[Update] "Short-Lived Tactical Connections: Owning Our Best, Failed Efforts at Community Outreach"

full name / name of organization: 
Laurie Cella and Jess Restaino

"Short-Lived Tactical Connections: Owning Our Best, Failed Efforts at Community Outreach "

Proposals due January 6, 2011

One of the most salient themes within current service-learning scholarship is the importance of sustainability; Ellen Cushman puts it best when she argues that thoughtless practitioners have a "hit it or quit it" attitude. Committed teachers and community members work hard to establish strong ties between the university and the community; some scholars have even developed long standing, community-based writing centers that serve as models for the country (Utah, Pittsburgh, 826 Valencia).

But these strong ties are pretty hard to come by. The very legitimate interruptions of time, resources, and, as Tom Deans has argued, the inherent contradictions between university and community writing genres and motives, always stand to intervene even when all involved have the best of intentions. What happens when a teacher moves into a new area and has to start making connections that first semester? Or when, even with a shared desire for sustainability, a year goes by between phone calls? Or perhaps, as Eli Goldblatt has demonstrated, when shifting needs and competing resources routinely reconfigure and redefine community ties? What about those very enthusiastic students who become markedly less available after semester grades are in and they feel the pull of alternative work, family, and academic responsibilities? Do we need to build ties that will last for years in order to do productive work with our students and community partners? How do we draw the boundary lines that define our community work as either a "success" or a "failure"? Must these lines even be drawn at all?

In her recent book, Tactics of Hope, Paula Mathieu argues that these moments can be generative precisely because they are not strategic, or part of the colonizing efforts of the university. Instead, Mathieu posits that tactical approaches to community partnerships, strategies that "foreground the temporal and spatial challenges that street-based projects always face" best foster critical inquiry (17). Such partnerships allow for moments of surprise, serendipity, and unforeseen joy: what was planned may not happen at all, but something new and more invigorating might grow in its place. Mathieu makes the case that short-lived collaborations are, in fact, potentially part of the nature of the street and not always the result of a "hit it and quit it" attitude. Accordingly, Mathieu's work extends Derek Owen's definition of sustainability: "meeting today's needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations" (1). The challenge here is to continuously rethink sustainability in ways that resist disconnection from practitioners on the ground.

For this call, we'd like to hear how teachers and community members face the twinned pull toward stability and spontaneity, between the kind of ties they want to make, and the ties they do make. While we all pursue community writing work with the best of intentions, we are interested in essays that explore efforts that help us rethink the meaning of "sustainability" and, perhaps more broadly, "success." These efforts, when considered through Mathieu's alternate lens, might offer moments of richness, threads of possibility, or lasting impact despite—or maybe even because of—their brief incandescence. What might we take away from our attempts at community writing work that ended quickly or without anticipated results? Are there instances where, when all seems to be failing, we—community partners, students, faculty—actually walk away with greater riches than if we had success we could measure by the book? What can we learn by looking at the tactics at work on the ground and in the streets right now?

We are interested in essays that consider any of the following questions:
If sustainability becomes a secondary, or lesser, goal, what are the characteristics of a successful, tactical project?
What can and should be accomplished in a class, in a week, in a semester, or even a year?
If resources are scarce, what strategies can be implemented to make useful and productive connections and collaborations?
What happens when the project itself takes priority, and the future remains hazy?

We hope this collection will contribute to conversations about the nature and definition of useful sustainability. We are interested in candid, critical work that explores the gaps between what should happen in our classrooms and community agencies, and what really happens. Acknowledging these moments will further a much-needed dialogue about the diverse and admittedly imperfect configurations service-learning and community-based writing projects can take. From this dialogue we anticipate a new sense of our possibilities and, hopefully, a rethinking of our short-lived collaborations.
250-350 word abstracts due Jan. 6, 2011