introducing a narrative topography of engagement

Inspired by Mary Parker Follett

In the introduction to her work on Creative Experience, Mary Parker Follett(1924) describes a book she had read by a then-contemporary political theorist. In one sentence of this particular book she read, the author used the words power, purpose, freedom, and service in the space of three lines. Follett was struck by the realization that the author refrained from detailing what any of these words actually meant and consequently she didn’t know. She repeatedly observed this pattern as she witnessed other “political scientists talk about conferring power without analyzing power; [or] economists talk about representation in industry without analyzing representation”(ibid, p. ix).  Such hesitance to define or analyze what one is speaking of seemed most prevalent in certain “magic word[s] par excellence”(ibid, p. 139). These words were considered unequivocally good things which all people of good conscience should aspire to. One such magic word in Follett’s time was science. Other magic and poorly-defined words of the time included social, power, function, and experience.

Youthful portrait of Mary Parker Follett, 2002. Cornelia P. Atchley, artist.

As Follett described there was a type of crowd mentality in these magic words. According to her, organizing such a crowd required the rhetorical skill of “tak[ing] all the different aspects of a situation, about which men might and do differ, and either combin[ing] them into something so vague that all can easily agree, or else get[ting] them under the roof of a single emotion.” Once a particular word moved into this realm of being vaguely agreeable enough or feeling good enough, people may start using it in a magical way where they believe they are talking about the same thing when in fact they are not.

In her estimation that’s exactly what was going on.  People were using these words with highly disparate meanings.  What then does one do?

One might think her goal at the time was to do away with this difference—come to some sense of surety on science, the social, or some other word.  She disagreed. The purpose of any academic investigation, including her’s at the time is “not to do away with difference but to do away with muddle”(ibid, p. 6). We aren’t to do away with difference but rather find ways of giving difference fair play. In Follett’s opinion we could accomplish such a task by observing, in thousands of cases, the working of these words in the daily activities of our own, and others, lives.

I recount this story as an inspiration to me as I confront a “magic word” of our own time: engagement.

At it’s most vaguely agreeable, engagement, otherwise known as community engagement, public engagement, or civic engagement is a testament to the good idea of citizen participation in the work of our public institutions. As such, it’s also fair to say that engagement is the moral or ideological equivalent of “eating spinach: no one is against it in principle because it is good for you”(Arnstein, 1969, p. 216).

Given engagement’s magic status in our current era, we’d do well to look at it more seriously, observing the thousands of cases where that word crops up in our daily life. That observation of our similarly-named concrete actions is where we’ll find difference, and give difference fair play. That’s where we’ll learn to better integrate our meanings, values, and actions with one another while exorcising our demons.  Starting that project is the purpose of the forthcoming paper. Stay tuned.

on “community” and “academic”

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 3.50.26 PMI just returned from a four-day all-team meeting of the research and action project I’m a part of.  This project involves five organizations working toward food justice in their local communities – it also involves a dozen or so faculty, staff, and students associated with universities and colleges.  While the idea is to work, think, feel and build knowledge together, from the beginning, and I’d wager to the end of this project there will be, stated or not, an “us” and “them” dynamic coming from both of these different lived realities.   Invariably these realities fall under the dichotomous names of “community” and “academic.” During the second day of our meeting we discussed as a large group what these two terms might mean.  We had a very short time frame and while much was aired, little for me seemed resolved.  And that’s okay – but I’ll attempt my own response here.  As with any attempt it should embody a spirit of – “then again I may be wrong.”   But why even attempt resolving a personal meaning of “community” or “academic”?  Because while ambiguity is the stuff of life and we must embrace it – we must also seek resolution – especially a temporary resolution not a terminal solution – so we can meld the “resolve” to act with the humility to reconsider ourselves.

So let’s go.

Let’s start with “academic” because maybe it’s easier.  Among other things, “academic” can describe a context, a label, or an identity.  One way academics have written about what it means to be an academic is to claim that “academic” is just a designation describing where you do most of your work – on a campus with or without ivy on the walls where you largely spend your time in classes, meetings, and an office tending to the daily life of a “professor” or something much like one.  This is describing academic as a context.  Who pays your bills and what do you do to please them?  It’s a job description.

