ICA18 Day 4: labour in the gig economy; resistant media; feminist peer review; love, sex, and friendship; illiberal democracy in Eastern and Central Europe
May 28, 2018 § Leave a comment
Voices for Social Justice in the Gig Economy: Where Labor, Policy, Technology, and Activism Converge
Voices for Social Justice in the Gig Economy, Michelle Rodino-Colocino.
This research discusses the App-Based Driver Association, looking specifically at Seattle. There’s no “there” for gig economy work: previous spaces of organising, such as the shop floor, aren’t available. One space is a parking lot, where people sit waiting to get lifts. There’s one shady tree, where people tend to converge. Another space is an Ethiopian grocery store, as many drivers are East African. The ABDA is largely funded and supported by the teamsters. Drivers interviewed definitely understand that they’re producing for Uber, and that they’re being exploited. They spoke about the challenges of planning – they can’t go watch a movie. Above all, Uber sells drivers’ availability. One driver was told: “we can always get another Mohammed”. Drivers feel dehumanized. They’re not provided with toilets, there’s nowhere to pray. They’re also cautious about organising, as Uber is clearly anti-union.
Work in the European Gig Economy. Kaire Holts, University of Hertfordshire. This research aims to survey and measure the extent and characteristics of crowd work in Europe. Working conditions are characterised by precariousness (including frequent changes to pay levels), unpredictability, work intensity, the impact of customer ratings, abuse from customers, and poor communication with platform staff (including a lack of face to face contact, and no social etiquette). One driver was asked to deliver drugs to a criminal gang late at night. When she told the platform about it they said it was her responsibility to check what was in the bags. Workers face both physical risks and stresses, and issues with mental health. There are some attempts at collective representation of platform workers in Europe. In UK, for example, there’s the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain delivering Deliveroo drivers, and the United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) representing Uber drivers.
Reimagining Work [didn’t quite catch the current title], Laura Forlano. This draws on a project with Megan Halpern, using workshops and games that helped people collaborate to imagine what work might look like in the future. One participation spoke up the importance of the shift from talking around around each other to needing to actually physically move as part of the workshop process. Shifts in work are linked to reimagining the city as a (new, urban) factory, so we need to reimagine relationships between work, technology, and the city to embed social justice values into our future.
Information and the Gig Economy. Brian Dolber.
Talks about shifting from a tenure-track position to adjunct work, and then taking up work with Uber and Unite Here (campaigning against Airbnb). From 2008 to 2012, Silicon Valley received little of the broader critique addressed at capitalism more generally. Silicon Valley can be seen within Nancy Fraser’s concept of ‘progressive neoliberalism’, but we’re also seeing a shift towards an emergent neofascism. Airbnb’s valuation is greater than all the hotel chains, which is odd when we think about ‘hosts’ as small business owners. Airbnb has created online communities called ‘Airbnb citizen’ which aim to mobilise hosts to affect city policy. The narrative is very much about facilitating people staying in their homes, paying medical bills, supporting the creative industries, which Dolber argues is cultivating a petit bourgeois attitude that shifts us towards an emergent neofascism.
The opening speaker (whose name I unfortunately didn’t get) discusses the ways in which pop feminism works, and the complexity of vulnerability. There’s a distorted mirroring of vulnerability between popular feminism and white misogyny.
Polemology: counterinsurgency and culture jamming, Jack Bratich.
We need a genealogy to elaborate and understand the persistence and connection of struggles across time.
Rosemary Clark-Parsons (University of Pennsylvania) will discuss de Certeau’s concept of “tactics” within the context of her ethnographic work among grassroots feminist collectives in the city of Philadelphia. She focuses on ‘girl army’, a secret Facebook group developed as a space for women and nonbinary people to share experiences. Tilly and Tarrow’s definition of contentious politics would exclude this group, which isn’t in line with women and nonbinary people’s solidarity and organising work within the group. De Certeau’s concept of tactics allows us to take the everyday seriously; can teach us about strategies; and allows explicit recognition of agency within systems of power. There are limitations, too, including issues with addressing differential access to agency, and theorizing structural change over time. The strategies/tactics binary can be reductive and reify power relations.
