I’ve got a big project in the works that I am really, really excited about: zines. Zines as part of a rich and complex activity system, zines as an act of literacy, zines as an artifact from the “counterpublic” (Farmer) which is a term (like Gere’s “extracurriculum”) that is so, so important to our research as writing teachers, especially since the turn toward public writing and academic literacies as one literacy, one way of knowing and doing and making and sharing among many others inevitably still promotes a dominant or mainstream idea of knowledge. Zines as a resource for understanding learning and literacy, zines as a genre working within a system that, among many others (video games [Gee], Wikipedia, Pokémon, social media, hip hop), makes profound and necessary contributions to society and culture while also creating, caring for, and supporting identity negotiation. I’m aiming for a definitive study that explores zines and the activity system(s) they belong to (looked at also through Gee’s perspective on affinity spaces), connecting the genre to social and cultural representations as an artifact and also as a means of making and sharing knowledge, specifically as zines are authored by who Duncombe labels as “losers,” or those on the fringe of society whose voices aren’t always represented in the dominant discourse. That’s a long sentence. From there, I want to explore bigger picture concepts like literacy development, alternative discourses, and how to crash the academy (I’m only being a little bit sarcastic here, and it’s ironic because in the end, I’m still writing this project as part of my graduate program requirements). Slightly more realistic, I’m curious as to if/when what’s “outside” academic/professional walls might come in, and how: will it be by invitation? Will it be through a sort of colonialism that extracts the genre from its context and repurposes it for an academic agenda? Will it be done ethically? Will the fringe take over, Hunger Games or Divergent style?
I hope that makes sense. It’s probably a bit repetitive. The more times I write through it, the more it begins to make sense to me, so there’s that.
And because it’s that time of the semester when grad students begin courting faculty for project advising (something we like to refer to as prom), I have a few words of advice to share:
- This project is a beginning. It is a beginning (not the beginning, as there are many points of entry) of your professional identity, something that you will build on and work from either in doctoral work or in your teaching career.
- If you think your subject matters, then it does. If someone (especially those already established) responds to you with indifference or criticism, it’s probably because they don’t understand where you’re coming from. In that case, you might need to do a better job of explaining it…
- …and that’s a matter of taking concepts and working them into practice. As in, the part of your project (or thesis) that links theory and research to pragmatic concerns: what do we do with it? Help your readers see what you see.
- Don’t read all the books. You can’t. It’s not possible.
- Don’t be afraid to contact scholars/authors/people with experience in your area of interest. I just emailed with faculty from the University of Kansas who heard I was interested in zines, and he’s written a great book that is probably going to be one of my strongest pieces of evidence in creating this project and supporting my ideas…and it’s a bit surreal to be sitting here in the library with his book open in front of me, knowing he’s a real person that I can talk to about my work. Put yourself out there, and see what you can find. By making a few contacts and sharing my ideas (both formally and casually), I have amassed a ridiculous amount of research, connections, and opportunities in a very short time.
- Create annotated bibliographies by topic/concept/parts of your project. Putting them all into one document is too much.
- Taxonomies are your new best friend.
- I’m not an outliner, but I did create a bullet point list of main ideas, or sections, that I wanted to cover in my project. That helped immensely.
- I mentioned already that this project is a beginning, but I feel the need to rephrase it here: this project is not the end. It isn’t meant to be complete, exhaustive, or even that amazing. It should, however, be something you can be proud of. It should also be manageable (if you’re anything like me, you know that this is a challenge). Save the dissertation (the process, length, and expectations) for it’s appropriate time.
So I’m excited. I already said that. I’ll be saying it many more times. What are you working on? Any advice you’d like to add for graduate students beginning their culminating projects?