Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 51 seconds

Identity as Evolving, Dynamic, Contextual #el30

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 51 seconds

Tonight (8pm UTC) I’m Stephen Downes’ guest in the eLearning 3.0 course. We’re talking about identity… and I’m sort of pre-thinking a lot of this. In my own digital literacies and intercultural learning course, we talk a lot about identity and we talk about it in Equity Unbound in the intros as well… learners create Alternative CVs (which I think can be sort of like the identity graphs Stephen mentions, but maybe not… they’re not necessarily graphs. I’ve included mine here) and hybridity.

My Fall 2018 ALTCV

I am thinking about a lot of things so this blogpost won’t flow in a linear way… but hey, maybe that’s why images are good. Text is necessarily sort of linear (though you could put arrows and notes in margins and stuff) but an image need not be linear. 

Let me say this. When I saw Stephen’s bio of me (which he did not ask about, but is accurate… it’s just, if you’re doing a theme of identity and you’re asking people to create a graph of identity that’s how THEY choose their identity to be told… well, I dunno… might have been nice to ask how I wanted my bio to be… but to be fair, I have, many times, grabbed someone’s institutional affiliation and blog link and used them for their bio in things I’ve organized… so no harm).

It just struck me that in introducing me, there was mention of my institutional role and my blogging and tweeting… but not Virtually Connecting. And I had realized earlier this year that Vconnecting is part of my identity. It’s simple but complicated. The realization came to me when I was voted to be included in Uncommon Women and Kelsey Merkley asked me if I wanted my affiliation to be “American University in Cairo” or “Virtually Connecting” and I could not choose between them… but it was definitely not a resounding “of course my formal institution”. We ended up including both, but putting Virtually Connecting first. Now, in this *context* Vconnecting had to come first because it was arguably my biggest contribution to the open movement, and probably the biggest contribution in my professional practice in general. But including my institution also mattered because the two main drivers behind how Vconnecting started is because I am a mom and I live in Cairo. Social, logistical and financial barriers to conference travel that limit my ability to travel (unless invited properly with funds and stuff) to about 1-2 times a year max, if it ever works out. Virtually Connecting started as my way of growing professionally while prioritizing being a mom and recognizing the limitations of my global position and my institutional resources. Now Virtually Connecting quickly grew into something many other people find beneficial and benefits onsite buddies and virtually buddies alike, onsite guests and virtual participants. It is no longer about me. It continues to challenge academic gatekeeping and expand access to conferences, but it does so in many ways (a graph might actually help!) and we have morphed in different ways so it can do this better (amplify marginalized voices rather than reproduce power structures) but still have a long way to go.

So I guess if I were to graph it, my identity revolving around VConnecting, it would actually look quite a lot like the ALTCV above. I dated the ALTCV because in different years I have focused on different things for various reasons. But look at that ALTCV. My being a mom is right there. My blogging is there.. Rajiv’s tweet about me as a scholar is there… the recognition in Uncommon Women is there… and Virtually Connecting is right there. If I were to graph it… I might put Virtually Connecting in the middle, and put “being a mom” near it with an arrow (being a mom led to Vconnecting) and I could add “Egyptian academic” and an arrow point to Vconnecting also. But also, and equally, one of the reasons Vconnecting worked at first (and to a lesser extent continues to work until now) is because of the kinds of connection and online reputation I’d been growing for a year or more on Twitter and my blog. I had strong #rhizo14 connections, strong #ccourses connections, strong Hybrid Pedagogy connections. All of these existed before Vconnecting started, so people who were relatively high profile knew me and many were my friends, so I could get them to take time away from a conference to talk to me and others. So it’s a kind of cycle, I think, that Vconnecting is. My connections help make Vconnecting work (both in terms of guests and getting volunteers and benefiting people) but the more we do Vconnecting, the more connections we make (and the more volunteers we have, the more guests we can get and the more events we can get and the more participants can benefit from it). Wow. Yeah. That can be a graph (that I don’t have time to do… but still).

Anyway. Back to the title of this blogpost. In my class, we also talk about identity from the 4 lenses that James Paul Gee mentions (see here) where dimensions of our identity can be natural (like ethnicity for example, or I think maybe also motherhood, though some people can understand this differently or choose not to be mothers even after they have kids), institutional (like institutional affiliation with your job or alma mater, or nationality), personality (just what kind of person people perceive you to be – friendly, outgoing, etc.) and affinity (what you choose to be part of and belong to – like VConnecting or  fan clubs).

