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Craig Campbell: Anthropocene Greetings

On Thursday, September 2, Craig Campbell shared his project, “Anthropocene Greetings,” with the Faculty Fellows. Campbell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and directs the Intermedia Workshop at UT Austin. He is also part of the collaborative Bureau for Experimental Ethnography.

“Birthday (humorous);” “Anniversary (special);” “Graduation (money holder); “Any Occasion (blank).” Most of us have perused the rows of greeting cards at a drugstore or Target, looking for an appropriate sentiment to send to a nephew who is getting married, or a far-away friend celebrating a birthday.  But what is a greeting card, really, and what does it do? What sorts of social relations does it make and sustain? Campbell’s project, “Anthropocene Greetings,” seeks to explore the possibilities offered by creating and sharing greetings that address climate catastrophe.

Campbell presented from inside the Design Lab in the campus Fine Arts Building. He introduced the Fellows to the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection, which include the 19th Century typefaces he has used to make a variety of anthropocene greeting cards.

Campbell describes  Anthropocene Greetings as a project of research-creation, a methodology that considers the place of making in the practice of research. Citing the work of Erin Manning and Brian Massumi in Thought in the Act and Natalie Loveless in How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation, he explained that research-creation permits movement between disciplinary territories and asks the question, “what counts as research?”

Campbell walked the Fellows through the process of creating a letterpress print, showing them the Vandercook press used to print the cards. He emphasized the embodied and sensory nature of the printmaking process: the ways in which the printmaker becomes related to the machine as it forces certain postures or bodily behaviors, the squelch of the ink as it is expressed. The process forces the maker to slow down. The type must be set, the paper cannot be rushed through the press, the ink must dry between each color application. For Campbell, the slowness of the process allows for different kinds of thinking.

Greeting cards serve as a form of “human infrastructure,” helping us to send words of condolence or celebration while alleviating the burden of coming up with them on our own. They are “gestures of concern” (Ingraham 2020) that promote shared awareness and seek to create connection. Sending a card permits us to discharge an obligation with minimal effort and, perhaps, minimal risk. Fellows discussed what sorts of accountability and care greeting cards in general, and Campbell’s Anthropocene greetings in particular, offer.

The climate crisis prompts us to question the effectiveness of individual acts when confronting complicated and multi-pronged problems. Loveless suggests that research-creation “can persuade us to care and to care differently” (2019: 107). Making and sharing Anthropocene greetings provides a means to communicate concerns about climate change, a small way to shore up the world, a minor gesture that reminds “us” that we’re all in this together, though we may not experience it in the same way. Perhaps expressing care through the template of a card creates more mental and emotional space for other, more large-scale, efforts and affects.

The climate crisis prompts us to question the effectiveness of individual acts when confronting its complicated and multi-pronged  problems. Loveless suggests that research-creation “can persuade us to care and to care differently” (2019: 107). Making and sharing   anthropocene greetings provides a means to communicate concerns about climate change, a small way to shore up the world, a minor gesture that reminds “us” that we’re all in this together. Perhaps expressing care through the template of a card creates more mental and emotional space for other, more large-scale, efforts.

Fellows questioned whether the form of the greeting card works across different social and cultural contexts, citing communities in which cards are not part of a shared affective vocabulary. They also explored “touch” as both a physical form of, and a metaphor for, care: keeping in touch, a touching message, feeling moved by a message. What about moments when touch and closeness are undesirable?  Liberal ideals of community and commons stress conviviality, but Covid puts pressure on those ideals.  If the cards are about creating social relations, what sorts of relations are created when they are sent to those who deny climate change? Perhaps the cards communicate dissent, or serve as provocations.

The question of access also surfaced. Printmaking requires access to materials and equipment.  Additionally, there are many kinds of print cultures. What are the possibilities for meeting communities on their own terms? How does literacy work into the the question of affect? Can communities that don’t operate in that mode participate in the project? What would broadening the typefaces used in the cards imply?

Campbell acknowledges the limitations of the form, while positing it as a site of possibility. Non-literate people live among literate people; cards are often read aloud or become prompts for narratives, like photos in albums. Once the card is made and sent, it is in the hands of someone who can alter it. The cards provide a low-stakes invitation to play even if the maker or recipient is not personally familiar with the custom. Future plans include workshops to be hosted in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada with Cree participants, and at Marfa Community Print in West Texas. Working with Cree syllabics might require making a new typeface, while the Marfa site could allow for access to Spanish language typefaces.

