About the Author

Jordan Laney

Jordan Laney is a first generation college student completing her dissertation, which addresses bluegrass festivals, in the innovative ASPECT doctoral program.  She previously earned an M.A. in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University and a B.F.A in Creative Writing from Goddard College. At Virginia Tech, she teaches for the Department of Religion and Culture. She serves as the co-chair of YALL (Young Appalachian Leaders and Learners) and as a Founding Fellow for the Virginia Tech Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence. Biking, walking dogs, sewing, yoga, and attempts to learn banjo tunes take up most of her free time. Her current work can be found here: www.jordanlaney.com

…this report celebrates the intentions of global education initiatives and offers an exploration of the possibilities of PLACE in within knowledge production, believing that potential for societal growth happens on all levels; the local, institutional, and global.Jordan

As an Appalachian Studies scholar who employs feminist methods, I am interested in marginalized spaces not limited to Appalachia and the global south, while understanding and critiquing power relations in non-normative ways. This means considering knowledge and power through senses, experiences, embodiment, and affect to name a few. I also look to possibilities for radical transformation in non-traditional ways. While higher education privileges a normalization of knowledge production and assessment I have great hope in institutes of learning as spaces of potential—potential change for the betterment of society. This belief guided my research questions and anticipated learning outcomes as a participant in the Global Perspectives Program at Virginia Tech.

The specific questions which I posited in anticipation of traveling to Switzerland with the 2016 cohort included:

  1. How do institutions serve as mediators between people and culture? Who has the power to translate or mediate between the two? More specifically, I hope to explore ways institutions, centers, and programs have approached relationships with the communities and regions they directly impact.
  2. How can I more critically assess the concept of “knowledge” and knowledge production’s impact in different areas? For example, how do universities impact the political, cultural, and economic ecology around them? How can we re-imagine this relationship to better serve both the communities and the students? This includes noting how indigenous knowledges and arts are brought into formalized discourse
  3. I hope to explore the roles and actions faculty members take in bridging the gap between these communities and the intentions behind those actions.
  4. Because much of my own pedagogical praxis includes investing in transformative practices and community or experiential engagements, I hope to explore how Freirean pedagogy and such practices are initiated, globally.

Thinking about the ways I can assess and use this experience and to fully engage with the process as a process of learning, I am hoping to adhere to the following learning outcomes:

  1. To better articulate, critique, and create meaningful, sustainable place-based educational initiatives
  2. To become more comfortable in initiating global projects within the classroom and within my own work.
  3. I hope to gain confident in my own beliefs about the possibilities of place based education and think critically about how these possibilities differ depending on specific sites.
  4. I will work to maintain a consistent, public account of my travels through a blog and through twitter (@JordanLLaney). I would like to craft a longer, reflective article length paper which further develops these ideas and serves as a useful pedagogical resource.

Echoing the Black Mountain Poet, Charles Olson’s sentiment that the geography is forever “leaning” on us, I am working towards thoughtful conversations about what it means to be devoted to place-based education within the neoliberal Anthropocene. In other words, what it means to practice place-based pedagogy, globally.

One journaling topics we were presented with during our travels was the consideration of what a global university is and can be. I typically teach courses focused on what the regional means and the ways the global and local are connected. The idea of global outreach or support is often a topic, but being a part of a global community or global university is a rather new concept for me.

In early April (2016), while sitting around a table with cohort members at eight am while preparing for our trip, I jotted down these questions in response to the journal prompt “What is a global university?”

Who is a global university? Who is the university? Why is the university… global? What does that scale offer that localized initiatives do not? Where is a global university? Who says? Who objects? What are the goals? Who sets them… and why?

These are simple questions. And yet… they lead me to ask more difficult questions. For instance:

who does a global university benefit? Thinking about the historical and social ontology of the knowledge “project” and enlightenment and undeniable westward expansion connections, where is the global south in this? What types of spaces are privileged within this discussion—urban centers? Rural populations? Local populations? Industries? Working from the premise that neoliberalism is something to be critiqued, to what extent is this (globalization) a neoliberal expansion of an institution? Is knowledge globally constructed and recognized… and if so, how? Can knowledge (should knowledge) be capitalized/commodified? In a global setting what knowledge(s) would be or could be valued? How can we reimagine the global university (through our respective institutions) to fulfill their missions? What radical potentialities unfold here? How aware are we of the unseen possibilities and dangers? What must we do to fully (collectively) visualize a global knowledge project?

