Monday, December 10, 2012

I Want to Teach? Sensemaking!?!?

This surprises me too. I thought I'd given it up. Lately, however, I've been longing to return to teaching. For the past year I've been spending most of my time coaching scholars to become better writers. My contact with university students has been in the form special appearances to talk in general terms about "how to write". Writing will of course be an important component of any class I might teach, but there appears to be a part of me that also wants to actually impart knowledge to others. I want to teach something I know, not just show people how to do something.

This raises the vexing question: what do I actually know something about? I've got a certain facility with the form of scholarship, but what have I got to offer in the way of content? It's important to keep in mind that I don't just want to teach things I think I know something about, like philosophy and poetry, which I blog confidently about as an amateur at the Pangrammaticon, but which I've never made a serious scholarly contribution to. I want to teach a class I'm qualified to teach. There are two options:

1. The philosophy of science, sociology of knowledge, or science and technology studies. I got my training in these fields but never got around to doing much original research in them. I once taught what I thought was a brilliant course centered on Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge. I tried to teach the students how to actually account for a research area (their own), first, as a "paradigm" (or "disciplinary matrix") and, second, as a "discourse" (or "discursive formation"). This meant mastering the four "elements" of each "doctrine": symbolic generalizations, metaphysical models, exemplars and values for Kuhn, and objects, concepts, enunciative modalities and strategies for Foucault. Turning these epistemological categories into descriptive tasks was, as I recall, invigorating work.

2. Organizational sensemaking. Though I may perhaps come off as a scourge in this area, I really do believe that the sensemaking process is a crucial part of organization studies. I think I could do a good job of teaching Weick's ideas even though I'm very critical of his scholarly practices. Indeed, I'm critical of the scholarly standards of the entire field. Teaching students might be a way of raising those standards. I think it would be interesting, for example, to do a course centered on the Mann Gulch disaster. While I think Weick got it wrong, I'm sure his material (Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire) is worthy of study. What sensemaking processes does it reveal? It would be fun to work through the case with students. What I would really enjoy, I think, is having the time to talk about the nitty-gritty details of what happened alongside the finer points of sensemaking theory, as well as considering alternative theories (e.g., Heidegger, Goffman, Schutz).

Like I say, I'm a bit surprised to feel this desire. Fortunately, I've got some time to think about it. I don't think I'll be in a position to do any teaching until at least after the summer.

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