Creating anthropocene greetings provides an opportunity for conviviality that pushes against and extends beyond congeniality and what  Teju Cole, writing in The Atlantic,  calls the “sentimental need to ‘make a difference'” (2012) that undergirds many white Western responses to social injustices. A greeting card cannot halt climate disaster, but its creation and dissemination can be part of efforts to sustain community.  It’s an imperfect response to an impossible situations. As Campbell said in closing, everyday materials present much with which to work.

 

 

 

 

Neil Blumofe: “Shemittah (Sabbatical Year): the remission of debt, manumission, and the concept of home in relationship to the current disruptions and climate crisis in our world”

The Fall 2021 Faculty Fellows met for the first time on Thursday, August 26, led by Rabbi Neil Blumofe, our Community Fellow. Blumofe leads Congregation Agudas Achim, a synagogue in Austin. He presented the concept of “shemittah,” a sabbatical year, a time at which routine is disrupted and the land is allowed to rest. His project—which he is approaching as a spiritual autobiography—seeks to consider shemittah within the framework of land ethics and conservation. His reflections come just before the celebration of the Jewish New Year of 5782, a shemittah year which begins on the evening of September 6th.

Blumofe sees the sabbatical year as a way to disrupt routine and as a way to give poise. He began the session by sharing photos from a recent trip he made to the western USA: open landscapes populated by bison; mountains; and glacier lakes. The two final photos showed sites that mark depletion and the destruction of land, the Minuteman National Historic Site and the Sanford Underground Research Facility, located in an abandoned gold mine. He closed the introduction with song and an invitation to contemplation taken from Rav Kook quote found  in David Seidenberg’s essay on Jewish ecological thought:

“Contemplate the wonders of Creation, the divine dimension of their being, not as a dim configuration that is presented to you from the distance but as the reality in which you live. Know yourself and your world . . .”

Blumofe explained that shemittah is mentioned three times in the Hebrew Bible. Historically, it entailed a pause in the cultivation of land; remission of debt; and the release of enslaved and indentured persons.  The shemittah year resets the economy. Private property ceases to exist: plants and animals are given reign over land, and people may access it without restriction. Those in debt are amnestied.

Fellows explored what it means for land to rest. For what purpose?  Is it rested because of diminished productivity, so it can produce later?  Is it rested so that it may return to some previous state? If there are multiple users of the land, who decides when it should rest? What is the vision for the land after its rest period, and who determines that?

The discussion included different ways that humans interpret land at rest.  Human management of land often seeks to restore it to a previous state. Restoration implies modifications of some kind; perhaps the soil is amended, or trees are planted. The goal of restoration is to make the land function as humans think it should. Another way of “resting” land is through preservation, setting it aside and allowing nature to have its way.

Fellows suggested a third term: remediation.  Remediation is not a return to pristine state. Whereas restoration is an erasure of history, remediation doesn’t pretend to erase history. It leaves us with something less than pristine. It holds the trace of history and is a reminder of that.

Many classic—and some contemporary— environmentalist and conservationist texts ignore or idealize the perspectives of indigenous and other marginalized peoples and consign them to the past. Fellows grappled with how to read such works. How are these texts considered  historically and how do those conversations reverberate with current conversations?  How do we think about manumission during movements of abolition? What is the place of reparations?

For Blumofe,  the shemittah year provides sanctuary and allows a lessening of the hold of commodification. He understands it as a spiritual model, a perspective that is more than ours, regardless of privilege. To illustrate this, he turned to two texts, Leviticus 25:2 from the Torah, and a 2nd century commentary on that passage. The passage from Leviticus describes Moses on Mt. Sinai, receiving a message from the divine: “the land shall observe a sabbath, a sabbath of the divine.” The commentary focuses on why the concept of the sabbatical year is juxtaposed with Sinai.

Blumofe explained that the commentary asks, what does it mean to speak from a place that is Mount Sinai? It’s aspirational: Sinai is a place where everyone together was able to receive a revelation of hope and aspiration.  For Blumofe, shemittah is a way of thinking about reordering, a way to look at the world and find a way through. The  juxtaposition gives us a sense of how to live in the world, something to work in our everyday lives. We can also keep it ahead of us. We may not experience the shemittah, or know whose land it is, or even who we are, but we can move forward. The shemittah doesn’t just give you rest from exhaustion, it allows you to do the work.

 

 

Sinai mountains with a yellow. pink. and purple sky
The Sinai Mountains, photo by Mohammed Moussa, through Wikimedia Commons

Summer Reading Series: Collected Resources

By Dr. Sarah Ropp

This is the twelfth, and last, entry in our dialogic pedagogies summer reading series! Rather than read a new text for this final post, I have chosen to collect together all of the original resources I have created from these texts over the past eleven weeks, for easy reference in the future. Below, find a link to each blog post from the series as well as links to any related resources. Refer back to the full posts for explanations of the resources and suggestions for how to use each resource in practice. 

