who are you to be uncertain?

http://readingasawoman.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/54/

Roehampton DTP’s Sarah Gorman discussing uncertainty and strategies for disrupting certainty in writing. Nice.

21 thoughts on “who are you to be uncertain?”

  1. She lists strategies for disrupting certainty, particularly in spoken presentations, but what she mainly discusses is the risk of being perceived as uncertain in a competitive academic environment, especially when you have low rank.

    The question that arises (for me :-) is how safe a space is this blog/module/MA for us to acknowledge uncertainty? For me, it’s ambiguous: I feel encouraged by the theoretical framing to share my experience of being lost, explorative, conflicted – but I notice I only actually do, when I feel very confident that in so doing I’m on the ‘right track’ and expect to attract approval (or at least feel ready to handle critique).

    If the space felt safer, I guess that would make it easier to be with & express uncertainty – but maybe it would then prepare us less well for “the double-bind of trying to use post-modern techniques in a world that is, in practice, if not in theory, still deeply invested in centred, certain modernist subjects”.

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  2. Hi Jenny. I’ve really been enjoying the extent to which you are expressing (and playing) with your uncertainty. It’s great to read of/see your vulnerability, and I certainly encourage it. How might I make this space (or any teaching and learning space) feel safer?

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    1. I really love Gorman’s piece – i feel very committed to epistemologies of uncertainty, fluidity – particularly when tied to Deleuze & Guittari’s ideas of ‘dividual’ – as I read it, the multiple individual, fragmented and reassembling and embedded within ecologies – composed of and composing multiple identities.

      I really hear your point Jenny of the suitability of the tactic within marginalised and dis-empowered positions – but i think it’s precisely because systems of power require/desire singular, certain, continuous identities to observe/manage, that we need to resist certainties & fixity.

      Or at least it seems that way at the mo. I’m pretty conscious of the luxury of destabilising a white male subjectivity in a culture in which it’s constantly affirmed & supported – but I think de Certeau has a good analysis in ‘Practice of Everyday Life’ of the (re)building & change within migrant & counter-cultural lives.

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      1. Ha – I belatedly realise that I so much wanted this to be a reply to my comment, rather than Simon’s post, that I misread it.

        (I want to be the most interesting thing going on for you in this space! – general sulk :-)

        Having admitted that, I still find it a bit odd that you say you love Gorman’s piece. What do you love? Her list? Surely you don’t love that she’s found academia less receptive to uncertainty than she’d hoped/expected and now often censors it for career reasons? Perhaps you love her awareness of this? Or willingness to write about it?

        Those are real questions I think

        X – J

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      2. Hey Jenny,

        Yeah, good to call me out on my ambiguity. I think I read that text and wrote my post quite hurriedly so I’m not sure it does make total sense.

        I think I meant that I liked her tactics and value of uncertainty, rather than her experience of it’s reception within academic contexts. It’s strange – I genuinely didn’t think much about those situations as I find myself in many ways dismissing of or distanced from academic spaces of which she describes – much in the same way I don’t associate my presence within, commitment to or care for contexts of electoral politics, finance, football culture, etc.

        So I guess I was saying: “she sounds super cool and I like how she thinks about uncertainty. it’s no surprise that those other guys were dicks about it because they are, a priori, dicks”. There’s definitely huge hypocrisy in me writing this within an academic environment, particularly as someone who might pursue further academic stuff at the end of this…. so it’s super helpful for you to point that out to me.

        I really love how you’re relating the space(s) of your practice to this digital space, and the more abstract pedagogical space. I think it inspired me a little to make the space interact with my practice in a more direct way with my live cam last night – hoping to continue with this for the next few days.

        P.S thanks so much for your clear thoughts to Simon around how the blog works (/has worked) for you in relation to the course. For what it’s worth, I agree on every point – and in particular:

        “You can’t mandate that we offer each other peer support, all you can do is provide space where that could happen – which you have.”

