Monday, July 30, 2012

Professor Abbott

I met Professor Andrew Abbott of the Chicago school of Sociology at the 2012 ESRC Research Methods Festival. I was sitting having breakfast at the large dining hall the morning of the last day of the conference at Oxford University and there was no one sitting in the two seats in front of me. Long tables all set together to encourage interaction. He came and sat diagonally across from me, said good morning, and proceeded to take out his own croissant and pain au chocolat from a paper bag. He offered me a slice. He said he couldnt be this close to the best bakery in Oxford and not have some, so he went over there this morning and bought this. Maison Blanc. I said thank you and promised to go over there myself later on the day. It rained. He was a great storyteller.

We chatted and he told me a few stories. I was very quiet for some reason. After having attended the Lyrical Sociology morning session with him the morning before, I knew I was in the presence of someone very intelligent. And very peaceful for some reason. Perhaps it was his age, even though he wasnt that old.

He had a 'valley girl' student. "Like oh my God Professor Abbott!" He even imitated her voice and hand actions. She was in his class and was doing fine but then one day emailed him and said she wont be returning to the fall semester as she has to undergo chemotherapy. His valley girl had cancer. Professor Abbott told me he sent her an email every day during her radiation with a job posting in each. "What do you think of being an air travel controller?" Anything to keep her going, he told me. But anyways, she was a valley girl with cancer, but she was still a valley girl. She came back the next semester. I was sitting with a master storyteller.

The point he was trying to make was that we have to question why we shy away from being critical of someone’s work just because they have some sort of condition, that they often can’t help, for example AIDS or cancer. We fear that people will think we are criticizing the illness or the person themselves, when indeed we are critiquing the work constructively.

The only point that came across to me was that I was not only sitting with a master storyteller, but with a master teacher as well.

No comments: