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Mere and Easy: Collage as a Critical Practice in Pedagogy

Lucero, Jorge, ed.
University of Illinois Press, 2016

Book Review

Tags: student identity   |   student learning   |   teaching with the arts
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Reviewed by: R. Jane Williams, Moravian Theological Seminary
Date Reviewed: June 27, 2017
Author Jorge Lucero uses the term collage as a descriptor of a particular art form and also as a metaphor for juxtaposed ideas and themes in his edited collection of articles. Assessing collage compositions in general as stale and conventional, Lucero asks what would make collage a challenging and invigorating form for pedagogy and scholarship and attempts to model one way in his collection of essays. Collage is a form ...

Author Jorge Lucero uses the term collage as a descriptor of a particular art form and also as a metaphor for juxtaposed ideas and themes in his edited collection of articles. Assessing collage compositions in general as stale and conventional, Lucero asks what would make collage a challenging and invigorating form for pedagogy and scholarship and attempts to model one way in his collection of essays.

Collage is a form that uses what one can access in printed images, photographic images, and digital images. One can assemble collages online or by using any of a multiplicity of surfaces and means of attachment. Lucero describes the collage-making process as deceptively easy and seemingly simple. Yet these qualities of “mereness and ease” (6) can enable two seemingly non-related images to create transformative possibilities of a third thing that was hitherto non-existent but is engendered by the creative or cognitive dissonance of a juxtaposition that is non-linear and non-complementary.

This edited volume on collage includes a variety of practical and theoretical papers that become an intentional collage of ideas. Lucero describes his choice and arrangement of disparate paper topics as a way to make this volume “a collage in and of itself” (7). This reviewer found it difficult to resonate or discover meaning in the choice and sequence of articles. Nonetheless, Lucero’s attempt to create a collage of scholarship intended to inspire readers to create a “new sort of some thing” (7) is unique and thrilling.

Among the gems in this book is the chapter by Grauer who conceives of teenagers’ bedrooms as collages illustrating their evolving identity. Describing a bedroom as a canvas on which can be displayed a young person’s “unique artifacts and symbols” (25), Grauer highlights the importance of paying attention to how teens’ rooms offer images to reflect upon, experiment with, explore, and create one’s own identity.

Guyas and Keys relate how an art installation of written scholarly work displayed in a public interactive space can be fertile ground for personal and professional growth. The content and process of the author’s dissertations were displayed in a gallery by hanging individual pages from the ceiling. Art work by the authors was placed on the walls alongside narrative interpretations of the process of art-making. Gallery visitors were asked to record responses or thoughts that occurred as they looked at juxtaposed materials and post their responses on the walls. “The gallery merged from an exhibition/installation into an open studio as visitors added to the evolving collage” (32).

Lucero includes a qualitative study by Stevenson and Duncum of early childhood development. Observing children drawing and then recording the children’s verbal reflections on their collage, the researchers concluded that abstract symbolization through images develops as early as age three. Engaging the children in reflective dialogue is noted as one way to aid three to five year olds in the development of symbolic representations and understanding.

Among the articles included in this compendium are a reflection on Freudian analysis of symbol use in the Little Hans case, an examination of the metaphorical cloning of images, and a verbal collage whose narrative and dialogue overlap but are not clearly related.

Lucero’s collection stretches the reader creatively and uncomfortably to find non-linear and unique connections between disparate articles. Its most useful audience is art educators and art students, although other educators will find several selections to be intriguing and useful in non-art fields.

Lack of awareness about what Islam is and how its followers are religiously motivated to act, coupled with heightened tensions during the 2016 presidential campaign about the patriotism of American Muslims, led me to offer “Arabs and Muslims in the Media” as a first-time offering this semester. The twenty-one students who ...

In my last blog, I reflected on my regret about the way that my classroom had become politicized in an election season in ways that I came to regret. Unexpectedly, I find myself once again politicizing my classroom; towards different ends this time. This time my act of radicalization is ...

