It’s that time of year again. Time to start seriously prepping for classes this fall. Last fall I taught Queering Theory and Feminist Pedagogies. This fall I’m teaching Queering Desire and Feminist Pedagogies. Several of the same students from queering theory will be in queering desire so I need to radically redo the syllabus. Here are some books that I am thinking of using:
Will I use all of these books? At this point, I’m not sure. I do know that I want to add in many more random articles. And I also want to focus a lot (again) on blogs and blog reading. Last year students in the class suggested that we spend more time on each others’ blog entries. If I want to do that, which I do, I will need to make sure that I don’t assign lots of articles/book reading. In addition to reading each others’ blog entries, I want students to read entries from other blogs. What if I did some blog clusters (that is, a series of articles around the same issue + some non-blog background reading)? I was thinking it might be useful to start with the recent “Butler Scandal”–the scandal that erupted when Judith Butler refused the civic courage award in Berlin. Here are few sources that the students could read for this section:
Along with these blog sources, I might want to throw in a reading or two. Maybe an excerpt from Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages + something else? I need to spend a lot more time thinking through all of this. Good thing I have more than a month before I start.
Addendum: I posted this entry a few hours ago; since then, I found a couple more sources that I might want to use in the class. I wanted to post them here before I lost/forgot about them. All three of these sources discuss the value of new social media for queer communities/activism/theorizing/engagement:
Ever since I got my iPad in May, I use it a lot for my morning internet news reading. For some reason, I can’t figure out how to make bookmarks on my iPad version of safari (which might be a good thing because I tend to bookmark lots of links that I never return to). So instead, I have started emailing myself the links. Now my inbox is filled with them and I’m feeling the need to clean (which doesn’t happen that often–as hard as I try, I usually have hundreds of emails in my two main mail accounts. Sigh).
Since I use this blog as an archive for ideas, I have decided to post a brief “annotated” list of these links/entries/articles:
Which brings me to my most important point: that the duty to minimize disruption isn’t a duty that the young and the old and those with disabilities have to the robust adults among us, it’s a reciprocal duty that each of us, whatever our condition, has to each of our neighbors, whatever their condition.
Each of us has an obligation to refrain from whining too long or too loudly in museums. But each of us also has an obligation to accept the company of others good-naturedly, and to respond with grace when disruptions inevitably occur.
Why I’m archiving it: This essay resonates with me on a number of different levels–personally (as the mother of two young children who struggles to navigate public space with them and in the midst of other parents who do seem to feel entitled to take up lots of space, and as a daughter who witnessed my mom’s fearful attempts to inhabit public space as terminally ill, slow-moving and fragile without being knocked over or shoved out of the way) and intellectually (I like thinking about the links between public space, children and disruption).
Where I found it: random twitter search on @bitchphd, buried deep on page 2 or 3
2. threadbared a blog by Mimi Thi Nguyen and Minh-Ha T. Pham
Here’s a description of this super-cool blog:
Threadbared is an evolving collaboration between two clotheshorse academics to discuss the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names “fashion” and “beauty.” With commentary on how clothes matter, as well as book and exhibit reviews and interviews with scholars and artists, Threadbared considers the critical importance of taking clothes –and the bodies that design, manufacture, disseminate, and wear them– seriously as an entry point into dialogue about the world around us.
Why I’m archiving it: Okay, I’m not really into fashion that much (but maybe after reading this blog, I will be!), however I am familiar with Mimi Thi Nguyen’s work (Alien Encounters and a brief online essay on Mulan from years ago) and I appreciate the ways in which she brings feminist, queer, and anti-racist analyses to bear on pop culture. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s work seems pretty cool too; I especially like her post (which I just found) on why I feel guilty when I don’t blog. And here’s one more reason: this is a kick-ass blog done by academics who are using their impressive set of critical tools (feminist transnational studies, queer theory, critical media studies) to critically reflect on popular (fashion) culture. And it’s a diablog. This is a great model for being diablogical!
Where I found it: Wow, I wish I could remember. Probably twitter again. I think twitter is my new researching BFF. Seriously, twitter is a great resource. I will definitely have to use it in my classes this year.
