I attended the British Association for Japanese Studies annual conference last week at SOAS at UCL where I gave a presentation on my research as part of current social issues -panel. This was the first time I presented at an “adult” conference and to my surprise, the experience was painless and reception to my humble thoughts was encouraging. Over the year I have attended several post-graduate workshops and seminars, as well as gone through the uncomfortable experience of a PhD upgrade, and while these environments are nurturing and safe spaces to present your thoughts and test the waters, I must say I felt more at ease expressing my thoughts at what could only be called my first “real conference”. I suppose it is partly related to the hierarchy that is imposed in the post-graduate conferences and workshops, where the hierarchy is really in the semantics already. You are the post-graduate student, still learning and trying things out, and then there are the professors, lecturers and specialists in their (and your) field. At a conference setting however, while you still are a PhD student, the hierarchy disappears to some extent and you become the specialist.
At the same time, in a conference setting you also get to experience Allan Johnson’s six hits of post-presentation Q&A. Surprisingly accurate list. It truly is a performance of ritual and symbolism that takes place among academics at conferences…including the mandatory ranking of conference food you overhear during breaks without fail. I once had an idea of turning a conference as a setting into a (perhaps a black?) comedy of some nature and perform it to people not familiar with this ritualistic setting. Or in fact, to convey the findings from my own research to the academic audience through participatory performance? Since I am doing participatory action research, this might in fact be appropriate and avoiding conformity…although perhaps rather shocking for the audience. I did recently attend a workshop where I was introduced to performative ethnography for the first time and it was truly invigorating…not to mention entertaining. A refreshing break from the usual expectations.
Anyway, happy to have come out the other side still smiling and without my training wheels. It’s full speed ahead from now on!