, and utterly incredible TED talk, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein (2014) challenges the idea of a ‘pursuit of knowledge’ and instead suggests that research-based investigation is more of a “farting around in the dark” sort of process, a pursuit of ignorance: that which we don’t know. Taking the popular models of knowledge accumulation – like puzzle pieces, onion layers, and ‘the tip of the iceberg’ – Firestein skilfully rejects them as implying that there is a knowable body of facts that we will eventually uncover in totality. That everything is ultimately knowable. Firestein disagrees. He thinks that knowledge is more like a ripple, where every new piece of information generates new questions, and thus an endless cycle of acknowledged ignorance and unknowns.

What I love about this is that it so eloquently, yet so simply, highlights one of the key characteristics of, and perhaps the thing I love most about, science. That science cannot prove anything, its function is to disprove. The rest is unknown. We know what is not, but what is remains open to possibilities. I trained as an ornithologist under one of Australia’s most reputable avian biologists. He was brilliant, highly published with a huge impact factor, and a name that everyone in the field knew. And yet, despite all his arrogance and academic pomp, he quietly said to me one day, “a good scientist isn’t afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ – in fact, it should be a requirement to do so”.

I couldn’t agree more. The role of research is to investigate research questions, and Firestein argues that it is continual acknowledgement of our ignorance that gives rise to questions of increasing quality. By engaging with the unknown – and the unknowable – we generate a more meaningful understanding of knowledge. Or, more appropriately, knowledge(s). If geography has revealed to me nothing else, it is that there is a lot that I do not, cannot, and should not know about others – human and more-than-human alike. By recognising that ignorance, nurturing it and acknowledging it, I make myself a better geographer. I realise that my knowledge – and all knowledge – is forever incomplete, and that this enriches our world. It grows plurality, where different ways of knowing and doing can contribute to what Star Trek-ian philosophy so beautifully describes as ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’.

So, the next time that I feel like an academic fraud, perhaps I will now endeavour to put Firestein’s advice into practice and rather than agonising over ‘what do I know about it?’, instead embrace my ignorance to consider ‘what can I ask about it?’. After all, research is all about the unknown – perhaps it could benefit from a little more ‘farting around in the dark’!

References:

Barcan, R., 2016. ‘Feeling like a fraud: Or, the upside of knowing you can never be good enough’, in Academic life and labour in the new university: Hope and other choices. Routledge.

Firestein, S., 2014. The pursuit of ignorance. TED. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq0_zGzSc8g

Shape-Shifting and Catness

I genuinely didn’t think I could make it. My whole body began to shut down in protest, I just stood there, staring…Paka wasn’t here now, so I sang the song we share instead…I lifted my gaze…what I saw, I hardly believed! A calico cat just like Paka sitting square in the middle of the road at the top of the hill, looking down at me!

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Come, let me tell you a strange little story about a cat that I know.

For eight hours, I had been hiking my way up and down the sacred Blue Mountains – scrambling over moss covered boulders, crawling under fallen trees alive with invertebrate traffic, and holding hands with the ferns, vines and saplings that promised not to let me fall. Somewhere along the way, I had fallen into the river – the clumsiness of my step disturbing the focused flow of water and forcing me to relinquish, unexpectedly, my small lunchbox. Despite my best, albeit useless attempts to retrieve it, the river had claimed my only meal for the day. Short-cuts turned into lengthy entrapments with one mishap after another – I could have sworn that the bush was intent on keeping me there, urging me to see something, to pay attention, to learn what it wanted to share.

But finally, it released me some twenty minutes further down the mountain than I was supposed to be, my senses over-indulged and my body running on empty. I knew there was food here, but I didn’t have the knowledge to identify it. Slowly, I looked up at the climb ahead of me…twenty minutes up, and I was already at my limit. But with no other choice, I put one foot in front of the other, and up I went.

It happened in the last ascent before coming out onto the highway and the train station. The road suddenly inclines steeply here, the final push up and out. I stopped in the middle of the road, looking up. I genuinely didn’t think I could make it. My whole body began to shut down in protest, I just stood there, staring. Usually when I feel this kind of exhaustion, it is neurological, and I turn to Paka, my cat friend, for support. But Paka wasn’t here now, so I sang the song we share instead – the strange, Gaelic song about the shape-shifting, spatio-temporal defying cat Pangur Ban:

“You must go where I cannot, Pangur Ban, Pangur Ban:
Nil sa saol seo ach ceo, is ni bheimid beo, ach seal beag gearr…”

A calm washed over me, as it always does when I sing instead of speak. The courage to look up at my final challenge crept reluctantly into my chest, and I lifted my gaze. But what I saw, I hardly believed! A calico cat just like Paka sitting square in the middle of the road at the top of the hill, looking down at me! Suddenly, the courage swelled, and I knew I could make it up there, up to Paka. And I did.