3. May I, Please, Queer Your Kids? The New Queer Pedagogy an online article by Stephanie Jo Marchese in a Special Issue of MP: An international feminist journal
In this article, Marchese opens her discussion of queer pedagogy and the queer classroom with one queer student’s story (Sara) of being deemed a threat by her teachers:
By asserting the contagion of queerness, any school system, any teacher, any student, and any administrator has an increased chance of exposure. Paranoia becomes the vaccine to this social disease. It has seeped into pedagogical practices resulting in the devaluation and disgust with which queer studies is viewed in mainstream educational discussions. In advocating queer learning spaces, educational institutions run the risk of losing all categories, run the risk of leaving all subject matter ripe learning material, and inadvertently allow for provocative and resistant citizens to thrive. In linking this theoretical pondering to my opening example it makes perfect sense that Sara was told to pipe down. Keep it quiet. Don’t disturb your role because you unsettle mine.
Marches argues that queer visibility (and a pedagogy that is queer) doesn’t always have to lead to paranoia and containment; making sexuality visible in the class could allow for more honest conversations about it and the ways in which it gets regulated (through what is normal/acceptable and what is not).
Why I’m archiving it: I am always interested in essays on queer pedagogy and the bibliography for this article seems like it could point to even more sources. Plus, I appreciate her discussion of the queer who unsettles/disrupts as someone who needs to be encouraged (because of the productive, good troublemaking they do) instead of being contained or denied.
Where I found it: I got a mass email through the WMST-L listserv about a call for papers from the MP journal. I went to their website and randomly searched the archives.
4. Twitter for Academia a blog entry by dave on Academic Hack
In this entry, dave provides a list of various ways in which to use twitter in the classroom, including: class chatter, classroom community, get a sense of the world, track a word, track a conference, instant feedback, follow a professional, follow a famous person and more.
Why I’m archiving it: I plan to use twitter in my classes this year (and to teach about how to use it in my feminist pedagogies class) and am always looking for advice and ideas about it. Not only does dave offer some great suggestions, but his post has 46 comments worth of ideas too. Cool. This post should be very helpful. Here are a few that I particularly like:
Track a Word: Through Twitter you can “track” a word. This will subscribe you to any post which contains said word. So, for example a student could be interested in how a particular word is used. They can track the word, and see the varied phrases in which people use it. Or, you can track an event, a proper name (I track Derrida for example), a movie title, a store name see how many people a day tweet that they are at or on their way to a Starbucks. (To do this send the message “track Starbucks” to Twitter, rather than posting the update “track Starbucks” you will now receive all messages with the word “Starbucks.”)
Instant Feedback: Because Twitter is always on, and gets pushed to your cell phone if you set it up this way, it is a good way to get instant feedback. I was prepping for a lecture and wanted to know if students shared a particular movie reference, I asked via Twitter and got instant responses. Students can also use this when doing their classwork, trying to understand the material. Tweet: “I don’t understand what this reading has to do with New Media? any ideas?” Other students then respond. (This actually happened recently in a class of mine.)
Maximizing the Teachable Moment: It is often hard to teach in context, Twitter allows you to do this, but better yet, allows your students to do it for you (a way that others will hear perhaps). Recently someone in my Twitter circle made a marginal comment about a male friend who was dating an older woman. Another person in the same circle called him out this. Perfect, an in-context lesson on gender prejudice.
Public NotePad: Twitter is really good for sharing short inspirations, thoughts that just popped into your head. Not only are they recorded, because you can go back and look at them, but you can also get inspiration from others. This is really useful for any “creative” based class.
Where I found it: I’m pretty sure that I did a google search for twitter and academic use (or twitter teaching?). Sidenote: I used Academic Hack’s blogroll to find ProfHacker, which is great source on the Chronicle of Higher Education for teaching and technology.
Okay, I’m done now. Well, my list of links is not done, but I’m done. I find this entry to be a helpful exercise, one I might try in my classes. It’s more time-consuming than I imagined it would be (it took about 90 minutes, off and on, to write). I need to go rest my brain now and listen to some summer music:
One key aspect of my own pedagogy of troublemaking is the belief that asking and exploring lots of questions is very important. I have devoted a lot of attention to the value of asking questions on this blog. I have written about Judith Butler and why, Paulo Freire and learning to question, Cynthia Enloe and curiosity, and Padgett Powell and the interrogative mood. Today I want to add another entry on this topic to my blog: Patricia A. Johnson and the art of genuine and playful questioning (a la Hans-Georg Gadamer and Maria Lugones).