A label on the other hand is something we do discursively – it’s something spoken that claims an idea about what “academic” is.  We can do it in fancy prose or everyday language but the end result is that what “academic” means quickly becomes a much more complicated question.  For instance the way “academic” is used by a dissertation committee claiming that a student’s work isn’t “academic” enough is very different from Saul Alinsky noting that “academic” is synonymous with irrelevant.  Or are these “academics” the same?  Oftentimes, from the perspective of self-defined non-academics – the label is used as a pejorative.  To call someone “academic” is an insult.  Persons in “academic” contexts even internalize this label and seek to shed themselves of it’s dirty connotations – in word and action.  I should say – they attempt to shed it when it serves a certain purpose.  They attempt to “take off their academic hat” for a little while to do or say something.  The ability to do this, even if it’s just supposed, is a privilege.  It’s a resource that can be used personally or collectively for various ends.  So the choice of how to use the label “John Q. Academic, PhD” has much to do with ethics.  This ethics, I hope requires us to be accountable to the truth that many cannot claim to “take off” their labels – those related to race, gender, sexuality, class, et al.

Lastly we can think of “academic” as an identity – and as such either healthy or unhealthy.  I credit the organizing work of antiracism for this distinction.  I thank the practice and literature particularly focused on whiteness for helping me to see ways in which one who occupies a privileged context and label can still come to have a healthy identity.  It requires one to acknowledge themselves on what you may call a spiritual level that while refusing colorblindness or blindness to academic supremacy, enacts “academic” as something ill defined by context or label.  “Academic” in this sense becomes quite elemental to all of humanity – even all life.  In such enactments of “academic” we are all “academic” – or I should say we all have the potential to be academic.  This is not a question of grooming one into an academic as perceived as a label or context but some elemental spirit that must be recognized, developed, and spread.  If I were to name this central capacity it would be curiosity.  We are quite curious – like many other species that have much to teach us.  But how we approach this curiosity is also an ethical dilemma – we can approach our curiousity in very unhealthy ways for society and thus for ourselves.  We can approach our curiosity in ways that limit our humanity – and that of “others.”

For instance we can approach the idea of any “community” as just a context or label without a spirit.  An unhealthy academic identity can approach “community” as just a context for those “others” over there that aren’t me.   Gazing to that context an unhealthy academic sees only deficiency.  One can claim to be ethical from this vantage by taking it upon themselves to fix these deficiencies.  Noticing that this community has a horrible crime rate, or poor access to food an unhealthy academic intends to fix it – oftentimes alone and through status quo avenues of power that are exclusionary.  Similarly when approaching community as a label we reinforce deficiencies.  An unhealthy academic may recognize that there are certain functions a community member can inform through their participation, such as needs assessment or participating in a survey, but a “community” member is assumed to lack the capacity necessary for other functions like choosing questions, determining methods, analyzing data, or evaluating results.  Indeed this lack of skill may be true – and an unhealthy academic sees this as an excuse to move independently rather than recognize their role in providing the space for the development of the inherent capacity others have to solve their own problems.  We shouldn’t confuse lack of skill with lack of capacity.  Yet even “capacity building” work can adopt the unhealthy mode of fixing others.  A healthy academic recognizes that everyone has individual gifts and works toward, advocates, and fights for what ought to be recognized as a human right – that self-directed individuals have the resources necessary for the continuous development of their gifts that contribute to the common good broadly defined.

In my opinion seeing any community only as context rids our daily realities of the individual and collective agency that exists in spite of that context, and confirming only labels limits our possibilities for being anything more.  But it begs the question – if community ought not be seen as just a label or context then what is the community spirit?  I’ll make no claim to answer that question.  It’s the question driving the faith traditions of the globe.  It’s the BIG question.  It’s written and spoken about all around us – if we look.  But I’ll say this, we can better see or should I say feel what it isn’t than what it is – because its presence is often fleeting and in far-too-few circles of our daily lives.   We must be in search of our answer to that question.  During our search both context and labels should be points of discussion, but they should be forward leaning – always intent on prefiguring a space for the development of more healthy individual and collective identities from which we can reflect and act.  It’s from here, in the searching, that we can begin to feel the community sense – it’s a sense of belonging – and we must plan, nurture, and defend the spaces to develop it.

