Watson Closing Session: Anis Bawarshi


As a MA student at the University of Louisville I was invited to attend the Watson symposium in the spring of 2015. During the symposium, we (graduate students, faculty, and invited speakers) read, nuanced, and critiqued what became the Watson 2016 keynote addresses. The spring symposium and the fall conference were both moderated by Anis Bawarshi. In his role as moderator, Bawarshi worked to bridge the seemingly disparate fields/theories/concepts between the multiple keynote speakers, the audience-participants, and the disciplines.

Perhaps fittingly, Bawarshi, in the closing session of the Watson 2016 Conference, asked that we attend to the work of mobility. Work is understood here as both the labor and functional utility of mobility. By attending to the work in mobilities, we ask: what labor is required in maintaining (but also moving) as well as negotiating across boundaries? Furthermore, how can mobility work not only make visible the movements between boundaries but also afford methods of inquiry and provide a vocabulary of exploration? In this way, mobility work can be conceived of as a capacity to work across difference – to trace transformations to/from/across difference. Yet, such transformations, as Bawarshi reminded the audience, do not need to be spatial. Rather, we might attend as well to the temporal aspects of mobility. In this way, we must remember to historicize mobilities and to be aware of the traces of mobility in our own histories.

Bawarshi shared stories of his own mobility – his travel across borders and checkpoints where material-economic-racial-religious forces were always at play. Here, Bawarshi quotes poet Mahmoud Darwish:

Here, at the slopes before sunset and the gun-mouth of time,
Near orchards deprived of their shadows
We do what prisoners do,
What the unemployed do:
We nurture hope.

Borders and checkpoints are not only places of mobility sanctions – even temporality is managed and policed and spatial mobilities made truncated effect temporal mobilities.  Mobility work must always take into consideration the various drawings of boundaries in colonial time-space. When doing mobility work, “we have to think about the shifting cartographies at place that are part of mobility work but not antecedent to it.”

But just being present to mobilities isn’t enough. Like the poet Darwish, Bawarshi contends that we can nurture hope in preparation for a mobility that might come. How might we pay attention to the occluded mobilities? With this question, Bawarshi turns toward methods. How can teacherscholars devise methods to get at various scales of seen and unseen mobilities? To this, Christian Donahue offers a promising possibility. Drawing from the linguistic terms in Donahue, Bawarshi reminded us that often times the unmarked is also unremarked.  I took this to mean that there might be promise in the mobilities that we take for granted. What work is required for travel to conferences – who is mobilized and immobilized by this? But also, what work is required for mobilizations of our knowledge across the time-space cartographies of disciplines or institutions?

Pressing further on methods, how might we trace the emotional work of mobilities across cultures and languages?

Bawarshi ended the session with a return to a comment Min-Zhan Lu made at the spring symposium: how might we disambiguate a thing like mobilities that seem so homogeneous? And, how might mobility work take a different meaning with different vocabularies? Bawarshi recalled several:

Sanctioned – unsanctioned mobilities
Lived mobilities
Prescribed mobilities
Mobility sponsors
Mobility affordances

Mobility work is always at the threshold – the gun-mouth of time, maintaining and changing the boundaries, and acting as a capacity for movement across thresholds.  To me, at least, mobility foregrounds working across difference in ways that are similar to various trans orientations (translingual, transmodal, transliteracy).  Yet, it seems that mobility studies might also offer different methods, questions, and assumptions about where & when we remark on difference and how we conceive of difference. Furthermore, I think there is promise for mobility studies to offer institutional critique in ways yet realized by writing studies scholars. For instance, how might more concrete examples drawn from transportation, geography, and planning demonstrate the undeniable and inevitable transformations implicit in spatial, temporal, conceptual mobilities?

I’ll end this review with my revision on where Bawarshi began.
Having attended the conference (physically or virtually / asynchronously or synchronously) respond to these collaborative writing prompts

  • Looking back to your opening response, what is your understanding of mobility work at this point?
  • What have you heard and read that changes/expands/moves/challenges your thinking about mobility work?
  • What questions and concerns still need to be addressed? Where do we take this from here?

About Author

Chris Scheidler

Chris is a first year PhD student in the Rhetoric and Composition program and assistant director of the virtual writing center at the University of Louisville.

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