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In the summer of 2013, I was about to start my graduate degree at The New School for Social Research. A month before I sat in Jeff Goldfarb’s contemporary sociology class, I was in Istanbul—protesting, resisting, and critically thinking with many others about our collective actions, media activism, and the potential future of our mobilization in Gezi Park. The whole world was watching.
In other words, I came to New York City, and Jeff’s classroom, with the most amazing episode of my life, the Gezi resistance, fresh in my mind, and I knew it would occupy my thoughts for years to come. Pumped up with the energy the movement provided me, I joined colleagues at the New School who were organizing a conference on Gezi, Talk Turkey: Rethinking Life After Gezi. I gave a short talk conveying my experience during the heated days of the uprising and focusing on the Feminist and LGBTQ+ perspectives.
After my panel, Jeff approached me. We talked about his Public Seminar project in detail, and he asked me to be involved.
Jeff’s vision for Public Seminar was to create a new space for intellectual production that oscillated between academia and the world beyond the university’s walls, and it was very attractive to me. In Gezi, I learned the importance of making collaborative and generative spaces that invite diverse folks to think and act together.
Indeed, we gathered a collaborative group via an open call in the occupied park, and in the aftermath of the encampment, we generated a mapping project titled Networks of Dispossession. Jeff not only understood the significance of the role of such a project occurring within academia, but he had carried this vision forward in his scholarship as well, particularly in his book Politics of the Small Things (2006). So, I ventured with him on this journey to create Public Seminar, in sync with his enthusiasm and motivation for this project, and asked him to be my co-advisor for my Ph.D. research.
Over the next 8 years, under Jeff’s leadership, Public Seminar became a prominent platform with a global authorship and audience attentive to the pressing issues of a contemporary world in the midst of great change.
But the incubation of a project that required short, readable pieces to be produced quickly wasn’t easy for Jeff and our small team. Traditional academic writing takes time and scholarly manuscripts are not produced for a general audience reading on the Internet. Jeff, however, was sure that there were ways to persuade faculty to write shorter and faster. He also imagined new forms of editorial production that would invite a nonacademic audience to appreciate and consume intellectual activities that were commonplace in the university.
Like I said, however, it wasn’t easy. It took endless meetings explaining and advertising the mission of Public Seminar.
Designing a workflow and typology of production also required endless discussion and the creation of new sections for Public Seminar. First, we introduced a section for multi-media posts, and I became the designated editor for this section. Following the spirit of digital activism, we started using guerilla techniques of recording events that were taking place at the New School and connected with the Center and institutes in NYC.
We also launched what Jeff named Open Online Public Seminars (OOPS). OOPS (now under essays on PS) was meant to create a new space for content created in the classroom, much of it by students, to be published online. At the time, I had just started creating my first syllabus, focused on my doctoral research. I posted my class material in the OOPS section, and later helped my students to work with our editors and publish think-pieces they wrote for my class on Public Seminar. It not only helped me to cultivate a closer relationship with my students, it also helped my students. They not only experienced what it means to work with an editor, but also acquired a digital presence useful for their future endeavors.
After the inaugural launch of our first issue (that we also released in print format), Public Seminar received increasing amounts of traffic, which helped us draw the institutional attention we needed at the time. Public Seminar’s funding increased, and in my four years with the magazine, our team also grew exponentially. Jeff used to say he wanted Public Seminar to carry out the vision on its own, without him pushing our growing networks to contribute to the platform. His vision led to an established mission that is home to many faculty, staff, and graduate workers, nurturing and carrying Public Seminar, and Jeff’s legacy, forward.
During my six years at NSSR, I had the chance to think with Jeff theoretically about collective action and networked activism, But I also experienced the practice of making and maintaining an experimental space for public engagement and multi-modal scholarship under his guidance.
One day, Jeff told me that I should write a piece that takes 2013 as a turning point like 1968—an iconic year that led to the emergence of new ideas on the left and focus on how digital media changed in resisting by any “means” necessary. Raised by two devoted 1968ers, I remember thinking about why I was quickly drawn to Jeff and his vision. As he suggested, there was a bridge of ideas that connected his and my generations. Yet, most of the time, the “means” of discussing and acting upon these ideas is the reason a generational gap is reinforced rather than bridged. Jeff understood that. He showed me how to ideate, and mediate, despite our differences, not only in my scholarly work, but most importantly through our journey of launching, growing, and sharing Public Seminar.
Zeyno Ustun received her Ph.D. in sociology from NSSR in 201; most recently, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Media at Risk, the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.