The Informatician and the Pragmatist

This week I attended and presented at one of “my” conferences; the kind where you don’t have to explain your discipline as a single territory, but a complex eco-region. (No one questions that we all are a part of a dynamic, living system, but they may challenge you on the tortured metaphor).

This year, having successfully moved through the dissertation process not un-scathed, I found myself in the position of comforting and cajoling at turns doc students who were wrestling and wrangling with abandoned diss topics, far-flung diss committee members, or lost lines of thought. The journey a wandering dissertation can become is a known: especially in the social sciences. It seemed not long ago I was refining my own research question(s); presenting countless poster sessions, practicing paper presentations, and pounding coffee to meet late-night deadlines (thank the time-zone gods). I still do my fair share of that kind of back-forth, draft-redraft, discuss-write.  These days I seem to be circling around and back upon the term “informatics”.

This week I noticed a particular, if subtle, shift in how I define informatics: I don’t. In my conversations between scholars and computer scientists, librarians and education theorists, K-12 educators and industry coders, healthcare and bio-scientists, it’s clear “informatics” is deeply contextual.

I am put in mind of John Dewey’s treatment of subject matter and the relationship to educative experience. This week, over tables and in offices, standing in salons and sitting in rows:  I discovered myself being pulled into that intellectual space that requires some measure of journeying, wondering, wrestling, and wandering. I may be “done dissing”, but I’m not done asking emerging questions that come from it.

Generative inquiry in community is what informatics may mean to me at this point. As I told one doc student this week who was worrying about not having conclusions yet,  “And that’s okay: that’s exactly where you need to be.” Indeed.

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