This past week marked my third attendance at the International Conference on Qualitative Inquiry hosted annually at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This conference always falls at the end of a whirlwind spring semester. I pack my bags from it just after unpacking from AERA and find myself negotiating at home yet another impending absence.
With a colleague I joke about how last year I swore I wouldn’t cram so many conferences into such a small period of time, but here I am.
The truth is, ICQI feels too important to miss.
My first ICQI was in 2014. The experience introduced me to a research agenda that seemed to innately understand how I viewed the world. Most surprisingly, it offered the tools I needed to articulate this vision. It is hard to hold on to that moment of recognition.
However, a few weeks ago in my office I was speaking to a doctoral student who had encountered new materialisms for the first time. I told her, as a warning about her timeline, that some theory takes time. I emphasize, “You have to read it, internalize it, and let it completely transform your worldview and, in consequence, your research.” The warning was for nought. “It feels like this is answering a question I’ve always had,” the doctoral student told me. I understood. Sometimes theory and research can feel like home.
So here I am again, at my home away from home in a campus that is in the proverbial ‘middle of nowhere’. This year there are 10 colleagues in one Airbnb. The miracle is that the house–a sprawling Americans craftsman–doesn’t feel crowed. Instead it feels like family. People rehearse their presentations at the dinner table. People are supportive. We share ideas and make shared plans.
I presented on the first day in a panel I organized, titled Qualitative Inquiry as Embedded Practice: Navigating the Public Sphere, with Cala Coats, Aurelio Castro Varela and Sara Scott Shields.
The panel brought together four presentations that played with the idea of affective territories. Responding to an expanded notion of social space, they held in tension the neoliberal imperative embedded in public spaces (as evidenced in neighborhoods, after school centers, and schools) and the entangled, relational places that emerge through social practices (such as ephemeral cinema screenings, door-to-door fundraising initiatives, or amateur documentary film). Working within and against the public sphere this session framed qualitative inquiry as a resource for generating alternative sites for being together in the world.
The underlying thread to this discussion was the question: what do we bring into a space, and how does it transform us? How does a focus on the ‘event of place’ (Massey, 2005) awaken us to the embedded and relational aspects of our participatory fieldwork experiences?
Or audience was small but intimate, a handful of close friends who practiced an embodied, careful listening on a rainy morning in a basement. It didn’t need to be otherwise. The exchange of ideas that brings out a shared language is enough; it will sustain us until next year.