By Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)

It’s been a pleasure to participate in a conference at such an incredible venue. I love a good contemporary art mag!

Lubaina Himid’s ground floor exhibit ‘Our kisses are Petals’ speaks to our conversations on the second floor of the BALTIC  Centre for Contemporary Art.

After a couple days of working out how we can make and learn from sociological contributions in art, academe and activism, it was nice to walk through Himid’s exhibit – taking it in, reading the fine print and adjusting the pulleys (after the go-ahead from the gallery worker).


Undisciplining like a moth to a flame

By Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)

Yesterday I undisciplined like a moth to a flame.

In my ‘How to recover from care’ session, I performed a couple works in progress and invited a collaborative exploration of care and personal storytelling.

Let’s just say, it was a workout.

My guiding questions for the session were: How can we use stories to reimagine care on a different metaphorical basis? How can personal or creative storytelling contribute to sociological projects?

Right now, the day after, my answer to both questions is something like … ‘proceed with caution’ or ‘brace yourselves’.

I opened the workshop with a personal story about care as a relationship and about turning toward the disruption that disability makes. I also presented feminist theories of care and feminist insights on how storytelling can be a radical way of generating knowledge.

I loved participants’ enthusiasm for ‘fem’ writing and for stories that write you. I also loved seeing sociologists whip up their hands when I tracked their creative and caring outputs, for example, by asking who had cared for family and friends, who had worked at a social care organization, who had supported someone at the beginning or end of their life, who had helped out with a hangover, who had changed a diaper.

It was fun,           at first,             but hard to keep up the undisciplining momentum.

Midway through the session I shared a poetic work-in-progress to narrate ordinary caring encounters or micro-aggressions. The piece was an attempt to experiment with telling personal stories in the tradition of contemporary American lyric essayists and prose poets. (Yeah, ambitious, I know).

Shortly after reading it, analytical feedback on the financialization of care, on value production and on mothering subjectivities rolled in from the two sociologists I most admire at the conference.

I found myself …

basking in their presence and intellectual insights …

blurting references to my larger doctoral project, to my RAship on care and ageing and to my engagement with feminist theories of care (to show I wasn’t just a poet?) …

scrambling to digest, imbibe and jot down any and all one-liners that could support my future work …

scrapping my plan to have participants narrate their own ordinary encounters and create a collective memoir …

wishing I had presented a conference paper rather than a work of art …

half-scrambling, half-leaning into it, over-thinking it, rolling with it …

undisciplining like a moth to a flame.

Looking back now, I feel grateful for such a lively discussion and for sharing space with so many rad thinkers and carers. I also see how dizzying it can be to undiscipline from the edges.

Sociology as art as a powerful way to reveal the social

By Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)

In her reflections at the opening session of Undisciplining, Dr. Michaela Benson beautifully differentiated between sociology and the sociological. The conversation that followed raised questions about how to extend our work – engaging in public sociology outside of academe and honouring alternative and experimental modes of doing sociology.

I was excited to attend this conference to deepen my public work and connect with others making (or asking questions about!) juicy, provocative interventions. I was grateful to hear Dr. Benson and co. kicking off the event by thinking through these questions and the tensions around them.

I have been actively engaging in ‘sociology as art’ – writing memoirs and taking my sociological analytic to comedy clubs and storytelling festivals. I tell stories that cut and that challenge some of the social currents or conventions I have been learning about through my ethnographic research into the social organization of care in Ontario Canada.

While my public efforts are fueled by my research and work as an academic, very rarely do I present evidence on stage or in print. Educating and informing others about ‘how things work’ is important work, but I think there are other possibilities for public sociology.

I am learning through my through my engagement with the work of other artists, activists and academics (Sheila Cavanagh, Ann Cvetkovich, Naila Keleta-Mae, Claudia Rankine and George Smith come to mind) that engaging in ‘sociology as art’ can be a powerful way to…

Contribute to public discourse.

Collapse interpretation and evidence into stories or images that cut.

Communicate in visceral and ethical ways.

Make change.

Pack a punch.

I am also learning through my work as a storyteller and performer that engaging in ‘sociology as art’ can be a powerful way to …

Situate artists and audiences alike within the social relations of which they are part.

Generate new knowledges about ‘how things work’ or about social currents and conventions.

So, as a storyteller, I’m not out to educate per se, I do think public or performative interventions can be a useful sociological practice in other ways. I am learning to listen and learn from the collective sigh of a crowd, from the silence when a joke flops and from the ‘vulnerability burn’ that follows after the odd over-share. Seeing how stories land or settle in a room is a powerful experience.

Performing can be a powerful way to reveal the social.