Visual Activism Symposium organized by SF Museum of Modern Art and IAVC

This morning I finished putting together slides of some of my photography, uploaded a short bio to a shared dropbox folder and timed myself while going through my talking points. I’m ready for my eight minutes of fame!

I’m pleased to be participating in the Visual Activism symposium organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the International Association for Visual Culture this Friday and Saturday. Because the museum is closed for renovations for several years, the MOMA is organizing off-site events under the label of “SF MOMA On the Go.” This event will be held at the Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’ve been told it is an “antique” theater originally designed for Vaudeville performances, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

I’ll be on the first panel, “Environment, Justice, Inequity.” Come say hello if you see me there! I’ll show a few photos and talk about how I engage the following themes in the Voices from the Valley project about environmental justice activism in California’s San Joaquin Valley:

  • Making the invisible visible
  • Rethinking the rural pastoral
  • Everyday life, everyday politics
  • Tragedy and hope
  • Beauty
  • Recognition

How to: Applying to Give Conference Presentations

I’ve been invited to be a panelist at an event in my department tomorrow titled “Tips and Tools for Applying to Present at Professional Meetings.” The event is a great idea. When you are new to academia navigating big conferences can be overwhelming, and there are a lot of steps involved in the application process that are not always clear when you get started.

Here are a few of the things I plan to talk about on the panel:

1. Joining professional associations

Professional associations hold yearly conferences that they often call “Annual Meetings.” These are opportunities for people around the country, and often from around the world, to share their work with their peers, get feedback, meet new people and visit with old friends and colleagues. Attending and presenting at these events is an important way to meet and exchange ideas with other scholars with similar research interests.  In your first year of graduate school it is a good idea to begin asking your advisors and peers what professional associations they belong to so you can find a group that fits your interests.  For example, I belong to the American Sociological Association, the Association of American Geographers, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. I’ve also attended and presented at the Rural Sociological Society and Agriculture, Food and Human Values.

2. Joining sections and listserves

Once you’ve joined one or several professional associations, you’ll also want to join a few of the sub-groups within these large associations, often called sections.  For example, I’m a member of the American Sociological Association’s “Environment and Technology” and “Collective Behavior and Social Movements” sections and the Association of American Geographers’ “Cultural and Political Ecology” section. Again, it helps to ask your advisors and peers with similar research interests what sections they belong to.

One of the benefits of joining a specific section is getting put on their group listserve. These can be wonderful ways to stay current on news and opportunities in your field, and are often rich resources for asking questions specific to your research.  For example, you might post a question to the list asking for suggestions for articles on a specific topic related to your research, or you might ask for examples of syllabi to help you design a new class. These listserves are also where you will find out about opportunities to present at annual meetings.

3. Different ways to participate in conferences

Most conferences offer a number of different ways to participate: presenting your own work in a formal paper session, presenting a poster during a poster-session, or being part of a round-table discussion are several common ways to present work and exchange ideas. Or, sometimes particular sections of a professional association will offer pre-conference workshops that provide a space to focus on the interests of the section.  I attended a 2 day pre-conference workshop hosted by the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section of the ASA once and found that the small size of the group facilitated getting to know people over the course of our two days together.

4. Navigating conference deadlines

Here are some of the dates and deadlines you’ll need to track:

  • Date of annual meeting: Each professional association usually hosts their annual meeting at roughly the same time each year. The location and dates of annual meetings are often set more than a year ahead of time.
  • “Calls for papers” begin to be released: After a set date, conference session organizers will release “call for papers” that describe the theme of their particular session and invite others to submit papers for inclusion. The session organizers read through the all the submissions and then pick 3-4 to include in their panel. If you are not accepted, your work may be sent to a general pool for other session organizers to choose from, or your work might be sent to your second choice session, or you may need to re-apply to a different session. Each professional organization organizes this process slightly differently.
  • Abstract due date: Many conferences require only an abstract to be submitted for the session planner to read as they decide whose work to include in their session. Some, however, require an entire paper be submitted.
  • End of “early bird” registration: Many conferences offer discounted rates to people who register to attend their conference early.
  • Full paper due date, if applicable
  • Discounted hotel room registration end date: Many conferences offer discounted rates to guests who stay in the conference hotel if those reservations are made early.