I thank everyone who I’ve been with this past week for pushing to make that space.  At least for me, we are not there – we have not arrived and maybe we never will – but I have faith that our efforts aren’t ill-spent.  What I’ve written above I could not have done without the guidance and wisdom of each and every one of you – though this imperfect attempt is mine alone.  And for now, at least until we speak again soon, I can live with that.

a land-grant reconsidered

This evening I participated in a discussion on reconsidering a land-grant university.  It’s a conversation I’ve been involved in – and a kickoff event that I’ve been helping organize for the better part of nine months.

Many people have no clue what the land-grant system of higher education in the United States is – much less what it could be.  The “could be” was much of the focus in this evening’s conversation. The land-grant idea was solidified in 1862 as the Morrill Act was signed into law during the Civil War by President Lincoln.  The world looked very different than it does now – and the land grant throughout its 150-year history has taken time to reconsider what it is and what it should be doing.

As I’ve previously written at the 100th anniversary of the Morrill Act – the Cold War was on everyone’s mind.  International democracy – free trade capitalist export-driven democracy was the concern, and the internationalization of the “land-grant” mission was seen among many other things as a measure to assist in the halt of communism.  But now, fifty years since – what is our mission?  What is a land-grant university and what the hell should it be doing with itself?

We didn’t reach an answer to these questions tonight.

However we made connections – we formed the seeds of relationships – without which these questions couldn’t be approached or appreciated.  Here are the five questions – editorialized of course – around which our evening revolved.

  1. How do we think of a grant of land – a grant of resources in a way?  As Karim-Aly Kassam said “land is a gift that keeps on giving.”  But how do we acknowledge that this gift is not “ours” per se – especially given indigenous land claims in Upstate NY and across the North American landmass from sea to shining sea?  What does it mean then to be a steward of gifts.  Whose purposes should such resources serve?
  2. Who gets to ask the questions?  Who sets the agenda?  With recent talk of engagement and assertions that we [academics] address community problems, there is a rightful concern and reason for inquiry into who informs the daily work of academic laborers.  Are we structurally geared toward addressing community concerns?  Are there avenues for communities to influence the questions, methods, and recommendations central to knowledge generation and action.  As Carol Bebelle of the Ashe Cultural Center says “If you aren’t at the table, then you’re on the menu.”  Who’s at our table?
  3. How do we think about learning?  Are we willing and able to value different kinds of knowledge?  Do we accomodate the diversity of mind, body, and spirit requisite to the pursuit in the several pursuits and professions of life?  Do we involve students, communities, faculty, and staff in the co-generation of knowledge?  Are we the seat of a broader learning community?
  4. How does the rising role of technology factor into our 21st century role as a land-grant institution.  How do we think about technology in the “capture” of data, in the dissemination of results in various fora, and the building of more crowd-sourced communities of practice, learning, and inquiry?  We have access to more information now than we have ever before – what purpose does/should such power have.
  5. To what ends do we work – and by what means do we go about it?  Is education to be seen as a public good or a means to individual success?  Is “practical” simply the economically profitable?  How do the liberal arts – and all disciplines of the university seek to build a more public conversation?

The conversation began around these questions and quickly multiplied into various other affinities and contradictions.    We, the planning group, hesitated to reign this multiplicity in – rather we embraced the energy in the room and discussed ideas for taking this conversation further and the resources necessary to make such conversations successful.

I thought this evening, rather than process all that went on, I would just recapitulate all that was questioned this evening.  Perhaps the morning will add some hindsight to what we’ve done.  My chief questions – will we be impactful?  Will we have the right spirit at heart?

food bloggers against hunger

I write about more than food – but with my recent focus on the new foodsheds class and the need to tell stories for change I thought I would take just a few minutes to acknowledge that today there is a call to action for food bloggers against hunger that is being sponsored in part by The Giving Table.

