The Logic of “Yes, AND”

by Andrew G. Jenkins
Department of Communication

In Spring of 2016 I was fortunate enough to join Andrew Davis’s Practicum in Cultural Studies (COMM350) as a Graduate Research Consultant (GRC). This advanced introduction to the project of cultural studies departs from the typical course designs found in other areas of the humanities and social sciences in exciting and engaging ways that rely heavily upon student-driven research. The course adopts what Davis and others within the project call an “anti-anti-essentialist” stance on knowledge production and cultural analysis in order to understand the complexity of cultural processes and phenomena. Cultural Studies develops out of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in the UK, and is driven by an openness to cultural analysis that Davis describes to his students metaphorically as a “logic of yes, and.” By this, Davis indicates the commitment to engaging cultural phenomena from multiple perspectives, situating the phenomena under analysis within its proper context, and tracing the complex assemblage of articulations that converge to make that phenomena mean certain things to certain people. As the course title suggests, this practicum offers students a perhaps novel way to go about understanding cultural phenomena by asking them to do the work of cultural studies. Pragmatically, this means the course develops around student-designed group research projects that culminate in a co-produced article length paper, delivered as a collective presentation at the end of the course. It was my privilege to function as a research consultant for these groups, suggesting particular methodologies, resources, and theoretical perspectives to help otherwise self-driven research projects come to fruition. Such a research-focused paradigm for course instruction is imperative in today’s information-dense society.

But the course was not just exciting for its novelty and the challenge of group-research. Pedagogically, this course helped me to recognize the need for multi-modal teaching strategies that engage a variety of learning styles. Such multiplicity aids in honing the critical thinking abilities of our undergraduate students by asking them to apply the theoretical frameworks to self-procured ‘raw data’ in order to make persuasive claims about particular cultural phenomena and the implications of those phenomena. This course has also opened my eyes to the importance of peer engagement in the education process. Students given the opportunity to debate amongst themselves, within limited and agreed upon theoretical and empirical boundaries, offers a space for collaboration and collective deliberation that fosters a cooperative understanding of knowledge production itself. It also forces us to recognize the importance of a multi-perspectival approach to understanding both cultural phenomena and knowledge production, offering students a way to link research work with a deeper and more complex understanding of social reality. I would highly recommend the experience of being a GRC for the engagement with undergraduate researchers, to hone your own understanding of method, process, and interpretation in research, and to gain greater perspective on the relations between pedagogy and research.

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