#HashtagActivism: race and gender in America’s Networked Counterpublics. Sarah J. Jackson (Northeastern University). Networked counterpublics theory is one way to understand how marginalised communities create their own public spheres. Mainstream media coverage of the public response to #myNYPD mostly treated it as ‘trolling’, or a PR disaster, that could happen to anyone. In the coverage of #Ferguson, there was a flow of the narrative from ordinary people’s framing through to social movement organisations, and finally the media. #GirlsLikeUs is a useful case, because even within counterpublics, there are people at the margins, who produce their own counter-counterpublics.
Jessa Lingel (University of Pennsylvania) focused on “mainstream creep,” referring to the uneasy relationships between countercultural communities and dominant media platforms, where the former uses the latter reluctantly or in highly-limited ways. How do we construct particular bodies as vulnerable: the language of ‘marginalised people’ is important for understanding structures of power, but does it also construct people as essentially weaker?
Gendered Voices and Practices of Open Peer Review
I opened this panel by reflecting on some of the ways in which I am currently trying to understand, and reconfigure, my approaches to both mothering and academia. I’ll put up a blog post about this later.
The Fembot Collective’s Global South Initiatives. Radhika Gajjala, Bowling Green State University. Problems for women in academia in the Global South start with the much-more-oppressive system of neocolonialism. To participate in autoethnography or other feminist methodologies would be a problem because it’s devalued within universities that see it as navel-gazing. Women need to publish in top-tier journals in order to be successful (or even survive) within their academic spaces. How do we as feminist publishers work with women in the Global South to help them access the resources that their institutions value? How do we support them without asking them to do a lot of extra activist work within their institutions? We need to think about power differences within the networks of solidarity and resistance we build across borders. It’s a messy terrain. We need to work to allow women in academia in the Global South to get access to a space where they can speak (and be heard).
Voicing New Forms of Scholarly Publishing. Sarah Kember, Goldsmith’s, University of London. There’s a seismic shift happening at the moment in academic publishing. Revolution and disruption are not the same thing. We need to understand this within the context of efforts to police and politicise scholarly practices: there’s no distinction between these two at the moment. We need to both uphold something (the trust in academic work), but also change it (the opacity of peer review processes). We’re currently seeing a “pay to say” model of academic publishing in open access, at least in the UK. “Openness” works in different ways, with an asymmetrical structure. Goldsmiths has to be open, Google doesn’t. “Open access” publishing is often incredibly expensive, especially where academics are pushed to continue publishing with traditional academic publishers. Kember cites ADA as a big intervention in these models. The disruptions of scholarly publishing models is a by-product of neoliberalism. The disruption of academia isn’t. We need to restate the university press mission, revise it, and rethink it. The policies around scholarly publishing need careful examination. The issue is not about adding ever-more OA panels, which are entrepreneurial, and technicist.
Peer Review is Dead, Long Live Peer Review: Conflicts in the Field of Academic Production. Bryce Peake, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Academics often undertake review because it gives access to particular networks. Women tend to receive much more negative feedback from review, and to engage in (be asked to do?) more peer review. There are different ways of understanding peer review: as enforcer (for example, of particular norms), networker, gatekeeper (of one particular journal), and/or mentor.
