maandag 29 oktober 2018

Our Walking Seminar on Questions on October 26th

Despite the rain we gathered with a group of 10 humans and one dog for an autumn walk from Baarn to Hollandse Rading. 

The question of this walking seminar was about “QUESTIONS”. 
In writing down ethnographic findings or in rendering interviews it is possible to work with the format of the description (‘There was a table in the middle of the room.’). But then again, it is also possible to go with the format of answering questions (‘What was in the room? A table!’ ‘Where did the inhabitants eat: on the couch or at the table?’). This is not just a matter of dropping rhetorical questions but affects the writing throughout. In which ways? What does it do to a text to go with one of these formats of the other? And how might questions be hidden within a description? (‘The inhabitants ate seated at a large table.’) 

Put in this way, the issues of questions seems to be a matter of style only. But it isn’t. Method is at stake as well. For which kind of questions to ask – small or large; pre-designed ones or question that emerge from the field; your own questions, those of your grant givers, or supervisors, or informants; or of others yet again? Simple questions? 

And then theory comes in: do you ask why questions or how questions? And which questions? Why? How?

More questions about questions came up during our (approximately) 13 km walk. The rain was absolutely bearable thanks to colorful autumn landscapes and interesting talks with lots of new and a few ‘old’ walk-talkers. 

maandag 23 juli 2018

Friday July 20th 2018

The topic of this walking seminar was “the issues at hand: whatever it is you are currently concerned with and/or facing in working on your research project”. With a smaller group than usual - due to conferences, vacations and possibly the hot weather we where no more than 10 people - we walked the dune paths of Overveen towards Sandpoort Noord, this being a route through the dunes that is slightly more covered by trees to at least keep away some sun from our hard thinking and talking heads. A Northern breeze caused some refreshments now and then which kept us from overheating and afforded for a productive afternoon. With enough issues at hand we once more had fruitful exchanges and talks: from practicing conference talks to discussing strategies of how to best manage academic life. The Walking Seminar being one of them. 

Walking Seminar May 2018 on collaborations

This walking seminar we focused on collaborating across differences. Disciplinary differences; differences between the inside and the outside of academia; differences in professional/work orientation (e.g. policy maker, nurse, activist, engineer, infrastructure-user and so on); or in political sensitivities; differences of socio-cultural etc. context (what is what in the US; in NL; in Ghana and so on); which differences have you; and how to not live them as problems to solve, or gaps to fill (or deny), but as creative tensions? How to handle the way relevant differences are handled by those you want to, or have to, collaborate with? What to do with/about words that mean different things at two sides of the dividing line? And what to do about ways of doing that have a different salience; different backgrounds; different effects?

We walked through the famous Dutch “polders”, which does not just make the walk productive in terms of exchanging about the topic at hand. Having Annemarie as our knowledgeable guide, we also learned about Dutch history infrastructure and the country's landscapes, water treatment and inhabitants. 

dinsdag 24 april 2018

Thursday april 19th

Our last walking seminar took place on the warmest spring day we had so far and even the warmest april day the Dutch dunes have seen in a long time. 

Walking a common body of 17 people through 28 degrees warm air required quite some attunement work. The absence of wind hardened one on one conversations and required talking couples to walk in some distance of their nearby walk-talking colleagues and the presence of 28 degrees warm air might have made some of the thinking processes les fluid sometimes. However, we managed to have a constructive and beautiful afternoon in the dunes and at the beach, thinking over the impact and ambivalences of the terms we use. From the terms we use in our methodology (Auto-praxiography? Auto-ethnography?) to the words we choose to make theoretical interventions (pros and cons of “chit” versus “excretion”). 

The theme  of this walking seminar was “Your terms”: What might be good terms to use in outlining where, how, who you study: field, fieldwork, informants, participants, people, practices, things, techniques, processes, technologies, emotions, feelings, excretion, violence, anger, fear, inequality, politics, etc. etc. - which terms are relevant to, and help to direct, YOUR research? What difference does it make to use this, that or the other possible term as you ask questions? What when you write? How do the terms you hesitate between help to represent differently; what do they help to perform; which audiences do they help to target; which theoretical tensions emerge along the way? When/where do you have space to invent terms; or introduce terms used (used?) by the people (people?) in your field (field?)?

maandag 5 maart 2018

Friday 23 February

February surprised us with what one might call an ideal winter day: cold but as sunny as can be. We started our walk at Overveen. Walking and talking we discussed a topic that was not directly at hand, but is in every scholars life: literature. Although we did not read, also not in preparation for this seminar, we dedicated our time to the topic “how to relate to the literature”? 

