I thought partway through that you were headed toward the problem that (based on the excerpts) the conversations weren't conversations. They were posturing. They were not efforts to communicate ideas or understanding from one professional to another, and certainly not from professional to student. They were designed to do what they did - stump their listeners. When I hear "workshop," I realize, I'm coming from my limited experience of writing or therapy workshops where people bring drafts and take in feedback to make what they're working on more useful, more honest, or more beautiful. But what were communicated by speakers - it seems - were not works open to feedback; instead, they were presented in ways that few would dare to engage at all for fear of sounding stupid.
I absolutely felt that a lot of posturing was going on, and when I talked with the graduate student who had teared up behind me, I told her how much posturing I did in grad school--pretending to understand inside jokes and side references that left me baffled, but I felt I had to pretend I knew what was being said, because everybody else understood! I didn't recognize that many of them, too, were posturing.
But I actually don't think that the presenters at this workshop were posturing--at least not consciously. I think this is the world of discourse in which they exist, so what they were saying seemed--to them--completely obvious. This was one of the most interesting things to me about the workshop, because I suspect that I do this, as well. I have ways of talking, ideas I'm so familiar with that I don't realize that not everybody in the world talks the way I do. Not everybody in the world immediately starts examining how things are socially constructed. Not everybody in the world understands that we have to examine systems of power, not just individual decisions.
I love it when a student in my class asks a question, prefacing it with, "Okay, this is probably a stupid question, but...", because "stupid questions" are almost always incredibly helpful. To me, to other students, to the whole conversation. If students give me this kind of real questioning, then I understand where I'm making sense and where I'm talking only to a very limited population who's read the same stuff I've read. I really hope I can create classroom environments where students aren't afraid of sounding stupid.
And one other conference experience:
As I was listening to folks discussing Big Ideas in ways that I didn't necessarily follow, Megan (Maybelle's babysitter) and I exchanged the following text messages:
Megan: Your daughter just farted then ran around yelling "fart!" It was really funny! And bonus it wasn't stinky.
Alison: She loves farts! If you fart she'll be impressed.
Megan: I've got nothing.
Alison: You can always do a face fart. Ask Maybelle and she'll demonstrate.
That's the work/life balance, right there. I like to have a life that can contain both dense feminist theory and the joys of farting.