        We’ve spoken lots about hegemonic structures, and I think there are limits to how much you can disable powers you hold (or should, even – there are lots of power relationships I enjoy and create – as the lovely Foucault said – it’s not that everything is bad, simply that it’s dangerous). I’ve spoken to Simon about how (a) he’s teaching in an academic environment where people have subscribed to this relationship and (b) he’s doing all he can to question that in this space. If the class genuinely wanted to disrupt how we progressed and to redistribute the reins, it would require the class to actively make that choice.

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      3. Hmm . . . I was wanting to explore the possibility of different threads of comments forking off the same post – but it seems like it doesn’t quite work like that. i.e. I’d have liked to reply to Paul’s reply to my reply to his original comment, but that doesn’t seem to be a possibility: best I can do is post here. So I guess you can comment on comments, but you can’t comment on comments on comments? (not quite as satisfyingly tree-rooty a structure as I’d hoped)

        Anyway, thanks for reflecting on your initial reply so honestly & clearly. I think what I was maybe reacting to – in Simon’s original post & your comment – was that you seemed to be endorsing Sarah Gorman as an example of how to express uncertainty in an academic context, without seeming to notice what she was trying to say about the risks of that. I like your explanation that you didn’t identify yourself as being at risk in the way she describes – although perhaps you should.

        My question to Simon was probably around whether his intention was simply to encourage us to express uncertainty? And if so, does he think this space of this module isn’t risky in the way she describes? Or was the intention to encourage us to learn how to express uncertainty in an academic environment despite/because it’s a risky place to do so?

        Goodnight – JE

        P.S. Am very excited about the next installment of Sleepcam!

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      4. Dear Paul

        I feel I have to share how bitterly disappointed I was that I didn’t get to watch you sleeping all night on Sleepcam – in fact, I think you were already off air before midnight.

        What kind of bold and provocative art practice is that? And you say you’re inspired by a man who spent 15 months locked in an apartment naked for Japanese TV!

        I don’t want to hear about technical difficulties either – this is a post-graduate level course, you should be able to sort them out.

        How you expect to attract other viewers with this uncommitted attitude, I don’t know.

        Your friend

        Jenny

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      5. Dear Jenny,

        The thing I like about the tree-rooty comment structure is it’s non-linearity. This blog is a gorgeous mess and I firmly endorse any representation of that (the main issue for me is Simon’s posts being the main visible thing in when you load it up… anyway).

        I think you’re right – I do need to question (a) my vulnerabilities in the academic context and (b) my tactics over how, when and with whom I expose them. There’s also lots of other stuff going on here too – as a man, I think I can be open about my unknowing in a way that still garners me respect and attention in ways women are denied.

        Your question over whether this module is, or isn’t, accommodating of uncertainty is one I don’t think I’m best to answer – I feel like I’ve been excited & the right amounts of comfortable and uncomfortable throughout – but I expect (hope!) others will have had different experiences to me. I’m sure there are different kinds of uncertainty – one’s I’m hyperaware of, and one’s I’m blind to. However, I don’t think I’ll extend so much uncertainty into my theory classes, for example – partly because I suspect I will receive a very low grade which I have to be conscious of, and partly because I think it’s an interesting & useful challenge for me to put myself forward in academic writing and leave some relative safety of uncertainty, questioning and umming and ahing that I’m more used to.

        p.s sorry for being a massive sleep cam failure I’ll never be a star with my attitude xxxx

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      6. Dear Paul

        Thank you for continuing to engage so seriously and perceptively with this comment thread (after a shaky start :-)

        I felt something in me really relax when you mentioned gender difference. I think there was definitely an element of gender solidarity in my initial reaction to Simon’s post. I felt like I wanted to stick up for this woman’s right to be heard in what she was actually saying rather than just co-opted as an ally. “Hang on, she’s exposing herself here to talk about vulnerability and how she feels she has to compromise how she’d naturally express herself to negotiate the academic environment – what do you mean “Nice”? What do you mean “Love it?”

        However, I only feel able to share those underlying emotions now you’ve been the first to reference gender. I notice that, when I was writing my first long comment (in response to Simon’s question about how he could make the space safer) I was so nervous I might accidentally hit the post button before I’d achieved a sufficiently undefensive tone, that I drafted the whole thing offline (first time I’ve felt any need to do that here).