While browsing through the stacks the other week, I happened across Philosophy, Feminism and Faith. Why did I pick it up? I can’t remember but it must have had something to do with my own religion and philosophy backgrounds (I have a BA in religion, a MA in theological studies and ethics, and my secondary discipline for my PhD was philosophy). By chance, I found an article by Patricia A. Johnson entitled, “Learning to Question.” Just glancing at the opening epigraphs, I knew that I would appreciate her perspective:
Questions always bring out the undetermined possibilities of a thing (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method).
Interrogation itself becomes an act of critical intervention, fostering a fundamental attitude of vigilance rather than denial (bell hooks, Yearning).
In her essay, Johnson divides the essay up into three sections, each speaking to a different (and sometimes in conflict) community to which she belongs: trained philosophers, active feminists, and practitioners of the Quaker religion (Friends). In my brief engagement with Johnson’s work, I want to focus on these first two communities which Johnson discussions in relation to Gadamer and Lugones.
Gadamer and philosophy: The art of genuine questioning
Drawing upon Gadamer and his work in Truth and Method (which I think I own, but can’t find–sigh), Johnson argues for the value of learning how to ask genuine questions. Genuine questions are only possible when we recognize (and embrace?) our unknowingness and when we become “motivated by a sincere desire to know” (142). She distinguishes genuine questions from false ones which are disingenuous and not aimed at gaining new knowledge but at directing others towards one’s already established beliefs. I like how Johnson describes false questions in the context of teachers who ask their students questions–in class or on exams–that “do not allow our own presuppositions to be questioned” and that “clearly require that our own unexamined prejudices be accepted” (142). This is important because it is not only students who need to learn how to answer (and ask) genuine questions; teachers need to learn how to ask (and answer) genuine questions too. Johnson also distinguishes genuine questions from distorted ones that misdirect our explorations of ideas. Because distorted questions can get us off track, we need to make sure that we are constantly (and vigilantly) reflecting on why, how and when we ask questions (143). Finally, Johnson argues that genuine questioning requires that we consider the many sides of our question, the context in which it is asked and the communities in which we (the askers and answerers) live.
Lugones and feminism: Learning to question playfully
After discussing questioning in relation to philosophy, Johnson reflects on it in relation to her feminism. She argues that genuine questions also demand that we adopt a playful attitude (a la Lugones) and an “openness to the reconstruction of of one’s self and one’s world” (147). I really like how she brings in Lugones and her playful attitude. Lugones is a big influence on my own troublemaking work and I have written and thought a lot about the playful attitude in relation to virtue ethics. In fact, I just wrote about the playful attitude yesterday (here). When I have more energy and time I should revisit how Lugones fits in for Johnson and for my own teaching philosophy.
Here are a few succinct summaries that Johnson offers:
Philosophy first led me to question and to ask about the nature of questioning. Philosophy taught me to recognize that I must know when I do not know. I must distinguish genuine from false and distorted questions. I must recognize that addressing a question requires investigating the many sides of a question. I must ask questions in the context of community. Feminism showed me the complexity of communities and the importance of being a question (149).
In reference to being a question, Johnson writes:
to be a feminist in the Academy required one to learn how to raise questions that others preferred not to address and did not even see as questions. I have also learned that as a feminist, my simple presence is sometimes a question (144).
A few random thoughts:
I want to re-visit Gadamer’s Truth and Method, especially this section.
I wonder about this desire to know–what if we imagined our questions to be motivated by a desire to feel or to experience? While I think we can gain new understandings through our exploration of questions; we still can’t ever really know. Maybe unknowing is a good (as in stimulating, productive, creative) place to stay?
Being a question–what are the dangers of being a question? What are the differences, particularly in terms of our agency and how we are understand as subjects, between asking questions and being a question?
