Last night I found myself feeling fairly guilty at the way I behaved in my Victorian Gothic class. The presenter invoked some theory in which I’m particularly interested right now: psychoanalysis. While the secondary readings for the discussion were psychoanalytic texts (an article comparing the economic structures of Victorian banking and mental illness ala Freud, and Julia Kristeva’s “Approaching Abjection” from Powers of Horror), the discussion which I and about five other people ended up having drew from psychoanalytic texts well beyond these readings. The problem with this discussion was that it left out the other five or six people in the room who had not read those texts, and did not have a vocabulary to discuss the problems through which we were attempting to work (problems we could have discussed with a more strict adherence to the assigned readings).
Engaging in productive discussion involves opening that discussion to everyone involved. I’m irked with myself because I noticed that the group of us were closing the discussion to other members of the group (and some of them looked uncomfortable being excluded in a such a way) — and yet I persisted in spite of that knowledge. This does not make for good academic practice, and it violates the few rules I set for myself when entering a class environment:
1. Know what the group has read (in line with knowing your audience in a paper or presentation): clearly link all new material back to these shared readings, or the agreed-upon course vocabulary.
2. When using theory or referring to texts outside the course syllabus, clearly and concisely define all new terms and concepts before using them in textual analysis.
3. Exercise rigour with theoretical terms: do not conflate or use interchangeably different terms from different theorists. Know the theory you introduce, and be prepared to explain it.
4. Only refer to texts outside the course material if it is relevant and necessary, and will add to course discussion.
5. Never use the seminar to work through problems in personal research (unless that research is relevant and useful to the particular discussion at hand).
I made a mess of things yesterday. Shall do better next time.
6 November 2009 ~ Hamilton