beyond the journal article

This fall, I was given the opportunity to bring my research into the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery as part of a larger exhibit about queer lives and social activism. I designed the exhibit to highlight a few of the themes that have emerged through the oral history collection: as the images below illustrate, the small wall of the exhibit offers an introduction and overview and the larger wall consists of the three topics -Policy Matters, Keeping It “Normal”, and Being & Feeling In Place- around which I organized narrators’ quotes. (Read more about the research and the exhibit content here.)IMG_7678

The exhibit opened last Thursday. It was incredibly gratifying for me to see the work that has occupied most of my waking hours in the last six weeks come to life on the walls of the gallery. More than that, though, it is really exciting to be making these stories visible to a wider audience, and in a format that is different than the typical scholarly options (journal article, book) that remain the most valued form of research dissemination. IMG_0835

The fact is that most of the narrators who have contributed to this oral history-social geography project won’t be interested in reading a scholarly monograph, even if it is priced and written to be accessible to a more-than-scholarly audience. As a result, without an exhibit like this, most narrators would not get a sense for how their stories and their experiences of queer place-making compare to others’ stories and experiences. The LGBTQ ‘community’ here has much in common with queer communities in other cities: what may appear to be one ‘LGBTQ community’ in Lethbridge is in fact many communities, divided by the usual factors (e.g., generation, class, race) as well as some additional features (like one’s status as a local or transplant to southern Alberta). Thus, while stories of queer place-making and comfort and safety are certainly shared among friends, the opportunities for dialogue across LGBTQ folks in Lethbridge are limited. IMG_0836

Given that this archive is a community resource (and, in the best case scenario, a tool for community building), I feel a sense of responsibility to share these stories in a way that will make a difference to the narrators’ lives. There are a number of ways that the project aims to enact ‘making a difference’; for instance, it has been clear from the start of the research that the oral histories would be donated to the local historical society, to become part of a public archive and contribute to the official local historical record. This exhibit is another effort toward ‘making a difference’: it gives LGBTQ voices and experiences space and visibility not often afforded in the Lethbridge region. And I hope that it will spark conversation within the LGBTQ communities and beyond, in a way that considers the opportunities and challenges of queer place-making in and around Lethbridge.

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Nov 14 Qs

Pre-meeting Qs from students for the Nov 14 class meeting

Overarching question
Participants attending a 2008 international conference on collaborative inquiry claim that “[s]ome of the toughest [questions] relate to issues of power and community definition” (High, 2009, p. 14). In a collaborative exchange, who are the insiders? Who are the outsiders? Can history innovate change and work to draw community together? Or, vice versa, can it work to alienate community members? Similar to democratic discourse, the process of collaborative inquiry is painful and messy. Does the freedom of digital access which “endlessly celebrate[s] the open-endedness of process, the multiplicity of sources, and the unlimited questions these can support” (Frisch, as cited in High, 2009) serve to help collaborative inquiry?

On Biss, No Man’s Land
After reading the piece by Biss, I found myself reflecting upon ‘fear’ quite a bit, and thinking about the different ways in which fear has been enacted throughout the years via certain laws or policies – i.e. racial segregation (which is something that Biss also discusses), and/or through wars (both ideological and physical warfare) – i.e. the cold war, and now, as I’m sure we are all familiar with, and as the author also mentions on page 157: the “War on Terror” (which has resulted in a drastic rise in Islamophobia and fear of/animosity toward Brown folks – especially those who look and are Arab). As history has shown us, “[f]ear is promoted by the government as a kind of policy” (p. 157), and because we are constantly being told which places and people we should supposedly avoid, is it then safe to assume that fear is something that will always exist in our society?

In Biss’ article we see how residents of a Chicago neighbourhood deal with their fear of ‘the other’ through the creation of a ‘hostile fantasy’. The overarching narrative of Rogers Park romanticizes the historic role of pioneers, and ‘how things used to be’, in effect ignoring the tragedy of Native American displacement, and excluding residents who do not conform to white, middle class standards. Simultaneously, as we saw in Kern, the threat of ‘the other’ is calmed through commodification and purification, as developers boast the ‘diversity’ of the neighbourhood as a selling point. While both work to exclude the often racialized ‘other’ they are not the same story. Can a community celebrate the pioneers (while ignoring the history of Native American inhabitants) and at the same time promote ‘diversity’? What types of tensions might emerge among residents or community planners who hold conflicting visions for Rogers Park? For example, Biss and her husband clearly were uncomfortable with the interactions they had with other residents who would say things to them such as ‘ we need more people like us here’. As we can see for Biss, there is also internal tension as she navigates her day to day encounters in the neigbourhood as a white woman.

Biss explores the many ways in which her neighbourhood is both experienced and imagined, and how notions of  “community” are cultivated and/or complicated. At one point, she describes how gangs are experienced as both “real” and “conceptual” (p.149). What are the implications of this statement in relation to fear and segregation? How does Biss’ community of Rogers Park operationalize, justify and codify fear into their landscapes?

Eula Biss’ short essay is intriguing. At first I hesitated reading Bliss’ writing style but I have grown to like it reading the second time around. An overarching theme in her writing is how fear is portrayed. In this chapter Bliss’ describes the fear of the unknown and how that is disseminated in society. For example she describes how she was warned about moving to Rogers Park because according to other people around the author Rogers Park seemed as dangerous. Bliss also gives the example of her friend traveling to South Africa and how sheltered she must remain to stay “safe” and the fear they cultivated in her in the name of safety (p 150). Bliss’ experience in New York City as the only female riding the metro late one night doesn’t fear her but rather fury’s her. What do you think of Bliss’ idea that government policies promote of fear and that fear is some sort of “accepted” intelligence?? Or is it some sort of act of violence??

On High, Sharing Authority
“When taken for granted, community becomes a static category that exaggerates differences with the world without and erases the differences within” (Steven High). This is a very powerful and important statement that can be applied to our classroom and the communities we address and research. The Sharing Authority article comes off very positively and I completely endorse it’s anti-oppressive and empowering characteristics however, I think that it is also essential very to note that when doing community based research it is vital to acknowledge that not all members are homogenous and may not agree with next. What challenges may this pose in research that wishes to share the authority, are there any examples you can think of from our readings? On the other hand what are some ways that these internal differences can be accommodated for in a shared authority research process?

In High’s article, the shift of authority from university researcher to the greater community being researched is said to serve multiple purposes, one of which is described as “Engaged Scholarship”. It is shown that through this process, both researchers and community members can have higher levels of satisfaction with the process and results of the research. However, as mentioned in the article, researchers may also run into more problems with ethics using these alternative methods (pg. 23). Being in a research methods class at the moment, I can think of a whole multitude of issues that would arise in this method of research that would not match up with the scientific method that is considered the holy grail of all methodology. I suppose my question is, what sort of controls can be put in place to protect the validity and reliability of results that stem from a shared authority of knowledge? Are there specific ways we can lessen the “distance” between researchers and the community without running the risk of biased, unethical, or irrelevant results?

How effective is collaborative community based research, what are some examples?  How do we measure the success of the research?

High stated “that community is more of an “evocative symbol” than an “analytical tool.” What does this exactly mean?