Saturday, October 22, 2011

When the markers of self-imposed marginalization simply become the excuse for mediocrity or laziness!

One of the everyday aspects of doing culture-centered work is the engagement with the language of marginalization. The slippery slope however in working with the margins is when we come to identify the label of the margins with our own journeys, and even more so, utilize this label to justify our own mediocrity, lack of work ethic, or our sheer laziness.

For any of us that occupy positions within academe through which we gain access to the tools and languages for making knowledge claims, being marginalized typically does not mean the same thing as it does for the sectors of the population we typically work with, people who have been rendered invisible through those very knowledge structures that we inhabit. Therefore, to do CCA, one has to really step out of the comfort zone and work hard at figuring out the openings for engagement.

So although I am deeply aware of the experiences of being "othered" that some within academe have to work through (because of a variety of things including nationality of origin, color of skin, gender, etc.), I am also conscious of the notion that the label of marginalization can be co-opted by us within academe to justify our own laziness, mediocrity, and lack of work ethic. I am skeptical of identity politics that utilizes the language of marginalization to justify a cushy job in the ivory tower, separated from the "real politik" of the margins. I am even more skeptical when the language of marginalization becomes a tool for us to "whine" about our own lack of integrity. So when I am unproductive and lazy, this is not a reflection of how I have been marginalized as a brown man by the White structure, but rather a product of my sheer laziness and lack of work ethic. To blame the "Structure" for our own lack of work ethic can become an easy cop-out, one that those working with the margins have to be careful of.

As opposed to the identity politics of work that foregrounds our own marginalization, CCA challenges us to work through our experiences at the margins to work out a politics of solidarity that steps out of our narrow comfort zones. CCA asks us to transcend our own experiences of being "othered" to configure a work ethic that is intense, asking us to spend many hours in the field, and many more hours reflecting and writing about these experiences in the field. The hope through all of this is that our experiences of being disenfranchised in certain contexts would equip us with the tools and strategies for working out a politics of change with the margins. This is reflected in the dissertation works of Induk Kim, Iccha Basnyat, Ambar Basu, Mahuya Pal, Zhuo Ban, Sydney Dillard, Uttaran Dutta, Shaunak Sastry...they have spent many many hours in the field simply to initiate the first steps of CCA.

Therefore, being out in the field outside of the ivory tower is one key (although not the only) component of CCA work. I spend many hours in the field trying to figure out what this politics might be (I typically would not and do not write about my own work schedules, but I feel this is important in a blog that discusses work ethic in the context of CCA). There are days when I don't return home before 10 p.m. at night after having had a day of fieldwork (and this I typically do after having wrapped up my administrative duties for the day as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education). I make sure to work in the field, not just have my research assistants or an outside consultant gather the data for me; I do this because this is what is essential to any research endeavour. I make sure to organize our coalition meetings, to be present at them (often at the end of a busy day that these days is filled with meetings), and to participate in the co-constructions of problems and solutions with community members. Further along these lines, I spend many more hours thinking and reflecting about the field work and writing about it, staying up until 2:30 or 3 a.m. into the morning (typically after my son Shloke has gone to bed and after I have done my share of household chores). To me, this work ethic is singularly crucial to CCA work as one negotiates her/his commitment to doing field-based work. If there is one message that I try to bring into my projects, it is this: To "do" CCA, one can't be lazy! Even more, one has to continually push himself/herself to do well in the various facets of life that are brought to us by the contingencies of life.

Along these lines, working through CCA projects with my own students and advisees, I am incredibly touched and impressed by the sheer number of hours they put in when they work on CCA projects; this aspect of CCA research I work hard on making clear to them at the onset of our relationship, both through individual meetings as well as in group advisee meetings. They work through difficulties as they negotiate the field, and then they spend many many hours in the field trying to work out their commitments. I appreciate this commitment that they display because they are often surrounded by a culture of mediocrity that demands less from them, not more; because they are surrounded by a culture that rewards mediocrity and uses it as a gold standard. I am touched by their integrity and character because this is a choice they make when they could easily go out and make other choices such as not ever stepping into the field, recruiting through convenience samples within the university setting, paying someone else to transcribe their data for them (someone who has not been IRB trained or certified), even better training someone else to run their data analysis, and so on and so forth. In a culture that celebrates laziness and mediocrity through education processes that typically point toward the easy way out to earn a PhD even when these might be unethical choices (such as never stepping out into the field, or paying a non-IRB-trained person somewhere in the Third World to transcribe your data, or paying someone else to analyze your data for you), I recognize the integrity of students who step out of the cycle of mediocrity and say that they are not going to make these mediocre, easy, and unethical choices. In a culture where funded work often ends up being an alibi for paying "fat" salaries to people who don't do much work, I appreciate the commitment that students of CCA bring to the table about the need to justify the grant dollars that are spent on them. Ultimately, as I once noted to my AHRQ research team, in an economy where uneployment is on the rise, "we better find ways to justify the invaluable dollars that are spent on us through our funded projects."

As I wrap up this blog then, I wrap it up with the understanding that the language of CCA (marginalization, power, status quo) can easily be co-opted within the gibberish of identity politics to justify our laziness. The parameters through which the integrity of a CCA project can be initially evaluated (although these are simply entry points) are the parameters of immersion and engagement. How much are we as CCA researchers willing to push ourselves? How much are we willing to spend time working on the field when there are many other easy options available to us? These are important questions to ponder upon as we initiate our journeys into CCA.

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