It is clear that the relationship between place (for instance, global, local) and the responsibilities of those invested in the project results in more questions than answers. I find this to be exciting. The lack of vocabulary and vision for the (global) university (of the future) is not something to be packaged as an anxiety, but rather an opportunity. It is my understanding as I write this report that the relationship between where we learn and what we learn is a highly underdeveloped, yet crucial aspect of knowledge production. Further, universities and higher education institutes are shaped by their ecologies. Learning to wield this and respect the local while looking towards the global is difficult, but necessary if we are to truly engage in innovative cross disciplinary and cross border projects.

The work of GPP is: “Preparing globally-conscious future faculty members. A component of Virginia Tech’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative” (Twitter, June, 20, 2016). After the trip, I am aware that my naïve assumption was that university directly equals “knowledge production.” We are more than our productivity—or at least, we can be, on both a personal, individual scale and an institutional scale. In that sense, our experiences and our teaching must reflect attention to process as well as product, as we are only as strong as the questions we ask to formulate the “right” answer. In the spirit of reflective curiosity and envisioning a future which encompasses the future (and the unknown), this report celebrates the intentions of global education initiatives and offers an exploration of the possibilities of PLACE in within knowledge production, believing that potential for societal growth happens on all levels; the local, institutional, and global.

In the following I hope to offer additional teaching frames, reflections on place within transformative pedagogy. I will revisit my original anticipated outcomes, specifically; to better articulate, critique, and create meaningful, sustainable place-based educational initiatives, become more comfortable in initiating global projects within the classroom and within my own work and think critically about how these possibilities differ depending on specific sites. Using the experiences, independent readings, reflections (via field notes and journaling), and conversations with place-based pedagogues, I use this report to clarify what place-based education is (within a global context), what a global project looks like and revealed in my experiences, and conclude by addressing issues pertaining to local/global relations and possibilities of site specific projects.

Looking at Place-Based Education, Globally.

Within the current political and economic climate words like “globalization” and “borders” have emotional responses. It would be problematic to dismiss the politicization of the terminology employed in global education efforts. However, the political ramifications of such language is not the area of this study, rather I am interested in how knowledge is produced through experiences and how universities can cultivate such spaces.

Theoretically, I am interested in place as a concept. As Peter Cannavo writes, “[P]laces are temporarily created out of flows: of people; of natural and artificial objects and substances; of energy; of ecological and social relations and organizational arrangement; of cultural interpretations, symbols, and practices” (21). So, what does it mean for learning to be attached to a temporary flow, an arrangement negotiated by the Powers of the current time? Education scholar David Sobel writes that place-based education is a process

… of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and environmental quality are improved through the active engagement of local citizens, community organizations, and environmental resources in the life of the school. (Sobel, 6)

As a graduate student, I am given the opportunity to teach as an Instructor of Record within the Department of Religion and Culture. In the course I oversee, I implement place-based education through a variety of on-going activities. We begin the course by mapping the power within our communities. The activity—which some groups refer to as asset mapping—allows students to reveal their own knowledge of power(s) within their communities and compare that with the experiences of others. We then place ourselves on the map and notice the many ways we hold power within our communities.

Secondly, I initiate place-based learning through “experiential learning” … or simply getting out into the community! I assess these activities by prompting students to reflect on the following questions:

What happened at the events you attended? Did you challenge yourself? What did you observe or participate in that can only happen through experience? Did any of the readings or class discussions occur to you while at the event? Did your perception of Appalachia today change after attending? If you felt awkward, uncomfortable, or like an “outsider” address that as well and consider why. If you felt more “at home” than any other time in your life, elaborate on why. Who was gathered there? What were the sounds, smells, images? What power relations seemed to exist?

Students are encouraged to reflect on the ways they impact places by entering them… something beyond the experience of consuming the region. This has repeatedly been a highlight of the course for many students. It is part of my experience that knowledge is produced in relation to place and place is itself a relationship. What happens when the scale and intimate knowledge(s) of a place is shifted? What happens when the university is “global?” How does learning shift when learners are displaced?

During the GPP trip, I realized that learning, like place, is relational and place is just one factor in that relationship. Further, many of my peers differentiated between places without considering the local—this is not a critique of their view, but rather a realization that we have very different experiences within the academy. Further, many people consider the university set apart from its geographic and ecological location, not to mention it’s socio-cultural context. Walking in the city, away from the university in Basel, Strasburg, and Milan reminded me of strolling the streets of downtown Asheville, North Carolina and other cities where the universities and towns are experienced in different spheres. A full assessment of the types of knowledge produced in such spaces is beyond the scope of this project but would be an intriguing study.

