Reflecting on ISA
I went to yoga this morning. First time in a week. Felt great. As I went to set my intention, though, I had to pause. The last few months have been insane. I have had to do everything on my list. Everyday. Without fail. You will notice I have not had time for blogging here.
My intention through this whole time has been, “I can do it”.
A lot of what I had to do was the normal stuff.
There was teaching. I was teaching a favorite class of mine called Foundations of Security. It balances attention to the history of that field with some (old and new) critiques that amount to a bit of a reckoning, though, and one that requires some finesse to do well. So, it takes a fair amount of energy.
Then there was writing and revisions on various projects. Some of these were particularly meaningful for me. My first publication (just a blog but more is coming) on climate that feels like a both a new beginning and something I have been thinking about for a long time. A chapter on “description” that has become a labor of love - I can't wait for it to come out. A paper on how mining company CSR strategies can affect the relationships in local communities that I have been working on (with Tricia Olsen and Devin Finn) FOREVER. But it is also a favorite and I am very much hoping it lands. And some exciting new work on 1) whether and how digital governance is unfolding democratically and 2) how responses to the climate crisis might affect whether future interactions are democratic. So, a lot of different things, all of which had deadlines, workshops, or both.
And, of course, some of what was on my list was particular to my role at ISA. Putting together the Sapphire Series panels, managing some tensions surrounding various organizational issues, reading the one hundred plus pages of committee reports (people do such an amazing amount of work for this organization, it is really inspiring), executive council, governing council, and committee meetings, etc. And then preparing for the conference and my presidential address.
The presidential address felt like a particular challenge. What to say in an address to such a huge and diverse organization? And how to make the most of a chance to speak to so many in my field? As I pondered, I found myself thinking of a line from an old poem I had memorized in junior high: “Speak your truth quietly and clearly” (the poem is called “Desiderata” – a bit new agey, even though it was published in 1927, but actually quite relevant and beautiful).
My truth, for quite a while now, has been an increasing discomfort with dominant norms around what counts as good work in the field. But was it really a good idea to use my address to tell people in the field that I thought its norms were bogus?
I didn’t force myself to decide at first and just started brainstorming. I quickly had a very long list, much too much to say in an address. I wrestled with how to frame it. When ISA staff needed a title, the deadline focused my attention. I was happy to use something that came up in one of the “ISA in the World” panels earlier in the year.
And then I set a few days aside to write, like I write here. Unstructured, conversational, organic. I had a draft of something that felt like my truth by the end of that time. And it still left a week or so to read and revise. By the time I left for Montreal I was happy with what I had and excited to have a chance to say it. (Though also maybe a little nervous about how it would be received – or even worse, that no one would be there to listen!)
The conference itself was great. Erica, Swati, Katherine, and Fisseha did such an amazing job with the program. The ISA staff did an equally amazing job making everything work. There was a special energy given the feeling that we were moving into at least a more managed situation with COVID. And (most) people were so nice and appreciative of all of it. To top it off, I got the sense that most people, most of the time, were really reflecting on things. Even those I met to discuss problems or issues seemed to be open to different perspectives and working things through. The interactions gave me a warm feeling about the organization and made me proud of my association with it.
Come Thursday evening, I was grateful to see so many friends file in for my address. There was a little drama at the start (confusion over who would introduce the talk), but it was great to walk onto the stage and see so many there.
And then I spoke my truth. More formally, maybe, than I typically do, but I wanted to say it carefully. Despite that, people seemed to listen. I was surprised by how intent the audience seemed and how many approached me after to tell me how it resonated with them. It was also interesting to see the different reactions both to the message and to me. A couple of favorites? “It made me cry.” “I felt seen.” And “I didn’t think you had it in you” (not as insulting as is sounds 😉 given who said it).
The rest of the conference was a little more relaxing but also especially nice to continue the back and forth on my thoughts and what we are really doing in this field.
And then, yesterday, I transitioned into the “past-president” role. This too, is particularly meaningful. For the first time ever, the governing troika (past-president, president, and president-elect) are all women. I am really looking forward to supporting Laura Shephard and working with Marijke Breuning.
So, as I began to set my intention in yoga this morning, I first thought, I am going to need a new one. Then I decided to think about that tomorrow. For today, I just said, “I have done it”.