I really like Rebecca Mead’s article about children’s playgrounds in the July 5th issue of The New Yorker: “State of Play: How tot lots became places to build children’s brains.” She describes the history of playgrounds in the U.S. and the shift that is occurring in the philosophy and design of them. Playgrounds used to be designed primarily for regulating children’s behavior, training them to be good (as in disciplined) citizens. With their carefully planned swings, slides, sandboxes and seesaws (the four S’s), playgrounds were intended to give otherwise out-of-control children a place to direct their immense amount of physical energy towards productive, responsible and physically appropriate actions. Now, new playgrounds, like David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, are being designed to encourage children to be creative and engage in their own imaginative (not-so-directed) play. The 4 S’s are being replaced with loose parts like foam blocks and tubes that can be moved around by kids and put together in expected and unexpected ways. Instead of regulating kids’ unruly behavior, playgrounds are being designed to train kids’ brains so that kids use their imagination more and learn how to creatively explore their own (as opposed to parents’ idea of appropriate) play. Here’s Rebecca Mead’s summary of the change in playground philosophy:
Over the past century, the thinking about playgrounds has evolved from figuring out how play can instill youngsters with discipline to figuring out how play can build brains by fostering creativity and independent thinking. The hope of Rockwell’s playground project is that children who have experimented with fitting together oversized blocks and cogs—and who have learned to navigate a place where social challenges of sharing and collaboration are built into experience—will be better equipped to handle the complexities of twenty-first century life (37).
Sounds great, right? In many ways, yes. I’m all for encouraging kids to be creative and designing playground equipment that fosters their imaginations. I also appreciate the emphasis on play as being driven by kids themselves as opposed to their over-bearing parents. However, I am troubled by how this play is still framed almost exclusively in terms of how it can train kids to be good adults. Whether playgrounds are designed to curb the behaviors and bodies of unruly, troublemaking kids (which Mead indicates were some of the original reasons for developing playgrounds in the early 1900s) or to shape and train their brains to better function in the 21st century (one current playground philosophy), the end goal is always about disciplining children and about “developing [the child’s] abilities, their individual judgment, and their sense of moral and social responsibility” and training them “to become a useful [and productive worker?] member of society” (35).
What’s fun and playful about that? It sounds like more work. Sure I appreciate the shift in emphasis from controlling bad behavior to inspiring creative engagement, but by understanding imagination and creativity primarily in terms of how it trains/disciplines kids to be more creative and able to direct their own actions, a lot of what is fun (and creative) about play is, at best, not valued, and at worst, pushed aside in favor of one version of productive, useful and serious play. In the hyper-competitive, capitalist-driven environment of New York City (where many of these playgrounds are making their debut), these new “imagination” playgrounds could have some contradictory/conflicted results: “achievement-minded New York parents will likely flock to the place” (37), hoping to give their kids’ one more advantage (creative imagination!) for their future in the highly-competitive marketplace. So, play isn’t about playing; it’s about acquiring more tools for success.
Being playful and playing doesn’t always have to be guided by rules or some larger aim (to be successful at being creative); being playful can (and should) be fun and freeing and not work. Kids know and embrace this. And no matter how hard playground designers, play experts and parents try to shape how they play, kids find ways to have fun on the playground. They use the equipment improperly (by climbing up the outside of the slide) or ignore the equipment altogether (by climbing random trees instead of jungle gyms). Often I have found myself exasperated by my son’s refusal to play on the equipment “properly.” I am sure I have even uttered, “why does he have to make this so difficult–why can’t he play the right way?” (I know, even troublemakers like me reinforce the rules sometimes). While sometimes he is just being difficult, maybe sometimes he is practicing resistance and making trouble for the system and its efforts to mold him into a good little worker. Maybe the playground is full of little-troublemaking revolutionaries? Cool.
SIDENOTE: Almost every time I go to a park I witness how disciplining is done by parents to their own children and to others’ children. Of course, children aren’t the only ones disciplined; parents spend a lot of time at the park disciplining each other (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways). After I started reflecting on these ideas of disciplining and parks, Foucault immediately popped into my head and I knew that if I searched for it, I would find some great articles on Foucault and the playground. I was not disappointed. I can’t wait to read this totally awesome-sounding essay by Holly Blackford entitled “Playground Panopticism : Ring-Around-the-Children, a Pocketful of Women” which I originally found in the journal, Childhood. Doesn’t it sound cool?