Our question was not which literatures to relate to, but how it is variously possible to do so. It is possible to read hunting for facts. Eagerly; hungrily. Or it is possible to seek to be surprised by a text. Amused; seduced. Sometimes our reading is critical; it may also be generous, curious, rebellious. What more? When; what do these various modes of reading offer? How to maybe read friends critically; or enemies generously? How to relate to old literatures (what to learn about their ‘context’)? How to read new literatures (and not get too impressed by their hotness)? How to find literatures, that is your literatures? How to talk about them? How to talk about relating to them?

Protected by the dunes from the crispy cool eastern wind, we continued our walk along the beach, equipped with inspiration, motivation, each others insights and a fresh mind to start a new workweek of reading and relating to what we read. 

zondag 3 december 2017

Friday 24 november

The weather forecast had threatened us with rain the entire week and only in the last instance was a bit more optimistic. And we fell lucky. When in Castricum station we stood in a circle so that everyone could present herself to the others, the sun appeared behind the clouds. And it stayed with us the rest of the afternoon.
Most of the talk-walkers assembled had participated in a workshop on ‘valuing plants’ the previous day. So though our call was to widely address the topic of valuing*, there were lots of plants roaming through the various conversations. But not just plants. Also water. Dunes. Sand.
Markets. Adverts. Money. Labour. Justice. Energy quota.

Many of us were new to each other. But the format of the walking seminar worked its magic and we had spirited conversations. Each time until the timer signalled that it was time to talk with someone else again.

*Here’s a description of this edition’s topic “valuing”:

What if we shift from the noun, values (that people may have) to the verb, to value (which people may do), or its gerund, valuing? Valuing is an activity; done in diverse practices and in diverse ways. Lives are being valued (worthwhile, difficult, and so on); commodities are being valued (priced, coveted, thrown out); plants are being valued (as green, beautiful, edible). And so on. Texts are being valued, too (interesting! unclear! not new!). All this valuing goes in the practices we study as well as in the practices relevant to doing research. Where is it explicated, where implied? Where is it spoken, where performed in other ways? How to dig it up modes of valuing and put then into the spotlight? When to respect silences and/or be silent ourselves and withhold (moralising, predictable, too easy) evaluations? How do our questions, methods, and so on, always already include concerns, worries, appreciations? How to live with our research and/or our selves being evaluated – valued – by others? How handle the professional task of valuing the work of our students and colleagues? More than enough questions to ask. And your research may call up yet other valuing related things to discuss while walking.

donderdag 28 september 2017

Last Walking Seminar September 22nd

Last Friday September 22nd, 13 scholars walk-talked a hike from Overveen to Sandpoort-Noord, discussing the topic: Questions to do with doings.
What started off as a rainy introduction round at the platform in Overveen, turned into a beautiful, sunny hike along dunes, a fairy-tale-like swan-lake and early-autumn-coloured woods. 

 As we walked, we discussed about ways to capture practices and doings in ethnographic fieldwork and writing. How to phrase questions in ways that will help us understanding what our interlocutors do- and that they might take for granted? How to write about practices in a way that is not just descriptive? How to create a text that is touching (or provocative) while writing about practices that are often mundane? These discussions also brought us back to more fundamental questions, such as: why is it that in this specific research, we want to study practices, rather than narratives for example, or what do we mean by “practices” in the first place? Meanwhile, the walk reminded us to keep looking around, to not just look down to our feet but also up to the tips of the trees. Sometimes lost in deep or confusing thoughts, we were interrupted by small details that reminded us to keep our feet on the ground. 

Tired, but “good tired”, we checked in at Station Sandpoort-Noord around 5 pm to take the train back to Amsterdam. Although we didn’t gather our thoughts into a final collective conclusion, the array of topics and questions that was discussed reminded us of the importance and challenges of staying with practices.