Play, Voice, Empathy, Understanding, and Art

Dustin Kidd - Philosophy of Research, Teaching, and Leadership

The building blocks for my work are play, voice, empathy, understanding, and art.

Play: Adults need to play as much as children do. We often forget that. Scholarly practice should include opportunities for tinkering, practicing, and experimenting. Play is written into most of my assignments. For instance, in my increasing use of social media in the classroom, I ask students to spend time playing—reading, following, and randomly posting—before they jump straight into performing the assignment. 



Voice: Being creative and communicating are natural parts of the human experience, but we all learn to communicate in specific ways for specific settings. So we have to constantly learn to understand our own voices in a variety of communication types—from email to tweets, from formal papers to memos. I work closely with my students and peers on discovering their voices in these different settings and I use iteration as the central tool for teaching communication and writing. Play allows students to experiment with new voices and push the boundaries of their communication styles. 



Empathy: As we discover our own voices we must also listen to the voices of others. I emphasize the importance of empathy as an underlying tenet of sociology. We need to listen to each other and seek to understand why and how some people’s experiences are very different from our own, and we need to do so without judgment. Empathy begins with classroom discussion but it is also an important part of how students read and how they communicate.



Understanding: As we gain confidence in our voices and listen to others, we need a set of tools to understand how we stand in relationship to each other and how we all stand in relationship to the larger social world. I use understanding in the sense that Max Weber used the term verstehen, to refer to a deep awareness of the layers of meaning that define our lives and our social relationships. This sociological understanding allows us to respect our own voices while also empathizing with very different viewpoints. 


Art: The greatest form of literacy is to make art. The best way for us to understand the world is to act on it and become makers of culture. Art is social action and it is the logical outcome of sociological study. It can take the form of an essay, a Pinterest board, a performance, or the authorship of a scholarly paper. I teach my students to become makers and artists who incorporate their understanding of the world into projects that build and transform the world.