Along the Spectrum: Reflections on "Humanizing Data"

I was lucky of enough to present at the Humanizing Data: Data, Humanities and the City Symposium organized by the NYU Urban Democracy Lab. My thanks to Rebecca Amato (@urbandemos) for asking me to attend. It was great to see how the work I've been doing in Hannibal Square aligns with methods and theory guiding projects around the country. The one thing that linked all the project was a focus on communities of various types. The struggle all the communities shared was to have their stories heard. The reality that the chasm between academic narratives and public understanding continues was made clear at this event.

I know this problem well, but I don't believe I have solved it. To be sure, I think of engagement along a spectrum that incorporates many kinds of narrative. I often think about how I can pursue ideas across platform with the goal of increasing understanding around important urban issues linked to community and development.  I emphasize community engagement and classroom as platform to create outcomes that promote greater engagement with partner organizations that have articulated specific needs. I see it as a process, but I refine and engage as much as possible. 

The requirement to give back to the community is something I keep at the forefront of my thinking.  At the same time, creating, sustaining and evolving these community partnership to not easily translate directly into scholarly outputs. If you are on the tenure track, that is a problem. Over the years, I have tried to focus on having a distinct "recognizable" academic objects in the project cycle.  I say "recognizable" because I operate in an interdisciplinary space and that make my narrative complicated for any reviewer expecting disciplinary specific outcomes.  The last three years have been very much about producing articles, case studies, and book chapters that align with my narrative that "I study the real and imagined city." I did it. Some would argue I did it spectacularly well :-) On the other hand, I'm pretty sure others would disagree.  As I check in with scholars in various network, most emphasize that the complicated researcher must explain themselves. If you don't you risk misinterpretations and distortions.  I think people in other professions think this is obvious, but it is not easy in academia. Still, I have accepted this is a part of my practice (hence the blog). 

Early this semester, I spoke at UF about the hybrid nature of my practice and emphasize that range of engagement types was one path for modern academic working in digital landscape could pursue. This path toward public scholarship that is developed and evolved in the context of community concerns is one filled with layers of complexity. The conversation about the best manner to produce community engaged scholarship is one that I have reflected on as I reach the apparent zenith of academic status. As a full professor I have, from an institutional standpoint, accomplished enough to be reached the highest professorial rank. Tenure and promotion creates a good amount of emotional turmoil so I'm not likely to dance in the street anytime soon. However, reaching full professor, like getting tenure, does force me to assess what is the best path forward. When I got tenure I made a decision that I would engage in a kind of public scholarship. This decision led me pattern of academic and public engagement that took cues from various arenas. Everything from art practice to public history influenced my thinking. I was not trying to be them, I was trying to create a space where I could utilize those frameworks to create an engaged praxis. Did it work?  Well, the answer is more complex than yes or no.