Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Home and Away: Rambling thoughts on hybridity, home and hospitality #DigCiz

| 8 Comments

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Rambling post ahead, about all the different places we choose to make and spaces we choose to exist in, and how we bring different parts of ourselves to each of these, and how this influences how we interact with others there… digitally and face to face… ideas firing in my brain from Twitter conversations with Suzan Koseoglu and others re Self OER, #DigCiz, #MELSIG, #Domains17 over a couple of weeks or so…

I’ve been working with Kate Bowles on two related things… a week we’re co-facilitating on online at #DigCiz (that’s starting June 12 inshallah) and a week of face-to-face co-teaching for the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at UMW. They’re related on purpose, as I felt that that doing something online at #DigCiz would be both a good preview for our DPLI work, and also help us solidify some of our thinking about DPLI.

The trio of hybridity, home and hospitality, as alliteration, is a little gimmicky, but initially intended to just help me remember the three dimensions we were discussing… and they’re really all appropriate terms for what we were thinking about anyway. We also thought about another (really coincidental, but cool) alliteration of parallel verbs: being/becoming, belonging, and bridging. They fit really well. It’s almost like we’re developing a model or something 🙂 I hate models and frameworks, though they’re often helpful. They’re always missing something or oversimplifying something as they try to clarify another.

My thoughts are banging around in my head. They have been for a while now, thinking about this, and how it’s intersecting with work I’m doing with Suzan Koseoglu on Self as OER – where we are rethinking the “OER” because we know we never really meant OER…. and  I think in a way, even though we are focusing on the self, we’re hyperaware of how we’re talking about the self in social spaces as part of communities and/or networks. And so it’s not so much just the self, and it’s not necessarily identity as a fixed thing, but a more dynamic thing, as not just being, but also becoming (that’s where the “becoming” part came about).

There was also the recent #MELSIG event about digital placemaking, where I think I am struck by the “making” aspect of it all – the agency it seems to emphasize in how we make the places we “choose” to be in, digitally. In a physical world, you can “move in” to a place, that can be a hotel that’s temporary and will never be yours; or you can be an expat or refugee (with the different connotations of these terms) and always feel temporary, in one celebrated, the other scorned and barely tolerated… or you can go “all in” to a new place and make it your own, make it your home… and yet, do you truly feel at home, what makes you feel at home in a place?

And then there was the #domains17 conference which I followed from VERY far away… Ramadan and all, I didn’t participate in a single vconnecting session but watched parts of them, and I didn’t follow Twitter too closely but read some and saw some blogposts.

The blogpost that struck a chord with me most was Amy Collier’s on Hidden Immigrants and Belonging. I read it after Kate and I had agreed on what we wanted to do for our week of #DigCiz, building on what had already been happening on #DigCiz (last week alone I wrote two #DigCiz posts, “citizenship in spite of…” and one on surveillance) and upon reading Amy’s post I realized that I think we were missing an important dimension in our work…

For background, if you haven’t read Amy’s post, the main thing that struck me about it is how she goes beyond the Visitor/Resident metaphor and discusses Third Culture Kids (which I hadn’t known was her dissertation topic; nor had I realized she viewed herself as one – and as one who considers myself a third culture kid but has a similar “not looking like a third culture kid” look… I totally get it) and how she uses the PolVan Cultural Identity model to represent more complex positions than visitor/resident. Positions like the “hidden immigrant” who looks like the people s/he’s with, but deep inside thinks differently, and the “adopted” who looks different but thinks alike (I’ll come back to these). (I took the PolVan model table from Amy’s blog – let’s hope it’s not a copyright violation or such)

And I’m thinking of a couple of things here…

  1. The more complex positions of how we relate to different places/spaces than just home/not home. It’s more than a binary. And even the PolVan model is problematic as I’ll explain in a minute
  2. We go to many places other than home. We meet others in places that are not our home, in third places. And the terms are neither theirs nor ours but someone else’s, whether a commons or a commercial space or other. We can, digitally, call our own domain our home, but if we never venture out, into other people’s domains or into common spaces (even if commercially controlled like social media), we would be living a very solitary or very limited life at best. And that culturally speaking, we meet in third spaces, that are dependent on our hybridity and our intersections with others, and that again, if we lived only within our own hybridity without intersecting with others, we would not progress into knowing others.

