Recent Work

Talk to Me_Blank Noise

Image: “Talk To Me,” Blank Noise (July 1, 2013)

As part of my PAGE Fellowship with Imagining America (IA), I was delighted to write about critical social change and public scholarship, and interact with fellows from member institutions around the country during a week long blog salon (September 14-18, 2015). Specifically, in my post entitled, “The Dialectics of Feminist Counternarratives and Direct Public Engagement: Towards an Everyday Praxis,” I discussed an arts-based initiative from India that continues to combat gender and sexuality ideals, entrenched in and sustained by patriarchy, not through spectacular protests, but through interlinked tactics of everyday performance and sustained public discourse. Read more on IA’s website.



ISC 2015 Poster_KP

With two of my exceptional colleagues, Matthew Countryman and Laura Schram, I am excited to coordinate the 2015 Arts of Citizenship Institute for Social Change at Rackham this summer. The Institute constitutes a multidisciplinary venue for exploring the conceptual and practical dimensions of public scholarship. It provides socially motivated graduate students an opportunity to raise questions and to discuss possibilities in the context of community-centered research, pedagogy, and practice. I see my doctoral work and my involvement with the Institute as one of mutuality and integration. Such a formulation establishes an understanding of engaged, public scholarship as a continuous arc through which we build relationships across sites, experiences, and types of expertise. It also enlarges the potential relevance of one’s dissertation for a range of meaningful careers, both within and outside the academy. In this recently published reflection piece, therefore, I position the Institute not as an exclusive moment in graduate education, but as a supportive and critical framework that affords multiple engagements with communities, as well as locations of scholarly activity.

For more information about the Institute and application, click on the poster, or visit the Arts of Citizenship website at: The deadline for applications is May 7, 2015.

The month of August marked the end of my spring-summer work as the coordinator and co-planner* of the 2014 Arts of Citizenship Institute for Social Change at Rackham. The goal of the four-day institute was to introduce socially motivated graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences at Michigan to the conceptual and practical dimensions of engaged public scholarship. The institute comprised thematic panels, public engagement workshops, and site visits with scholars, practitioners, community members, and relevant public officials—all structured around such questions as: What does it mean to practice engaged public scholarship within the academy? What are the politics of producing work in public and for a public audience? How might we integrate community work over the arc of our lives as academics and as professionals?

The 22 students at the Institute came from 15 graduate units on campus. The four faculty-student engagement groups that emerged from their letters of interests were: arts and culture collaborations; community-based research; engaged pedagogy; and public narratives. I have curated highlights from the Institute into a Twitter collection entitled, ACISC2014. My involvement in this project and its ongoing life will continue through F14 and W15 semesters. For more information on the Arts of Citizenship program at the University of Michigan, see:

* With Matthew Countryman, Faculty Director of Arts of Citizenship and Associate Professor of History and American Culture at U-M.

Exploring Theoretical and Methodological Frameworks of Environmental Design Research for Advancing Social Change

Last week, I was in New Orleans to present at the 45th annual conference of Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). The theme of this year’s meeting was “Building with Change” and my symposium responded to the conference sub-track #7 titled: Democratic Design Praxis with Community. In this session, my co-presenters David Seamon, Julia Robinson, and I raised concerns about the diminishing stature of environmental design research and practice within the contemporary discourse on architecture and social change. Specifically, we asked: How might distinct theoretical and methodological frameworks, already well-developed within environmental design research, prompt re-conceptualization of the formal, programmatic, and/or spatial considerations of architectural design towards desired social change? At what scales do these frameworks operate? How might this session be introspective as well as projective to keep alive the transformative commitment of EDRA?

Each of the presenters built upon an important tradition within environmental design scholarship—broadly, phenomenology, structuralism, and critical theory—to evaluate a cultural phenomenon of significance. Jointly, we saw each of our frameworks operate at the level of what Groat and Wang refer to as “schools of thought” (2013) – conceptual systems that not only guide how distinct social needs are framed, but also suggest relevant strategies and tactics for addressing those needs. Additionally, we concluded that design experimentations in the absence of broader theoretical perspectives or schools of thought are likely to produce change that is idiosyncratic, short-term, and unsustained. Conversely, critical frameworks that do not engage questions of space, politics, and aesthetics risk perpetuating an oversimplified dichotomy of “objective” methods and “subjective” experiences. The session and the conference at large offered us a valuable moment to pause and reflect on the limits and potentials of our operative frameworks to participate in progressive social transformation.