Ada and Affective Labor. Roopika Risam, Salem State University. ADA and the peer review process intervenes in scholarly systems, but is at risk particularly because of that. Risam talks about an experience drawing on theory from the margins: journal editors for a journal with a more experimental peer review process decided to shift from post-publication review to the traditional peer review process. Generosity in peer review is not the same as being ‘nice’: it’s about the level of engagement in the process. It means that the community takes seriously the project that the author is engaged in, rather than what they think the author should be doing. This means that the community has developed and perpetuated a set of norms. Even when editors are advising authors that their text is not ready for publishing, they are kind. Too often, ‘rigor’ has been set up as opposing kindness. This kind of peer review presents a challenge to the masculinist mode of academic production: it’s collectivist rather than individualist, seeing knowledge as an open system rather than a closed hierarchy. How can we look at the intersection of rigor and kindness? Scholarship is more rigorous when it makes its multiple genealogies visible, writing voices which have been made invisible back into academia.
Carol Stabile, in beginning discussion, prompted us to read Toward a Zombie Epistomology by Deanna Day, asking whether we should be should be considering a nonreproductive (or even antireproductive) approach to academia: one not concerned with leaving behind a specific legacy, either institutional or theoretical. Radhika’s answer was very much in line with my thinking on this: that in trying to rethink our approach not only to academia but also to mothering, she (and I) want to think of mothering not as a process of reproducing ourselves, but as a way of making space for children (and students, and colleagues) to be their own people. Thinking about the important challenges and prompts that (re)reading Revolutionary Mothering, The Argonauts, and more informal conversations with the many amazing people I know reflecting on their parenting experiences, have given me, I’d add that it’s also important to consider the ways in which feminist practices of peer review (and academia more generally), should not only not be about reproducing ourselves, but should be about allowing ourselves to be changed.
There was also some excellent discussion about the role of institutions (like the committees that evaluate promotions and tenure), and citation practices. In a response to a question about how to balance attempts to create change against the requirements of tenure, Carol and Sarah spoke on the importance of joining evaluation panels, both to get a better understanding of how they work and to intervene in them. Sarah notes that when we’re forced to write and research more quickly, it can be hard to find sources to draw on beyond the standard offerings. (I’ve particularly noted this myself: after managing not to cite any men, I think, in my last publication before giving birth, my writing since referring to work has relied far more heavily on the most well-known literature.) Sarah prompts peer reviewers to actively consider the breadth of sources that research draws on.
Love, Sex, Friendship: LGBTQ Relationships and Intimacies
Lover(s), Partner(s), and Friends: Exploring Privacy Management Tactics of Consensual Non-Monogamists in Online Spaces. Jade Metzger, Wayne State University. In 1986 a researcher surveyed around 3,000 people, and found that 15-28% of that population didn’t define themselves as monogamous, and more recent research has also found that many young people don’t define themselves as not strictly monogamous. Consensual non-monogamy is often stigmatised. How do we understand disclosure of consensual non-monogamy? Metzger notes that one of the main researchers in this area doesn’t engage in consensual non-monogamy herself. Metzger’s research, which included open-ended interviews and self-disclosure, found that self-disclosure varied, including ‘keeping it an open secret’, using ambiguous terms (like ‘friend’ or ‘partner…s’), or using terms open to interpretation (‘cuties’, ‘comets’, ‘cat’). Reasons cited for privacy included family disapproval, repercussions at work, harm to parental custody, and general discomfort. Privacy is often negotiated at the small-group community level: self-disclosure often implicates others. For some, social media is a risk that has to be navigated carefully: blocking family, for example, or using multiple accounts. Often, it can be hard not to be connected online: it can be painful to not be able to acknowledge people important to you online. Some sites don’t allow you to list multiple partners, embedding heteronormativity into their structure. We need to see privacy as negotiated at the community level (as opposed to individually, as many neoliberal approaches to privacy understand it). The transparency of networks on social media places risks and burdens on those wanting (or needing) to remain private.
Does Gender Matter? Exploring Friendship Patterns of LGBTQ Youth in a Gender-Neutral Environment. Traci Gillig, USC Annenberg, Leila Bighash, USC – Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Gender is not a binary, but we constantly encounter spaces structured by the social gender binary, and gender stereotypes. Gender is a major driver of peer relationships among youth, including LGBTQ people. This research looked at the Brave Trails LGBTQ youth camp, which is gender neutral. Gillig and Bighash found that here, were students weren’t separated out by gender, friendship groupings didn’t cluster by gender.