There was a tweet a while ago by someone that people aren’t truly educated unless they’ve ventured out of their home and lived elsewhere. Someone took offense at that tweet because of its elitism. I get it. I truly do. And I get the elitisim behind calling people who haven’t as less than fully educated. But if you skip the educated part, I think it’s important to highlight a couple of really important things you miss out on if you’ve never traveled outside your home (country). If you don’t travel outside your home, you don’t really experience “otherness”. The experience of otherness is a truly humbling experience, if you’ve been dominant all of your life (so I would exclude, in the US, people of color here, because they experience otherness more regularly, and they don’t really need to venture outside of the US to feel this one).  And you don’t experience the full ability to be “curious” about the “unknown”. This latter helps you question a lot of assumptions that you don’t realize you’ve got.

Kate reminds me (she often reminds me of really important things, Kate does) that we cannot generalize from our own experience to others…

For me, sometimes it’s important to be explicit about my own experience in order to move beyond it, and to help others understand where I’m coming from… and I need to talk/reflect about my hybridity here before moving onto anything else (And I suspect others will need to do the same, in DigCiz and DPLI)

Growing up…

I was born and raised in Kuwait. This is tricky, because it’s a country that speaks my language (different dialect) and practices my religion (albeit slightly differently) but does not give me citizenship because I was born there. I love it because of a lot of its beauty and in spite of a lot of its faults. I love it very differently from how I love Egypt, because if I had to be honest, I had a wonderfully sheltered and privileged childhood there and Kuwait gave me so much and took away from me so much less, in material and emotional ways. But in Kuwait, I was always an expat, an “other”, and at the same time, raised to, for some reason, believe that Egypt was superior because of historical civilization reasons. My direct interaction with Kuwaiti culture was pretty limited; a few Kuwaiti friends here and there (many of them hybrid with a Lebanese or Egyptian mother, many of them hybrid in the Westernized sense I’m about to mention next) but I understood the dialect well and because Kuwait had people from everywhere, I understood most Arabic dialects well in ways Egyptians rarely have to do here in Egypt because most Arabs can speak with an Egyptian dialect (popular culture thing from TV and such).

The other aspect of my hybridity comes from Westernized schooling. Two different British schools in Kuwait and a couple of years in Egypt that gave me a glimpse of this horrible education system here. I recognize that not all schooling in Britain is anywhere near as good as what I experienced in Kuwait –  more equivalent to good quality private schooling or whatever is considered good there. But the point being… this Westernized schooling is empowering and disempowering at the same time…

I joked about this in my OER17 keynote, stand-up comedy style. We weren’t allowed to speak Arabic in these British schools, and so as a form of resistance… we all developed American accents (learned from TV). Seriously, every single one of us who grew up listening to British/Australian accents in school, all of us have American accents unless we had an English parent. It’s quite odd, and I remember the moment I made an executive decision not to switch between can’t/can’t (you know, tomato, tomato) and stick to just the American.

But I digress.

Hybridity in Digital Spaces

I was wondering how the PolVan model and how it translates into digital spaces… like what does “look alike” and “think alike” mean in those spaces? Does “look alike” refer to our profile pictures, or does it refer to something else (I changed my Mastodon profile picture to one that’s less obviously of me and more avatar like, even though it’s still a picture of me – I used the one from OER17 that’s a sketch on a wall – it seemed to fit that space better). OR does looking “alike” refer to digital behaviors? Does it refer to using hashtags “just so” and using the right jargon and acronyms? Do all academics really “look alike” in the way they communicate, in general, or online? Does the process of a PhD enculturate us into a dominant mode of communicating? And if you don’t develop this, you lose?

Sometimes, I think of myself in the midst of any conversation on Twitter, recognizing I’m one of a few non-Westerners there (even if we’re talking someone like Rusul, she’s lived in Canada for a long time now, we’re not in the same boat, though we have a lot in common) and in a lot of ways, I fit right into these conversations, and I feel, well maybe I’m “adopted”…. I “look different, think alike”. I feel that way most of the time. But sometimes I think it’s the other way around. That it’s not about my profile picture, that actually, for the most part, I appear to folks as if I am just like them, because my behavior, not my looks are similar enough to theirs, that they actually forget I am different from them deep down, so maybe it’s more like a hidden immigrant, maybe I “look alike, think different”, because of course the context I’m coming from informs me very differently, even as I get to a common space where I can have these discussions with folks. They only seem me in the common spaces, the intersections, the borders. They don’t see the big picture of my context, nor can I communicate that in 140 chars or more.

