This week found me at the 4S--The Society for the Social Studies of Science
(https://www.4sonline.org/) in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I presented a Making and Doing. Here is a description from their website of a Making and Doing:
The STS Making & Doing program invites 4S members to submit experimental work and exploratory practices that are best presented interactively, outside of a traditional panel format. Making & Doing encourages STS researchers to share work that takes up speculative, participatory, reflexive and/or aesthetic approaches to the study of science, technology and society, as well as projects that experiment with frameworks for producing, sharing, and reconfiguring knowledge.
My intention had been to do a public display of grief as an academic act, and also to have multiple perspectives, thought stimuli, inputs for consideration all happening at once. Though during my Making and Doing, I did not sit in grief as I had expected, I ended up having a series of great conversations around my theorizing of rural industrial spaces, democracy in the rural, the role of policy versus on-the-ground work, and the complexity of my own relationship to coal mining, as I would not be a scholar now if it had not been for the hard work of my grandfather mining coal and then working in the shipyards in Norfolk. That is, he was able to buy land, will it to my father, who then used it to start businesses that kept him above ground and out of the mines. Of course, as a coalminer's daughter I could also have ended up doing what I do, but my dad, after working in a mine one summer with his brother, and, because of owning land, chose to pursue other options. These options pushed our family in other directions, though, my father's business (printing) did a lot of work for the coal industry.
My Making and Doing had me sitting on a dropcloth on the floor with a hammer and 25 lbs of bitumious coal. I knew most people at this event had probably never seen coal, much less touched it. I also had up a poster of all the coal-fired power plants active around the world, the ones being built, and the ones in the planning stages--and I had that also on the front of my T-shirt. I wanted to emphasize how we are all connected to Big Rural, that coal mining fuels most of our modern lives, and that it is so important and essential as to be ignored for exploration. All that AI everyone is using? The energy for that has to come from somewhere, and I am from where it does.
I then also explained my own personal connection to the theory I engage.
I had a great set of interactions with people dropping by to sit in a chair or sit with me on the floor. These stick out in particular:
An economic development specialist from Nova Scotia from an iron town near coal towns talked to me for a long time about how their issues were very similar to those that I discuss.
One person who attended my panel was interested in how to bring his experience from the nonprofit realm into his new experience in STS (Science and Technology Studies). We spoke about how the university and its scholars ought to engage to solve local issues-- that in the US it is odd that people "go away" to college rather than circulate knowledge also through their community iteratively with the place they are from and the place where they reside.
Two sets of young scholars and I discussed the centrality of policy.
I invited observers to engage, and had up a poster that they could ask me questions. One young scholar interest in eco-grief asked me about my own, and I described my whole theoretical framework probably still evolving out of shock and being from a place discarded, deemed unworthy of serious re-investment. I spoke to people from a lot of places that had no Plan Bs: the oilfields of Canada, the mining towns of Australia and New Zealand, the rust belt towns of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and I explained that it did not have to be that way. Industry coming in to a rural space can be required to set aside funding for the inevitable sunset of needing people to run the industry there. And, in places where no reinvestment or reinvention of similar scale to the rural industrial intervention is coming--I commented that at least looking that head on would free local people to reconfigure their visions for the future and maybe of each other.
I discussed the centrality and my admiration for the emerging scholarship about people who not only extract natural resources, but also local knowledge and stories and make their academic or creative careers out of that, but leave nothing behind for the people whom they engaged. A young scholar from Toledo, Ohio gave me a cheer after she engaged me around how contending with the personal is frowned upon in certain scholarship, and, their appreciation that I was doing it, and I told them-- well, if I were NOT from here and came here to do it, I would be more accepted. I would win an award for it, for being so "brave" in my scholarship. I hope that I gave them courage to connect the personal to their scholarship and to change a false dichotomy in the academy--that serious work is somehow also impersonal work.
I spoke for a long time to a woman from Chicago that now lives in Hawaii and works as a civil engineer engaged in engineering to contend with climate change. She had been to Wheeling, WV as a college student on a Jesuit learning and volunteering trip, and she told me that her visit had changed her perception entirely of that region. It had brought her empathy.
I spoke to scholars from New Zealand and Australia about coal production there and how the meaning of it differed--that the public conversation there was around energy independence and not employment. I had a long conversation with an American sociologist who had retired to Norway about the former massive ownership by the Norwegian State oil company of large swaths of the mineral rights of West Virginia, SE Ohio, and Pennsylvania. She hadn't known about that.
Participants that sat with me also smashed the coal with a hammer, and I had little baggies they could put coal in and take it with them to consider and relfect on. They could add a star to the coal energy production map to show where they were from and see their connection to coal-fired energy.
I critiqued STS for its fetishization of "high" science--physics, computer science, intercommunications technology--and reading deeply today through the program, it seemed every third presentation bore out that out--so many about AI, mobile interactions, etc.-- and nothing that I could see about many many sciences, what I call the "unsexy" sciences: geology, biological systems engineering, oil or gas engineering, etc. You can see that here for yourself: https://www.4sonline.org/final_program.php
On one table during the Making and Doing I played a video my husband Edward and I made expressing my grief of leaving where I had lived from birth to 10 years old. You can see that video above. And, I also wanted to play Tyler Childer's In Your Love on a loop on the other computer, but as it would not loop correctly, I froze the screen at the words, "We were not made to run forever."
During the panel I participated in, I spoke about the scholarly imaginary I engaged in when envisioning a National Rural Strategy and a National Sustainable Agricultural Strategy, how a course on Karl Popper had helped me move beyond the fear of the "ought," that is, suggesting what ought to be done. I then pivoted to the need for a space where people from where I am from can do art and be reflexive, and speak to each other, and tell their own stories in their own ways--especially relevant this week as we all learned that the landgrant in West Virginia had shut down the minor in Appalachian Studies. I said to someone, "It's like they (WVU) wrote a recommendation letter for how important that field is--cultural studies, reflection on where one is from, the capacity to critique a place and to investigate it, as they saw it as dangerous enough to do away with." I could not be advocating for the Big Rural Motel and Gallery space and pushing to set it up at any better moment.
A few photos from my set for the Making and Doing are below.