Hissing and Hollering: Performing Radical Queerness at Dinner. Greg Niedt, Drexel University. The word ‘radical’ is often seen as a confrontational challenge to the mainstream, which is certainly a part of it. But radical queerness can also be about more quiet, everyday moments of queerness: the queer ordinary. In discussing radical queer ‘family dinners’, there is an act of radical queerness to reconstituting family as chosen family. Radical Faeries came out of activism in the 1970s, borrowing – or appropriating – from various forms of paganism and spirituality. Harry Hay was particularly central (and some of his statements about what it means to be queer are kind of what you might expect from a relatively privileged white man). Existing research is limited, and focuses on the high ritual and performativity. Niedt focuses, instead, on weekly fa(e)mily dinners in Center City Philadelphia. The research methodology drew on Dell Hymes (1974).
Music in Queer Intimate Relationships. Marion Wasserbauer, Universiteit Antwerpen. Thea DeNora discusses music as a touchstone of social relations, but there’s a dearth of beographical analysis of sociological study of music consumption. Wasserbauer talked about one interview in which a 44-year-old woman tracked the entanglement of her relationship with music, and how after the breakup she’d never experienced music again. Another 27-year-old-woman, who mostly enjoyed classical and 1920s music, found herself almost crying at a Bryan Adams concert she attended because a woman she was in a relationship with loved him so much.
I rounded out the day at an excellent panel with Maria Bakardjieva, Jakub Macek, Alena Macková, and Monika Metykova (I think – the last two were not listed in the program), discussing attacks on media and political freedoms in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Metykova outlined the incredibly worrying range of attacks on independent press and political opposition in Hungary (some of which are outlined here), noting that these have been legal and difficult to fully track, let alone resist. Becasue there a small audience (the last panel on the last day sadly often suffers), it was more of a discussion and I didn’t take notes in the panel, but I strongly encourage you to follow up the speakers’ work – and the situation in Central and Eastern Europe. It was a bit strange to me that ICA as an institution did little to address the specific situation of communications in the Czech Republic – the odd floating ‘placelessness’ of Western-centric academia (with numerous panels addressing US politics).
December 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
The symposium opened with a panel on Banal Precariousness.
Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University, spoke on “Cleaning up dead remains in times of living/dying all alone: social singlification in Japan”, building on her book, Precarious Japan. As demographic changes happen in Japan, many older people have become worried about dying alone rather than with their families, and about not being mourned. Companies have emerged that “help in your move to heaven” – wrapping up loose ends, disposing of (or ‘ordering’) deceased people’s belongings, and providing a sense of care and respect. The labour of this is both material and affective.
There’s a growing economic sector around ‘the business of the end’, catering for people who don’t have family, or feel their families would be burdened by caring for them and their possessions. This can also be seen as part of a neoliberal shift towards individualised responsibility: an expectation that the individual will take care of themselves, including in the moment of death. There’s a lot of reference made to ‘the stink of a bad death’ – a sense that individuals need to ensure that they don’t leave a mess (literally and morally) in dying. Companies manage ‘special cleanup’, burial, mourning, and in some cases are encouraging people to make ‘grave friends’ – people who they meet before death, who will be buried nearby, so that they won’t be lonely after death. Companies will perform mourning ceremonies for your possessions, too, while you’re still alive – Allison wonders if this allows people to grieve themselves by proxy, as even mourning becomes an individual responsibility.
Tanja Dreher, ARC Future Fellow at the University of Wollongong addressed Precarious Attention. She opened by acknowledging that thinking about precariousness benefits from centring Indigenous experiences in settler-colonial states. Dreher’s research has been informed particularly by work by Indigenous women in Australia, including Amy McGuire, Marcia Langton, and Celeste Liddle.
