NASCO Institute 2015 – My past, Future, and the State of my Research

Tomorrow morning I’m leaving for NASCO Institute 2015. NASCO Institute is basically summer camp for co-opers, when else will you get to meet up with super engaged co-op leaders and staff from across North America? And attending this year feels like I’m coming full circle – NASCO institutes have had such a profound impact on my life, and in way I could not have expected. Two years ago at NASCO I attended the Gala dinner (I wasn’t even at the conference) to receive a lifetime achievement award on behalf of Penny Bethke, our former general manager who had passed away. Two things touched me that night. The first was seeing senior staff folks cry while Jason and I read out loud the acceptance letter that had been prepared for us. The second was being one of the last people standing when the whole room was asked to stand up, and then progressively sit down depending on the number of years they had been involved in the co-op movement. When they got to 7 years, and I was nearly the only person without white hair who was still standing, I realized, or felt at least, that I had found my community.

Last year I attended the NASCO institute as a proper delegate, and I got so much out of it. In stark contrast to my experience on the Toronto left, when I spoke in the various seminars I felt my contributions were truly valued. And, it felt that the questions I was asking were drawing on people’s real experience, and I was learning things which would really impact how I understood and acted in the context of Campus Co-op (CCRI) governance. The texts, the discourses, felt alive. My big question last year was – what are the different ways student housing co-ops are governed? Do they all use the model CCRI had for years accepted as the only possible way to organize things? What I learned was that the model CCRI uses was in fact used by only a small minority of North American student co-ops. In reality, we were the outsiders – not the mainstream. That realization prompted me to thematize the rise of policy governance in Ontario as a research topic, which is how I got into OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), and it is currently what I am preparing to write my thesis on.

This year I feel I am looking forward to the institute so much that I fear my expectations may not be met. But at the same time, I am coming to the context with a much better set of questions, questions about opportunities for member engagement, questions about the creation of a culture or participation, and questions about the details of non-policy governance. I plan to create contacts this weekend that will lead to a major portion of the data collection for my thesis.

At the same time, I’m feeling that the academic side of my thesis research has not been progressing as quickly as I would like. Mostly because I would like to live up to the demands being put on me by my classes. Next Tuesday I need to present my research plan in class, and next Friday I need to defend a ten page research pre-proposal to my peers. My current plan is to use a version of Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography to look at the relative gap between the standpoints of the “new member” and the “governing co-oper” at different co-ops, and determine the difference in the disjunction between them in relation to the model of governance used. The difference, I feel, between Dorothy Smith’s approach to institutional critique is I am much more pro-institution, and I do not believe that the institution is fundamentally oppressive. I believe pretty much the opposite, following Hegel, that institutes are the only guarantees on protecting the conditions of Freedom that humans can have. That said, I also want my research to be informed by Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality, which I believe contains aspects of anarcho-republican discourses which basically tend towards something like the discourse of co-operatives. The question of how I am going to integrate genealogy and institutional ethnography will be the great theoretical challenge of my work – I have high hopes for this given the resonance I feel exists between Foucault’s method and ethno-methodology (basically, I think Foucault was doing the ethno-methodology of texts). I will be able to explore this question by contrasting the traditions that came out of both of them – conversational analysis for ethnomethodology, and discourse analysis for genealogy.

Note to self : here’s a reference to a paper which is actually talking about the histories of “conversational analysis” (ethno methodology) vs “discourse analysis” (i.e. Foucault)

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