Download a worksheet to help you track these dates for multiple conferences here.

5. Making the most of conferences

Attending large conferences with thousands of other scholars can be exhausting. I usually try to find a few sessions a day that I want to attend, but do not try to attend sessions during each of the time slots available. I find that I need regular time away from the presentations for down time and meeting up with friends and colleagues. Conferences offer many opportunities for socializing, which is often where the best personal and intellectual connections are formed. Some schools host a dinner or night out one night of the conference, and attending these events organized by your own school, a school you used to attend, or the school of a friend are a great way to meet people.

6. Paying for conferences

There are a few ways to help defray the costs of attending conferences:

  • The two big conferences that I often attend (ASA and AAG) are often held on opposite coasts, so for the last several years I have been alternating which conference I attend by choosing the one held closest to where I live on the West Coast.
  • Don’t stay in the conference hotel! I have always been able to find hotel rooms within walking distance of the conference that are cheaper than the rooms within the conference hotel itself.
  • Share hotel rooms with other students.  This is cheaper, and often, more fun and a good way to get to know other students.
  • Some grants and fellowships include funds for attending conferences.
  • At my school, my department and our Graduate Student Union both offer annual opportunities to apply to get reimbursed for at least some of the money spent on conferences during the year.
  • Apply for paper awards!  If you receive an award for a paper you present at the conference, you also often receive some money to offset the cost of your participation.

7. Conference participation over time

Conferences get more fun the further along you get in your program when you know more people in your field.  As you get more comfortable in the academic setting and further along in your own research, you may also want to start organizing your own paper sessions, attending the business meetings of the sections to which you belong, or running for office as a student-representative in your section.

8. Other resources

Happy conferencing!

Upcoming event: Green museums!

I just finished a conference call with the organizers of JFKU’s annual Museum Studies Colloquium: “People/Planet/Profitability: Museums and Sustainability.”  I’ll be facilitating the break-out group on Community Engagement with JFKU faculty member Margaret Kadoyama, as well as speaking on an afternoon panel. Other facilitators will include staff from the California Academy of Sciences and The Center for Ecoliteracy.

This will be my second time participating in an event organized by museum professionals and museum studies scholars.  The last one I went to was a lot of fun – I had a great time thinking about how museums could become centers of environmental learning that serve vibrant, diverse audiences.  I hope to see you there!

Download a flyer here.

People/Planet/Profitability: Museums & Sustainability
November 17, 2012
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley Campus
2956 San Pablo Avenue
2nd Floor
Berkeley, CA 94702-2471

New presentation software

I know there’s a lot of Powerpoint haters out there but I’m not one of them.  I remember using it for the first time towards the end of college and being thrilled with how easy it was to show photos, and I still enjoy it as a visually rich medium today.  Yes, some powerpoint presentations are terrible, but many other kinds of presentations are terrible too.  I’ll risk following the lead of the gun lobby to say that ‘Powerpoints don’t bore, people do.’

Nonetheless, I was excited to see a different kind of software in action for the first time at a recent conference, and used it in a presentation of my own on Friday.  Prezi let’s you create one big canvas and zoom around on it to focus on different aspects of what you want to say.  Your presentation lives online so you can access it from any computer with an internet connection, and you can e-mail people a link to your presentation for them to view on their own.

That said, it seems just as easy to go wrong with Prezi as it is with Powerpoint.  The zoom effect is fast enough that you could easily get overzealous and end up with a roomful of disoriented audience-members.  The canvas-like starting point gives you more leeway to present your ideas in a non-linear fashion, but it still won’t organize them into something meaningful for you. If your presentation doesn’t have a clear organizing thread there’s nothing the software can do to help.

Check it out yourself! Clicking here will take you to the online version of what I showed on Friday.  If you have any suggestions for improvement, let me know!

Advice for working with environmental justice groups

I gave a “virtual guest-lecture” this week for Liz Shapiro’s class on community-based environmental management at Duke University.  The class is part of one of the more appealing distance learning programs I’ve come across in a while.  The students are environmental professionals from various parts of the globe who are earning masters degrees in Environmental Management while continuing their careers.  Our class session had students participating from California, Hawaii, Chile, Texas, North Carolina, and who knows how many other places.