There are key long-term concerns of media studies that underpin work on precarity that come in part out of Judith Butler’s work. Vulnerability, grief, and value are unevenly distributed. From Black Lives Matter to social media memes around terrorist attacks, there is a politics emerging around the grieving of particular lives (and the failure to grieve others). Some lives are produced as more grievable than others, which enables the ongoing prosecution of war. Media is a key factor in this process, and therefore also an important site of struggle.
Dreher notes that often understandings of uneven attention and concern are framed within visual metaphors. Auditory metaphors can also be useful, however. We can think about calls for attention to different tragedies, and calls for listening to different voices, including those of Indigenous women. It is a political act to struggle against the configuring of particular kinds of suffering – and the suffering of some groups – as banal and unworthy of comment or grieving.
Finally, Susan Leong, Research Fellow at Curtin University, spoke on ‘Banal Precariousness: a Daily Prayer’. Much of our precariousness is related to work. Guy Standing talks about the growth of the ‘precariat’ as a new class in the making. ‘Precarious’ comes from the Latin root which means both a prayer and petition. Leong spoke about different metaphors of precariousness: rather than standing on a precipice, we might think about climbing constantly-shifting sand dunes in the wrong shoes and clothing, without hopes of being saved. It might be banal, if it weren’t so fundamental and essential to our experience.
In Australia, the Turnbull government is creating a situation of ‘churning innovation’, in which we are expected to be nimble, agile, and flexible. As many as 40% of Australian jobs could be replaced by automation over the next decade: in higher education, we see the shift to sessional employment, and shifts in teaching delivery like MOOCs. We need to understand the technologies that perpetuate and facilitate – and sometimes allow resistance to – banal precariousness. Ideas are fragile, according to Mary Douglas, and they require support to travel, grow, and rest. Leong notes the time it’s taken her to work through these ideas around banal precariousness, particularly as traversing the precarity of research within academia.
October 13, 2016 § Leave a comment
Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking more about the idea of ‘belonging’ in academia, following on from my reflections post-AoIR. The converse of not having a single place that feels, unproblematically and fully, like my academic home, and the place where I belong, is that I get to have many spaces where I get energy and inspiration, where I connect well with a few people, and where I find ideas and frameworks that stretch me to think about my research in news ways.
I think about the activism and academia pre-AoIR satellite event, where people were crossing different approaches (the gaps between ‘activism’ and ‘civil society’; between anti-capitalist and more reformist perspectives; between different ways of seeing governance). About conversations I had this year at AoIR about content moderation, feminist research methods, teaching, and finding different ways to fit within academia. About the first time I went to AoIR, and my excitement at finding so much space for critical methodologies, and for women’s voices, and for connecting the personal and the political. About last year’s AoIR, and the attention paid there to how we engage with the broader politics of the world (also a theme this year).
Every conference and symposium I’ve been to has had these kinds of moments. Sometimes it’s only a few talks that shift my understanding in a key way, sometimes I meet people who are working on radically different areas but still offer me a new way to think about research, or about my negotiations with academia. Collaborations that help me link my work with others.
And then there interviews and protests, where I get to learn more about how activism works in practice. Or workshops where my research intermingles with people’s daily experiences, and always changes. Talking at a huge event in Athens, and dancing with friends there afterwards, because that’s important too. Adacamp and Barcamp unconferences, World Social Forums, and other events. And threaded through them all, conversations with people who are changing the world in so many ways.
And, when I go home, my department, and my gradual exploration since returning to Perth of the other researchers at Curtin who are working on overlapping areas. Because Internet studies is a jumble of areas, I’m often working on very different issues to my colleagues, but I’m learning so much from starting to read more of their work. More importantly, it’s been a space within academia where I feel like I can be honest about who I am and what I care about, and where I can find support.
I may not have a clear academic home, but I’m grateful for all these overlapping spaces.
