Writing About Traveling to a Conference

Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

One of the most important things about the time you spend observing is that you should not be passive. Be involved in activities and, most importantly, talk to people. Try especially to meet people other than the hosts who bring us into the settings. In addition to the main participants in the program (the kids in a school), seek out and talk to some of the people who are more in the background---office people, family members, custodial staff. Look at the questions given for each assignment and ask people in the setting what they think about the issues that are listed.

Asking you to write about visiting a conference has three objectives.

1. The first is to encourage you to think about the nature and purposes of the human service institutions the conference serves.

Most of the conferences we attend related to Bucknell in some way relate to the general purpose and mission of research, teaching, or service work in higher education. It is important as you attend the conference and immerse yourself in that experience to think about the larger institution and what the conference tells you about that institution. Under this heading the idea is to think about what it is all for, what message is being conveyed, what activities or behaviors are held up as positive or negative examples, and how the substance of the conference gets you to think about the underlying activities that make up the institution.

2. A second objective is for you to pay attention to diversity among the institutions represented at the conference and perhaps diversity among the people there.

One of the things that always strikes me when I am at a conference are differences in the openness and academic freedom present on different campuses, differences in ideas people have about how teaching ought to work, and differences in the centrality of research and the concept of research people have different places. This is valuable partly just to help map out the contours of the institution. But what gets me thinking more is how these contrasts bring into sharper focus what Bucknell is and what it has to offer. I am a bit ambiguous in the heading for this section about diversity of people. That's simply because under this heading diversity among people might shed light on how the institutions are diverse---in terms of the racial composition, age composition, international orientation, residential character and so on.

3. The third objective is for you to think about conferences and their environments as events or as places for being, experiencing, and existing.

An important part of field writing is simple ethnography---taking in the things you see and experience and writing thoughtfully and reflectively about those things. At a conference you notice characters, events, odd behaviors and so on. You also notice the setting of the hotel or conference center and the kinds of people who are around and who may not be part of the conference. You might be struck by the urban context of a conference or conversely by a rural setting. When you write, pay attention to the things that surprise or unsettle you. These usually relate to expectations you had that were upset or challenged. Pay attention to the things that challenged you and think about why your expectations were so different from the reality.