It is incredibly important to note that my reflection is based on an experience of traveling with a cohort through universities—our goal was to learn without a fixed location aside from our relationships with one another and the universities we traveled to on our trip. For instance, what is the history of “X” university? What courses does it offer? What would it be like to work there? We began to understand the unique perspectives each group member brought and I can honestly say we had the opportunity to learn who we are in relation to others and in relation to place on a deeper level by experiencing and decompressing collectively. With that said, differences between us are highlighted and our intersectional constitution was made more apparent. This is a good thing.

If successfully accomplished, displaced experiences move us to share and listen. If we listen closely and open ourselves to uncomfortable moments and realizations, our weaknesses are found and the limitations of ourselves (and our work) within the limited context we are accustomed to are highlighted. This close look at things that need improvement are not simply for the sake of critique, but revealed in order to be changed. Further the strengths of our “home” institutions, disciplines, fields, and networks should be celebrated and the privileges of these various positions are (potentially) seen as wielders of change and transformation. Not all experiments in place-based pedagogy or learning through travel are successful, however I will quickly highlight a few that have yielded exciting results. I am looking at project similar to those I envision myself one day leading.

Within the context of my field, it is important to note that the region is often stereo-typically depicted in popular media and scholarship. Appalachian Studies is a movement out the 1970s which seeks to better understand the nuanced history and culture of the region and its role within national and global developments. Helen Lewis, often cited as the “mother” of Appalachian Studies offered the following regarding why studying a place is important:

Why Study Appalachia?
Appalachia is a region and a place. Real and mythical, beautiful and devastated, geological and political, rich in resources and a poverty pocket, a place to exploit, a watershed for the eastern seaboard and destroyed and polluted headwaters.
Weekend cabins and homes in the holler. Yesterday’s and tomorrow’s people. Hillbillies and folks. Bluegrass and hip hop. Poets and politicians. Professors and protesters, preachers and prophets. A model and a warning signal for the nation.
So if you want to study Appalachia, here is what you do.
Start where you live: Interview your elders, map your community, write your local history. Who lives where and why? Who owns the land, minerals, resources? Who is rich and who is poor? Who has power and who is powerless? Who are the story tellers, the poets, the singers? Who is in jail, who is sick, who is angry and who is throwing the bodies in the river and who is pretending it is not happening?
Who is speaking truth to power, who is feeding the hungry, who is healing the sick? Who is writing the poetry, saving the stories, saving the land, singing the songs?
Find out who you are. What is your place in this place?

To think about what this could mean globally is overwhelming by scale. However, as was stated in my initiatives for the trip, I am interested in how places inform knowledge production. When asking questions overseas, similar to the questions I would posit here – had I been researching in McCoy, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Giles or any number of local communities – the answers were frustratingly lacking in a direct answer. I ask about town-gown-divides, local cultures, the music scene, and local foods. “Local” food and music has a very different connotation in places void of Wal-Marts and Doller Generals on every corner. Further, when answering my questions individuals answered by translating what they thought I meant to ask or by suggesting what I should see. I learned about this “near miss” in my questions early on and began to reposition them. For instance, when spending time with cohort member Liz Ligouri’s family, I learned to ask “if you only had one day here, what would you want to do” rather than, “what should I see?” Spending a day with her family was a highlight of the trip as I was doubly displaced—in a place I did not know, and now without the factorization of the group I had so quickly learned to lean on for stability overseas.

In my dissertation work I have learned to look in alternative spaces for answers, as the dominant discourse may not hold the answers I am looking for—the voices willing to speak and the experiences which speak to my project may be overshadowed by the powers at hand. While in Europe, I began to look on bulletin boards for indigenous music(s) and cultural events. I noted the alternative economies happening outside the university doors, but not within. It was fascinating to find areas of globalization—jazz music and tapas and (American) country music—happening on their own within the public arena. I met street buskers who had traveled through the United States or were saving money to travel overseas. I traveled through the airport with a musician who I came to find out was playing many of the festivals I study. I chatted with graduate students about our collective precarious positions… will we find jobs? Such anxieties are universal.

