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Ambiguity and autonomy

In summarizing my experience morphing together a grant proposal and a final class paper for our course, I would say that the process presented an interesting ambiguity perhaps best framed by the following question: In terms of the readership of this kind of hybrid paper, how different is an interlocutor represented by seminar participants from the judges of grant competitions in grant making organizations? I would have to admit that, while it might depend on particular grant making personnel, writing with either a generic foundation or the federal government in mind shifted my sense of critical analysis and academic freedom. With a seminar paper written largely in conversation with course readings, instruction, and class discourse, there seems to be plenty of space for imaginative and perhaps even heterodox inquiry. Grant seeking proposals arguably require conformance with the norms, models, and ideologies of the administration of the grant making organization. Does autonomy of academic work matter and if so how much autonomy can be sacrificed without undermining principles?

Certainly academic research in such areas as nuclear and military projects poses stark ethical dilemmas. To what extent are ethical questions relating to funding relevant for DH? This line of thinking quickly leads to difficult yet emancipatory critiques of the university and higher education, problems of neoliberalism, and the stunting realities of austerity politics. Yet the imaginary endures of the possibility of fully funded academic programs (instead of depending so much on the NEH) that are autonomous from government institutions and private philanthropies. If the critique of the neoliberal university is valid, is it not incumbent upon members of the university community to consider the extent to which projects challenge either directly or indirectly the hegemony of the neoliberal agenda? Perhaps in the end this line of thinking points to the personal evaluation of doing the right thing, at the right time, by the right people (and the sobering doubt that my efforts might ultimately be helping to guide change in the direction of the slow motion train wreck).

Given this ambiguity I was wondering what a paper would look like that combined critical analysis with a proposal for funding. As it turned out, it was yet another generative and curious experiment to mixin and mashup some of the language of critical analysis with the language of grant seeking. Perhaps therein lies the art and craft of interfacing with the larger funding enterprises. Looking back, though, I wonder how much of the language of critical studies is palatable to larger grant making institutions. While there are arguably a handful of small foundations comfortable with heterodox projects that question dominant ideologies, projects that might resemble such efforts as Torn Apart/Separadoes or wikileaks would seem to be out of scope for many if not most grant making organizations. Or perhaps this is the line that separates responsible academic work from investigative journalism.

In reflecting on the idea of a Zoom App Integration, it’s not entirely clear the extent to which such an app integration might unequivocally contribute to challenging the neoliberal agenda. Perhaps one possibility lies in the potential for creating a context for learning that in some way maintains affordances for speaking truth to power, questioning all assumptions, and insisting on the fundamental dignity of every human being and the biosphere. In the spirit of experiment and open ended inquiry (and other qualities embodied in our class), I am left with a sense of  work to be done and how to do justice to the transformative dialog, readings, and instruction I am grateful to have experienced in this class and community.