        [btw: on the group blog, if I publish something & then see I’ve made a mistake, I can easily correct it, but here it seems once a comment is posted there’s no going back – is that right?]

        I think you’re correct to identify different kinds of uncertainty as a key issue. I feel that Simon has framed this space in a way that makes it massively safe to express epistemological uncertainty – however, I’m less clear how safe people are feeling just to say : “I don’t know what I’m doing?”; “I don’t know what I should be doing?”; “I don’t know what other people are doing?”; “I don’t know what you want?”; “I don’t know how well I’m doing?”; “I don’t know how to get a good/pass grade here?”; “I don’t know how little I can get away with?”; “I don’t know if I just made a fool of myself?”; “I don’t know what you mean?”

        [I’m interested I gave all of those question marks, when grammatically they’re statements]

        However, I’m not at all sure he should be making a safe space for all of the above & that that would be most useful. As the Gorman quote I used at the end of my original comment says, the academic world “is, in practice, if not in theory, still deeply invested in centred, certain modernist subjects” and that’s the world in which he wants us to learn how to be uncertain. So my sense I can safely be uncertain in this space only when I’m underlyingly very confident may be appropriate.

        On the other hand, in terms of our own practice, I think Simon has rightly encouraged us to be tolerant of all the types of uncertainty above. So there could be value in the blogs being safe spaces for those kinds of uncertainty too. The dilemma is that the blogs are also part of the assessment process (I assume), so unless there are very clear signals that existential uncertainties are welcomed, valued & rewarded here, people are likely to hold back because – as you & Gorman say – there’s often a correlation between expressing uncertainty in an academic environment and getting a low grade.

        Thanks again for sharing your needs & vulnerabilities here in ways that make this space a safer one for me.

        Jenny

        P.S. Sleepcam has been much better tonight. I even had the thrill of nearly seeing you move about 1.30am and there you are still sleeping now I’ve woken up :-)

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      7. Dear Paul

        I guess I started seriously thinking about how to define violence through reflecting on the Quaker Peace Testimony. The first official statement of this was made in 1660, when the restoration of the monarchy led to the suppression of a lot of non-conformist sects. Quakers were radical revolutionaries at the time (they’re not now!) and preached something called “The Lamb’s War”, so they were anxious to distinguish this from any actual possibility of taking up arms against the state.

        The text begins

        “We utterly deny all outward wars & strife and fighting with outward weapons,
        for any end & under any pretence at all . . .”

        The more I thought about this, the more I realised that, given they certainly were preaching that people should give their all to fighting for the kingdom of God, the key point was probably to only do so with ‘inward weapons’.

        I started to wonder: what are outward weapons & what are inward weapons? And I gradually began to feel that outward weapons are not just swords & guns & clubs: anything that tries to change other people through coercion is probably an outward weapon, even if it’s purely verbal, or economic. Inward weapons, in contrast, probably all boil down to some combination of love & truth.

        That’s still not a clear definition of violence – and I think the nearest I get to one is negatively, through the daoist idea of “wu-wei”, non-action. Arguably there’s an element of violence in every action that is not “wu-wei”.

        I really love your list below

        – it doesn’t need a perpetrator
        – it relates to exposure, and intimacy
        – when I’m depressed everything (every thought, sound, experience, engagement) feels like violence
        – can happen through best intentions
        – can be mundane and daily and a bit numb
        – can be hard to notice until a lot later

        I’m particularly interested in the second one – which isn’t an angle I’ve thought about before. I also like your shift of focus from how to prevent violence (impossible) to how to respond to it well.

        Could you say more?
        This is a really interesting topic for me
        (would love to hear from anyone else who has thoughts on this too)

        Goodnight

        Jenny

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    2. Heya,

      No, thank you! for your patience, generosity and articulacy in opening this question up to me and this blog. As you note, my comments on Gorman’s piece are inappropriate and lazy.