And this is where these models break down for me. Of course I’m neither this nor that and I’m something else altogether. Because also I’m not pure anything. I’m not pure Egyptian. That’s the obvious aspect of my identity that seems non-negotiable to outsiders, but really negotiable for me. I don’t even feel third culture is enough, as I think I’ve got like 4 cultures within me… living in the US and UK after being immersed in those cultures all through my education brought home how familiar they were to me before I had to live in them… and that’s just the obvious nationality type culture things… there are also the academic identity type culture things…

Just today, someone told me that I was one of the first people (I just checked, she said *first*) to welcome her into the whole digped type community. And i stopped and my eyes teared up a bit because I realized this. She lives right in the middle of the US surrounded by people doing this kind of work. I don’t. And yet, virtually, somehow, I managed to be more hospitable to her, to welcome her into this, from miles and miles away… and I thought: wow. How is that even possible? [of course, some others earlier welcomed ME into that community from afar; but the difference is that they were already surrounded by it before welcoming me in; I’m welcoming people into an adopted space that wasn’t mine to begin with]

How is it possible when I’m so much “other” yet made these spaces my home, to be the one welcoming other people in. And what does this mean, exactly? Both Kate and Amy talk about kinship and I tend to feel a a very special kinship with a lot of the women I meet online. Our contexts will always differ, but there are just some things about being a woman that transfer easily across time and space.

In a recent post by Kate, she wrote:

“I have no kith here, and I shouldn’t. It’s not my place. It’s not my place to love, to ask it to love me back.”

And I thought about this. I grimace as I think about the computer science labs on campus and how I felt there. Not my place; not gonna ask it to love me back. Looking at the backs of the heads of the other computer science students working on computers, hunched over and focused. Feeling out of place and not wanting to spend my life doing that.

Kate’s talking, in that particular context, of Australia vs home. As not her home where she grew up. I think about how Kuwait is where I was born and grew up, but where I might never return again, possibly (gosh I feel a fist around my heart at the thought of never seeing it again, even knowing I have not been there in maybe 15 years now. Oh it’s painful to imagine), but I think about her particular emphasis on it being her “place” to love, and the emphasis on “asking” it love you back. Chuck Pearson said something on Twitter about loving a place anyway even if it doesn’t love us back. And I think about this and I think about these things:

  1. Sometimes we don’t love a place itself, but we love the people within it; and it does not matter whether the places loves us as long as our people are there; if our people moved, we would move with them wherever they went; and I’ll tell you, digitally, if all my Twitter peeps migrated to Mastodon, I’d be in Mastodon in a flash; because Twitter isn’t “it” for me; it’s just where my people are; and the reason I still tangentially hang out on Facebook is that my Egyptian and childhood friends and family are on Facebook and not Twitter and if I left Facebook I’d lose touch with them
  2. Sometimes you DO love a place itself and it doesn’t matter whether it loves you back. I love Kuwait and I know it never considered me as “one of their own”. I love Egypt and it kind of officially considers me one of its own but I don’t feel really loved by it; maybe I feel the right to ask it, but I’m not sure I want that answer…
  3. Sometimes you need to venture out into a place that doesn’t love you, that isn’t your home, where you don’t belong, in order to be with others… and sometimes you need to stand your ground and stay for love, or for a purpose

Then I think about this song. I wasn’t familiar with the song til I saw the Sarah Ikumu rendition of it on Sherri Spelic’s blog

It’s a powerful song and powerfully sung by this girl (you won’t believe she is only 15 years old!)

And just the lyrics of that song (talking about a man, yes, but it’s more than that, I think):

I’m not living without you
I don’t wanna be free
I’m staying
I’m staying
And you, and you
You’re gonna love me, oh ooh mm mm
You’re gonna love me

And I read that and wow.

And I don’t know where I’m going with this 🙂 But I feel better having written all of this. If you’ve gotten this far, let me know what you think… I should go sleep or something 🙂

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Benjamin Doxtdator

  2. Maha, that ending! That song! To read those lyrics, to hear that voice in this context – wow, I didn’t see that coming. And it fits so well. It ties together so much! I’m feeling a lot here and find a lot of parallels in my own situation concerning home, hybridity and hospitality. (Blog brewing as we speak!) Thank you for teasing out these various aspects of being/becoming, belonging and bridging. I think I’ve tried in various ways to get at these themes in my writing over the last couple of years. I find your handling of all these aspects as possibilities and realities refreshing and freeing. My academic tendency to want to fulfill the framework and back up my ideas tends to hold me up to mixing more generously as you have done here. I’m inspired and on my way to go listen to that song again! So grateful that you are here!

