The Road to Mutt-dom: A Scholar-Practitioner’s Reflections

I have returned from an academic conference (Society for Phenomenology and Human Sciences- see http://rz18.wwwdns.rz.uni-konstanz.de/index.php) where I comingled with learned academics and presented collaborative work that lies at the core of my scholarship. In partnership with three most valued others (see http://embodiedresearch.com) we presented an unconventional (for most academic philosophers, anyway) workshop based on our shared interest in embodied research. By this we mean our shared goal to introduce bodymindfulness and somatic awareness to both topics and process in human science research.

Our panel was met with warm though sometimes skeptical responses. This was not unexpected based on our errant approach and the underlying awkwardness that accompanied the experiential panel in this overwhelmingly intellectual forum. Yet we were inspired by a common felt sense about possibilities. Appropriately and naturally, we debriefed afterwards, reflecting and planning on where to next take our work. We are considering a assembling book proposal. Inevitably, the topic of our competencies arose.

We mused that we were like pound dogs, mutts coming to academic pursuits via a jagged path, mindful that we were relative newcomers surrounded by career academics. Given my own personal history, I discovered that the pound-dog image struck a particularly deep cord.   My details are personal and I realize I am not alone in having a story and that each of our stories is reflected in our present condition. The amazing part is that we are present, not only as scholars but as mutts.

A bit of research reveals that in spite of poor public image mutts are a preferential sub-breed. Their cross- and random hybridization contributes to strengths that seem orchestrated by a higher authority. Subsequently, in their randomized hybrid state, they are more adaptable. Hybrids avoid poly-genetic conditions, double recessives are less likely to occur, and have less propensity for unfavorable traits that are hard to eliminate from the gene pool (Haraway, 2003). They are notoriously stronger, faster, more street savvy (read: possessing of phronesis). Mutts exercise their resilience and sustain themselves by moving from one back alley feeding to another, varying their environment, and keeping their survival skills ever-sharp. As a bonus, their diet is diverse (and we are what we eat) and their body and senses well exercised.

In contrast, purebreds are prone to simple and complex genetic disorders that are subject to epigenetic triggers. Purebreeds, by definition, often result from in-breeding. Plus the phenomenon is actually unnatural: purebreds are a man-made phenomenon. Purebreeding is a form of human instigated genetic manipulation to engineer some imaged of the ideal canine companions (Mellersh et al., 2000). Luckily, research indicates that >90% of unique genetic variants are lost over six generations (Calboli et al., 2008). So there is hope even for purebreds (or at least their progeny).

Scholar-practitioners are hybrids. In our group of embodied researchers, we each have professional expertise and histories. In my group of embodied research scholar-practitioners we have been situated in practice fields that are explicitly body-based: Massage, movement therapy, dance, and yoga. We each came to our higher education pursuits and research from a practice-based arena, hoping to contribute academically gained knowledge to our practice fields and enrich research and scholarship with our insider’s expertise from the realm of praxis. Because of our hybridization we speak with authority and authenticity on body based topics. By our very nature, we are challengers.

Based on my anecdotal experience as well as my research (cite Fortune, 2014), scholar-practitioners are positioned to be mavericks. We often stepped back from practice careers at the height of our earning potential and notoriety potential to side-step into scholarly exploration of our fields. In addition, the data indicates we often experience disruption in our personal lives while we maneuver the depth associated with earning our doctorates. Propelled by passion and determination, we hold ourselves and our work to the highest academic standards. And yet we continue to wonder whether or not we are real scholars

Practically speaking, there are downsides to diluting our attention and talents over the different arenas of scholarship and practice. As relative newcomers to academia we do not have the tenure of knowledge and glib communications skills of life-long academics. Devoid of prestigious credentials and decades of practice, we tend to perceive ourselves as lacking authority, and simple humility risks lapsing into neurotic reticence.

But in reflecting on my own story, I see multiple times that I shied away from refined portals to a pedigree in favor of the more robust road to mutt-dom, perhaps propelled by an inner imperative towards resilience.

One reframe of this tendency is highlighted as a predilection to adaptability. In a recent TedTalk, Wapnick (2015) identified people who pursue, of multi-professional vocations and life paths as “multipotentialites.” One of their primary characteristics is adaptability. As scholars and practitioners, our multiple vocations alone demonstrate certain characteristics and tendencies that are to be revered. According to Wapnick (2015), these include the ability to synthesize multiple bodies of knowledge and perspectives. She points out that innovations happen at the intersections, and are propelled by rapid learning and a willingness to step out of our comfort zone. I personally have observed that my best learning comes not from repetition but contrast.

Scholar-practitioners are a special category of multipotentialites, a non-breed that blends versatility with a lofty intention to self-actualize while reaching to make contributions beyond our imaginings. Perhaps in the process, we will end up leading others to where no purebreds could ever venture.

References

Calboli, F. C., Sampson, J., Fretwell, N., & Balding, D. J. (2008). Population structure and inbreeding from pedigree analysis of purebred dogs. Genetics, 179(1), 593-601.

Fortune, L.D. (2014). The Lived Experience of Mid-Life Scholar- Practitioners: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study. [conference paper} Presented at Annual Meetings of the Society for Phenomenology and Human Studies (SPHS), New Orleans. LA, October 2014. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269701503_The_Lived_Experience_of_Mid-Life_Scholar-Practitioners_A_Phenomenological_Pilot_Study

Haraway, D. (2003). 8. For the Love of a Good Dog. Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference, 254.

Mellersh, C. S., Hitte, C., Richman, M., Vignaux, F., Priat, C., Jouquand, S., … & Galibert, F. (2000). An integrated linkage-radiation hybrid map of the canine genome. Mammalian Genome, 11(2), 120-130.

Wapnick, E. (2015, April). What if you don’t have one true calling? Ted Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2015-10-03&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_image

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