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Okay, okay, hold it right there! I know what you are thinking: “Sara – cats are material beings governed by the basic laws of science, Paka could not possibly have been at the top of the hill when you know full well that she is safely sleeping on your bed at home several kilometres away! It’s a random cat…who just happens to look identical to your unusual looking feline friend, and looks at you with a familiarity that cats generally don’t give away to strangers…and behaves in the same strange manner as Paka, engaging in a call-and-response of specific cat-sounds with you”.

It was probably a coincidence, but a mighty finely detailed one. So detailed that it felt strange to leave this cat behind to return home. But in the end, the cat left me. She changed suddenly, and no longer seemed familiar, ducking into the shrubs. This now aloof cat, who had a moment ago been my affectionate cat, now no longer was. Perhaps it was all in my head.

Let me tell you about Pangur Ban. I first discovered Pangur Ban in the enchanting Tomm Moore film The Secret of Kells, with it’s rich Celtic-inspired animation. The song that I sing with Paka is from this movie – sung by Aisling the forest sidhe (spirit/faerie) as she invokes the shape-shifting nature of animals, in this case Pangur Ban. As Aisling’s song unfolds, we watch in awe as Pangur literally shape-shifts into an ethereal spirit capable of traversing time, space and matter. These seemingly magical qualities are, notably, invoked through song and language derived from a Celtic, oral and bardic past.

In my slow, quiet endeavours to reconnect with my own cultural ancestry and heritage, I have been learning bits of Gaelic – both Scottish and Irish, since I come from both – and this song has been amongst my attempts. Every night while stroking Paka before sleep, I sing Aisling’s song to her, and she listens and purrs. If I play the song on my computer, Paka jumps on my lap ready for pats. She knows the melody, the sounds of the language.

But does she know the meaning? Aisling’s Gaelic words remind us that all in this world is mist, or spirit, and that though our physical incarnation changes, our mist is continuous. It remembers. Does my connection – and my desire to strengthen a long broken connection – to my ancestors, culture and heritage communicate itself to Paka through oral traditions of language and song? Does she sense my enchantment, my sense of familiarity and longing for the heritage that nurtures such rich story-telling and belief in the unbelievable, subjective, and unprovable? And through that, did I call to Paka – my support cat – in a time of need, through song, over time and space? And was she able to reciprocate? Part of me wants to believe that her mist, her consciousness, took shape temporarily in the physical being of another cat. But I guess there is no way we will ever know, and few who would ever believe such things!

What I do know is that Paka is more to me than a pet, she is kin. She keeps me sane, she keeps me healthy, and frankly, I love her. There is no one I’d rather spend my time with. Interestingly, Pangur Ban was a real cat long before The Secret of Kells. A beautiful Gaelic poem was written about him (or her?) in the 9th Century by an Irish monk. It tells of the shared, but ultimately solitary lives of both cat and scholar, comparing their pursuits – of either prey or knowledge – as like-practices. Knowledges. The personal resonance for me as an Aspie research student  who relies on a cat for moral support cannot be overstated here.

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Whether or not Paka really shape-shifted or not is beside the point, and ultimately an unimportant detail allowed to be an important treasure to those of us who want to believe in old stories and the unknowable. The point is that heritage is important – our stories, songs, languages and knowledges provide important relational bridges in a more-than-human world. A more-than-human world where the catness of cats is allowed to be unexplainable and mysterious, and connection to culture includes complex relationships with non-human fellows and kinsfolk. Maybe Paka’s shape-shifting was a spiritual thing, maybe it was psychological…it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it meant something personal: I got up the hill.

 

What’s The Correct Answer? Learning More-Than-Human.

I hate maths! But I love animals, plants, elements, ecology and understanding how systems work, and what they mean to us as humans. I’m a nature person, maybe even a science person, but definitely NOT a maths person! Basic mathematics has always been a problem – my autistic mind works in sensations, affective (not geometric) patterns, observation, imagination and written words. Ask me to do a sum – even a simple one – and I will either laugh or cry.

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One of the most difficult disciplinary concepts that I work with in geography is ‘more-than-human’. Much of this concept is either ‘felt’ (embodied) or challenges dominant, entrenched discourses around how we think about the non-human world, making it difficult to express adequately without sounding utterly fanciful. However, in these days of snow-balling ecological crises and the persistent denial of our seemingly obvious inclusion with and dependence upon the environment for our very survival, it is a critically important worldview that requires a lot more spotlight time and serious consideration than what it quietly demands. The words of Joan Countryman, quoted in Zinsser (1989) resonated profoundly with me more than once in this regard. In speaking about the ways in which we are complexly, and often beautifully, a part of mathematical worlds, she lamented that

“unfortunately, most people don’t see the world that way because they’ve been alienated from mathematics and told that it’s something apart from what they’re able to do.”