      There’s the strange fact that this course is both operating within an academic context (with surface level unknowing that’s “underlyingly very confident”), and the extra-academic worlds of our own practices – all of which with their own demands on (un)certainty – I’m not going to claim that the language I might have to use in a arts council application demands any less certainty that my Dance, Philosophy, History course does. How much are we working here towards methodologies for PaR research positions, freelance art practices, or using this time to genuinely explore a kind of utopianism (all of which I think would be useful for the course to work towards, but there’s the question over how they might or might not fit together)? And how can we account for how uncertainty is felt, and can be held, by different people?

      I think ideas around safe spaces are something I need to educate myself on better – though they’re a fairly common practice in the anarchist/LGBT spaces I work in, the construction and facilitation – or intervention – of them isn’t something I feel particularly fluent in. You write that “I’m not at all sure he should be making a safe space for all of the above & that that would be most useful.” – this suggests to me ideas around targeted safe spaces, facilitating particular vulnerabilities or possibilities. What’s useful to support in this space, and what’s useful to leave unsupported? What structures need to be put in place at the start of the course, and how can it be fluid & responsive to needs that emerge?

      ((I’m thinking about rehearsal room I work in that mostly works through erotic intimacy between the performers – one of the requirements of this space is that you ‘manage your own experience’ – in many other circumstances I’d be unhappy with this tenet, in this case I take it to mean ‘you need to have your shit together enough because your holding something delicate beyond yourself, do what you need to do to be ready to have those kinds of engagements with the people in this room in a way that’s no going to violent for them’.))

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      1. I’m no expert on safe spaces either. I guess I just have a clear sense of when I’m feeling safe & how strongly that affects how I speak/act (also maybe some sensitivity to how safe others are feeling – though it’s often easier to spot that someone is feeling daring, or that everyone’s holding back, than that particular people feel unsafe in a generally confident group)

        I became really interested in the issue when I was organising a festival around Contact & Sexuality a few years ago. Lots of passionate, late night conversations with my co-organiser, who felt that the only safety needed was the instruction you reference above from your rehearsal room, to “take care of yourself”.

        The big revelation for me, as I tried to explain what I found unsafe about this, was realising that the opposite kind of space – where there’s a strong norm to take care of other people – felt equally threatening to him. We eventually developed (and even achieved at the event – due to fortuitous circumstances) a concept of yin-yang safety that tried to find creative tension between freeing people to take care of themselves and encouraging awareness of effect on others.

        I’m interested that you link all this with violence in your final sentence. I wonder if you could say more about that. I know you don’t mean physical violence, but what does constitute violence in this context?

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      2. Your work with Contact & Sexuality sounds super interesting – that fluid conscious of the different modes of care is a really interesting technology, I’m def going to nick that for future work….

        Violence is… hrm. Dunno, something that I seem to think about a lot but not question so much. Some thoughts include:

        – it doesn’t need a perpetrator
        – it relates to exposure, and intimacy
        – when I’m depressed everything (every thought, sound, experience, engagement) feels like violence
        – can happen through best intentions
        – can be mundane and daily and a bit numb
        – can be hard to notice until a lot later

        Do you have any thoughts around this? I’m maybe of the opinion that violence will probably happen at some point in a pedagogical/artistic process, and so it’s more important for me to think about safe measures to feedback, be open, question processes and adapt then try to safety blanket everything. Would you use the word ‘violence’ in the contexts we’re speaking about? Are there other things you would discuss?

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      3. Grrr . . . I thought I had the hang of how these branching comment threads work, but clearly not – am reposting this in hopes it appears in the right place this time.

        Dear Paul

        I guess I started seriously thinking about how to define violence through reflecting on the Quaker Peace Testimony. The first official statement of this was made in 1660, when the restoration of the monarchy led to the suppression of a lot of non-conformist sects. Quakers were radical revolutionaries at the time (they’re not now!) and preached something called “The Lamb’s War”, so they were anxious to distinguish this from any actual possibility of taking up arms against the state.

        The text begins

        “We utterly deny all outward wars & strife and fighting with outward weapons,
        for any end & under any pretence at all . . .”

        The more I thought about this, the more I realised that, given they certainly were preaching that people should give their all to fighting for the kingdom of God, the key point was probably to only do so with ‘inward weapons’.

