Transdisciplinarity, me and my anchors

It is the time of the year for our UWAS course ‘Film, Work and Labour’. It is a University-wide Art Studies course we run for the second time with two of my colleagues. The approach is interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary or ‘post-disciplinary’ as the UWAS slogan states. UWAS courses can have a good mix of students from all six Aalto schools and there should be no one discipline that is considered better than the other. In this sense, UWAS courses aim at transdisciplinarity. 

Our course this year has made me reflect my take-aways from such an environment, let it be teaching, research or activism. I feel that me reaching a truly multi-voiced dialogue takes time and energy because it requires me to become aware of  my preferred ways of thinking and working. However, my and others’ disciplinary anchors are not ‘bad’ for transdisciplinarity, quite the contrary. When things get complicated, it is useful to hold on to something familiar.

Photo by Denys Argyriou on Unsplash

I present you some of my (disciplinary) anchors based on my observations during this winter and early spring: 

  1. I’m inspired by people’s experiences about what they do. As a working life researcher I’m always excited to learn what people do for work, let it be waged work or non-waged work. For example, when I meet people, I often end up hearing stories about their work, for example subcontracting for a construction site, speech therapy or running a citizen cooperative for local food. As a result, I learn from various ways to understand and work around phenomena. But what really matters for an equal discussion and what cannot be overcome is valuing people’s own perspectives. People are experts when it comes to their own labour or work. This approach has also been referred to as the practice approach or lens, with an emphasis on practitioners’ knowledge. 
  2. This is something I learn every time I spend less time with others: My creativity is truly sparked off by others’ projects. As a result, my anchor is to spend (enough) time with others. I might get inspired by something I hear just briefly on a walk to a caféteria or it might be something I have followed for years. In February, I spoke with a UWAS colleague who works on a project with plants. It is truly remarkable in terms of artistic and scientific work. Another colleague has been studying young female scholars for years, and every time I hear or read about it, I’m so inspired. 
  3. Although at times I’m impatient (ask my family for evidence), transdisciplinary interactions take time. This doesn’t mean that it would be always difficult to grasp others perspectives (although it can be) but it is not straight-forward to find a common vocabulary, let alone trust someone who has a different vocabulary. Do I get them and do they get me? Therefore, it is important for me to meet others half way and try to adopt their language, bodily movements and ways of thinking. By learning about their perspectives it is then more likely that I can come across experiences that resonate with something I might be able to link to. And vice versa, I appreciate this approach from others.

Having written all this, transdisciplinary engagements reminds me of ethnographic work. Indeed, in ethnography I (and others) have an experience of ‘working within hyphen-spaces’, ie. working between certain clear positions, such as outsider, insider, same or different. Rather, we glide between the poles of, for example, outsider-insider or sameness-difference, during a project and within single moments during a project. Such a slide – or sometimes it feels like a strain – could be common in transdisciplinary projects as well.

Our course ‘Film, Work and Labour’ takes place again in early 2020. If you are an Aalto University student, you can register in late 2019. You are warmly welcomed to join us and experience some inter/transdisciplinary interactions!

DIY video editing during the postdoc project

As you might know, I’m working on a sensory ethnography during 2017-2020 funded by Nessling Foundation and Kone Foundation. The focus is on post-growth work and I use video among other things. And let me tell you, using video requires learning a whole new set of skills.

Despite some well meaning advice, I have insisted on doing video editing myself. And let me tell you another thing, it is hard. I chose Adobe Premiere Pro CC due to an access to the licence via my affiliation with Aalto University, Department of Design. It is an editing program developed for professionals. I’m a beginner, although I have taken a (short) course. As a result, I have done many imaginable and unimaginable mistakes. I’ve spent many moments just trying to figure out how to frame my problem in order to find some answers over the internet. Yes, thank you for the suggestion, I need to take another course. But I also need to to this basic work of familiarising with the program while working on an actual project. By the way, this project is my first short ethnopgraphic film for a virtual conference Displacaments 2018. Very cool and exciting!

Why I insist on doing video editing myself? For one, I don’t have a budget to hire anyone. But most improtantly, I think it is worthwhile for my postdoc project. After all, I have promised to generate public videos during my research under some of the Creative Commons licences. At this point, I feel lucky that I have time until 2020. But already by now, doing video editing has thought me already a number of important lessons.