I’ve also included a link to my own website, where I have linked (almost) all of the original resources I have created for Difficult Dialogues over the past two years of serving as the Program Coordinator (including the ones from this series). I will continue to add new resources to my website as I create them. 

Finally, I include a list of what I’m planning to read next! 

Summer Reading Series Summary

Post: Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning

Resource: Activity: Responding to Alaska Native Discourse Values

Post: How to Have Impossible Conversations

Resource: Activity: The Unread Library Effect

Post: Creating Space for Democracy

Resource: 9 Models for Dialogue (updated) 

Post: Teaching Through Challenges to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Resource: Activity: Don’t Let the Fascists Speak: A Dialogue on Speech, Silence, and Safety

Post: Teaching to Transgress

Resource: Activity: A Dialogue with the Self

Post: So You Want to Talk About Race

Resource: Ijeoma Oluo’s Rules of Engagement for Conversations about Race 

Post: Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies for Teaching Social Comprehension

Resources: 3 interrelated activities: “Where I’m From” poems + Fish Is Fish: Exploring Limitations in Perspective + My News 

Post: How to Talk About Hot Topics on Campus

Resources: 8 Kinds of Believers Likely to Appear in the Classroom + 5 Common Attitudes towards Social Class Identity + A How-To Guide to Moral Conversations 

Post: Intergroup Dialogues

Resource: Activity: How I Got Here: A Testimonial 

Post: Democratic Dialogue in Education: Troubling Speech, Disturbing Silence

Resources: Why Silence? Reasons We Choose Not to Talk + Why Speech? Reasons We Choose to Talk

Post: It’s Time to Talk (and Listen)

Resource: Activity: Values Awareness and Alignment with the Johari Window

Additional Original Resources

Feel free to bookmark my “Resources for Dialogue” page (https://www.sarahropp.com/resources-for-dialogue/). Here, I compile all of the dialogic pedagogy resources I’ve created over the past couple of years, organized into three main categories: Preparing for Dialogue, Assessing Dialogue, and Dialogue Activities and Ideas. I’ll continue to update this page with new resources as I create them.  

Further Reading

Below are the pedagogical texts currently on my shelf, waiting to be read next! I’ve listed them in the order I plan to read them. Completely coincidentally, there are precisely twelve of them — I wish I could do another round of this dialogic pedagogy series with these books. Alas! Thanks to Tonia Guida and Patricia Wilson for their recommendations. I am always open to more! 

 

Thank You!

Finally, thanks so much for reading this summer. Whether you followed along with each post week to week, have read a couple posts here and there, or are just now checking out some of the resources linked to this post, I am honored by your attention. Thanks to those who have shared comments and feedback, publicly and privately. Please continue letting me know what you think about the ideas I highlight from these texts as well as the resources I’ve made. If you use any of these resources with your classes, I’d love to hear how it goes! I take full responsibility for any errors I’ve made in understanding and applying the concepts contained in these texts, and give thanks to all of the authors for sharing their ideas. 

 

With gratitude,

Sarah

sarah.ropp@utexas.edu

Summer Reading Series: It’s Time to Talk (and Listen)

By Dr. Sarah Ropp

This is the eleventh entry in our dialogic pedagogy summer reading series. For more on the series and a full list of texts, see here

Title: It’s Time to Talk (and Listen): How to Have Constructive Conversations About Race, Class, Sexuality, Ability & Gender in a Polarized World (published 2019; $25; available for purchase HERE)

Authors: Anastasia S. Kim and Alicia del Prado

Context of Creation: The authors are both practicing therapists as well as associate professors at the Wright Institute, a graduate school of psychology in Berkeley, California. This mass-market book draws on cognitive behavioral therapy, multicultural and Buddhist psychology, and the authors’ personal experiences with racial, economic, and gender-based marginalization to present an eight-step process called “Kim’s Constructive Conversations Model.” The book’s stated purpose is to support readers in engaging in “effective, candid, and compassionate conversations with family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers about any controversial topic” (xii). The authors stress internal growth, healing, and intimacy as the goals of dialogue. Published in 2019, the book makes reference to the 2016 election and topics such as trans and reproductive rights, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, Black Lives Matter, and ableism. 

