Baby Jack

My baby is cuter than your baby. That must be hard.

 

IMG_3273.jpg
 With "Cal" the coyote, his favorite toy.

With "Cal" the coyote, his favorite toy.

 A more recent one.

A more recent one.

 With Uncle Joe after his bath

With Uncle Joe after his bath

Can we meet?

I'm getting a lot of questions from UF students wanting to meet to make plans about the future.  I accepted a position at St. Louis University so I no longer live in Gainesville. I can, however, talk to you by phone. My office hours this year are:

M 1-2pm
MW 11-11:50am

My phone number is 314-977-3006. Please feel free to call with your questions. Leave a message if I don't answer. I also am responding to emails at the old address or the new one: wainscottam@slu.edu.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


 

Today in the Times... what PS can learn from Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei's latest projects

I first encountered Ai Weiwei's work at the Tate Modern in London. I walked in and found his giant pile of sunflower seeds. I balked. "Modern art is so lame sometimes," I thought.

But then I read the description of the project, and the attention that had gone into the creation of it. I watched an interview with the author and those who participated in the creation of the project. And I marveled. And I fell in love with Ai Weiwei. The work captured the subtle forms of resistance of those who live under authoritarianism. The sunflower project highlights the ways that authoritarian symbols can be re-purposed and given new meanings by subjects.

Today the NYTimes has a review of some of his latest work (see link at top of page to see the pics). The pieces attempt to capture his time in detention under the Chinese authorities in 2011. The scenes depict Weiwei showering, eating, and sleeping under the watch of two guards. I think they are a brilliant illustration of life under authoritarianism.

The article touches on a few very important issues:

1. The effects of authoritarianism on individuals:

“China is still in constant warfare, with destroying individuals’ nature, including people’s imaginations, curiosity, motivations, dreams,” Mr. Ai said. “This state’s best minds have been wasted by this high ideological control, which is fake. Even the people who are trying to use it as a tool to maintain power or stability know that this is a completely fake condition.”

2. Similar to Political Science, art itself can abstract to the point that it obscures:

“Can political art still be good art?” Mr. Ai said. “Those questions have been around for too long. People are not used to connecting art to daily struggle, but rather use high aesthetics, or so-called high aesthetics, to try to separate or purify humans’ emotions from the real world.”

3. The article also alludes to the difficulties of defining the boundaries of what is art:

"Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, said in general, “Weiwei has been looking, in the years since his detention, for a way to use art to talk about social issues in a way that still codes and functions as art.” The metal rods from Sichuan, he said, are “a good example of his search for this middle road between overtly political and purely formal.”

In my own experience, political science theories about authoritarianism abstract to such a degree that it becomes possible to forget that real people live under these systems. Authoritarian subjects experience fear, paranoia and rage that must be silenced. One of my long-term goals is develop a syllabus on the politics of authoritarianism that marries recent scholarship with other art forms that capture day to day life under such a system and adds more texture to what can become a sterile study of a system of horrific abuse. I am planning on including some of Ai Weiwei's work.

The Trauma of Post-Graduate Education. Or, micro-moments of negativity resonance

If you are hoping this will be a post on graduate school and trauma, it's not. But don't despair; I'll write on that subject soon. For this entry I'd like to write on the trauma of graduate school.

This subject was brought to my attention by several events this week. My roommate had a friend from out of town staying at our apartment and going to a wedding in the area. She asked me about my work. I told her that I was finishing up a PhD and she commented, "I wanted to do a PhD but I just couldn't handle it." She has a husband doing a PhD, so I know she knows the costs of doing such a degree.

I think I know exactly what she meant. She wasn't referring to the reading load or the public presentations. She wasn't referring to doctoral exams or writing one's first syllabus or all of the rejection of the publishing process. She was talking about something else, something that is not in most graduate school curricula, but that is in most graduate programs. Something I'd like to call "micro-moments of negativity resonance."

I borrowed the term from an article that defined love as "micro-moments of positivity resonance." The concept was named by Barbara Fredrickson. In an article about Fredrickson's research, the journalist Emily Esfahani Smith explains the concept like this: " love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day."