A massive thank you to Mallika Bose, Paula Horrigan, Rula Awwad-Rafferty for organizing this umbrella track, and to David Seamon and Julia Robinson, again, for their brilliant papers.

Image: The Engaged Pedagogy Syllabus Writing Workshop (April 10, 2014): In conversation with Dr. Megan Sweeney, Group Facilitator & Associate Professor in English, DAAS, and Women’s Studies at U-M (source: Arts of Citizenship photo stream)

The Engaged Pedagogy Syllabus Writing Workshop at the beginning of this month brought together doctoral students from across diverse disciplines to explore how engaged pedagogical experiments might expand our understanding and communication of concerns aimed at changing social structures, directly or indirectly. Engagement has long constituted interdisciplinary work, one attentive to multiple constituencies and overlapping realities. Against this backdrop and following Maria Cotera’s brilliant provocation “how might we situate our individual pursuits and develop course contents of reciprocal value to both the academy and the partnering community? How might we create a heterogeneous and complex understanding of contexts and community practices? How might we demystify knowledge production and prepare ourselves for vulnerabilities in online, classroom, and fieldwork learning?” The workshop, and our group discussion in particular, explored some of these issues. Together, they called into question our received methods of coursework design and teaching in academic fields, including those that have traditionally produced engaged work, such as art/design and architecture.

The workshop was organized by the Arts of Citizenship’s Student Leadership Committee led by Meagan Elliot (Sociology and Urban Planning) and Caitlin Townsend (History and Museum Studies), with support from Matthew Countryman (AoC Faculty Director) and Elizabeth Werbe (AoC Associate Director). Thank you all for a fantastic session! It was wonderful to rekindle connections from last summer’s Institute for Social Change and think about future directions. For more information about this event, see Joseph Ciladella’s helpful recap, Rackham Graduate School blog, April 22, 2014.

EDRA44_Research_Methods_SymposiumEnriching Environmental Design Research

I had a brilliant time at EDRA44 in Providence last weekend. Every year, I look forward to reconnecting with my mentors, meeting new members, and feeling encouraged in the company of colleagues committed to the design and scholarship of livable environments. At this year’s EDRA, I led a panel on environmental design research methods. The framing of this session was inspired by the symposium on contemporary challenges for qualitative methods held at EDRA43 last year. The concepts and tactics presented during that meeting constituted the growing number of attempts in the last decade at outlining the strengths and legitimacy of qualitative methods for environment-behavior scholarship. What value does qualitative research have for environmental designers? How might qualitative methods inspire newer connections between research and design?

In order to continue the conversation from last year and engage these questions in renewed light, I invited Linda Groat and David Seamon to co-participate in a symposium on enriching environmental design research. Groat’s paper set the stage for other presentations on the panel, and discussed both separate and shared qualities of design and research through distinct conceptual frameworks [1]. Seamon’s work expanded upon the notion of “synergistic relationality,” and illustrated the relevance of synergistic mode for environmental design scholarship using a six-part phenomenological model [2]. My presentation explained how a case study research design with appropriate qualitative tactics might help examine the consequences of polemical theories as embodied in distinct architectural projects.

Elsewhere at the conference, I was delighted to meet Ayda Melika and Susanne Cowen, the makers of a soon-to-be-released documentary film, Design as a Social Act: Social Factors and Participatory Design, 1960-1980. Their two-part film screening and ensuing conversation with panelists (and key interviewees) generated much debate and discussion among members in the audience. Needless to say, it was at once exciting and motivating to engage figures such as Henry Sanoff, Galen Cranz, and Randy Hester in a conversation about current predicaments in the field. My notes and emerging ideas from the meeting are overflowing; I hope to review them over the next few weeks. For now, I am happy to be back in Ann Arbor, and back at the Writing Institute, to continue with my dissertation writing.

[1] Linda N. Groat, “Does Design Equal Research” in Linda N. Groat and David Wang, Architectural Research Methods (New York: J. Wiley, 2013).
[2] David Seamon, “Analytic and Synergistic Understandings of Place: What Does Qualitative Research Offer Environmental Design?” (paper presented at EDRA44 Providence, RI, May 31, 2013).