Watch the trailer for the new documentary by Participant Media – A Place at the Table.

Please urge your elected officials to take action on these needed reforms by clicking here.  It will take 30 seconds.

I hope the course I’m teaching next semester can help raise public awareness, reflection, and action on this issue.  I just wrote a draft of the 125-word course description today.  Let me know what you think.

Much in the same way we ask if a picture does a scene, or person justice – what does it mean to do a story justice or to do justice with stories?  As we think about and seek social justice, what stories must be recognized?  Which ones must be reconsidered?  Stories of race, class, gender, labor?  This course will grapple with these questions as the writing group thinks about struggles for food justice in Tompkins County, NY.  Course readings will focus on the philosophy, ethics, and practice of storytelling as a political art.  However the crux of the course will come as students engage with local communities in creating and publishing powerful stories of the local food system that seek to enliven reflection and action.

course planning – foodsheds, stories, and action…

So I’ve been working on a course for the coming fall semester.  The idea for this course came from my advisor who thought we might be able to adapt Laird Christensen‘s work with the Watershed Writing Collective to have a first-year writing seminar that is focused similarly on writing about the foodshed – particularly that of Tompkins County, NY.  Through oral histories, archival research, mapping food journeys, observation, reading through various texts, and otherwise, this course will invite students to engage broader Tompkins County communities in curating a variety of stories on the local foodshed, its histories, currents, politics, and cultures.

Narratives might range from the food practices and traditions of the Cayuga Nation to the vast expansion of the dairy industry in Upstate New York; from the current push for natural gas extraction to the practitioner profile of a food justice advocate.  Students could track the social journey of a bag of decaf coffee, or learn from stories of farmworker migration.  The possibilities will depend on local involvement, student interest, and of course time and resources.

The final curated collection will be available in electronic format and hopefully made available to the local public in limited print.

I have two questions currently.  One, I’m looking for a course name.  We want to approach this challenge of writing the foodshed through the lens of storytelling so fitting that in somehow would be ideal.  Ideas?

Second I’m building a list of topics for the course to submit to the curriculum committee.  There are about 14-15 weeks in a semester and I must leave time for us to collectively curate the pieces students and others are generating.  Below I’ve planned out 11 weeks of topics – I hope this gives us some leeway to pursue student/community interests as well as accomodate the huge task of editing the collection.

So please help me.  What am I missing that I can’t leave out?  What are some awesome readings?  Other suggestions?  Some sections are skimpy on the resources and obviously I often don’t know the best ones to choose.  This is a very early planning stage so input now is crucial.

The topics are outlined below in approximate order: PLEASE COMMENT!

Stories and Society: We humans “let me offer you a definition – are the storytelling animal (Swift, 1983, p. 63).” Stories have a place in our society – and in this section of the course we will explore how and why.  Duration: 2 weeks

Cronon, W. (1992). A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative. The Journal of American History, 78(4), 1347–1376.

King, T. (2005). The truth about stories: a native narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Okri, B. (1997). A way of being free. London: Phoenix House. (selections)

Doing Stories Justice and Doing Justice with Stories: If stories are ways to think about our identities, purpose, and meaning in the world then stories are always political.  What stories do we choose to tell?  Which stories are “valid?” Can stories speak truth to power?  For whom?  This section explores the politics of storytelling – and how to do politics through storytelling.  Duration: 2 weeks

Polletta, F. (2006). It was like a fever: Storytelling in protest and politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (selections)

Reinsborough, P., & Canning, D. (2010). Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world. Oakland, CA :: PM Press,.

