In her important book When Species Meet (2008), feminist science studies scholar Donna Haraway calls love a “nasty developmental infection.” Illustrative of Haraway’s irreductive naturecultural provocations, she is referring here to the ways in which our relations with others, be they defined by what we call love, hate, excesses, or debts, make up who we are in our very constitution. Our becoming is not just affected by others, but infected by them. Like any successful parasite, an infection may operate behind the scenes unsensed or unrecognized until it gains significance in future experiences. The infection may be fought like the common cold, embraced like childhood chickenpox, or utterly necessary to our well-being like intestinal flora. Love and other relations can be understood as infections of our being that take us up, take us on, and change us.
To learn is also to be developmentally-infected. Understood in this way, the responsibilities of teachers are much more weighty than commonly thought. My approach to teaching entails a recognition of the deep responsibilities we have to students who are undergoing their own processes of becoming sociologists, philosophers, scientists, degree holders, engaged citizens, critics, and researchers. As a teacher, I regard myself as first and foremost responsible to those myriad processes of development, which may or may not be fully embraced by any one student but in which I strongly believe.
My teaching is guided by the following four principles:
- Teaching must impart a clear sense of the foundations of disciplines. This requires honesty about the realities of the everyday practices of academic thought and research. It entails attention to the growing professionalization of students. It attunes students to the habitus of the scholar.
- Scholarship is utterly central to scholarship. This is not a tautology; it is another way of saying that we must engage students in scholarly literature if we hope for them to become scholars and stewards of scholarly knowledge. Teaching should entail a turn and return to what has been uncovered and theorized before, applied and understood anew in the process of learning.
- Everything – including disciplines, knowledges, ontologies, epistemologies, teaching and learning – is open to radical reworking. While attention to scholarly foundations and literatures is central to my teaching practice, I aim to call forth the critical, creative student, and not the disciplinary ideologue. This resonates with the commitment to transdisciplinarity in my research.
- Academia should be a realm defined by inclusivity, justice, and diversity. Teaching should be regarded as a form of activism that interrogates and reforms.
To this end, my teaching practice entails lectures deeply informed by scholarship and active student participation; small group activities and tutorials that encourage students to take up the role of the scholar; an availability to students outside of class time to discuss course material, their ideas, and concerns; and assignments that document the developments that result. I regard teaching assistants as my colleagues and peers who are integral to courses, and whose expertise is valued and availed. Importantly, my teaching practice is also always deeply informed by the many mentors from whom I have had the privilege to learn.
Finally, I humbly recognize that I, too, am a student and equally developmentally-infected by students. I embrace such an infection as central to my own processes of becoming.