Thursday, February 17, 2011

Advising, Authenticity, and Legitimacy

This is a posting that celebrates the news about one of my former advisees winning a Young Scholar is a moment of pride and a moment of joy!

It is one of those wonderous moments when one sits back in awe and looks at the trajectories of meaningful work that has been created by a student, a mentee, and a friend. It is also a moment of reflection about what makes some teaching and mentoring relationships so very special, so very personal, and so very influential. Some of these very special relationships grow into friendships of a lifetime, relationships of solidarity, and partnerships in a lifelong journey of learning, living, and loving.

When I think back to this one friend of mine, I remember that sense I had from the first time that I received an email from him expressing interest in my work. It was a conviction that this was someone with a purpose, a purpose that intrinsically connected to the politics of social change.

In the years that we grew together, I learnt as much from him as he probably did from me. More importantly, I learnt from his authenticity...from his courage to question things and walk with me in my journey of raising uncomfortable questions that rubbed the occupants of the status quo wrongly. Working out a space of authenticity often meant that things that were uncomfortable within the status quo needed to be articulated and challenged. He was right there in raising these questions, and stating what needed to be stated. This also meant that our personal politics be connected to our professional politics. At each moment, we negotiated the processes through which the political entered our academic roles and visions, continually questioning each other in the spirit of growth. CCA emerged out of this impulse to question, to not be comfortable with the ready-made answers in the status quo, and to engage with the erasures. In this sense, authenticity therefore also meant that we learn to come face-to-face with the limits of our expertise as academics. It is in these interrogations of our limits that spaces opened up for journeys of solidarity with the poor; at the roots of these journeys were our individual and collective searches for relationships of authenticity that guided us both within the field and outside of the field.

Even as we worked toward this space of authenticity, we came to learn about the need for legitimacy. Legitimacy comes with engagement with the structures, with the tools of the structures, as well as with languages that are configured into these structures. When authenticity becomes the guiding frame for legitimacy, we also learn that legitimacy in culture-centered work has to build on the very authenticity of the work, and its commitment to serving the politics of change as articulated through the voices of local communities at the margins. This authenticity is first and foremost in our relationships and the value they hold for us, personally and even more importantly, politically...

Whereas some of the superficial and yet vital elements of legitimacy such as getting publications out can be both modeled and taught fairly easily, I believe it is much more difficult to model and teach authenticity in relationships. How do you mentor your students and advisees into learning about spaces of authenticity in CCA work? What does it even mean to be authentic? How do you translate the vitality of authenticity in fieldwork to experiences in the sanitized classrooms in the US? How do you take the "here" of authenticity and turn it into a universal space for articulation of alternative narratives that challenge the status quo? And most vitally, how do you embody the values of authenticity for the students you mentor?

So as I sit into the midnight and ponder about authenticity as Debalina finishes up her assignment, here's a toast to an advisee, mentor, and friend!


Nadine said...

A toast to both of you. Congrats to this lucky guy ;)

Mohan J. Dutta said...

Thanks Nadine!