Update on Project Activities
The following reflection will comment on our activities of both this week and the week of Thanksgiving Break since we did not have a reflection due last week. Over break, we each took ownership over developing one portion of the grant narrative by fleshing out some of the language we had pulled from AEMP’s past grants, and by adding our own text to tailor the narrative specifically to the NEH Collaborative Research Grant. We really want to highlight how interdisciplinary and collaborative AEMP is as a horizontal collective, and how this has been useful in creating a comprehensive Atlas that takes multiple perspectives into account. We’re attempting to convey the power of community-centered understandings of space, as well as the inherency of using the stories of affected individuals in understanding both problems at hand and their solutions. We compiled our text into one coherent draft, and sent it along to AEMP for feedback. We are still waiting to hear back from Mary and Erin about any changes they would like to see, and we are also still waiting to receive budget and collaborator information from AEMP as well. We intend to revise this draft and complete the grant application on Saturday, December 1st.
This week, we focused on creating educational materials for AEMP to include alongside its Atlas. We also hope these materials can be adapted for a workshop in the 2019 Listen to the Silence conference. Spencer and Christian created a list of relevant vocabulary from throughout the Atlas and defined these terms explicitly to help students who might not be familiar with housing and policy language. Lexi created a timeline of policies and other events that have influenced the Bay Area’s current housing and equity issues to provide students with the necessary background information to be able to engage fully with these topics. Elise wrote sample discussion questions based on each chapter’s overarching goals and themes to encourage students to think critically about housing injustices and how they play a role in their own lives. Tony worked on a lesson plan for a community power mapping activity that high school and/or college students could do to help them identify what matters to them in their communities. We then met with Magie on Thursday, November 29th to present these drafts and ask for feedback. We intend to revise these materials and perhaps develop a few more activities before submitting them to AEMP on December 12th.
What We Observed and Learned
Throughout this week, we largely worked on the production of educational resources, and in doing so, were forced to consider the larger context for the information that we learned throughout the quarter. In thinking of which information we wanted to disseminate and to whom, we were forced to also think about the implications of our work in terms of the project’s target audiences and intended results. We decided which information was most valuable as a teaching tool for younger audiences, and in a sense had a large amount of autonomy in dictating that aspect of the project. This demonstrated the subjective power that researchers, scholars, advocates, and activists have in completing their work, as well as how important it is to recognize that power.
Additionally, this process taught us the difficulty of producing content with specific audiences in mind. Given the diversity of audiences that AEMP speaks to, we had some difficulty identifying ways that we would best be able to inform and uplift those communities. Particularly at the middle and high school level, we had some trouble identifying ways to distill down some of the terse academic language to an appropriate level.
In conjunction with this week’s readings, we had a lot of opportunity to think about our work in housing activism in the context of technology. Given that our project is one based in the digital humanities, we’ve been forced to think about the consequences of working through platforms that might be inaccessible to the people that they reference. In class this week, we broached a similar theme when talking about “smart cities” and the deployment of technology to resolve burgeoning crises in urban contexts. In thinking about how this relates back to our work, we’ve been thinking a lot about the dimensionality to sustainability practices, as well as how projects like this one might best have the potential to revolutionize the way that we visualize and conceptualize information. It has also caused us to think about the ways that our project can become more accessible, and it provided a lot of necessary context for how we plan to approach our work in the future, especially in tech hubs like the Silicon Valley.
Finally, this week’s bike tour provide a glimpse at the vastly developing world of Stanford sustainability politics. Several times during the tour the guide mentioned how much money some of their facilities cost, and the luck that they had to be able to pay for them. This made us think back to earlier conversations, though, that we had about seeing sustainability politics as more than just about the environment. Rather, they’re about social and cultural sustainability as well, which led us to question how these investments -- while in projects that are beneficial for the Stanford campus -- might have more broad reaching effects like gentrification on the surrounding region. It made us think critically about what is often posited as a ‘trade-off’ between environmental protection and the interests of the impoverished individuals living in affected areas. In light of the Indigenous Geographies chapter of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project Atlas, we were also struck by the framing during the tour of the Indigenous history of the land on which Stanford’s campus is currently built. In this case as well, phenomena described as fortune in the tour brought to mind systemic histories and made us consider the importance of undertold narratives such as those AEMP is placing forward.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Is there anything you might have done differently if you were to embark on your project from the beginning?