Zinn, H. (2003). A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present. New York: HarperCollins. (selections)

Food Stories: Knowing what we do now about stories – how do we, and how have others thought about the stories of food?  Duration: 2 weeks

Berry, W. (1977). The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Katz, S. H., & Weaver, Wi. W. (Eds.). (2003). Encyclopedia of food and culture (Vol. 1–3). New York: Scribner. (selections)

Food and ____________: This section of the course will be a smattering of topics from a range of food scholarship that explore socio-political and environmental topics related to food systems. They will take an order to accommodate guest speakers and field trips. Duration: 1 week each (total of 5 weeks)

Food and Race:

Harper, A. B. (2009). Sistah vegan : black female vegans speak on food, identity, health, and society : New York: Lantern Books. (selections)

Guthman, J. (2011). “If they only knew”: The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food. In A. H. Alkon & J. Agyeman (Eds.), Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Food and Class: (I need some more substance here but I liked the idea of a literary reference)

Dickens, C. (2012). A Christmas Carol. London: Arcturus. (selections)

Chesney, R. W. (2012). Environmental factors in Tiny Tim’s near-fatal illness. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 166(3), 271–5. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.852

Katz, S. H., & Weaver, Wi. W. (Eds.). (2003). Encyclopedia of food and culture (Vol. 1–3). New York: Scribner. (selections)

Food and Labor:

Yvonne, B., Liu, Y., & Apollon, D. (2011). The Color of food. Retrieved from (selections)

Nielsen, K. (2008). Organizing the Fields. The Progressive, 72(12), 24–26.

Food and Fuel:(This is a pretty uninformed pick…I think…perhaps something dealing more exclusively with natural gas extraction, water and food?)

Rosillo Callé, F., & Johnson, F. X. (2010). Food versus fuel : an informed introduction to biofuels. London ;;New York: Zed Books. (selections)

Food and the Future: (more here..)

Belasco, W. (2006). Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food. Berkeley: University of California Press. (selections)


That’s all for now but please comment away.  I hope to incorporate ideas not only from the blog but from the continual feedback of local communities, cultural workers, and social justice advocates.


vigorous digital “text”

A part of my new found enthusiasm with blogging is brought about from my reading of Planned Obsolescence, a blog, book, and project headed up by Kathleen Fitzpatrick.  I’ve just been reading a section lamenting digital versions of texts still being bound and tied to our traditional conceptions of the book, codex, and scroll.  She points to hypertext as a potentially liberating online functionality of digital productions.

Reflectively, I often find myself maintaining a discipline to neat linearity in my writing – I think this discipline may be much older than books or written language but have it’s roots in some versions of storytelling.  Most – at least Westerners – have a fondness for the narrative arc – the beginning, middle, and end.  There’s an anxiousness associated with anything that does not get to the point. The bending of textual culture toward a new medium of truly digital production will be a fruitful if difficult path – particularly fruitful in my opinion if we can use new found technology to productively collect those scraps of thought that get swept up after the writing process is assumed finalized.  As Fitzpatrick explains the versioning allowed in certain blogging platforms can let us see previous versions of texts-in-development.  Additionally for my own purposes I hope hyperlinked texts may come to amplify a footnoting – endnoting – or “hypernoting” of texts wherein authors and readers could highlight various asides, non-linear arguments, or playful literary cul-de-sacs.

I’ve always maintained that a good story is about including the details that some may think don’t matter, and indeed the details may not.   Yet the seemingly extraneous nature of a good story builds a certain level of relatability.  Much the way an elder may tell a story relating her childhood – inserting that the car she rode in that night was a Plymouth – green – the act of building a text – even a nonfiction piece of cultural analysis should in some way leave asides and circuits within the ecology of thought, that if not directly pertinent to “the point” are nonetheless relatable and useful to the life of a text.  While such texts or portions thereof may not be considered “rigorous” in academic circles they may hold the capacity through their very nature to be more “vigorous” – a quality I believe academic work often flattens.

a history of home

As I look to the history of my home, I’m confronted with troubling stories.  Slavery, racism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, sexism, male violence – are all part of the story of rural Arkansas.  I see the distances I’ve travelled from home and wonder what’s redeeming about “my people.”  In many ways my search for foundations to my academic practice is about me looking for my foundations in my home, in my upbringing, in my kin.  I have to dig really deep in the pine soil of my birth to find the foundation of southern radicalism.  But it’s there.  In Spadra, Zilphia Mae Johnson was disowned by her father for trying to organize the workers at his coal mine.  She later married Myles Horton and brought her love of song to the Highlander Folk School(Carter, 1994).  In Paris, Arkansas “The Preaching Hillbilly” Claude Williams, began his fight for social justice(Belfrage, 1941).  In Mena, Commonwealth College trained organizers for the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union founded in Poinsett County(Cobb, 2000; Koch & Koch, 1972).  The college was an hour and half away from my home.  I bet I could go out there and still find the foundations if I started stumbling around.

