[Air-L] What is a Roundtable, Anyway?

Terri Senft tsenft at gmail.com
Sun Jun 2 10:56:12 PDT 2013

Dear Huatong,

First, I want to say THANK YOU for writing your earler email, and sending
it to the AoIR List. It takes one sort of courage to show one's rejection
notice to a group. It takes courage of an entirely different order to say,
"Yeah, that I wrote that rejection," to that same group, especially when
the rejection is under dispute.

This is the AoIR I know and love: not just intellectually badass, but so
kind and decent we make other professional organizations look like
Slytherin House.

I thought about ending my note here, but I am going to say more, for one
reason only: so that this reviewer-reviewed exchange be available as a case
study of sorts when AoIR drafts its next set of submission guidelines, and
trains the next round of reviewers.

I think, for me, the big question here is: What precisely do we mean by

A few times now, I've heard people talk about the fact that they don't want
to see presentations that amount to mere description of phenomena,
especially stuff that is "hot." I can understand this when it comes to
evaluating panel proposals, and I agree that on a panel, individual
presenters should be reasonably expected to make their critical lenses and
methodological framings explicit.

Although there are disagreements in our group regarding the "findings and
conclusions" mandates, I think we all agree that to evaluate a panel, one
needs to get a sense of what thought traditions the presenter is pulling
from, and how they went about getting the information they are going to be
analyzing/assessing/commenting on/playing with, etc.


I've always thought the  chief question driving assessment of ROUNDTABLES
shouldn't be, "Are the theories and methods clear?" but rather, "Is this
conversation being proposed one our organization needs to be having right

To me, what makes a roundtable different from a panel is the explicit
tabling of certain formal elements like method (and to some extent
theoretical framing)for a bit, until discussion is had. This *is not*
because we can't cook up theory/methods rhetoric to support our inquiry,
but because we FIRST want to sit in a room and listen to one another.

>From my perspective, last year's Other Ethics roundtable was very
successful precisely because it took this format last year. Respondents
spoke from experience about their struggles negotiating "border cases" that
ranged from self-injury, to sexual advances, to IRB fails, to open access
publishing--the list went on. The common thread that connected us was that
we *didn't* have clear answers.

Many of the people who participated in that roundtable were on the AoIR
Ethics Committee, but (from an organizational standpont) what was most
exciting about that roundtable was that it inspired audience response to
the point where the Committee got a bunch of new, amazing, committee
members. To me, this is a successful roundtable.

In your note, you state, "I reviewed many cross-cultural studies that
picked up their sites randomly without justification." As someone who has
read perhaps one trillion student papers in global media studies, I very
much feel you on this, and I'm so glad you raised this with my proposal.

In the case of our group, many of my participants, especially those living
in India, and the one respondent who is Iranian-American living in England,
were interested in addressing their own experiences--using themselves as
'case studies' if you will.  I suppose in terms of method, they'd be
analyzing their phenomenological and somatic responses to different
deployments of the term 'slut' within cross-cultural internet exchanges.
>From a theoretical position, we'd be talking standpoint theory, and
theories of affect. Some of the sex workers (particularly those from
Thailand) would also  be speaking from experience, albeit in places
narrated through the voice of a well-known American sex work
activist/ethnographer with whom they have close working
relationships.There, we'd be dealing with theories of epistemology, as

But in the case of a ROUNDTABLE, all this seems red-herringish.Here, it
seems to me the question is not, "How did you pick your sites/case
studies/respondents/sample," but rather, "what uniquely qualifies the
individuals you've named to sit at this roundtable?" Said differently, "How
will this combination of voices make the conversation qualitatively
different than some folks who read about this phenomenon last week and want
to talk it over because it's hot?" In my descriptions, I thought I made the
credentials of my participants clear but perhaps not. I could definitely
have done more in that direction.

In fact, an ancillary question worth asking a roundtable proposal might be,
"Has the proposer demonstrated that the people participating in this
roundtable have the expertise and/or experience (not the same thing)
necessary to discuss this phenomena in a compelling light?

 Writing of your own past experiences with marginalization, you explain how
challenges from those outside your discipline " taught me how to negotiate
in a milieu of diverse perspectives, learn to be open-minded, and not to be
offended by the face value of the words; of course it helped me improve my
project eventually."

Frankly, I think that's more an astonishing testament to you as a person,
than to the system as it is currently set up. Of course learning can happen
in set-up you describe, but for most people, *especially* those beyond the
PhD,  there is just too much face-saving going on in formal panel
presentations for real out-of-discipline learning to transpire.

In your note to me, you wonder,  "Isn’t one part of the joys of attending
this kind of interdisciplinary conferences is to have our ideas challenged
by people who share research interests in similar topics but employ
different research methodologies?

I  give an emphatic YES, here, but want to suggest something that might
seem counter-intuitive to many: I know there are benefits to having one's
rigor called to question in formal panel settings, but I think MORE real
learning happens in roundtable moments when we willfully enter a discussion
arena admitting we are at a crossroads in our thinking.

When I deliver my formally constructed,  tightly argued premise to those in
and outside my discipline, the same old same old happens. HOWEVER, when I
tell colleagues I am soliciting new ways  to approach a phenomenon with
which we find myself in struggle, amazing things happen. This is why I
submit my work to panels (knowledge contribution) and actually attend
roundtables (learning in action.)

Okay, I think this is more than enough on my end. One last thing, though:
You and I are *definitely* going to be having drinks at some point in

Everyone is all welcome to join us! I think I'm going to wear a fancy dress.






Dr. Theresa M. Senft
Global Liberal Studies Program
School of Arts & Sciences
New York University
726 Broadway  NY NY 10003

home: *www.terrisenft.net <http://goog_689013053>**
*(needs a serious updating)
facebook: www.facebook.com/theresa.senft
twitter: @terrisenft

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