40. on joyful collaboration
thinking about how to sustain collaborative practices
Hi there! 👋 I’m Ida, and this is tiny driver, a newsletter about research, pedagogy, culture and their intersections. Thank you for being here. Reach out anytime by just hitting reply, I love hearing from you.
Well. Last week was another difficult and horrendous stretch of time to live through. I am struggling to live day-to-day without feeling overwhelmed by sadness. Duante Wright and Adam Toledo deserved so much more life. I am exhausted by the news cycle, as I'm sure you all are as well.
In the past, I've shared mental health resources with you all. Today, I'd instead like to share some toolkits that have been helpful to my own learning around police abolition and organizing. All are free and easily downloadable, but also consider supporting these organizations doing important work:
I hope that you all are staying safe out there. This quarter, it seems that my mantra has been, "One foot in front of the other." I think that's all we can ask of ourselves right now.
What I write.
For the past two weeks, I've had my "US Media Representations of the Middle East" course read some essays from Stuart Hall. I love assigning Stuart Hall, primarily because he is one of the most accessible theorists I have ever read. Especially this year—when we as instructors must assign less reading to accommodate the reality of the current situation—his work does a good job of distilling the major points of broad theoretical and cultural concepts into digestible form. So, instead of assigning Said's Orientalism, I had students read Hall's breakdown of the term and its significance in "The West and the Rest."
Personally, one of my favorite things about Stuart Hall was his penchant for collaboration. Most of his work, it seems, was done in collaboration with other scholars, and his institution building put collectivity and mutual support at the heart of its model.
This centering of collaboration is also the way that a lot of my own experiences in graduate school went. Brown's American Studies program has an ethos of collaboration over competition. It was more common to see students hyping each other's work up, making network connections, sharing application materials and just generally showing up for each other than feeling a sense of scarcity or cut-throat competition between us. A lot of this had to do with the way that we interacted with one another and our own general vibes, but I do think that our general department culture promoted these activities through general programming and our coursework.
One of my closest & most frequent collaborators in grad school was my dear friend (& tiny driver reader Maggie UG. She's been doing a lot of amazing stuff recently on her own, but we've always been on the same wavelength when it's come to collaborative projects.
Probably the biggest programming project we worked on together was organizing a talk with Roxane Gay on Brown's campus. This happened back in 2017, took over one year of planning, over fifteen sponsors and a whole lot of Google Drive files, but we managed to pull off a wonderful night for our larger community. More recently—when I was still living in Providence and in pre-pandemic times—we would rock climb together at our local gym where we got to talk about our lives & our work even when we were 20 or 30 feet off the ground. These are some of my fondest memories from graduate school, and it is primarily because of both of our commitments to having a collaborative (rather than competitive) friendship that we were able to grow such a joyful space between us. I know that Maggie will be one of my life-long collaborators in the future, and I'm so glad to have met her so early in my career.
Given my deep commitment to collaborative scholarship and institution building, I knew that I just had to attend a USC Levan Institute event for "Models on Collaboration in the Humanities" last month. (They have some great programming, so I'd encourage you to sign up for their newsletter found at the bottom of their homepage!)
At the online event, different scholars at USC talked about their experiences with collaboration, both ones that were successful and ones that failed but were nonetheless "productive." One of the most interesting remarks from the event came from Dr. Lydie Moudileno, a professor in French and American Studies & Ethnicity at USC. Even a month out from the event, I still refer back to the notes that I took from her comments on how to evaluate whether you should take on a collaborative effort with another scholar:
Motivation: The "why"? Why do you want to collaborate on this project?
Benefits: How will this help my CV? How will this advance my career?
Complexity of the Task: Foreseeing different issues + troubleshooting in advance. Are there differences of power, authority, writing & research in the collaborative? What is your own level of lenience & flexibility in relation to the other person?
Timing: What other projects do you have to complete?
Value of the Collaborative Work
Feature of the most functional collaborations = need to have a "contract"; a sense of what I'm contributing to + what our roles are
I hope that these points might be helpful to you as well when thinking about ways to collaborate with colleagues.
What I consume.
For our inaugural book club, we will be reading & discussing John McPhee's Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process.
Item(s) of note.
One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram has been documenting the lives of a mother fox and her seven (7!) babies hanging out in her backyard.
Ever wanted to just...get out of a zoom meeting?
Very much looking forward to finding a good cup of coffee in Japan some day in the future.
My new favorite way to listen to those sweet, sweet lo-fi beats.
A beautiful piece from Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko.
Alexander Chee's Advice for Writers
Higgins got to go to the dog park today. As he always does, he rolled in the sand before running around with some of his doggie friends. As as we always do, we proceeded to give him a scrub-a-dub-dub at Pet Food Express shortly after. Here he is becoming a little sandy boy:
As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!