Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden
I like conferences, I confess. There are so many types of conferences these days that it is hard to choose one’s favorites: there are “regular” conferences, a slowly vanishing category. Then we have virtual conferences, which may be poised to become the new regular kind, with many billions in value. According to some, this is a growing trend, now in its infancy but emerging as a real alternative, with its own rules and skills that academics will have to develop and master. I must admit I have never been invited to attend such a virtual meeting place for academics and therefore I cannot express a true opinion. My feeling though is that the technological issues will deter from an atmosphere of warm collegiality and that only with some advanced technology in simulation rooms will it ever grow to be a replacement of the current physical meetings.
Another type of conference increasingly discussed these days is the unconference, a more democratic type of virtual academic reunion where, according to a well-circulated definition, the participants themselves determine the program. The advantages connected to the unconference are numerous, as Ethan Watrall explains, as it is more democratic, more dialogical or interactive and also cheaper than the traditional form. Perhaps because it is a very new thing, or/and because the humanities or the social sciences are slower in keeping up with technology than natural sciences, I have not attended nor even heard of an unconference organized in my field (political science) – perhaps this is indeed admitting my ignorance, backwardness and high degree of uncoolness, but this is the truth and I must stand up for it.
For me it is the regular conference type that remains the most attractive. Maybe presenting papers allows my artistic, performative side to emerge, just like in Itir’s case. Maybe I am able to capture the vibes of a flesh and blood audience more directly, and to get more energy and inspiration from their almost imperceptible reactions. Maybe it is the possibility of looking at the members of the public in the eye and expecting, hoping, that they will stay afterwards for an informal chat and exchange of views. So is it so that I am more of the underconference type? Am I at the conference not because of the actual moment of presenting or discussing a paper, but because of its parallel universe, this “carnival in the churchyard” to quote Mark Sample?
Not quite, I answer. I like the formality of paper presentation and the discussion in the conference room just as much as I really get enriched, but also occasionally enraged, in the hallways and lobbies where the underconference takes place. This is why I have come to realize I like the small traditional conference. Perhaps this is not the place for fantastic networking as only few people attend it. But those who come are indeed interested in the narrower topic that also brought me there. I have the feeling of belonging together with these other people with whom I share this or that clearly defined academic concern. I may disagree with them to the teeth, but nevertheless I like them being there, and I am quietly grateful for their interest in my subject, for giving me comments, critiques, attention.
I was almost going to write that I like these small conferences because they connect me to parts of my intellectual family. But thinking in family terms is such a womanly thing, isn’t it?
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.