Maps served as places to position myself and understand what the city (and its governing structures) wanted me to see. The process of finding myself on a paper map reminded me of the reasons positionality (in relation to place and education is so crucial). Criminologist Biko Agozino speaks to the idea that objectivity is not a lack of position; standpoints, or the places from which we speak and study are not fixed and yet, they continually influence our work and analysis’, even while our work is “objective.” To clarify, I feel that while standpoints are fluid, voices are often not—in many disciplines or instances once an individual speaks as an authority or “expert” they lose or mis/place their position within the community.

Further, often complex and uncomfortable ideas about our own homes can be more easily digested when they are first presented at a geographic distance. When we discuss the issues in coal mines in China, it makes students who intensely identify with mining communities in the Appalachian region space to critique (some) mining practices without dealing with the emotional entanglement regarding the jobs in their home communities.

Conclusion: Unpacking and Repositioning Back Home.

Within higher education we can create opportunities to learn from one another. We can create and further cultivate spaces which encourage cross-border communication and research. Knowledge is produced across borders and it is my belief that the production of knowledge is richer when the lived experiences and context of the social stratification and context of the places which have shaped institutions and individuals is understood and respected. This requires displacing ourselves and understanding the relationships which have constructed the places where we are comfortable and questioning why. I realize now, after these experiences and reflections, that it may not be the most productive and transformative process to hedge “local” and “global” against one another—they are not in directly in conflict within themselves, and certainly not as tools for knowledge production, rather, they are different ways—scales, frames, and positions—from which we can better understand relationships of power.

Without this trip I would not have realized the rich lived, somatic impact of the theoretical understanding that places are in fact relationships (between land, power, people, economies). Further, I would not have realized the relational aspect of higher education, as universities are “spaces” and “places” of learning. Places and their full contexts must be acknowledged in the university of the future if it is to be a truly transformative space. The process of understanding the relationships—and short comings—of the universities historic relationships provide a platform from which new relationships and understandings can be forged. The key here, as I have gathered from human geographer, Doreen Massey, is to be place-based without being place-bound. Knowledge production, likewise, does not have to reproduce the relationships it results from—rather it should move beyond them, locally, globally, and individually.

You don’t have to live the way your foreparents lived.
But if you don’t know about them
If you don’t love them
If you don’t respect t
You’re not going anywh
You don’t have to thin
k ri
The way they did.
You can think ocean-to-ocean. (Miller, 426)

Works Cited

  1. Agozino, Biko. “Committed objectivity in race-class-gender research.” Quality and Quantity 33.4 (1999): 395-410.
  2. Cannavò, Peter F. The working landscape: Founding, preservation, and the politics of place. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
  3. Lewis, Helen. “Why Study Appalachia” https://kathrynengle.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/why-study-appalachia-wisdom-from-helen-lewis/
  4. Massey, Doreen B. Spatial divisions of labor: Social structures and the geography of production. Psychology Press, 1995.
  5. Miller, Jim Wayne. “The Brier Sermon—You Must Be Born Again” Cited in Satterwhite, Emily. “Intro to Appalachian Studies: Navigating the Myths of Appalachian Exceptionalism.” Appalachia in the Classroom: Teaching the Region (2013): 3.
  6. Powell, Douglas Reichert. Critical regionalism: Connecting politics and culture in the American landscape. UNC Press Books, 2007.
  7. Sobel, David. “Place Based Education: Connecting Classroom and Community” http://www.antiochne.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/pbexcerpt.pdf

Suggested resources and further reading:

  1. Chatterton, Paul, and John Goddard. “The response of higher education institutions to regional needs.” European Journal of Education 35.4 (2000): 475-496.
  2. Caniëls, Marjolein CJ, and Herman van den Bosch. “The role of higher education institutions in building regional innovation systems.” Papers in Regional Science 90.2 (2011): 271-286.
  3. “Beautiful Solutions” https://solutions.thischangeseverything.org/
  4. Lewis, Helen Matthews. “Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case.” (1978).
  5. Lewis, Helen M., P. Reason, and H. Bradbury. “Participatory research and education for social change: Highlander research and education center.” Handbook of Action Research: Concise Paperback Edition (2005): 262.
  6. Luke, Timothy W. “Neither sustainable nor development: reconsidering sustainability in development.” Sustainable development 13.4 (2005): 228-238.
  7. Luke, Timothy. “Sustainable development as a power/knowledge system: the problem of governmentality.” Greening environmental policy: The politics of a sustainable future (1995): 21-32.
  8. Powell, Douglas Reichert. Critical regionalism: Connecting politics and culture in the American landscape. UNC Press Books, 2012.