    • Grateful to u too, Sherri, in so many ways. And really looking forward to what you write next! I’m glad you like the way I have reaproppriated that song. I was honestly a little worried about using it because i don’t understand the depth of its connotations for African Americans beyond what i read by you and what I just feel by the way she sings it (I haven’t seen Dream Girls, don’t see lots of movies in general) and she’s of course not American herself but clearly the song had significance for her…
      Last thing I read before (temporary) bedtime. Talk soon inshallah xo

  3. I’ve been wrestling with this all day, and thanks to Maha and everyone who reads for the Twitter dialogue as well. There may be a blogpost in this later, but for now, this is a working narrative and response to Maha’s ramblings; I’m probably rambling a bit myself.

    I moved to Central Appalachia in 2011 – first to Bristol, VA, to work at Virginia Intermont College – and then when that school failed, after a couple of years of a temporary job in midstate Tennessee, to Greeneville, TN to work at Tusculum College, in a job that I just accepted for August of 2016. The result of that move was to gain a new place, and to gain some new neighbors.

    What’s more, I was raised in the space between Hilliard, FL and Folkston, GA – two small towns on either side of a state line on US Highway 1. I went to school on the Florida side. I went to church on the Georgia side. Both communities were so influential.

    Anybody who has followed the news of the past year knows that my neighbors – both my current neighbors, and the neighbors of my childhood – took the lead on a leadership change in this country that is absolutely horrifying.

    I love my neighbors – both my current neighbors and the neighbors of my childhood – and I desperately want to serve them well.

    This contradiction defines my life right now.

    It’s obviously frustrating living here, and feeling like everything I stand for is so completely opposed. I don’t think it’s opposed out of malice. I think there are a ton of people in these communities of rural America who have been lied to – completely, comprehensively. They believe the realities of the world are one way; the actual realities of the world are completely removed. They’ve been lied to because there are media companies – “news” organizations – that profit by being able to tell you the things “they” don’t want you to know about, and there’s this secret Gnostic knowledge about the evil Barack Obama inflicted on America, and if they know those secrets, they’ll all be saved.

    Most of my neighbors are evangelical Christians, which makes their pursuit of this secret knowledge all the more ironic, and their willingness to help these media companies to record profit all the more exasperating.

    I still feel compelled – even called – to love the people of this wonderful, wonderful place, to honor the graft that made such a difficult part of the country so livable, to work to make space for the great characteristics of these people to make good and not harm, to let their stories be told and heard. There may be places with greater need, but they don’t have people that I identify with so strongly – even as I viscerally feel the distrust of the outsider who’s got more brains than common sense.

    Because, ultimately, that’s what I was told throughout my own childhood. The book knowledge is nice. It won’t help you in the real world. The people who made this country didn’t do it with pencil and paper; they did it with their hands. I don’t trust your words, I don’t trust your numbers. I trust your blood, and your sweat.

    I at once admire that attitude and I’m alienated by it. I know where my talents lie. But using those talents in this place leaves me alone.

    I love you, Appalachia. Please let me love you.

    • This is so beautiful and moving, Chuck, and I get it. I get what you mean because I get it. I get THAT attitude about how the book knowledge is disconnected from the world and I get people around me who believe what seem to me to be obvious lies.
      And as you do, I can’t stop loving the people. I get it

      • I know that attitude isn’t exclusively a product of my places, and I’m sure you see as much of that as I do. It still FEELS so visceral and so isolating.

        And the frustrations that surround that feeling wind up being paralyzing more often than not.

  4. I’ve been thinking about my relationship with Turkey after reading this post. There was much love at first and now we have a love and hate relationship. I also agree with edifiedlistener that reading this post, and your posts in general, are refreshing and freeing in a strange way. 🙂

    I don’t like the PolVan model at all… Cultural Identity in relationship to looks? Cultural identity in relationship to one imaginary homogenous entity? I lived in many countries for the past 10 or so years and I just can’t place myself anywhere in the little squares. I mean how can I possibly use that framework to map my experiences in Turkey, Japan and US, and UK? Relational, everything is relational and yes we are hybrid creatures.

  5. Pingback: “Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole” | Another fine mess.

Leave a Reply

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: