I am at McGill again today, to hear Patricia Aufderheide speak about the development of the internet, network neutrality, and the role of copyright in creating public media. The rest of the week I have been home, sitting in my office from day, to dusk, to night, writing my thesis proposal. Coming here is often a shock: the university has a quiet, removed aura (and an ivory tower – on a hill) that reminds me of my undergrad days. It’s a privileged space, and one that contrasts with other places I have been visiting in the last months and years: street fairs, community colleges, government offices, cafes, bars, technical schools and my own home office. Last week I was also here, at the Converging in Parallel policy workshop, to give a talk on the importance of understanding the metaphors used in broadcasting and telecommunications policy and research. I was on a telecom policy panel, a young woman sitting among men, a critical “sociologist” among economists and policy wonks. I talked about translation: one of the things I am learning as I start my “career” is about the importance of translation. Not just between languages (and between the ways of thinking that each different language permits), but also between different cultures: activist and policy-making cultures, government and university cultures. At the end of the Converging in Parallel conference, Sandra Braman pointed out the great advantages of doing progressive research in a “post-scientific” context, but also illuminated how this same context can be mobilized to silence debate or marginalize critical voices.
Critical social research is about engaging in different spaces, and creating the conditions for translation. But it’s a hard thing to do. What is an academic’s job? Is it to understand the many complex faces of reality, moving through different spaces, meeting and understanding actors, and balancing all of their perceptions? Is it to act as a translator – a mediator – between all of these actors? Or is it to reflect and write, to provide a critical perspective on the world, from a place just outside of it?
As I move from the monasticism of my writing process to the whirlpool of engagement and activism, I ask myself these questions. Which are the spaces where I can most engage? And where is my starting place, my “home turf”?
Pat says, “we create the discourses, and the frames for educating.” So perhaps that’s a place to start.