More-than-human is a lot like mathematics in this regard. Despite being very much apart of everyone’s daily lives, it seems like only those in the loop are privileged to the ‘special’ knowledge of what it’s really about. And yet, as a globally embodied reality, we all have the ability to (really!) know the more-than-human as much as mathematics. Both are all around us, all of the time – often without us even noticing. Indeed, more-than-human is all about challenging alienation and separation by recognising that human lives are intimately part of a far broader arrangement of species, forces, and existences than our own – a more-than-human world.

Amazing photographic artworks by Christoffer Relander that blend human and non-human images. Beautifully suggestive of humans as part of a more-than-human world, and carrying that awareness in our lives and being.

When considering how to communicate ‘more-than-human’ to those outside of my discipline, I found the urgency in Joan Countryman’s commitment to re-establishing the connections between students’ lives and mathematics poignant. She suggests that by doing things a little differently

“…you begin to make connections. Unless you make those connections, children will always think of mathematics as somehow ‘other than me – not part of my world’”.

Such ‘othering’ and separation is precisely what more-than-human seeks to challenge through building connections with our broader ecological contexts. But how can we convey such disciplinary concepts to the uninitiated? And should we?

I can’t help but think of my ecological humanities tutorial group – a diverse mix of disciplines, many who have never ventured into the ecological or social sciences, coming together to engage with human relationships with a more-than-human world. The major assessment task is to keep a journal that reflects on how you ‘get to know’ a particular non-human ‘other’. What I love about this task is that it is so simple, and yet so baffling at the same time! Students are approaching the task with caution, uncertainty, and sheer distrust of their tutor! I understand – the freedom to write reflectively, subjectively and even wildly hypothetically is not the usual way things are done at university – and often with good reason. Countryman comments on a similar phenomenon within mathematics, noting that

“there’s a heavy emphasis on…numbers as the sole language and the right answer as the sole objective.”

When I read this statement, I recall the approval-seeking that was rife as students shared their early thoughts about their journaling task. I also noted the lack of variety in ways that students were planning on ‘getting to know’ their non-human associate – almost all had planned rudimentary objective investigations in order to find out a specific answer to a specific question. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, I felt that it missed the point of the task in a lot of ways, because there is no specific question, and certainly no specific answer. The task is about relating and reflecting as a way of ‘getting to know’, of learning ‘with’ rather than ‘about’.

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The students were baffled – and possibly alarmed. What were the precise instructions about how to do it?” What are we going to be graded on here? What exactly are we supposed to write about?” I wonder if such responses have anything to do with the dualisms of approval – right/wrong, pass/fail, yes/no – so entrenched in education? Countryman spoke of this in relation to mathematics as a question/answer based binary, one that I see reflected often in the ways that university students are trained to think.

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But then I consider that we are trained to think that way for a reason. In some disciplines, like science, it is critically important to implementing one’s craft. While disciplinary jargon may not be engaging to the uninitiated, isn’t that the point of the word ‘discipline’? Despite my commitment to make academia a service to those we do research for and with, I can’t help but wonder if there is a danger of losing commitment, skill and discipline in one’s field of speciality by opening it up to too much of the ambivalent? For me personally, I shudder all too often at the misuse of ecological knowledge by over-zealous conservation activists – a stark reminder that ‘discipline’ means the investment of years of time and effort to learn your field deeply. Or is the ‘ambivalent’ exactly the kind of messiness that some disciplines – like geography – need in order to unsettle entrenched ways of thinking? Certainly some food for thought there.

Interestingly, as the ecological humanities class began to realise that no, I wasn’t tricking them, and yes, I was serious, a beautiful eruption of ideas began to flower. Some students drew strength and inspiration from their science-based hypotheses and experiments, and that was great! Some planned to casually blog their observations as daily reflections, while others considered writing narrative stories about their experiences, drawing pictures, or taking photos. They had begun to realise that they were free to engage on their terms – and perhaps also on the terms of their non-human associate. Throughout Zinnser’s (1989) chapter, there is a real sense of the interdisciplinary – realising that we are not islands floating alone in space, but inescapably linked and bumping into each other, whether it be to assist, support or challenge.

This is dynamic, and useful. It is needed.

References:

Zinsser, W.K., 1989. “Writing Mathematicsin Writing to learn. New York: Harper & Row.