My Scholarly Practices

This Project Bamboo workshop is certainly emphasizing the first word in “workshop”: we have several homework assignments to complete before we get to Chicago. The first is, obviously, to read through the proposal. The second is to read some items out of the working bibliography. The third is to “identify [our] scholarly practices.”

The proposal is an interesting document. It weighs in at 39 pages, from the front page listing quite a collection of individuals to the final page which lists a budget of $2,431,000. The meat of the document is really in the third section, focused on the “perspectives of the five communities.” Those communities are:

1. Arts and Humanities Scholars
2. Computer Science
3. Information Science
4. Library and Scholarly Communications
5. Central Information Technology Organizations

That particular listing is interesting in itself, no? The first thing I noticed was that the parallelism is off: only the arts and humanities are embodied. The next two are disciplines. The fourth is a process. And the fifth? Well, it’s an abstraction of an abstraction. If you dig into the sections themselves, the one focusing on humanities scholars is the longest and most … the word I want to use is “splintered” or “fractured.” There are just so many impulses and directions. It feels like someone tried to tame either a wide-ranging discussion or an argument into something with a bit more cohesion. Bakhtin would have called this “multivocal.” The remaining four sections are much more cohesive and concise. (Compare this first section with the one on “Information Science.”)

My initial conclusion is that humanities scholars were (1) the hardest to get focused and/or (2) perhaps the farthest from the authors’ own perspective. The latter case seems like a fair way to account for the diversity of that section: perhaps they simply didn’t feel comfortable synthesizing what they were getting. (But I won’t leave out the fact that humanities scholars can be a fractious bunch who are difficult to keep on task. Heck, I can be just as bad — if not worse — as anyone else when it comes to behaving badly. [Dreadful having to admit that.]) Reading the proposal closely is perhaps better left for another time.

More importantly is my other bit of homework: defining a scholarly practice. This was a really interesting activity and one I think I will take into the classroom with me. That is probably because I have already begun making it a part of my own life and making it, in some way, part of my pedagogy. My interest in breaking practices into tasks is based on my having climbed upon the Geek Express where they serve mighty helpings of [GTD][gtd].

GTD, for those who have not already been so inundated by references to it that your eyes have already rolled into the back of your head, is short for “Getting Things Done.” It is a time/life management system developed by David Allen and packaged into a reasonably easily digested book titled, surprise, _[Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity][gtdb]_. In the book, Allen argues for what he calls the “natural planning” process where we all break complex tasks down into more manageable chunks. So, to use a version of one of his favorite examples, if you want to go out to dinner, then you have to: * decide on a restaurant * call to make reservations * get ready to go * drive there * *etc.* … Porject Bamboo is asking workshop participants to do much the same thing, but instead of looking at a particular project, they are asking us to imagine a particular practice that is, itself, part of a compound practice. (More on this later.)

Here is there definition of practices versus tasks:

> A **scholarly practice** can be defined as a set of tasks that accomplishes a scholarly goal or objective. A practice is typically a collection of tasks AND, most significantly, has a scholarly purpose that can be broadly understood by other scholars.

> For our purpose, a **task** can be defined as a unit of work often completed in a set period of time. It typically does not have a scholarly purpose in and of itself. Their examples are: * *Booking travel* is a task / *Attending a conference* is a practice * *Finding a book* is a task / *Locating source materials* is a practice I like to play with the edges of things and some part of me must have picked up on the repetition of *book* in their examples, and so I decided that the practice I would break down would be **fieldwork**, and that, for the sake of the assignment, it consisted of the following tasks:

* checking equipment and supplies (charging equipment, clearing cards)
* calling individuals to set up interviews
* traveling to site
* interviewing individuals / documenting an event
* making notes
* making drawings
* taking photographs
* returning from site
* logging miles, notes, images
* uploading images
* making summaries of day

There’s more to say about so much of this — like how “artists” keep dropping out of the proposal, which really wants to focus on the humanities (and that might be a good thing because the humanities themselves are already so diverse).

[gtd]: http://www.davidco.com/what_is_gtd.php [gtdb]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0142000280?ie=UTF8&tag=johnlaudun-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0142000280