About two minutes before our time was up, someone asked for advice on how to work with environmental justice groups.  There is often tension between environmental groups and environmental justice groups, so it was an important question.  I did my best to answer it, but a question like that deserves more than 120 seconds worth of response time.  Here’s a slightly longer reply, drawn from things I’ve seen, done or heard about:

Find out about their experience with people like you. Whether you are a researcher, a planner, a scientist, an elected official, or some other kind of professional, it is likely that the environmental justice group will have had experience with someone more or less “like you” in the past.  Environmental justice groups make a point of claiming the expertise that comes from their lived experience of the issues, and don’t take well to professionals who try to talk over them or pull rank based on their professional credentials.  Learn from the successes and mistakes of these prior experiences.

Don’t hurry the getting to know you process.  Don’t approach a community group you don’t know with a project right before the grant proposal for it is due.  Take time to build strong relationships and meaningfully discuss how to collaborate before jumping into a new project.

Make time for face-time. Especially in the beginning, make an effort to meet and talk in person instead of on the phone or by e-mail.

Plan meetings that people can attend. Hold meetings on their turf rather than yours, in their language, at times of day convenient to them.  Provide child-care and food when possible.  If you are asking people to travel a long distance to attend, reimburse them the cost of getting there.

Be willing to change your plans. If you aren’t willing to actually change your plans based on their input, there’s no point in trying to work with environmental justice groups in the first place.

Don’t compete for funding. Prioritize applying for grants that the environmental justice group aren’t eligible for.  Apply for grants they are eligible for together.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t start a project and then leave them wondering what came of it. Seek input on your plans and activities as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid to get personal. Knowing the people you are partnering with personally makes it a lot more likely that you will trust each other, work well together, and overcome the inevitable bumps in the road.  Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

Don’t use, co-opt or tokenize. Successful partnerships are built on a sincere desire for collaboration, not a belief that it is something you need to do just to get the grant, the political good-will, or to look good.

The environmental justice advocates that I’ve gotten to know in my own work over the last few years have enriched my life enormously, and seem to be willing to forgive me when I make mistakes (I hope some of them will send in suggestions to improve this list!).  I wish you luck in your own endeavors!

Answering the “What can we do about it?” question

Last week I gave a talk to a student-taught class at UC Berkeley studying the Central Valley and planning a service-learning trip there for their spring break.  I was excited to speak with them not just because of the content matter but also because their class is run through the Democratic Education at Cal program (DeCal).  I taught several DeCal classes when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley and fell in love with college teaching, which directly led to me being in a PhD program now.

I remember being frustrated as an undergrad that so much of my education was focused on learning about social problems and so little was focused on learning how to fix them. Knowing that I was addressing an action-oriented class, I tried to plan my talk last week accordingly.  Still, the shoe was on the other foot when I gave my own somewhat tongue-tied response to the inevitable “What can we do about it?” question at the end of my talk.  I did a little better than the generic “get involved” or “call your senator” response, but not by much. Here’s what I wish I had said instead:

Connect with organizations already working to solve the problem. You can’t solve complex social problems single-handedly.  Working in groups is almost always a better way to go, especially when you are new to a particular issue.  Find out what work is already being done before trying to launch your own campaign or project.

Learn how the political process works. I attended the Labor Summer program at UC Berkeley, which any UC student can apply to.  I’ve also heard good things about the Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program (for people of color) and the Women’s Policy Institute (for women already actively engaged in social change work).

Plan for the long haul. Social change doesn’t happen quickly, so find ways to sustain your engagement throughout your life.  This might mean training yourself for a career that makes a difference in the issues you care about.  It might mean finding a meaningful volunteer opportunity that you can do regularly with friends.  It might mean researching and making artsy voter guides for elections with friends.  It definitely means making the work as much fun as possible!

Keep the faith. I think of working for a better future in ways that I imagine religious people think about God.  Sometimes you can’t prove that your work makes a difference, but it is important to keep doing it anyway.