October 9, 2016 § 2 Comments
A lot of people attending talk about having found their academic ‘home’, or about having found their ‘people’. This is understandable: AoIR is an eclectic space, full of amazing, interesting people who are tackling important new problems (and often having to create new methodologies in order to do so).
It’s not my home, though. Except insofar, perhaps, as there’s often a significant gap between idealised images of home and many places in which I’ve actually lived. I’ve gone to quite a few different conferences, across a number of different fields, and I’ve never found ‘home’. I’ve always felt a little out of place, a little unsure about where my work fits in, a little like everyone else seems to know each other and I’m the one standing awkwardly at the edge of groups at social events wondering if I should just give up and go home.
Conferences are a challenge because of this, but still valuable. I’ve met a lot of good people, heard about interesting work that is mostly a few steps away from my own, and occasionally prodded other people’s ideas in the direction of new approaches that I think are important. I think a lot about cross-pollination.
AoIR felt especially hard this year. Part of that was the fact that I’m at a low ebb in terms of energy. In the last few months I’ve moved house, had a rather intense teaching semester, and had some health issues that left me feeling more exhausted than I can ever remember being before. The couple of years before that already depleted my reserves: they’ve been tremendously difficult on a personal level. But part of it was also the strangeness of feeling out of place amidst this narrative of AoIR as home, as ‘our people’. It’s especially jarring to feel my usual awkwardness as so many other people are talking about their sense of belonging.
And in academia, belonging is important. I’ve helped build some collaborations with other early-career scholars that I’ve found tremendously valuable, but I haven’t found mentors to help with some of the tougher aspects of navigating academia. I do okay at publishing, I think, but grants are hard to navigate when you don’t have more established scholars to include you on their projects so you can get your own track record.
I’ve had some very generous advice provided by older academics, but because they’re not quite in my area, it’s not always easy to implement: ‘Believe in your work!’ (I do!) ‘Try applying for grants x and y, they’re low-hanging fruit!’ (Their terms specifically prohibit the kind of research I’m most excited about.) I’m still trying to make these connections, but it’s hard to continually approach more senior academics with a lot of demands on their time and ask: can you help me?
I don’t know if there’s a place in academia that would fit me in the way that AoIR seems to fit others. Much of the work at AoIR is very close: there’s a significant concern with critiquing power structures and creating change in the world, albeit often coming with a different set of assumptions to my own. I met many wonderful people who I hope to stay in touch with, even if I often felt like I was getting in the way of them talking to people more important for their work. I also missed a few chances to meet and talk with others working in similar areas – perhaps in other, less exhausted years, I will be better at finding these connections.
But for others who might have felt the same way as I did at AoIR, worried that we weren’t belonging in the ways that others seem to, I wanted to write this. To remind myself, too, that it’s okay if there isn’t already a perfect home for me in academia. To remind myself that it’s okay to be at the margins. That sometimes even though it would be good to have a place already waiting to accept me, I just have to keep working at building communities where I can fit. Finding people, stitching networks, helping others who also feel out of place, questioning the assumptions that other people are working within. Sometimes, perhaps even often, remaining awkward, and doing my best to make the most of that space on the edge.
September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
A big part of my focus, returning to Curtin’s campus in the last month and a half, has been trying to catch up on what other researchers here are doing. This has been a particularly good time for that, as there are a few interesting events happening for Curtin’s 2015 research week.
I’m honoured to have won the ECR prize for best humanities research chapter for Changing Facebook’s Architecture, part of the excellent collection on An Education in Facebook? put together by my colleagues Mike Kent and Tama Leaver. I’m especially grateful for Tama’s encouragement to enter the awards, which I might not have done otherwise.
The Humanities Research Celebration highlighted so much exciting work happening around Curtin, much of which I’m hoping to explore over coming months. Fiction by Kim Scott, Liz Byrski, and others; research by Elfie Shiosaki on Noongar political activism in the early 20th century; Thor Kerr’s recent book on community conservation in Fremantle; my colleagues’ work on disability activism, human-robot communications, online identity, and diaspora; and much more.