This blog builds on Caleb Elfenbein’s excellent post in this series “Scaffolding Theory at the Introductory Level.” I want to think about two interconnected issues in relation to engaging theoretical discussions in the study of Religion and the Humanities in an introductory course on Islam: 1) cultivating a practice of ...

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Digital Identity and Everyday Activism: Sharing Private Stories with Networked Publics

Vivienne, Sonja
Palgrave Macmillan Springer Nature, 2016

Book Review

Tags: faculty identity   |   student identity   |   teacher scholar-activist   |   transformative teaching
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Reviewed by: Mary Hess, Luther Seminary
Date Reviewed: September 20, 2016
This small book is a brilliant example of grounded research that is thoroughly infused with theoretical insight and practical engagement. At first glance people looking for pedagogical wisdom might not be attracted by the title, but at the center of the book are questions of identity and everyday activism – topics that are vitally important in the midst of higher education contexts permeated with fears of “coddling students” and arguments over ...

This small book is a brilliant example of grounded research that is thoroughly infused with theoretical insight and practical engagement. At first glance people looking for pedagogical wisdom might not be attracted by the title, but at the center of the book are questions of identity and everyday activism – topics that are vitally important in the midst of higher education contexts permeated with fears of “coddling students” and arguments over the value of “trigger warnings.”

Vivienne is based at Flinders University of South Australia. This book draws on her background in media production and working with marginalized communities towards social change, and focuses on research she did with GLBTQ communities learning how to create in a specific form of digital storytelling:

Digital stories are short (3-5 minutes) rich media autobiographical videos, combining personal photographs and /or artworks, narration, and music. They are traditionally created in a workshop context that takes place over 3-4 days and includes a story circle, technical instruction, and celebratory screening for fellow storytellers and invited guests. (3)

Because persons within GLBTQ communities must constantly negotiate how they represent themselves, when and how they claim specific forms of identity, and in what ways they make these claims publicly, digital storytelling offered a compelling medium for a research project interested in exploring the challenges of sharing private stories with networked publics. The book is full of descriptions of how these stories emerged, with links to specific videos referenced available online.

Vivienne’s work is both participatory and activist in methodology, drawing on the theoretical work of scholars such as Benhabib, Butler, Young, boyd, Jenkins, Bahktin, and Foucault. She ensures that the complexity of these theoretical interventions are made vividly accessible by using them to attend to the conundrums of claiming identity in the midst of highly contested spaces. She highlights the capacity of digital storytelling for reaching across various forms of difference:

bridge building is reflected in the capacity to negotiate one’s position as a part of or apart from networked publics – including familiar, intimate, counter, and unknown. Digital storytelling creates opportunities to ‘bring things up,’ to broach difficult discussions ‘out in the open.’ Ownership of one’s position in society (as represented in a digital story) is reflected in the capacity to receive and give affirmation. Further, public expression of marginalized voices opens space for others to speak as they also negotiate how and where they fit in the world. As a medium that facilitates speaking across difference and bridge building, digital storytelling evokes the profound significance of participatory media as a widespread global phenomenon. (196-197)

Along the way she defines and describes digital storytelling, everyday activism, erosive social change, and a concept she names “Intimate Citizenship 3.0,” as well as exploring issues of identity, nominalization, authenticity, coherence, and congruence in such media.

Her research concludes with four specific findings:

Institutions and facilitators can be transparent in actively acknowledging their discursive mediating influence upon the construction of individual and collective identities.

[A]wareness of networked identity work provides an opportunity to sculpt congruent rather than coherent narratives and this labour can have both personal value and constitutive cultural value.

[A]ctive consideration of distribution of private stories amplifies personal and social benefits, especially as a tool for everyday activism.

[I]nitiatives benefit from reflective analysis of cross-disciplinary community engagement strategies, social movement theory, and strategic listening across difference. (205-206)

While this book does not directly highlight pedagogies for religious studies or theology classrooms, it is full of stories in which workshop participants confront and contest religious claims their families, their communities, and broader “imagined” publics are making. By offering compelling descriptions of ways to engage such meaning-making that invite people into dialogue across various divides, this book embodies transformative adult learning and offers a rich collection of pragmatic advice for nurturing such learning.

 

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