I’ve been populating myself with these stories out of need for connections that no one else has made for me.  They’re stories I tell myself to give my life meaning and guide my purpose.  They help me explain the reasons why I’m here.  These stories help me know that the questions I’m asking can and should be asked by people much like me.

Commonwealth College really piqued my interest and I found that you can download archives of their fortnightly newsletter from the University of Arkansas Library.  Here are a couple gems from the nearly 1000-page archive:

Eugene Debs from 1926


Student profiles from 1932


My advisor, mentor, and friend often quotes Alisdair MacIntyre, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part (MacIntyre, 1984:216).”  What stories, or histories of home inform our practice as scholars?

References for above:

Belfrage, C. (1941). South of God. New York: Modern Age Books.

Carter, V. K. (1994). The singing heart of the Highlander Folk School. New Horizons in Adult Education, 8(2), 4–24.

Cobb, W. H. (2000). Radical education in the rural south: Commonwealth College, 1922-1940. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Koch, R., & Koch, C. (1972). Educational commune: The story of Commonwealth College. New York: Schocken Books.

MacIntyre, A. (1984). After virtue : a study in moral theory (2nd ed.). Notre Dame Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

myles horton – radical hillbilly

Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander Research and Education Center, speaks here with Bill Moyers about all things awesome. I love the part where he speaks about academics trying to find solutions to problems that communities don’t have.

So I knew [having an academic background] was a handicap, but I thought I could overcome it somehow. Well, I tell you, it’s very interesting. We did make a terrible lot of mistakes the first year because of that. We thought what we had learned we could apply pretty much like you were taught it would apply. So we fell flat on our face, we weren’t getting through to the people. So we had a little self criticism, and we said, what we know, the solutions we have are for the problems the people don’t have. And we’re trying to solve their problems by saying they have the problems that we have the solutions for. That’s academia, so it won’t work. So what we’ve got to do is to unlearn much of what we’ve learned, and then try to learn how to learn from the people. In other words, instead of learning from what we learned academically, we’ve got to learn how to relate to their experiences.

Full and searchable transcripts are available through JSTOR here.

Moyers, B., & Horton, M. (1982). The Adventures of a Radical Hillbilly: An Interview with Myles Horton. Appalachian Journal, 9(4), 248–285.

grieving for montaigne

I’ve been reading Cosmopolis by Stephen Toulmin which has fueled my continuing interest in the ways philosophy and our public/private conceptions of that discipline shape the way knowledges are, or can be, built, maintained, valued, and shared.

Toulmin makes an interesting case for taking a closer look at what happened in early 17th century Europe – a time many historians and philosophers date as the beginning of the modern age.  His history, relates the stories of Descartes, Galileo, France’s murdered King Henry of Navarre, and Michel de Montaigne among others working amidst the Protestant/Catholic power struggle that led up to the Thirty Years War.  It is in this environment that the Quest for Certainty began.  It was the shifting of philosophical and political emphasis from pre-modern humanist tolerance of pluralism and uncertainty toward a rational universalism.

I cannot summarize all of the interesting stories I’ve come across in this book but I would like to recount some of Toulmin’s argument in a cursory chart.  It centers around what philosophy meant for so called “renaissance” thinkers and what philosophy became for “enlightenment” thinkers in a very short time span – around 50 years at the beginning of the 17th century.  What is below is an overgeneralization of the assumptions that were being questioned, posited, and otherwise during these times of great change.  Reductive as it is, nonetheless, I believe it a helpful exercise.