Context of Reception: I came across this text as part of a search and selected it for the ways in which it is different from many of the other dialogic pedagogy texts I was finding: a commercial rather than academic book; authored by women of color; with reference to “ability” as a topic for difficult conversations; and very recently published. I read it in the same week as Democratic Dialogue in Education, and it was very different from that text in particular, for all the above reasons! I have occasionally doubled up on reading throughout this series in order to work around other commitments and scheduling obstacles, and I find that attempting to deeply engage with two different texts on dialogic pedagogy isn’t ideal. Luckily, this was a straightforward read that gave me more to think about than I expected, although I was disappointed to find that dis/ability did not actually get more than a passing mention in the book. 

Overview of Structure and Content: Following an introduction, the book’s chapters each focus on a different step in the “Kim’s Constructive Conversations Model” process: 

  1. Identify a Grounded Goal
  2. Locate and Acknowledge Barriers
  3. Setting a Value-Driven Intention
  4. Set the Stage
  5. Take Action
  6. Listen
  7. Respond
  8. Do It Again! 

The first four steps are focused on “internal work” — self-reflection and preparation — while steps 5-8 are part of the dialogue “proper.” This book is like a number of others in this reading series in that authors Kim and Del Prado include both real-life anecdotes from their own experience (demarcated as “Anastasia’s Turn” or “Alicia’s Turn”) as well as hypothetical “difficult dialogues” scenarios. However, it is unique in that each step includes several opportunities for active journaling — breaks marked as “Your Turn” at which readers are meant to reflect and write down (or occasionally sketch) their responses to the authors’ questions. Thus, though the authors stress that the book is “not a manual,” it is a therapeutic workbook of sorts. Though the subtitle mentions the particular sensitive topics of race, class, sexuality, ability, and gender, the book does not provide targeted guidelines for each of these topics (e.g. how to talk about dis/ability) but rather draws on these topics to present example scenarios. 

Find a snapshot overview of this model in comparison with others in the updated graphic 9 Models for Dialogue (digital version HERE). 

Three Thought-Starters for Teachers: 

  • Knowing the Self. 

A striking, and refreshing, aspect of Kim and Del Prado’s approach to dialogue is that it is grounded explicitly in the individual self rather than the sometimes forced, shallow, or inauthentic collectivism of many other dialogue models. That is, rather than starting with the need for a common goal for dialogue, rules of engagement, and agreements around acceptable language and consistent terminology — although they agree these are all important elements — Kim and Del Prado ask dialogue participants to start with extensive self-reflection. This reflective process is not only about social identity, but also about the values, personality, and anticipated barriers to effective communication of individual participants. Although this is undoubtedly due to the fact that these authors’ focus is on interpersonal, one-on-one conversations (usually in response to an incident or pre-established pattern of behavior), I am intrigued by the ways in which their approach might transfer to a group dialogue setting. I like the idea of having students think rigorously about their own, personal values — what they each, individually, believe is really important and meaningful when it comes to engaging in conversation on difficult topics — and share these values publicly with one another. 

  • How might knowing the self, and reaching group consensus regarding norms, language, and purpose, reinforce one another? 
  • How do you help students connect to and reflect on their values and personality in the context of dialogue? How would knowing more about what your students value, rather than just what identity positions they occupy, aid you in facilitating dialogues? 
  • What are the barriers you experience in trying to help students critically self-reflect on their values and behaviors?

 

  • Healing.

Another unusual aspect of the “constructive conversations” approach is its emphasis on personal healing as the ultimate goal for difficult dialogues. Rather than stress concrete social or political action towards social justice as dialogue’s end goal, or focus on understanding of the other, Kim and Del Prado present dialogue as a form of self-care — a way to address the wounds of being misunderstood, discriminated against, insulted, humiliated, ignored, etc. In this sense, although they claim the book “is not intended for people from any particular cultural group or political outlook” (xii), the focus of their approach as well as the examples they use throughout suggest that this is (at last) a dialogue model directed towards folks from marginalized social groups and their allies/co-conspirators. As such, this model as Kim and Del Prado present it is not a prelude to “action” but rather action in and of itself, directed inward rather than outward. Kim describes her 8-step model as arising from a period of intense and exhausting ongoing conversations around how to include multicultural studies with colleagues and students in her psychology program. “I realized that what was depleting my energy and hope was . . . pain. I was deeply hurt, my spirit wounded,” Kim writes (xvii); she drew on both her professional experience as a therapist who treats anxiety and her personal spiritual practice as a Buddhist to conclude, “I needed to turn toward, and not away from, the fear of that pain. . . . To find enlightenment and liberation, I must first look within and begin to understand the source of my pain and suffering” (xix). Kim and Del Prado stress agency (one does not participate in dialogue unless they choose to and commit to it), self-care (“taking care of yourself is more important than getting all the steps right”), and safety (acknowledging that histories of abuse, violence, and trauma with a particular person make dialogue impossible or inadvisable sometimes) (xxiii-xxiv). 

