A question I often hear from students beginning their graduate studies is, “What is CSSE?” To be honest, and likely stemming from my own inexperience in academia, I have rarely answered this question to the extent it deserves. The obvious answer has been, “CSSE is an annual meeting of people similarly interested and invested in your area of study. It is an opportunity to refine your ideas and to hone how you present those ideas to your peers.” Undoubtedly, this professional development aspect of CSSE is important; developing expertise in a scholarly discipline requires more than just reading and writing about your topics. The finely polished ideas that end up on paper can take abstract and tangled forms when conjured from the back of your brain to the tip of your tongue. Nevertheless, as a short answer to a tall question, it at least alludes to why young scholars should consider submitting their work, if not attend simply to engage with their ideas at a deeper level. However, interacting with like-minded scholars constitutes only one aspect of how I have come to see CSSE, and similarly structured conferences for that matter.
The what I have come to appreciate is exactly what I use to ignore. Rather than attending only those sessions that meet a keyword search of the program-yes, a practice of which I am guilty-I have realized the value of attending sessions that analyze familiar ideas through frames you had never considered, that challenge taken-for-granted ways of thinking or staunchly held perspectives, and that introduce entirely new ways of perceiving the world and make you feel like a stranger in a familiar space. These sessions have not merely expanded how I think about scholarship; they have changed how I see the world. Through others’ understandings, stories, and lived experiences, I have been guided through cognitive terrain that would be otherwise intractable-becoming a cognitive nomad of sorts. During this year’s CSSE, for instance, those in attendance at Dr. Marie Battiste’s plenary will remember being guided on a cultured footpath that examined and elucidated how “we have all been marinated in Eurocentrism.” It’s an understatement to say my lived experiences were insufficient to have independently reached the places that followed her assertion; as set out in the implicative part of the plenary’s title, my thinking about decolonizing and indigenizing academia has since changed.
In an unexpected way, finding and being guided down unfamiliar cognitive paths has also helped me to better navigate the conceptual and theoretical terrain of my field, knowledge mobilization. Take, for example, Dr. Carol Weiss’s landmark article, The Many Meanings of Research Utilization. Although it was published nearly four decades ago, her article continues to receive frequent citation by those concerned with how social science is used within public policy arenas. Since I first encountered the article, I’ve come to more fully appreciate its expansive influence and Dr. Weiss’s position on how social science typically enters policy arenas: through enlightenment. Essentially, research will rarely have direct, measurable effects on policy-tracing the impacts of single studies or even research programs is a “wicked” problem. Instead, it is the propagation of concepts and theoretical perspectives throughout social structures that lead to research use. Analogously, it has been the permeation of ideas and ways of thinking from other fields that has enabled me to re-evaluate my worldview and appreciate the value in abandoning narrowly-focused keyword searches.
All of this is not to counterpose the excitement and gratification that come along with immersing yourself in a field, seeing how that position enables you to make positive change, and meeting your academic heroes (for me, the adage “you should never meet your heroes” has not held water in academia). You should be giddy when meeting the people whose work has inspired and enlivened your academic passions, just as you should be devoted to attaining a similarly influential position. Attend the sessions, plenaries, get-togethers, and general events aligned with your area of research, but also to step back from the metaphorical microscope and look around.