Blog Post

Collaboration and Alternative Conference Panel Formats

Last month, I posted a blog entry about the role of collaboration in an increasingly agonistic academic setting. Most people at this website seem to agree that collaboration is a useful tool for scholarship; after all, what else would we be doing as HASTAC scholars if not seeking collaboration and networking opportunities? I first became interested in this topic during a seminar on the methodologies of global literature, but became even more personally invested when I took part in a conference panel in which we aimed for collaboration not only with fellow panelists, but with the audience as well. I was both excited and somewhat nervous about getting the audience involved at the panel, but now that it's over, I can happily report that things went really well! 

First, some specific context: last week in Seattle was the 3rd annual GeekGirlCon, which emerged as a response to the harrassment and open hostiliy that women often face at some of the other local "geek" conventions--Sakura, Emerald City, and PAX, to name a few. That being the case, GeekGirlCon is already suffused with excitement, respect, and a strong sense of community. So when a couple of colleagues and myself began our panel on women, geek culture, and tattoos, we had an audience that was already excited to be there and excited to engage in the topic. 

We began our panel in a pretty typical roundtable fashion, with each panelist introducing themselves, their field of interest, and what brought them to that evening's panel. From there, we simply followed a conversation that covered the history of tattoos, geek and tattoo community dynamics, and the role of exploitation and narrative in tattoo cultures. The plan, however, was to find a way to get the audience directly involved as well. When opening up the room very early to questions didn't spark an immediate larger group conversation, I shared an anecdote of just one of the countless times perfect strangers have approached me (particularly in lines) and simply lifted up or pulled aside articles of my clothing, often physically grabbing me as well, to "get a better look" at some of my artwork. I then asked the audience if they had similar experiences and what their thoughts were on how we might begin to negotiate the boundaries of public and private, especially in a culture that situates women's bodies as always and already available for consumption. 

A moment of panic passed through me as I began to consider what to say next in case no one responded, and then at least ten hands shot up. By the end of the panel, a number of women and men had shared their experiences with bodily integrity and boundaries as well as brainstormed potential (and often productive) responses. A number of people came to us afterwards, grateful for the chance to share their own stories and for the sense of strength we had just produced together. 

I suppose my point is that collaboration has real, scholarly potential. Networks of knowledge produced through interdisciplinarity and teamwork can deal with problems and solutions that isolation cannot. But as amazing as collaboration is for our studies, our publications, and our careers, it is also crucial to providing real world solutions. It can provide these moments of clarity and strength that transcend the boundaries of academia.

Cheesy? Obviously. Exciting? Definitely. I hope it's contagious*.

*Happy flu season, everyone! Now go wash your hands.


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