        I started to wonder: what are outward weapons & what are inward weapons? And I gradually began to feel that outward weapons are not just swords & guns & clubs: anything that tries to change other people through coercion is probably an outward weapon, even if it’s purely verbal, or economic. Inward weapons, in contrast, probably all boil down to some combination of love & truth.

        That’s still not a clear definition of violence – and I think the nearest I get to one is negatively, through the daoist idea of “wu-wei”, non-action. Arguably there’s an element of violence in every action that is not “wu-wei”.

        I really love your list below

        – it doesn’t need a perpetrator
        – it relates to exposure, and intimacy
        – when I’m depressed everything (every thought, sound, experience, engagement) feels like violence
        – can happen through best intentions
        – can be mundane and daily and a bit numb
        – can be hard to notice until a lot later

        I’m particularly interested in the second one – which isn’t an angle I’ve thought about before. I also like your shift of focus from how to prevent violence (impossible) to how to respond to it well.

        Could you say more?
        This is a really interesting topic for me
        (would love to hear from anyone else who has thoughts on this too)

        Goodnight

        Jenny

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  3. Hmmm

    Paul wants to convince me of the political value of resisting certainty (even for the less luxuriously privileged) & Simon wants to reassure me that I’m safe expressing uncertainty to him – but as I have been deliberately playing with fallibility and ignorance here, presumably I already feel it’s both worthwhile & safe enough to do so?

    Having said that, I want to give you a serious answer Simon; I feel like you’re asking a real question – and I think I also was.

    You ask how you could make this [blog] space, or any other teaching & learning space feel safer?

    First I want to notice some things you already did. Having reflected on my history of engagement with this blog, although I didn’t post anything until 9 Oct, I read attentively from the beginning & looking back through I see several things I found helpful –

    On 24 Sep you posted your reply to an email someone had sent you. This made me aware of this as an alternative way to communicate with you & one you valued.

    25 Sep you posted about 2 of your own current practices – neither of which seemed too intimidating & one of which wasn’t obviously about ‘dance’. You implied that you didn’t always manage to do one of the practices. You were clear that in neither case did you know what the eventual outcome/value would be.

    You posted things from the class sessions. This was absolutely crucial for me. Although I’d been trying to find resonant things to respond to in the quotes from theorists, it was much easier for me to find something to say about my own experience. I’d continued thinking about Alys’ hacking exercise after the class, so when you posted a photo of it that gave me a natural opening to share those thoughts. This was the first post I felt able to make.

    So how else could you have made this blog feel safer?

    I guess a key question for me is “Whose blog is this?”

    I hugely value your choice to structure the learning space of the module around this blog & the smaller blogs. I guess it would be natural for me think of this blog as a place to encounter the whole group & the small blogs as more private spaces. However, the first time I wanted to post something to this blog, I realised I couldn’t post, I could only comment. So there’s a tension for me around whether this is a space to meet the rest of the group or a space to listen to you.

    Having said that (once I realised it was there) the ‘recent comments’ sidebar has been really helpful in making me aware of what other people are saying – but I have to go onsite to see if people have been commenting, whereas I get emails about your posts. Similarly, when I scroll down the posts, I can see if there are comments, but I don’t actually see what they are unless I click to open them. This structure – that only you can post & comments are not automatically notified or visible – makes you very dominant in the space. I would probably find it an easier space to enter if the ownership felt more shared.

    This is already an immensely long post – so I’m not going to try & address issues of safety in any other context than this blog [I could go on forever about safe, safer & safe enough spaces and the structure of learning environments is a core interest of mine!]

    The last thing I want to say though, is that what’s really made me feel excited & motivated about engaging here are the positive responses to what I’m posting from Paul (& conversely, much of what made it hard to post initially was that no-one else was posting). You can’t mandate that we offer each other peer support, all you can do is provide space where that could happen – which you have. The only thing I can think of, which you could have done to try and seed the process, would have been to post some direct questions in the first few weeks – about ourselves, our practice, our experience of the last class – asking for replies on this blog, so that it rapidly became a place of many voices.