“Pre-Modern” assumptions Modern assumptions
Practical – the assumption that philosophy should be practical – put to use – pulls from an Aristotelian focus on the circumstantial context of any good philosophical pursuit.  What is particular is important.  Abstract – the assumption that for philosophy to be of any worth it must be applicable outside of any contextual factors – abstract axioms.  In essence it must be generalizable to be worthwhile.
Oral – Rhetoric  and Logic are on equal footing as they have separate but complementary missions.  However there is a consistent assumption that any philosophical claim cannot be separated from an audience who ultimately determines its measure of reasonability. Written – Logic and it’s written form: the idea that written chains of statements are valid depending on the strength of their internal relations.  It was not a question of argumentation or dialogue but of proofs.
Timely – Much like the practice of law and medicine, philosophy is meant to be a part of and address concerns of a particular time and within a particular frame of time.  Time is of the essence. Timeless – Conversely, the shift towards knowledge that is generalizable and decontextualized can be thought of as outside time – such knowledge is preferable.
Other buzz words – reasonability, trustworthy, truths, particular, Montaigne, Aristotle, Dewey, Wittgenstein, hermeneutic , embodied… Other buzz words – rationality, valid, Truth, universal, Descartes, Plato, Galileo, Hobbes, mathematic, cognitive…

This sets up a very large dichotomy that exists to this day. In my own work I most definitely fall on the left side of these traditions though I’m not advocating for their universal application.  That would be antithetical to my own philosophy.  However I can and do advocate that the left side of this dichotomy is one we must never forget if we hope our practice to be a democratic and decolonizing one.

I grieve for the lack of conversation that Montaigne embodied in so many ways.  Like Toulmin it is energizing for me to return to those brief moments in our global history and wonder, as Richard Rorty states in his review of the book, “how different the last three centuries would have been if Montaigne, rather than Descartes, had been taken as a starting point.”

I strongly recommend that any and all read this book for it’s exciting history and practical insights.  The stories are wonderful.  Toulmin recollects, the school wide ceremony where the heart of Henry of Navarre – assassinated King of France, champion of tolerance between Protestant and Catholic, friend of Michel de Montaigne – was entombed at the Jesuit school of La Flèche as a 17-year old René Descartes stood in the crowd.

gramsci: knowing – understanding – feeling

I though I’d be a nerdy bookworm and send around the quote I ran across yesterday in Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks.  When people are doing community organizing or pushing for higher education to engage with the public they are right to be conscious of the many interests around the table.  Many organizing strategies including Alinsky’s one-on-ones are designed to get at this self interest.  It is important that feelings and emotions are also at the table along with our more rational (transactional) interests.  These feelings are at the table but more often they are under the table.  Emotions arise across differences of race, gender, sexuality or class and oftentimes the various privileges academics have can promote the hidden nature of these emotions.

The research status quo and the idea of “rational discourse” says to not let these emotions get in the way of “the work” but Gramsci didn’t agree. Feelings are integral to creating understanding and knowledge.  He writes:

“The popular element “feels” but does not always know or understand; the intellectual element “knows” but doesn’t always understand and in particular does not always feel.  The two extremes are therefore pedantry and philistinism on the one hand and blind passion and sectarianism on the other…The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and even more without feeling and being impassioned (not only for knowledge in itself but also for the object of knowledge): in other words that the intellectual can be an intellectual (and not a pure pedant) if distinct and separate from the people-nation, that is, without feeling the elementary passions of the people…If the relationship between intellectuals and people-nation…is provided by an organic cohesion in which feeling-passion becomes understanding and thence knowledge(not mechanically but in a way that is alive), then and only then is the relationship one of representation…One cannot make politics-history without this passion, without the sentimental connection between intellectuals and people-nation.  In the absence of such a nexus the relationships between the intellectual and the people-nation are, or are reduced to, relationships of a purely bureaucratic and formal order; the intellectuals become a caste or a priesthood (Gramsci, Hoare, & Smith, 1972:418).”

This is the history of detachment that we are in many ways trying to work against but also a history we regrettably reproduce.  I’m not sure how much this applies to everyone’s work but I’ve definitely come to see it as important in my research around the local town and gown relations and how we necessarily need to address that local history in some aspect of the project I’m currently involved in.