One of the greatest obstacles from the beginning of the quarter was understanding how complicated communication between community partners and our group would be. It would have been useful if we better divided the deliverables amongst our group, making each person responsible for consistently communicating with our partners for each deliverable. Despite the difficulty in deciding who communicates what, we managed to figure out what had to be done and how to complete it by important deadlines, and with the input of our community partners.
Clarifying exactly what was expected of us in terms of deliverables and experiences would have also been useful. We were under the impression that some things had to be prioritized, like creating a useful oral history either for the Atlas or our own experience. It took a while to clarify exactly what we needed to accomplish, and what was supposed to be a useful experience if time and resources permitted it. Eventually we did clarify what the deliverables are, and since then we have been more focused than ever.
Lastly, perhaps scheduling a consistent meeting time every single week where we could all gather and discuss our goals would have been useful. Finding a time to meet each week presents its own difficulties, from changing schedules to family matters, so if a group meeting time were not possible we could potentially have had two meetings, each with half of the group, to discuss progress, then sending brief updates or meeting notes to the other half. In addition, this would have helped us clarify priorities and timelines for meetings with collaborators from the AEMP collective, which could also have been delegated more thoughtfully on our end both in terms of preparation and sharing responsibility for participation. In any case, each of us setting time aside to meet consistently would have created more opportunities for us to clarify expectations and work on deliverables more collaboratively.
What was your greatest learning from your community partner and/or from your fellow teammates?
One of the most salient aspects of our project that taught us all the importance of communication was the opportunity to collaborate with the AEMP research collective. We learned a great deal not only about the subject material itself and the interconnected issues of housing justice, health, infrastructure, sustainability, and planning, but also about what it means practically to organize as a horizontal collective and to put forward material that challenges dominant narratives and power structures of the Bay Area.
Rarely in academia do collectives like AEMP exist, and even more infrequently are they collectives that aim to mesh research with activism. As a group with multiple backgrounds ranging from biology to urban studies to anthropology, we learned how a collective can work in an efficient manner to bring about important social change with the help of data. Most importantly, we learned how to collaborate using our specialties, and this division of academic labor made our work even more interesting and convincing. Within the Stanford bubble, it is often hard to see exactly how coursework will help in a professional setting, and it is easy to become tunnel-visioned in one’s own department, unaware of how research with students in different departments will ultimately help each one achieve their own research goals. This work has been an encouragement and a privilege to say the least, and we have all gained valuable, real life experience from our group work.
Was there a particular "a-ha" moment during your project that shifted your thinking about sustainability or community-based work? Or if you cannot pinpoint a specific incident, what major learnings will you take away from this experience?
In class, Deland instilled the idea that the definition of sustainability can vary greatly, depending on who is defining it. This idea that something like sustainability, which might initially seem objective or exclusively based in science, is inherently value-based, connected quite well to the idea of countermapping, which is how AEMP describes its map-making technique. The idea behind countermapping is that what is shown on a map is dependent on who is creating the map and what they care about, and moreover that some voices are more often represented in maps than others. AEMP attempts to give marginalized groups a voice in the field of cartography by helping those who have been affected by displacement, gentrification, and eviction in the Bay Area to create maps describing what is important to them and their communities. This style of mapping tells stories that are usually hidden from the mainstream to help empower individuals and create a more holistic view of the spaces that people occupy. We believe that our work with AEMP has shown the importance of viewing the conditions of our environment from multiple perspectives, and examining further the ways that seemingly benign or fact-based policies and decisions can impact communities in overlooked or unanticipated ways.