First, considering the publicly available videos (in the future), I don’t know what kind of material I should generate unless I know what is doable to do with the chosen editing program. Mind due, that I’m also a beginner in generating video materials. What kinds of angles, framings, durations, actions etc. work? What about the sound, how is the quality of audio from a particular setting? I’ve been told that a good camera person edits while shooting. Apparently, they can produce interesting images for the editing phase so that editor’s work flows smoothly. That’s my goal, in some years. Naturally, the same goes for sound.

Second, I don’t want to gloss over my interpretations from the field. Someone with more video editing experience would most likely make choices that seem more professional. But then again would that respect what I have experienced while doing fieldwork? Perhaps another video editor would, for example, increase the tempo by cuts or the choice of music. But that might not be how I experienced and sensed the field. For example, my stay with one household was a very calm one, although I worked every day. The calmness came from staying put on the estate and focusing on tasks at hand related to gardening, animal care, and food. It was not like a movie or a music video with things happening all the time, yet there was good work being done. That’s the feeling I hope to communicate with my on-going editing project.

Third, being the only person in the production team, I do everything myself for generating video materials. I don’t have a camera person. I don’t have an audio technician. I don’t have anyone carrying my gear. And I don’t have a person who I do not even know I miss if I would be used to their expertise. So it’s me and the field. As a result, the process of generating video materials and editing is slow, but then again I feel it respects my research topic, which deals with questioning exponential ecnomic growth.

These issues dealing with shooting techniques, contenct, and process have made me realise that I’m learning a whole new set of skills. No wonder it seems slow and difficult at times! Then I remind myself that about eight years ago I started to learn how to write academic publications. I’m still learning the skills required for developing an interesting journal article or a book chapter – let alone a whole book, which I have not done yet (if a compilation doctoral dissertation is not counted).

So one step at a time, because that’s what DIY processes are about.

The importance of reading

When I was 8 years old, my primary school substitute teacher hinted that I might have faked my reading diary. For two weeks I marked two books read per week. I assure you I wasn’t. There was absolutely no incentive for faking anything since it was a pro reading campaign detached from grades. Simply, I just loved reading and felt that finally I got to share all the fun things I had found.

This unfortunate story has a happy ending: others’ opinions didn’t make me lose my interest in reading. In fact, I’ve kept my hobby and made it into a profession as a researcher. Now, imagine if I had kept a reading diary since I learned how to read. Not meaning to brag – or seem like a fraud – but that list would be massive.

But in research one can never read enough so I’m definitely in the right business. I plough through smaller or bigger piles of books and (digitalised) articles every week. Be assured that my pile includes more than two pieces per week. I’m loving it! My sincerest thanks to great library services.

I’ve also learned to stop reading something if it has not attracted my attention for long enough. In diplomatic terms, that’s called skimming.

My favourite reading meme
My favourite reading meme

Partying is reading. Reading is learning. And there’s no research without learning. There’s no living without learning. Someone would say there’s no living without partying, which is practically the same thing as proven in the quote above. So let’s keep on reading and learning.

The invisible side of teaching

My teaching for this autumn kicked off in early September. It was as great and thrilling as I suspected. In fact, I too had a dream the night before the first session. In my dream I was teaching but failing terribly and not being able to stick to my plan. The next day I was joking with a colleague that we should get paid for the teaching taking place in our sleep. Only half-joking, as a matter of fact. Getting ready for the actual thing by dreaming about it is not making you feel like you slept well.

Teaching or, rather, enabling learning involves some things that one might not think spontaneously before actually being responsible for it. When I prepared my first sessions some years ago I was amazed how much it requires time. It takes several hours to prepare a session of 90 minutes. The more I introduce new elements, the more I spend time planning. Of course preparation takes place in small bits, but eventually it adds up to hours.

Another invisible aspect is that teachers make up to 1 500 decisions during one day in the classroom. Not having read the original study, I suppose the figure goes for teachers having several hours of teaching daily. This high number excludes the decisions made before and after the session. Thus, you can say that teachers are, or should be, very good at improvising, despite how well they have prepared their session.

I am happy for the fact that I can be involved with enabling people to learn. Hopefully their learning includes things thought to be relevant in the curriculum, and not only learning for life. By the way, the category ‘learning for life’ is my personal motivator as a student when my expectations for a session are failed and I have to get my kicks from somewhere else. Like mentally redecorating the classroom or observing the group dynamics.

My classroom teaching is over in October for a current course. However, teaching the course continues with assessment tasks. And that is an interesting aspect of teaching, which requires a lot of fresh thinking and renewing traditions!