But importantly… identities are dynamic in the moment, evolve over time, and are contextual. For example, in my f2f environment, VConnecting can be completely irrelevant, people around me (except one person who is part of the Vconnecting team and a couple of who have been on a few times) have no clue how big of a deal this is. They may not care, really.

My identity evolves… like who I was before I was a wife, before I was a mother, before I had a PhD evolves. These are obvious lifechanging events and their impact on identity is obvious. But there are sometimes more subtle changes that happen that influence how we see ourselves. Like there was a year in which I “became a writer”. I don’t know exactly how it happened… it started the year I was finishing up my PhD. I got my writing muscles honed so well because I needed to be able to write quickly. My kid was between 1-2 years old and needed me a lot at night and throughout the day. I needed to learn to think about my PhD thesis all day long and write it all down in 1-2 hours while she napped or slept fitfully at night. I became good and fast at this. So much so, that when my supervisor took the full draft of my dissertation and told me he would need 4 weeks to review it, I spent those 4 weeks writing 2 peer-reviewed articles (no kidding!), one of which was related to my thesis (on intercultural learning); one of which was not at all related (about MOOCs – and that’s how I got into open education!). I also started writing in non-peer-reviewed spaces. For some reason. I developed this need to express my thoughts in writing and get others to read them. After I finished my PhD and submitted it and did the viva, I realized I want to sometimes publish something quicker than a trade journal would take it, so I started my blog and that… really took off… largely because of Twitter and the audience #rhizo14 gave me (and also a lot of role models). And then it was maybe a year later… many non-peer-reviewed and peer-reviewed publications later…. that the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy invited me to guest-write for Digital Writing Month… and that was, for me, the moment I thought, “wow, some people whose writing I truly admire think of me as a writer” and “oh wow, I really do enjoy writing” but it’s not just something I do. It is something I am. Does that make sense? 

Identity is also very contextual. Intersectional? On the global front, I’m a global South scholar and disadvantaged in many ways. In my own context, I’m an elite academic in an elite institution. I’m a Muslim (dominant religion) woman (non-dominant in a very patriarchal culture) who wears a headscarf (problematic and dynamic as to whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage it’s actually hilarious) and speaks fluent English (advantage but alienating sometimes). Many things. In certain contexts, my English fluency is an advantage and in others it hinders my Arabic fluency. In certain contexts, you focus on your identity as…e.g. someone with a PhD… and in other contexts, you play it down. 

I think over the course of a day and depending where I am and what I’m doing, different dimensions of identity come to the fore or background. And online it is the same. What we choose to show of ourselves online and share openly (or not so openly) makes a difference. 

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I did want to get myself into the mood for today’s talk with Stephen, so here we are.

Update: recording of my convo w Stephen is here.

4 thoughts on “Identity as Evolving, Dynamic, Contextual #el30

  1. Great post for getting into the vibe of tonight’s discussion:) Identity is not inherent and we are constantly negotiating what it means for us in different spaces, which aspects of our identities are resources for connection and which ones get in the way. I feel very similar about e/merge Africa – it’s part of my identity. My institution may be my current physical centre but it’s not who I am as a networked scholar. In some spaces I try to downplay or not mention which university I’m from because it has a reputation for being an elite research intensive university. Dr. can also be a barrier when I want to be more accessible to people. Looking forward to the discussion:)

    1. Funny u mention the institution here and when to downplay it or use it. Just recently I was referring locally to UCT as this elite African university so I could sell some keynote speakers we invited from there… But the reality is that I appreciate those individuals for the work they do and my relationships with them… Which have v little to do with their institutions per se (probably indirectly giving privilege to do this work… But not everyone uses their privilege this way)

  2. I hope I can time things to tune in to the talk.

    A thing I always latch on to is that we speak of Identity as a single entity and thus talk about its evolving state, or contextual distinctions, all of which are true. But what if we considered it not a singular thing, that, like electrons in the matter that make us us always in state of inexact, dynamic positioning, yet solid?

    Moreso, there is the identity that you consider yourself, as described in your ALTCV, which is how you, likely the most informed authority on Maha Bali-ness, see yourself. But our identities in the world are more formed by the bits and parts that others see in us. Are they really the same? There is a “truth” of identity at the core, but much is formed by perception, context, ll of which forms slightly different, yet similar images.

    It’s a bit aged now, but I did an online talk for a K-12 project where I tried to explore this via 3 different Alan personas “We Our Digital Selves and Us”

    But one thing that always stayed with me, was a description a UMW student provided of identity being a series of irises we variable open and close in different contexts. I interviewed 4 of them, but only showed their hands on camera (first student speaking)

    Have fun with Stephen!

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