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[xmca] lave in mca

I'm going to assume my unappointed role as discussion-launcher for the Lave article in MCA that was voted as the feature discussion article on xmca. I may not be able to stick around for long, as we're going on vacation Saturday in hopes that somewhere on this earth we can find a place that's not as hot as Georgia, USA.

Lave's paper is based on her plenary closing talk at ISCAR in Rome, an even I did not attend. As an aside, as long as it's held in mid-September, shortly after our fall academic semester begins, I and others like me probably won't attend. It's just too ill-timed to miss 1-2 weeks of classes, depending on location, right after getting the semester off the ground.

Lave references several ISCAR talks she found compelling, so it's nice for us non-attenders to get a sense of what she found valuable in Rome.

If there's an overriding theme to her paper, it might be that cultural-historical researchers ought to be more involved in social activism. I was struck while reading the paper by how she could easily have used Silvia Scribner as her role model for the talk, even though SS goes unmentioned. A month or so when I wrote to the list about my reading of her collected papers, I noted that her activism on the labor front probably cut into her writing time, although perhaps her career was conducted before electronic media made expectations for writing much greater-there were fewer journals and fewer book publishers, and writing itself was much more laborious (a point related to the recent discussion of writing) in that it was often undertaken by pen, then retyped, and ultimately less amenable to revision than it is these days.

She urges social activism, although the paper is general enough to allow for individuals to take that appeal up in their own ways. Academics are, to some, "above" ideology, and so should avoid the fray; yet most of us here would agree with her point that all thinking is ideological, and so being an activist on important social issues is a natural extension of our work. If we are all ideological in our thinking, research, and writing, and if social issues are shaped by ideology, should we not then contribute to the shape of  social issues through what we know via scholarship? (and how's that for a Western logical syllogism.)

Scribner took it to the streets, marching in the marches and such, and bully for her. I've got to weigh things differently, I suspect. If I go protest la guerre-du-jour, holding my sign at the campus gates, is this a cost-effective action? Or is getting my writing done more important, especially the public pieces that are read widely, if not terribly influentially, at least in terms of current policies? (but then, standing at the campus gates with a sign protesting wars or monied interests probably has limited payoff as well.) And in my very conservative area, I'd no doubt pay an additional cost, such as the outcry against my activism for causes that go against the grain of popular opinion.

I hope these concerns are not too concrete for Lave's fairly abstract call-to-peaceful-arms about social activism. For those of us in fairly conventional academic positions (Lave's seems to allow for much more travel than mine), activism has to be balanced against other considerations and demands on our time and local reputations. At this point, I'm more persuaded by the general thrust of her views than of possibilities for real-world activism whose consequences are greater than I can produce through my writing.

OK, there you go, your turn.

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