Thursday, August 23, 2012

Feelings I'm Working through...

Being overwhelmed and overworked by what is ultimately the bs of academia makes it difficult to reassert my what my purpose is in being here. I want to do well by others through my work. Yet blow-ups with colleagues that have left festering wounds that make it impossible to make eye-contact, the departure of dear friends who keep me focused on my purpose, and not really knowing the right way to go on top of this make it difficult to know what steps to take. Now I'm taking on too much, making it hard to see clearly about any one thing. I want to be a friend, a good person people want to turn to, yet by asserting myself, have I burned bridges to friendship? I feel more alienated than ever when it comes to what I'm doing academically because I am unsure of the way to go, the way that allows me to go towards love of self and love of others through action. I don't want for anything to be too late when it comes to this but I can't help but wonder. It all feels like too much. And then I heard this song during a hot yoga session, a good articulation of the feelings I'm working through... a longing for all of this to work out...
Until next time...

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Take on this year's ASA conference

Are sociologists capable of imagining, let alone, enacting real utopias? If I'm asking this question, then I clearly had some issues with this year's ASA ( or the American Sociological Association) conference.

As a scholar, I have always been interested in aspects of our social world that keep various inequalities in tact. Over the years I have enjoyed being able to put a name and understanding to things I have experienced and continue to experience throughout my life.

Lately I have changed direction towards being able to understand what it would take to work through and engage issues like those concerning inequality and especially exclusion, the phenomena that keep these things in place, and movement toward transcending these things. In the end I care about movement toward our mental and spiritual growth as a people things that should allow for equality to occur in various social settings, because we are purposefully doing right by others. The paper I presented addresses love as a key component in this process.

Yet on a bare bones level, it seems this community of scholars, most of whom study the problematic aspects of our society, could hardly stand to engage the topic at hand, that of Real Utopias. Being a newcomer to a conference of this scale (I had previously attended the Pacific Sociological Association conference a couple of years ago), I had no idea the atmosphere would be so alienating! Because of dorky name-tags (yeah I said it, those things were awful) that gave away our names and affiliation, no one even had to make an effort to introduce themselves to one another.  What more could anyone possibly want to know about each other? After witnessing a moment of non-name-tag wearing rebellion from a respectable former colleague, I quickly abandoned my own (which might have possibly made me even more invisible to conference-goers).

 If utopia for sociologists is not having to take the time to meet fellow members of their "community" from across the globe, then this place must have been heaven for them! I was quite purposeful in attempts to make eye-contact as a means of gauging the possibility of introducing myself. Not one sociologist would take me up on this outside of a session of some sort. Even within sessions or at receptions, no one was interested in anything more than a brief exchange of ideas about a particular subject. No, "Hey, you want join me/us for coffee later at x?" Or "Hey let's exchange numbers and we can contact one another if dinner plans develop." The possibility did not appear to be an option for anyone except the people I already knew (and even those guys hardly seemed interested in keeping company with me).

At the PSAs a few years ago, not only did these things happen with new acquaintances, but we ended the final night of the conference creating our own soul-train line at some Arabic-themed club our little mob happened to stumble upon in our exploration of the area. All of this among relative strangers!

At the ASAs, to use trekked-out terminology, people were on red-alert and shields were up at maximum strength, or perhaps yellow-alert, shields up at maximum, and engaging in evasive maneuvers. Utopia indeed! The only thing remotely utopian about the conference atmosphere was that people seemed a bit adventurous about what they wore to the conference proceedings, something I have no problem challenging on a regular basis (I stand firm on my policy of going no where near heels or uncomfortable shoes of any kind. So far my Converses work just fine).

Additionally, because of a hotel snafu (no one on either the ASA site or the Cheap o Air site bothered to mention there were two Crowne Royal Plaza hotel locations) I was lugging my suitcase about while waiting for my friend to get us into our hotel. Because it had been done before by friends at other conferences, I had no problem asking first, the registration desk and then someone in the ASA offices a floor up, to allow me to leave my suitcase while I walked about the convention center and wait for my friend to arrive. To my dismay, not only was the answer no, but at the ASA office, hands were thrown up while it was explained to me that in no way could this person be held responsible for a suitcase 'cause what if someone walked off with it? In the ASA office? Who would go up there with that in mind?Are you serious?

That's when it hit me. The issue with this conference, and the realization that comes with knowing that the bulk of the sociologists at this conference are the last people one could count on to imagine and make utopia of any sort a reality, is that none of these individuals wants to take on the responsibility. To be responsive to the needs and concerns of others? To actually go out of their way to demonstrate the care, concern, and respect they claim to have for others? Of course the first response would be to throw-up hands and instantly absolve oneself of responsibility. To actually meet someone that is a part of the community they participate in, someone completely different from themselves, someone new? Impossible when your name and affiliation are already on display.

Interesting that a couple of Canadians saw the opposite of what I saw, that Americans were so friendly and open. Maybe skin tone had something to do with that. Even sociologists of color seemed to refuse my invitation of introduction. But knowing that folks of color are just as capable of accepting and reinforcing stereotypes about ourselves makes this no surprise.

One bright spot in all of this is that I did find two people who accepted my invitation of introductions. These individuals were non-sociologists and people of color who had no problem with me trying to get to know them and were more than okay with telling me snippets of their stories and experiences in Denver. I also got to hang out, walk about and explore the area with two awesome friends.

Well, next year it's back to business as usual for the ASAs with the theme "Interrogating Inequality: Linking Micro and Macro". Wait, isn't something sociologists already do? Enough of the presentations for this year's conference were certainly indicative of this theme. Maybe those were presentations from the future.

Until next time y'all!