Tuesday, 10 June 2014

THESIS REFLECTION: THE WORLD OF CONFERENCES

BY: NICOLE RITCHIE

With an interest in pursuing doctoral studies, I have dived into the world of conferences, gaining experience in public speaking and exposure to the dynamic dialogues. The iSchool annual student conference and the newly developed MMSt panel at the CMA conference were both invaluable opportunities for myself!


However, you might be wondering – how does this relate to my thesis? Well, I recently attended the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women at U of T and the Sexuality Studies Association’s conference at Congress in St. Catharine’s, ON. Most prominently, my interest was piqued by a paper entitled “Queering Museums: Epic Fail”. Seeing as this is the project that I am just embarking on, this talk was both foreboding and exhilarating. You can imagine, I’m sure!

Special Session at the Sexuality Studies Association’s Conference

I chose these conferences because they had various panels about collecting on the edges and challenging museum and archival practices through asexuality, affect, and more.  I went on to feel stimulated, intimidated, disappointed, excited, and overwhelmed by attending discussions on topics that I am both engaging with as well as pursuing.  These are the people I want to be in conversation with, who are discussing the same sources, and who can provide me with innovative (and perhaps scarily similar and/or oppositional) ideas that directly affect my work and future goals.  I was nervous to explain my current project without knowing quite where I fit yet and where I was going.  What do I want to take away from these experiences into my research?

Train Ride from St. Catherine's ON
Reflecting on the train ride back from St. Catharine’s, ON
(I attended both of these conferences over a seven-day period, leading to many thoughts and feelings!)

Well, I have noticed that, even though I am just starting on this project, I am not super surprised by where these panels and papers went. In fact, I had hoped for something more groundbreaking. They discussed several things that I have and will interrogate in, hopefully, a much deeper and deconstructive way. And yet, there were also instances that triggered and highlighted areas and ideas to consider. My key discovery is that I have a major research topic that is deeply needed and present. There were underpinning notions within many of the talks that, I believe, need to be questioned, and now I am even more inspired to engage in those interrogations.


So is queering museums an epic fail? Well, I can’t actually share the example from that paper due to the confidentiality issues that prefaced the talk. But, the presentation did make clear that the neoliberal values embedded in the language of individual rights and freedoms have lived strong and true, censoring the proposed representation of diverse (minoritarian and non-normative) queer kinship formations in order to hold true to the queer liberalist celebration of same-sex marriage. While this instance, albeit by significant people at significant places, may have failed, where can we go with this? How can we question the underlying principles and structures of normative institutional systems of archives and museums? In what ways can we productively view such ‘failure’, particularly in relation to, rather than being a negative experience, the potentially queer power of such experiences (an argument that has been made by Jack Halberstam)? Furthermore, is not this failure categorized as such according to the institutional norms and structure? What is beyond this limited definition and dominant paradigm of failure (and success)?

3 comments:

  1. Kudos to you for jumping fearlessly into the world of conferences -- certainly not an easy task for many of us who are embarking on new academic territory. But for you, it seems like a great thing (in disguise?) that discussions close to your thesis topic have not been "groundbreaking" -- as you say, there is a clear need for further work on this, and what a window of opportunity for you!

    For those of us not yet so experienced in the world of conferences (both academic and professional), do you have any more general conference advice -- whether for presenting papers, networking, gathering new ideas, etc...? Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for the response, Katherine! I’m not sure if I have extensive general advice, but I’ve definitely noticed the need to be very selective. After attending the OMA conference last October, I realized that there is quite strong difference between practitioner versus academic conferences. I would say the same is likely for the CMA conference. Even as I attended the Berks and Congress this past May, as well as various other conferences in March and April, I have become much more selective on which talks to attend. Since you have to pay the entire conference fee, it is tempting to think you need to get full value by attending as many of the panels as possible. However, I have realized that it is much more valuable to attend the key talks that directly relate to or pique your interest rather than spending four exhausting days of listening to panels from 8am to 5pm, let alone the other subsidiary lunch hour and evening events and pre-conference workshops. Like museum burnout, I’d say that conference attending takes some tactful skill in planning so as to truly get value out of the experience. Atleast this is what I have noticed for myself!

    I also attended an iSkills workshop last fall on attending conferences, which was very useful. I’d definitely recommend it! Even though it focused on library conferences, the professor was extremely helpful in answering our questions. I’d say that my response above is mimicked in that workshop, focusing heavily on attending what is useful for you and even sitting strategically in the room so that you can leave to your 2nd option if the 1st one is not what you had imagined.

    As for networking, I am probably not the best person for this. I did however tend to stay after the talks I enjoyed to talk to one or two of the panelists. There are definitely extensive ways to network at the conferences though. You can also notice who are friends with whom and so forth, which is always interesting.

    As for presenting papers, I was able to gain several tips this term, which have been super helpful for myself. I am completely willing to share those with you if/when desired, but a lot of it is personal as well, depending on your style of presenting and so forth.

    I hope this was helpful!

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  3. This is excellent -- thank you for sharing your experiences!

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