- Editors’ Note
One of the most positive yet challenging trends in life writing scholarship has been the move to international exchange and debate. The first International Auto/Biography Association Conference in Beijing in 1999 was an important inaugurating moment in that process, and the subsequent conferences in Vancouver, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Mainz, and Honolulu have sustained the momentum toward international and intercultural exchange. The IABA-L listserv began its second decade in July of 2009, and the first meeting of IABA Europe will be held in Amsterdam in November.
Of course, global dialogue is something of a motherhood issue—who could be against it? But one of the consequences of conferences, publications, and discussions seeking to extend the range of life writing studies is the inevitable awareness that as world communities, we are doing very different things.
At the IABA Honolulu conference in 2008, we set aside a day for representatives from the many countries in attendance to talk about future directions for the field. It was stunning to see how different our compelling concerns actually were. The Canadian and American participants embarked on a discussion of finding jobs within the North American academic system for graduate students. The Australians and the Europeans were intensely concerned about national and European Union rankings of life writing journals, since the “grade” a publication receives often determines institutionally the “value” of the research. One of the Chinese scholars asked with some urgency for guidance on how captions for illustrations should be prepared for publication. Most of the other participants had no idea why such a question would be crucial, but clearly, it was.
Furthermore, though the entire conference had in fact been devoted to the theme of life writing and translation, the attendance at those sessions held in a language other than English, or dealing with smaller national communities, was very uneven, and often disappointing. And as for genre and methodology, a couple of European biography scholars were shocked by the amount of attention being paid to memoirs, and scholars from backgrounds in education, history, or sociology couldn’t believe how literary the discussions often tended to be.
These disconnects will of course be familiar to anyone who has been drawn into discussions about globalization, post-colonial studies, translation studies, or cultural studies in the widest possible sense. Nor should these disconnects [End Page iii] necessarily lead to that free-floating guilt many of us feel after conferences, when we realize we have been totally remiss in not knowing everything. But certain areas of life writing studies should have a global perspective that we must strive to establish, and sustain. One area is pedagogy. Even though we teach at very different institutions, as more and more people draw on life writing as the organizing principle for their courses, establishing ways to share information about class organization, text selection, assignments, and evaluation procedures will benefit individual instructors, and the field as a whole.
Another area for consideration could be what we can call comparative ethics. The various disciplinary methods for conducting and evaluating life writing research are often at odds, and at times utterly contradictory. One example would be the fundamental differences in the assumptions governing interview methodology for journalism, oral history, and ethnography. Becoming more familiar with the range of approaches should lead to more informed, self-aware, and productive critiques of method than the “this is just how we do it” approach that so often governs our research, and how we teach others to conduct their own.
At Biography, we have been personally enriched by receiving essays from all over the world that are informed by the specific concerns and priorities of situated knowledges. It’s never been business as usual here, and ideally, it never will be. [End Page iv]