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    1. Thanks Jenny. Very thoughtful and indeed helpful.

      I have in the past made ownership of the “primary” blog much more shared and open but it has proved relentlessly problematic in terms of how the space serves as a ‘teaching environment’. They became kind of un-curated free-for-alls and this was fine for some but more problematic for others who weren’t engaging through the conversations. This current structure (with kind of two different sets or types of blogs – student led, ‘teacher’ led) is a kind of compromise but I appreciate it makes my voice overtly and overly strong. I’d be happy to add anyone as an author if you’d like.

      It is possible to get updates of all comments but you need to do this through an RSS feed reader (for example “Feedly”). RSS is a simple concept but few people use it. The feed link (which you would add to feedly for example) is https://dancepracticeasresearch2015.wordpress.com/comments/feed/. I’m happy to talk you through this process if you like. Safe to say it’s not the same as getting an email notification but you’d see all comments.

      I like the idea about questions (which I kind of tried recently) but will keep trying this!

      Sorry I didn’t make it Tuesday. I’ve been sick this past week so needed to rest.

      ske

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  4. Thank you Simon. There’s something very exciting about thinking about this as an experimental & provisional structure.

    I notice that as I’ve started to really engage with the blogs, my inner representation of the “space” of them is becoming quite complex & exploring this space is probably becoming a 4th node/anchor/pole (trying to express some kind of tensegrity structure, I think) of “my practice”.

    The connection between space here (and the general group space of the module), therapy space & community space is fairly clear to me. At the moment, I don’t quite see the connection to “cocoa space” or what that would be – but I’m sure it will eventually become clear!

    I can already feel that adding an RSS feed would change the shape of the space in really interesting ways & I will certainly do that. I’ll have a go on my own, but ask you for help on Monday if I have problems.

    Thanks also for the offer to add authors, my first instinct is that it would make matters much worse – but I’ll try to stay open to the potential of it. I can also now vividly imagine the possibility you describe of things just becoming really noisy & shapeless.

    Sorry you were sick on Tuesday – I managed to restrain myself from exposing you with a comment here (& and am now very glad I was not so mean!) Mariel also came, but we didn’t get to talk because I’d been sucked into an extemely intense encounter with someone I vaguely recognised from Contact & who turns out to be doing the 1 yr programme at Trinity Laban. In my memory of the evening, Baz is now just a brief interlude in this conversation with Cathy!

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  5. “If the class genuinely wanted to disrupt how we progressed and to redistribute the reins, it would require the class to actively make that choice.”

    Disrupt! Disrupt! I would leave Roehampton a very happy person if collectively you were able to find a way to do this …

    But, the problem is, if I welcome disruption (from my hegemonic status) does that mean disruption isn’t disruptive? How far might you all go?

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    1. Dear Simon

      “But, the problem is, if I welcome disruption (from my hegemonic status) does that mean disruption isn’t disruptive?”

      Indeed, that is the snag.

      But in any case, if you really want to change the power dynamics of a situation, it’s usually more effective to support than to disrupt (or sometimes a bit of both) because it evokes less resistance.

      In that spirit, I’ve continued to mull over ideas for how you could open up this space more & I remembered a question from my very first post . . .

      Practice-based research offers a clear challenge to conventional thinking in its premise that the practice of performance can be at once a method of investigative research and the process through which that research is disseminated.
      – John Freeman, Blood, Sweat and Theory, p.7

      danceresearchmusings says:
      October 9, 2015 at 2:13 am
      I’m wondering whether posting these quotes for us is both of those things for you . . .

      That still seems an interesting question: is this a performance that you’re doing here for us? And is it practice as research?

      If so, could it be useful for us if you answered some of your own questions in relation to your practice of posting on this blog? (I slightly modified no. 4, as you’re not doing a presentation)

      What have you been doing (as practice)?
      Who else has done similar kinds of practices?
      What texts seem influential or relevant to this practice?
      What outcome are you working towards?
      Why is it important? (How might it matter? So what?)
      How will you do it?
      What plans have you made for documenting or producing ‘additional materials’ for the project?

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