It’s great to be back, and I’m thinking a lot about the possibilities available in a space where there’s so much interesting work happening, and so many people trying to build inclusive, diverse, and critical networks and perspectives.
March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’ve been trying, lately, to fill the terrible holes in my knowledge that were left by my degree. I studied political science and international relations at a pretty conservative department. This has given me a strong grounding in stuff like, ‘classical liberal thinkers who happen to be mostly white men (and Mary Wollestonecraft for ‘diversity’) who I find deeply unsatisfying’, and a very poor grounding in more radical theories.
I’ve been reading bell hooks, and Sandra Harding, and anarchafeminist authors, and trying to find theories and frameworks that both mesh with my experiences of the world and challenge me to think more deeply about structures of oppression, and possibilities for liberation.
The problem is, I’m still reading within the framework I’ve been trained in. I was reading bell hooks’ Where we stand: class matters, and taking notes for a paper I’m working on. Then I realised there was a pattern to my note-taking. I was marking, for example, passages like this:
From the onset, there has been a struggle within feminist movement between the reformist model of liberation, which basically demands equal rights for women within the existing class struggle, and more radical and/or revolutionary models, which call for fundamental change in the existing structure so that models of mutuality and equality can replace old paradigms. (101)
Passages that are abstract and theoretical, that I can take and apply neatly to the writing I’m currently doing, bolstering the argument I want to make about the need for something beyond liberal feminism.
At the same time, I caught myself skimming over hooks’ descriptions of her own experiences as a Black woman within the feminist movement. I skipped over her descriptions of having white women talk over her in women’s studies classes or feminist spaces, being patronised, and being shouted over during discussions. I took the parts of her argument that felt like they fit (the need to talk about class, the need to mention race at least in passing, the need to call for more revolutionary forms of feminism) and discarded the parts that didn’t seem relevant (most importantly, hooks’ centering of her experiences as a Black woman as a grounding for her theory).
This is just what I was taught to do at university: to discard the personal in favour of abstract theory, and in particular to marginalise the perspectives of women and people of colour. Of course, this was never done overtly: we would take about race and class, but then get back to reading the works of white men who wrote ‘objectively’, as if their own experiences were irrelevant (and, at the same time, universal).
At times, this tendency towards taking parts of a theory while discarding others has been a form of resistance. In a space where most of the theoretical frameworks I was provided with felt terribly broken, I learned to cobble together the bits and pieces that seemed least broken to try to make something I could live with and use. That strategy has been important to me in the past, and will continue to be when I’m dealing with theory built on the experiences of privileged people. But it’s a form of erasure when it means sidelining racism and other forms of oppression I don’t experience.
It will take work to undo this. It will take work to find theorists who shift me in new directions. It will take work to notice, and undo, habits of reading and writing and research that reinforce the status quo. I’m noticing, more, how often white feminist academic and activist writing seems to mention intersectionality without acknowleding the foundational work by Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, the Combahee River Collective. I’m noting how often white feminists talk about ‘intersectionality’ while continuing to centre the experiences of white, middle-class (or elite) women, sometimes not even mentioning race at all. I am noticing more the ways in which I do this myself.
I am, of course, not the only person noticing these issues. Bell hooks’ writing makes it very clear that she has been seeing this process of erasure for decades; Sirma Bilge has published on the depoliticization of intersectionality; Black, Afroindigenous and women of colour have challenged the ways their theorising and organising are attacked online; and frankly I am probably missing a whole bunch of excellent writing on this topic because I am still working to find it.
This process of realisation I’m going through has happened in large part because of social media. I’m learning from the frequently-unwaged labour referred to in #thistweetcalledmyback, work by women of colour who engage in debates that are often incredibly wearing and destructive for them. And, in writing about this here, I’m hoping to make a small contribution to other people’s (particularly white, university-educated people’s) process of learning also: to notice our research processes, to do better, to try to centre experiences beyond our own.