What I'm talking about  in graduate school, the reason my roommate's friend said she couldn't handle graduate school, are the small, daily, sometimes trivial ways that graduate students are treated as if they are not adults, as if they are an inconvenience, as if they are a disappointment. In the same way that micro-moments of positivity resonance can be shared with anyone, so their negative variation need not come from someone in a significant position. They can come from your colleagues, or junior professors, or administrative personnel.

These moments might include unnecessarily harsh emails, condescending comments, the assumptions that folks make, the competition among colleagues, the refusal to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Or, as a wise friend of mine says, the systematic failure of folks in the academy to "imagine a charitable explanation."

I'm sure these things exist in a number of occupations. But when they are paired with very low compensation (we're talking beneath the poverty line), extremely high work loads, no job security (I've reapplied for funding every year and in some cases every semester) and no promise of future employment, they are the feather that is sure to break the camel's back.

After six years of these micro-moments, I see now that there are a number of structural issues which encourage these sorts of negative interactions. But I'm not talking about those right now. I want to just identify this as an issue and say that it is an unacceptable working environment, one which takes huge amounts of emotional energy to endure.

My advice to young graduate students (unfortunately) is that these events should be expected, and planned for. In coming posts I'll give you my opinion of how to do just that. But for now, let me just say, if you are a graduate student, I suggest you err on the side of being extremely kind FIRST TO YOURSELF and secondly, to others. I simply don't see any other way to make it through a program this rigorous with a shred of personal or intellectual integrity.

Women in the academy: an Introduction

I hereby declare Wednesdays to be "Women in the Academy" post days.

Those who know me are aware of my obsession with this topic. It all started in early 2011 when I was in the field in Morocco. I can even identify my first conversation on the subject. Another researcher and I were in a bar frequented by the East European mafia and their prostitutes in Rabat. Over the first decent gin and tonic I'd had in a while, I turned to my friend and asked her "Can women even be academics?" The moment I said it I regretted it. It was such a politically incorrect question. And yet there were times when I really wondered if it was possible to be a woman in the academy. To my surprise, she looked me dead in the eyes and said "good question." I will always be grateful to her for not chiding me.

Of course there are women in the academy, but how did they get there? And what did they sacrifice? Stats cited by Connelly and Ghodsee in the book Professor Mommy (to be reviewed in a future post), claim that fewer women in the academy have children than in any other high powered profession, including among doctors and lawyers. They argue this is partially due to the demands of the tenure system, which ask for your most productive time to be the first 5-7 years after completing the PhD, a time that, for many women, corresponds with their last years of fertility. Some women wait until they're tenured to have kids, and then discover they are no longer able to do so. Others have kids anyway, when they want to, but there are all sorts of consequences, professional and personal.

I don't really want to get into this issue now. I just want to mention it to underscore the importance and scope of the subject. I'm looking forward to collecting my thoughts on the matter and posting them here, on Wednesdays.

Taking myself seriously.

In the summer of 2006 I was wait-listed for a Critical Language Scholarship to Tunisia (top 20 of 1000, but not the top 15!) and declined a Fulbright to Morocco. I spent some time feeling sorry for myself until I decided I didn't need anyone to give me permission to continue my studies in Arabic.

I walked into the kitchen and said, "Mom, will you buy me a plane ticket for Morocco." "For when, Ann Marie?" she asked. "Tuesday." "Alright," she said. She was used to my antics by then. I took the money I was given from various generous relatives for graduating college and used it to pay my tuition at a fabulous little Arabic school (ALIF). And thus began my relationship with Morocco.

I like this story because it shows how sometimes we can get caught up in waiting on someone else to "knight" us as qualified to do something. I work a lot with my students to encourage them to declare their own interests and identity and to move forward, regardless of who approves. This story is one instance in my life where I exemplified this behavior and I'm proud of it.

Since that time I have had three Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships and a Boren Fellowship, which amounts to about six year of federally funded Arabic study. What's the take away? When started taking myself seriously then someone else did.