Friday, August 3, 2007

Sabbatical Proposal

The following is my first draft of a sabbatical proposal I will be submitting in October. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

1. Synopsis

I teach the interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems and benefits surrounding economic and environmental globalization are a must for any informed citizen, yet for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the "positivist" assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it. Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them to somehow ponder very abstract concepts and processes.

One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate what we sociologists call "the sociological imagination": the ability to perceive that one's inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within; the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant. From this pedagogical approach, students would start by focusing on an engaging, concrete activity and slowly broaden this focus during the semester, learning how this activity is impacted by a complex web of larger national and global structures that seem so distant to them at first.

After doing some initial reading last summer on the complex issue of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) amongst honey bees (Apis Mellifera), I think that a Global Issues course that centers on honey bees as the proverbial “canaries in a coal mine” would help students understand and engage in the global issues that impact their own lives as well. The problems (e.g. CCD, organic vs. conventional husbandry) that beekeepers and their bees face are not simply biological issues, but are influenced by macro structural forces as well.

The effective construction of any such course will demand a retooling on my part. A course with this focus will demand knowledge outside my disciplinary expertise. Besides a hands-on understanding of day-to-day apiculture I will need to become more familiar with global economic and political policy, ecological issues, agribusiness practices, and the cultures and philosophies in the beekeeping world.

In sum, then, I request a sabbatical leave for spring semester 2009 in order to pursue the following objectives:

1. To understand how the day-to-day lives of honey bees and beekeepers are impacted by the larger macro-forces produced by globalization.

2. To distill the above information into concepts and activities that would effectively engage students in understanding global issues.

3. To produce an ethnography of the beekeeping world including those more “esoteric” movements like “biodynamic beekeeping” and “apitherapy”.

2. Activities Description

The following is a tentative timeline of the activities I propose to do during this sabbatical. The spring semester was chosen since it coincides with the beginning of beekeeping season in Minnesota. During this process a daily blog, accessible to all interested, will be kept on my progress and ideas.

a. January

1. Library research with a focus on bee biology and apiculture
2. Begin interviews with apiculturalists of all type. It will include interviews with large and small-scale intensive honey producers, apiarists who practice “organic” or “sustainable” beekeeping, and backyard beekeepers who have one of two hives.
3. Attend the American Beekeeping Federation annual meeting.

b. February

1. Library research and interviewing with a focus on the philosophical “esoteric” side of beekeeping. This includes examining the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, Gunther Hauk, and other members of the “biodynamic” movement. Also, time will be spent studying the ideas of Charles Mraz and other proponents of “apitherapy”. This also might include attendance at an American Apitherapy meeting and a visit to the apiary founded by Mraz in Burlington, Vermont.

c. March

1. Library research on global agriculture policy and practices.
2. Take a short course on apiculture at the University of Minnesota extension from Dr. Marla Spivak, breeder of the “Minnesota Hygenic” bee.
3. Prepare two hives: one using conventional Langtroth boxes and frames, the second using a Kenyan Top Bar hive.
4. Continue interviews.

d. April and May
1. Begin construction of a Global Issues syllabus using materials collected thus far. Syllabus will include readings and activities in and out of class.
2. Participant observation conducted at local apiaries of all different sizes and philosophies. Observations will go beyond simply husbandry concerns to attitudes towards bees and global concerns
3. Add bees to the two hives set up last month.
4. Library research with a focus on global environmental issues that may impact bees.

e. May to Summer

1. Begin the writing and continued research for the ethnography.
2. Summer management of bees.

3. Contribution Description

a. Professional Development – Sociology has a long tradition of ethnographic studies describing the subcultures of occupations. Back in the 1920s, Robert Park analyzed the social world of news reporters. In the 1950s, Howard Becker examined the lebenswelt of Chicago jazz musicians. More recently, French sociologist Loic Wacquant did a participant observation study as an apprentice boxer. These studies looked underneath the manifest, official descriptions of these occupations found in organizational flow charts or career services materials to a complex world of meanings and rituals. This ethnographic examination of the world of beekeeping is my first attempt to add to this body of materials.
b. Academic Program – I think that the activities of this proposed sabbatical, brought into the classroom environment, will enhance our students understanding of global issues. If other faculty find this approach engaging and/or successful, it might inspire others to approach other courses in this manner.
c. Sharing Results with Other Faculty- Besides doing a post-sabbatical presentation on some relevant issue growing out of my research, I will be keeping a daily blog which will be accessible to faculty, students, and administration during and after the sabbatical. This blog (“Canaries in a Coal Mine”) will document my sabbatical’s day-to-day activities and discoveries.

4. Assessment Description

Four types of evidence will be used in assessing this sabbatical project.

a. Scholarly Publications- I will produce some body of work that will be submitted either in article or book form. I can picture the research producing a number of possible publications in sociology, pedagogy, environmental studies, and apiculture.
b. Presentation at the Midwest Sociology Convention.
c. I will use the comments left on my blog to assess the accuracy and clarity of what I am discovering. I will also share the assessment of my work to my blog readers as well.
d. I will produce a new syllabus for my Global Issues course that uses honeybees as a concrete focus for examining the problems and benefits globalization.

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