  • What is your reaction to this focus on healing? Is it appropriate for the context of classroom dialogue? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that classroom dialogues you have facilitated before have contributed towards healing? For whom? How do you know? 

 

  • Intimacy. 

A third less-common focus in Kim and Del Prado’s approach is on intimacy. While other models frequently name relationship building as a goal of dialogue, they are often quite vague about what kind of relationships dialogue is meant to build (cordial, professional relationships? A friendly but distant sense of warmth? The right to claim “friends” of different identities?). The authors’ declaration that “honest and sincere dialogue about such [difficult] issues can actually lead to great intimacy between the people involved,” on the other hand, suggests a higher degree of closeness and vulnerability (41). Kim connects healing and self-knowledge to intimacy when she writes, “Walking away and ending relationships never lessened my pain or solved the problems that created it. It did the opposite” (7-8). Thus, stressing that intimacy is not the same as agreement or resolution, Kim and Del Prado advocate for emotional intelligence and careful attention to interpersonal communication in dialogue, in order to create more closeness. 

  • Again, is a focus on “intimacy” appropriate or feasible for a classroom setting? Why or why not?
  • Have you experienced moments of intimacy in the classroom, with or between students? If so, when? What occasioned or enabled those moments? 

Two Concrete Practices for Immediate Implementation: 

  • Turn Towards Fear. 

In the second step of their model, Kim and Del Prado urge people to locate the barriers they experience or anticipate when it comes to difficult conversations, acknowledge those barriers, and then take steps to address and ameliorate them. They identify fear as the most common and pernicious barrier to effective dialogue, and note that it comes in many forms and as such, must be carefully interrogated and properly attributed in order to be dealt with. The authors suggest making a list of fears related to dialogue and then preparing to face those dialogue-related fears by identifying another, unrelated fear (for example, speaking on the phone to strangers, or traveling across town without GPS). Making a plan to conquer this unrelated fear by breaking it into smaller steps and planning out specific actions, Kim and Del Prado suggest, helps to strengthen a general “fear-facing” muscle that then allows for greater ease in facing deeper fears related to dialogue. 

In addition to practicing this exercise yourself and/or having students engage with it, instructors might follow it up with a role-play related to fears about the coming dialogue in class. Have students identify their anxieties and then script out a worst-case scenario. In pairs, students function as scene partners for one another to act out the feared scenarios, then support each other to imagine ways to respond and cope with these scenarios. (Instructors can also practice this themselves to process their own fears regarding facilitation ahead of the dialogue!) 

  • Why, Me, Ask

Kim and Del Prado present “Why, Me, Ask” as a formula for effectively initiating a difficult confrontation. Its three basic ingredients are as follows:

  • Why This Person (Why): Highlight the (desired) nature and quality of your relationship with the other person; why you are invested in having this conversation with them, in particular.
  • My Experience (Me): What is your truth? What about your experience, thoughts, and feelings do you want to share? 
  • The Ask (Ask): State a request that contains a clear goal or desire for the conversation you are trying to have. (92-94)

An example of how this might look is as follows, adapted from one of the authors’ examples: “I always look forward to your sense of humor and your jokes in class! [Why] But when you made a disrespectful joke today about Asian people, I was really shocked and disappointed. [Me] I wanted to talk with you about why this is not acceptable, and I also wanted to hear about what was going through your mind when you said it. [Ask]”

This may be a useful framework to refer to when confronting students, colleagues, and others. 

One In-Depth Activity:

The Known Self: Values Awareness and Alignment with the Johari Window

“Values are the heart of the Kim Constructive Conversations Model,” the authors write (47). As such, and given their emphasis on self-knowledge, this activity uses the Johari Window, which Kim and Del Prado reference in the book, to guide students through self-reflection related to their values related to dialogue, their behavior patterns in dialogue, and the alignment between the two. I envision using this exercise early in the semester, as a complement or precursor to a discussion on group agreements for dialogue. 

I also envision returning to core values regularly as a framework for self-assessment of dialogue participation that is more personalized and meaningful (a simple exit ticket might be, “Restate your core values for dialogue. How do you feel your participation today reflected, or didn’t reflect, your core values?”). There might also be a meaningful application for accountability, as noting each student’s personal core values provides the instructor with a point of reference for addressing problematic behaviors. 

Next Week . . . .

Next week is the final entry in our summer reading series! Rather than discussing a new text, I will be resharing all of the resources created over the summer and re-linking all of the posts.