Public private writing

I am still struggling with the idea of producing a reflective journal that is both a public document and a component in the assessment of an award bearing course. This struggle is both intellectual (I am having difficulty in getting my head around it) and emotional (I am not sure about how I feel about it). I am not going to be able to resolve these struggles here, but should, at least, produce a practical resolution (how I am going to deal with it). And, of course, that resolution might only be momentary, and subject to revision as I progress through.

The simplest resolution might appear to be performative. Treat successful completion of the degree as the primary function, and manicure the postings to project the image of a successful student. This is a tried and tested approach to any form of reflective journal (I am relatively sure that Erica McWilliam has written something about this in relation to the journals produced by beginning teachers, which I need to check). It is high risk, though, as, to be successful, it requires the writer to have a clear sense of the principles of assessment of the programme (what are the assessors looking for), and the ability to produce appropriate evidence. So, to a degree, you have to be an adept to be able to produce a text that passes as that of a successful student. And there are complexities as the tacit criteria might require failure (and recovery) as part of the process. That is that, the writer may have to walk the tightrope of manufacturing a sufficient vulnerability on the path to ultimate success. There may also be a requirement for a degree of perceived authenticity, or revelation of a sufficient sense of self to authenticate the postings (bearing a watermark). A thought about blockchain technology has just come to mind, where ‘who you are’ is encoded and preserved for future authentication (though that is an excessively static conception of self). I’m not going to pursue that here. Anyway, here we are only addressing the inward (course assessment) element of the journal. Managing this alongside projection of a public persona  adds a further, very demanding, level of complexity.

This is, in any case, an excessively cynical approach, to my mind, and there is the strong odour of bad faith. However, it does not have to be a total strategy, and in making any statement in this kind of environment there will always be a degree of self-checking (what are the consequences of publishing this?). So performativity as a total strategy stinks, but a degree of performativity (a manicured projection of self) is inevitable. The act of writing (and the reflection that that involves) means that we can never just ‘get it all out there’. Writing requires selection and expression and slows things down, though tweeting clearly allows people to just ‘blurt it out’ (to millions of others in some cases). This is not the place to wrestle with Derrida (there’s a post coming on that in due course).

To bring this post to a hasty conclusion, I think my approach is to treat this as a genuinely educational opportunity. To formulate and convey emerging thoughts and practices in a new (for me) domain of endeavour produces something to think about that moves practice forward in, potentially, dialogue and engagement with fellow travellers. To do otherwise is a lost opportunity to learn. Of course, to learn is the primary objective for me in doing this course, and the stakes are relatively low in that there are no professional or life-chance consequences to success or failure (and only a few personal consequences, mostly related to self-esteem). To a degree, posting to the blog enables me to formalise and organise my thinking, to put down markers and to remember (and there will be a post on memory ‘prosthetics’; aids to supplement ageing cognitive functioning). It is a place to build something in public view.

Why not do this in private? That, maybe, is to do with the positive pressure that the public exposure exerts to take some care in expressing thoughts (but not the degree of care needed for a published paper or book). And it provides a framework for organisation of thoughts and experiences around a particular project (growing as a photographer, and understanding the field), that might also offer something of value to others. And memory is important, too (‘but you said …’). How do I feel about the bleeding out of what is written here to other domains of practice? That’s uncertain. This is for a pedagogic purpose, and it is about exploration not exposition. It’s a supplement to, not replacement of, identity and practice in other areas of life.