Nicholas Johnson: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow at Yale University

The SPECTRESS network supported me to spend May – July 2016 at the Centre for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, developing a new dimension of research for my ongoing multi-disciplinary and multi-output project The Way of the Language, which explores voices from the so-called “War on Terror” and views post-9/11 artworks through the lens of cultural trauma. The three main benefits of this encounter were: 1) what I learned and how I connected interpersonally (through direct contact with the colleagues there), 2) how my work evolved methodologically (cultural trauma as a new dimension of my ongoing performance research), and 3) what I gathered bibliographically (through access to Yale’s library, fellow researchers, and research visits to New York City). The focussed time and change of scene were enormously beneficial for my own working practices, allowing a degree of focus that Dublin’s heavy commitments rarely allow. Additionally, the location afforded a direct connection to the Ground Zero site, memorials, and museums in New York. Though this was not a sabbatical appointment and therefore largely took place in the summer, when many CCS students/researchers were away, I was able to make a preliminary visit during Yale’s term-time to present my work and get useful feedback. I spoke at the 3 March 2016 CCS “Supper Club”, giving a paper entitled “The Way of the Language: Excavating Silence in the Documentary Theatre.” This paper is currently being developed for publication in TDR (The Drama Review), the performance studies journal (based out of NYU) where Jeffrey Alexander has frequently published (and sits on the editorial board). This is the most immediate and likely first output that will come out in print from this secondment; the large scope/physical scale of the further materials I gathered over that summer, it quickly emerged for me, likely need to be part of a monograph (or at least a co-authored/co-edited book-length output) on the topic of 9/11 as cultural trauma (provisionally entitled The Monument of Air). The productive conversations in 2016 with Ron Eyerman and Jeffrey Alexander, and the conversations since with many other researchers within the network, suggest that this is a feasible and worthwhile goal; my own self-evaluation of my research schedule, however, suggests that the work’s development could easily require another several years. In the meantime, I have sought to maintain contacts within the network by inviting Jeffrey Alexander to speak about the cultural trauma methodologies as part of the School of Creative Arts Research Forum (in autumn of 2016), and by serving as a peer reviewer for performance-related articles on the American Journal of Cultural Sociology (based at Yale). Since undertaking the secondment, I have seen much greater coherence than I first expected between my own approaches in performance studies and those in cultural sociology, and this has enriched my teaching and research since; there are students, especially dissertation supervisees, I am now sending toward the work of cultural sociologists. I am enormously grateful for the opportunities provided by the SPECTRESS network and anticipate extensive impact on my ongoing research.

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About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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