Challenging one’s ideas

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in my home turf in Glasgow. It was a great opportunity to meet new scholars, renew and update my connections with scholars I already knew, and enjoy the terrible weather that G-town was putting out for us (“no, no, it’s not a gale force wind, this is just your average morning air, I promise!”). This was also my last chance to hang out with fellow Catalan scholars before the big move to Australia – next year is looking like a Skype videoconference presentation for me.

This was a much different experience to the other two conferences I attended in Manchester and Cork. First of all because, despite the fact I was not necessarily involved in the organisation of the event, being the only presenter from Glasgow, I took up host duties, like ensuring that the IT was working, giving general directions, and being the chair to two panels, which forced me to do something I rarely do in presentations – ask insightful questions! Second, because my presentation was slightly different than last year. Last year everyone loved my paper and there were no critical comments, only encouragement to talk more about the subject. This gave me an unrealistic sense of self-worth that was to be shattered only several months after, when the review of the article on which my presentation was based came back with tones of petty commentaries and a rejection note. But the presentation in itself was great, only it was almost a bucolic scenario that it took a while to get out from.

My presentation this year went well again, but I included some stronger, challenging ideas, mostly the product of knowing my topic better and being able to have a stance on it, and I knew that the way in which I chose to portray my findings and arguments could be contentious. And bang, they were. At question time, the initial questions were like last year’s: non-offensive, tell-me-more style. Then someone asked a question that critiqued the basis of my argument. Which is fair enough, there is not one size fits all when it comes to studying culture and literature: you are forced to take a ‘partisan’ position, and I am aware of that. His views were confronting mine, of course, but it was good for my development to attempt to counterbalance his point. I had to admit to the audience that he was right – because he was, to a certain extent. I felt very much challenged, but within a positive environment: it wasn’t as if he had stood up just to destroy my presentation. I thanked him and we moved on.

Later at lunch, he came to apologise for having put me in the spot, his argument being that he finds that “some of these conferences ask very bland questions, and I wanted to spark some saucy debate”. I knew it was all done in good spirits, and I wasn’t expecting an apology, but I suppose this is good, just to make sure that I took the question and the challenge in the right way. It is also good to keep up the academic relationship, as he belongs to my institution and he is a likely candidate to be my internal examiner. I spoke to my supervisor at lunch, and I told her that I thought the challenge was very positive, on the basis that now I know where he is at, theory-wise, so I can build my methodology chapter more mindfully, making sure I do not take things for granted, and that my arguments are convincing. My supervisor even said “you could come up with a particular terminology for this field based on a critique of the current methodology, which will give additional impact to your thesis”. This is somehow what I plan on doing, although I seriously doubt my terminology will change the world of Translation Studies – but without this challenge, I wouldn’t have thought of coming up with different, more well-rounded methodology.

Since that conference, I have been immersed in writing a chapter of the thesis that has little to do with this terminology, but I am coming up towards the moment in which I need to build the theoretical background in which my argument is based. And I look forward to developing my new, challenged ideas in an environment in which they can grow. And I can then expose them to the public again, and get them challenged, and move on from then.

Ps. I survived #AcWriMo with a whooping 8,000 words. But that’s material for another post!

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