hiatus/beginning

After my first post shouting from the rooftops that I would be writing more regularly, an election happened, a semester ended, a year began, and a lot of my sense of self got gutted in so many ways. A big part of me has had to reconsider what safety means in this moment, my original vision for the blog. So much for a light-hearted space for talking about video games and crafts.

51xnfonudql-_sx322_bo1204203200_I’m not a person to say that some event like the election “shattered” me, but it did shift what I think I know about the purpose of research. While critical making is absolutely at the center of what’s happening in my writing and scholarship, I am calling upon myself more than ever to look at how the echo chambers of academia, of liberal America, and of my own local experience are creating distances that I don’t want to exist. Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2012), “Research is not an innocent or distant academic exercise but an activity that has something at stake” (p. 5), and I cannot stress enough how resolved I am to follow through on what’s at stake.

Part of that is rationalizing what I was already working on: it’s important we look at how #BlackLivesMatter makes and the #NoDAPL protesters are making and how political and cultural movements have often started with the ways that workers and citizens have found representation through the ways they make and the materials they make with. It’s also important that we understand how those groups choose to represent their making, because it is this identity negotiation that might reveal to us how the world works in constraining or freeing those individuals.

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Photograph from The Sioux Chef

Tuhiwai Smith remembers in the introduction of her book of an indigenous student who had worked in her own community on some field research. She writes, “We left knowing that her work will be passed around the family to be read and eventually will have a place in the living room along with other valued family books and family photographs” (p. 16).

In no way do I mean to co-opt Tuhiwai Smith’s work or the subjects and research important to the sovereignty of indigenous peoples globally. But this book is about methodology, about how we do the research we do, who it’s for. When there’s such distances in our current political climate, I (and all of us) have to be asking ourselves, How does this work enrich the people it’s about? How does this work thank them for their lived experiences, for their knowledge-sharing? How does this reflect on my family, and my ancestors, and the knoweldge-makers who have come before me? I have specifically owned in my personal and professional life the fact that my PhD is an homage to the working-class family I come from: that ceremony at the end of my four years will very much be a gift to them, for giving me such a foundation for the kinds of knowledge-making I have been able to do in the world. It is something for them to hang on their walls and say, “Our ancestors did this. Our community built this.”

In April, I’ll be traveling to Rutgers with Dr. Helen Burgess and Dr. Stacey Pigg to present on “The Fates of Things”, a contribution to Rutgers’ Archive of Digital Ephemera that essentially argues that we have forgotten the integral role that things and hands play in our understanding of the digital. In our work, each of us will play the role of one of the Three Fates: Clotho the spinner, Lachesis the weaver, and Atropos the cutter. Clotho and Lachesis, embodied in Dr. Burgess and Dr. Pigg respectively, will track their making using tiny sensors attached to their instruments. That data will be compiled and 3D printed by myself, Atropos.

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Columbia Manufacturing Company, grandaddy’s mill in Ramseur, photograph courtesy of  L. McKay Whatley

But here’s what I’m getting at with respect to that distance. This project, for me, could easily turn into an isolated instance in which the project is just about data. My contribution to such an archive could be the presentation of things themselves. But this project is not about things, but about their histories and their futures. This project is about the ancient indigenous people of Iceland and Norway and the Middle East who had the crazy idea to cross two sticks together with sheep’s wool and build garments to provide warmth. It is about the men of Peru who are masters, the women of my home county of Chatham, North Carolina whose sisters and mothers and grandmothers worked the textile factories and fought for child labor  and labor protection laws. We forget about these stories when we only have data, when we only have electronic tools developed and used by a certain class of people.

Here in Chatham, the textile mills are all either still in operation, have been repurposed for some other use, or are abandoned yet still in tact. In other words, they have presence. There are people in this county who worked the mills; they have that knowledge that researchers are so desperate to contain in abstractions. Their (our) research “told us things already known, suggested things that would not work, and made careers for people who already had jobs” (p. 3).  Their (our) research “does not prevent someone from dying.”

I don’t exactly know what any of this means for me, except that, while there will still be gifs and memes and jokes, there will also be process, reflection, story, and triangulation of story, theory, and community. I’ll be working through some readings this semester on Indigenous science and craft rhetoric, so you might see some of that. And I’ll be making, always.

Stitches: Almost through with dad’s sweater
Making: a Twitter bot for The Clockwork Cabaret
Media: Elder Scrolls Online, Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy”
Location: Cafe Diem in Pittsboro, North Carolina
Feeling: Just…different

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