The received wisdom among dialogue practitioners is that the online sphere is more likely to divide people than to foster mutual understanding. As our workplaces, social spaces, and college campuses have closed this spring, however, the digital realm is the *only* public sphere that we have available.
During the coronavirus pandemic, digital communication tools and social media have become invaluable in maintaining social connections at a time of physical distancing. My kids each lunch in a Google Hangout; college students are having parties over Zoom; I have been having a happy hour with old college friends. While partisanship and vitriol are still part of the internet, we are all learning a lot about the promise of the “digital public sphere.”
In effort to maintain and strengthen these relationships in a time of social distancing, I’ve been participating in several efforts at Middlebury via my role as faculty co-director of the Engaged Listening Project.
With Caitlin Myers (Economics), co-hosting a faculty webinar, Faculty at Home. Future events and past recordings here.
With the student-run newspaper, the Middlebury Campus, a podcast version of the Off-Campus Project. You can listen at the ELP feed here or the Campus feed (here) [links coming soon!]
There is a lot of national attention to the return of a controversial speaker, Charles Murray, to Middlebury at the end of March. From the perspective of advancing dialogue on difficult subjects, I’ve been working on a few different private and soon-public projects. More in mid-March here, but reach out if you are curious!
In the meantime, I had an amazing virtual meeting with the leaders of the “Can We” project, setting up productive dialogues across difference for high school students. Learn about the project here: https://vimeo.com/309298751
I love podcasts. I usually listen to them on my morning runs and walks, looking out at the beautiful Vermont landscape and letting my mind wander. I used to try to only listen to “work” podcasts (related to my teaching and research about human rights, the UN, foreign policy, etc.), but now I find that I am happier and more relaxed if I just explore.
Are these podcasts part of some “digital public sphere?” I’d like to think that our ability to comfortably explore a wide range of ideas feeds back into our public lives and social relationships. So, as an experiment, I did a podcast episode with the Engaged Listening Project (of which I am one of the faculty directors). Way more work than I thought it would be, but also really rewarding. I got to work with great students and with my friend Brett Simison as producer. Will there be more? I don’t know yet – need Midd folks who want to keep talking on tape!
I have a new role on campus as faculty director of the Engaged Listening project. In and out of the classroom, we are trying to create spaces for close listening and productive disagreements that build rather than undo the relationships that make up our intellectual community. This effort is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation and by dozens of students, staff, and faculty already doing great work in this space. http://engagedlistening.middcreate.net/
Wendy Wong and I have had a few chances to talk about our recent book. If you want the take-away in brief, check out the video here or podcasts here and here. Thanks to Duck of Minerva, Cornell UP, and the New Books Network!
In a class that I am co-teaching with an excellent practitioner (here), we are asking our students to create a two-minute “explainer” video that highlights a few key points from the reading and raises a couple of questions for discussion.
In fairness to my students, I elected to subject myself to the same exercise, based on media training I received at a recent workshop from the amazing Brent Durbin.
We did a before and after video. You can see the after video here.
I look forward to reporting on how this worked in the classroom. For more on the “explainer” –
I was excited to participate in the June 2014 of the International Policy Summer Institute at American University. The program, run by the Bridging the Gap initiative, is discussed in a recent post from Dan Drezner about the relevance of academia (try this link here – you might need a free account at foreignpolicy.com).
As a first foray, here are some thoughts on bridging the academic-practitioner divide that put together following a workshop on the organizational dynamics of non-state actors.