Just back from another National Communication Association convention, and as usual I have the same reactions:
Great to see all of my friends and colleagues from around the country.
I regret that I have not spent every waking moment of my life before the conference reading books.
My work is more influential than I thought it was.
I'm going to return home and work tirelessly and ceaselessly every day on all these great ideas I have, starting immediately.
I don't know if these reactions are commonplace, nor if they fade away as quickly for most as they do for me (except for number 1, obviously). But it's always something I don't feel very prepared for, but once I get there I feel pretty together about everything. This year was the first one (been going since 2002) where I did not feel unprepared but just very comfortable about all the things I'd written and really eager to share them with other folks.
I have a Tascam recorder that I like to use for lectures, audio stuff, debates, etc. and used that for a couple of panels here and there. Unfortunately, for the first time in its little life, it made terrible recordings. I think some setting got moved or something, but I'm going to try to improve the sound quality a bit and post them. They are still listenable, but don't sound as great as they are supposed to.
Also NCA should consider booking 2 hotels at least for the conference site that have large enough hotel bars to accommodate everyone! The bar at the Downtown Marriott was always packed.
Here are some other conclusions:
Debate is NCA's Dirty Fetish
Most everyone in NCA has been brushed by, participated in, or enjoyed the company of those who have practiced the dark arts of debate. Debate is central to the thinking (maybe even the genesis of thinking) for a majority of the scholars that NCA recognizes as significant. Debate is seen as the roots of the discipline, the teaching and conditioning of expressive bodies into something that can shift gears and alter into ways that audiences can appreciate. Such intensive thinking of argument, evidence, and audience can't help but create some great minds that want to produce texts for audiences about producing texts for audiences.
Yet how many spotlight panels are there on the debate tradition in NCA? Debate as rhetorical education? Debate's influence in NCA? How about zero. How about the sad fact that nobody but the organizers attended the Committee for International Discussion and Debate panel featuring the top debaters from the UK? All debate panels happen in places like "Salon J" at the tertiary hotel, far from the center of things, and definitely not in a spot where someone could wander by and join in upon hearing the discussion. Very much like those DVDs in the bottom drawer, or those magazines carefully hidden under the bed, debate is kept out of accidental, offensive view - but still available for moments when we think nobody is looking.
Empty Chairs and Full Tables
Everyone decries the empty panel - the panel where there are more people around the table presenting than there are in the audience - as a huge problem. Many say that this indicates a lack of scholarly conversation, attention, or interest, or some evidence that we are not communicating our interests to one another or something like that.
NCA is obviously a productive place - you just have to wander around with an open ear to hear all the productive conversations going on. Have a look at any nearby bar, restaurant, or hotel lobby and you see it. I come up with a lot of great ideas and projects just by randomly bumping into folks and having a chat. This is where the productive work is taking place. Of course, this happens when I see panels too, but not exclusively.
The empty room syndrome is not a symptom of anything intellectual, but material. NCA is priced in a very expensive, exclusive way. Universities only provide funding to those who are presenting something. So this means that NCA has an obligation to accept more papers and panels than will be attended. And it's not a problem. The presence of folks at NCA to bump into one another and share ideas is the real value. The paper presentations are the way we get that presence and interaction, even if we don't go to very many of them (or, as is more likely, there are too many to attend, and you'd be exhausted if you went to every session).
I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as the week goes on. I had a great time in Philadelphia and hope to post the doctored audio recordings of a couple of my presentations pretty soon.