- Biss (2009) “No Man’s Land” in Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, pp. 145-169 Minneapolis: Graywolf Press (handout)
- High (2009) Sharing authority: An introduction, Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’Études canadiennes, 43, pp. 12-34
Students will read and report on one of following (assignments have been sent via email):
- Histoires de Vie Montreal/ Montreal Life Stories
- Memoryscapes and Public History
- The Sturgeon Falls Mill Closing Project
- Sharing Authority with Baba
- New York City Taxi Driver Oral History Project
- DSNY Freshkills Oral History Projects
- Act Up Oral History Project
- Rescue Geography: The Eastside Project
- Rescue Geography: Cycling Project
- Komagata Maru Continuing the Journey
- Welcome to Pine Point
For those who would like to write a Reading Response for Nov 14, here are three questions that you may consider to prompt your writing:
1. Eula Biss’ short essay “No Man’s Land” is our first foray into using a humanities-based approach (via nonfiction essay) to think about urban experience. How does this approach differ for you? How does Biss’ approach to telling her own story resonate with you? How does Biss’ story reflect your own experience of place?
2. Steven High’s introduction to the special issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies provides a rich overview: he guides us through a certain genealogy of community-grounded research practice; he points to the stakes of developing and conducting ethical research; and he illustrates his discussion with examples from the articles contained within this issue of the journal and from other relevant texts. As such, readers receive a broad and sweeping sense of the landscape that High describes, where special attention is given to what it means to approach research as a collaborative process of developing a shared authority and why this approach matters. Given that High covers so much in this text, those who write a reflection on it should address one element of the article in some depth. Likewise, you are welcome to reflect on how High’s argument relates to the other texts (Biss or the website that you explore).
3. Describe and discuss the website that you explored, making sure to comment on how the site relates (in principle or practice) to either Biss or High. What story or stories come to life in the site? What is gained and lost in the visual experience? Do such sites hold a promise for effectively sharing authority?
As I wrote earlier this semester, I approach the city as an amazing collection of stories. Far from a static repository or a depiction of the inevitable, the city is the very definition of potential. It is constantly becoming, an assemblage of places whose new stories emerge out of multiple histories, memories and experiences that have shaped the perception of (and attachment to) the city. One of the most rewarding parts of my work (as scholar/ teacher/ activist) is to carve out space for “other” stories to be told, where “other” is the stuff that is ignored or disregarded by dominant urban discourses. I try to ensure that “othered” stories are collected and saved, and that they are told. One of my hopes is that dominant discourses/ practices/ histories are disrupted and challenged and shifted in the telling of these counter-narratives.
Making space for the telling of “unpopular” stories… As a critical geographer, it strikes me that focusing on this act alone is overly romantic and cannot be an end unto itself. What we do with these stories is equally important. Yet, making space for these stories is a vital strategy and means for social change. It enables authors like Eula Biss to call out the everyday production of whiteness and sit uncomfortably with the ways that she is assumed to participate in systems that perpetuate racialized fear. Making space makes it possible to validate experiences that are different from our own, and grapple with our own complicities within unjust structural norms. Making space also demands a greater critical awareness of so-called “popular” stories and dominant framings of issues, and must compel us to demand changes in these “popular” framings. Here, the work of critical geographer and media studies professor Minelle Mahtani is a fantastic resource.
Part of our class period, then, will focus on making space for “othered” stories. First, we will have the opportunity to hear from youth members and Program Director Hawa Mire of Leave Out Violence BC. Our visitors will talk about experiences of inclusion and exclusion in Vancouver (and region), and Hawa Mire will talk about LOVE’s arts-based programs that provide spaces and tools for youth to build community. Following the facilitations, we will also share lessons from the oral history/ urban change websites that were assigned. The selection of sites is obviously partial (a function of those sites with which I am most familiar)—there are many, many stories that could have been represented and were not. If there are others that you know of that should have been part of this list, please share!
We will also focus on how these “other” stories are crafted and re-told. Here, our conversation will focus on Steven High’s discussion of sharing authority in the collection and preservation of oral histories. Student comments get to the heart of the issues High addresses: how do definitions and expectations of “objectivity” shape our research methods and outcomes? What are the ethics involved in community-engaged research where “community” is assumed to be a homogeneous category? What happens when “community-university partnerships” reify the very power dynamics that they set out to trouble? This text also returns us to topics that we visited at the outset of the semester, about how, and by whom, knowledge is produced. (High’s article also previews my course next semester on qualitative methods for feminist research. Those who are interested will be able to follow and join in on a similar open-source forum.)
While our class time tomorrow will only afford conversation of the week’s texts, and thus of “stories” as they are conventionally understood, I want to close here with a reminder that our ability to think broadly about what constitutes “stories of the city” can help us to intervene in urban change. As I noted earlier in the semester, our explanations and theorisations of urban life are certain kinds of stories, as are the policies we create, as are the discourses we adhere to and challenge. Policies tell us one kind of story, but other stories are evident in efforts to change policy. Here is a place where meaningful participation matters: these efforts bring people together to share stories, identify issues, generate ideas, and leave the events charged with a responsibility to bring those ideas to their friends, their neighbourhoods, their City Councillors. This is the model behind Women’s Safety Audits, community asset mapping, and the Women Transforming Cities initiative, among others. As we discussed several weeks ago with the Pollock & Sharp article, participatory processes are not perfect, but it is important to acknowledge that these processes have the potential to engender a new set of stories about the city that give value to people’s sense of place and belonging.