Writing across borders

The view from our office in Falmer – on a rare, sunny day…

Recently, an article by the Connectors team (Nolas, Varvantakis and Arudloss) was published in a special thematic section (“Rethinking Prefigurative Politics”) in the Open Access Journal of Social and Political Psychology (Vol 4, no. 1).

This article is significant for us for two reasons: read together with Melissa’s ‘childhood publics’ paper, our ‘(im)possible conversations’ paper articulates some lines of flight along which our analytical project -the exploration of the relationship between childhood and public life- is developing. At the same time, ‘(im)possible conversations’ was also a first attempt in collaborative writing, across countries, across disciplines, and across technological platforms!

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Work for this article probably started as early as the Connectors Study, itself – well, likely even before that too. But our more precise ideas and claims about ‘the political’ in childhood, as well as of the potentially radical and prefigurative aspects of locating the political in childhood, were fleshed out through an extensive process of critical engagement with basic assumptions about activism, childhood, and everyday life, an eschewing of dichotomies, and a criss-crossing of borders.

The process through which we worked this article was stimulating and indicative of the work we need to do and coordinate as we move into the analytical phase of the Connectors Study, mindful that for the best part of each year, we find ourselves at a distance in three different cities.

In August 2014 a call came out inviting extended abstracts for a special thematic section on ‘Rethinking Prefigurative Politics’ in JSPP to which we responded. Once our abstract was accepted, we began the journey of trying out our assumptions and formally developing our arguments and thoughts. Via emails and Skype calls we worked through readings, discussions, and writing. On Melissa’s annual visit to Hyderabad in January 2015, she and Vinnarasan took a first stab at committing some of our conversations and ideas to paper. After the numerous fragmented conversations across digital platforms which weren’t always compliant and conducive to intellectual exchanges, writing and talking face-to-face was not only a relief, but necessary to start to pull together a first draft of the paper. A month later, Melissa was in Athens where she and I had another chance to review how the paper was coming along – once again, on actual paper, writing and talking face-to-face!

In March 2015, a first draft of the paper was presented by Melissa at the LSE Rethinking Prefigurative Politics workshop. In May 2015, a somewhat more advanced version, was also presented at the School of Education and Social Work’s Research-in-Progress seminar at Sussex. In both spaces, the encouraging and critical feedback we received assisted us in honing our arguments, and helped us to think of ways to analytically work with cross-cultural examples which at first glance appeared to be too diverse (or even incompatible): autobiographical narratives of growing up in the Communist left in the USA, the historical events of occupying Greek schools in the 1990s, and emerging research in India on prefigurative practices in youth populations.

One of our key learnings during this initial writing process was that in a 7,000 word paper it was a challenge to do justice to all three cultural contexts. We had to make some strategic decisions which wouldn’t compromise the diversity of the cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary orientation of our research or our team. In the end we decided to foreground the two historical cases (USA and Greece) and to bring in selective research on political activism in India as a critical lens with which to challenge our reading of the foregrounded cases.

Time and again – emails exchanged, Skype calls made, Skype connections broken, revisions, and re-revisions (and yes, we did mix up the versions at least once!). Add to this some very helpful peer-reviewers’ comments and one final push (or two or maybe three…), and the paper was finally ‘good enough’.

It has been a very productive process and an invaluable learning curve. It has allowed us to carve out the epistemological grounds upon which we want to built our analyses and explorations of social action (early, intergenerational, mundane, experiential, emotional, radical, imaginative, cross-cultural). Furthermore, working with this article has made us aware of the wonderful complexity and potential merits that life-course and intergenerational approaches to the exploration of childhood and public life might offer.

The thinking developed on this paper eventually shaped our Activism at the Edge of Age workshop, held at the beginning of June in Brighton. It also helped us to creatively think about political biographies and to formally incorporate this thinking into the Connectors Study.

I hope this brief process story goes some way to convey some of the effort as well as the intellectual stimulation that the process of working with this paper entailed for us. We really hope that the article will resonate with you, and we would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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