In this article, the author invokes Michel Foucault’s analysis of panopticism to understand the performance of mothering in the suburban playground. The mothers in the ring of park benches symbolize the suggestion of surveillance, which Foucault describes as the technology of disciplinary power under liberal ideals of governance. However, the panoptic force of the mothers around the suburban playground becomes a community that gazes at the children only to ultimately gaze at one another, seeing reflected in the children the parenting abilities of one another. The author analyzes the elaborate rules of playground etiquette and social competition that occupy the mothers, linking their social discourses to the public neighborhood playground as a symbol for child-centered (suburban) ideology.
Excellent. I need to read this article and then re-read KCF’s guest blog entry on The Elf on the Shelf.
Right now I am attempting to juggle three different blogs. I really like how they highlight different aspects of my writing/thinking/feeling self. On trouble, I focus on giving critical (and serious, extended) attention to trouble in feminist and queer contexts. Frequently I write about Judith Butler and the ethical implications of her work. I also devote a lot of time to working through my own (hopefully) book project on trouble as a virtue. On Unchained, I experiment with developing/practicing virtue ethics (in relation to breaking, reworking, transforming consumption habits) through and in connection with blogging. I co-write this blog with my partner, STA, as we try to figure out ways to reduce consumption, make better (whatever that means) choices, and model “good” behavior for two crazy, yet wonderful kids, FWA and RJP. Finally on It’s Diablogical!, I diablogue with my writing partner and good friend, KCF, about blogging and feminist pedagogy. Our blog is part of a larger writing project on teaching with blogs and blogging while teaching.
Sound like too much? While it can feel overwhelming at times, all three of these writing projects inspire and invigorate me (at least, so far. I just started Unchained and It’s Diablogical! this summer. It is possible that my brain will melt once I start prepping for my classes later this month). The specific content of each blog is different, yet all three connect, sometimes in unexpected ways. Like right now. As I was preparing to write more on Unchained about failing, I realized that I have A LOT to write about the issue of failing and FAIL, and that what I want to write is relevant to each of the blogs I write on. With that in mind, I have decided to try an experiment in this entry. I want to write about failure in the context of each of the three blogs. If I like how this works, I anticipate experimenting with it more in future entries. I plan to post this entry in each of my blogs. So, here goes nothing…
First, my overarching statement: Failure is valuable.
Making, being in and staying in trouble is all about valuing failure: closely and critically examining it, learning from it, developing questions around how/why it happened, being devoted to claiming/exposing it, never concealing it. Throughout her work, particularly in Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, Judith Butler discusses the potential value (and danger) of our various failures to fully embody/live up to gender norms and our proper gender roles/rules. Check out what she says about her parents’ gender failures in Judith Butler: Philosophical Encounters of the Close Kind. In the first 2 minutes of this youtube clip, Butler describes how her various family members were unable to fully live up to the gender/race/class norms as embodied by famous Hollywood actors. Then, at 2 minutes and 19 seconds in, Butler says:
My conclusion was that anyone who strives to embody them [gender norms–being a “proper” man or woman], perhaps also fails in some ways that are more interesting than their successes.
For Butler, failure is not just more interesting than success; failure is a crack in the system. When we fail we can begin to see the limits of the system and how/when it doesn’t work. Maybe, especially if we gravitate towards trouble, we might wonder about what these limits say about the system and why the system has to be the way it is or why it couldn’t function in a different way (perhaps in a way that enable our norms to be guided by our actions instead of our actions dictated by our norms). When we succeed at living up to gender expectations (what Butler might describe as achieving a proper gender performance), we aren’t prompted to ask questions about the system and how it might work differently or better. And we aren’t inspired to think about the gender binary system or its rigid rules about what it means to be a man or a woman. In fact, sometimes success is more of a failure; to succeed can contribute to a failure to think, to question, to wonder, or to resist. I could say more about failure in relation to Michel Foucault’s limit attitude, but I want to stay focused so that I don’t lose my various readers here (especially the ones who might read Unchained, but not trouble. Yes, STA, I’m talking to you…)
To embrace failure, or to at least recognize that it is not something to avoid or conceal, can open us up to other possibilities and other ways of knowing and being. When we begin to understand that failure is inevitable and necessary, we can shift our focus away from always being right or having the right answer or even believing that there is one right answer. Instead, we can focus more of our attention on all the different ways that others could be right (or, at least not wrong). When we don’t worry so much about failing (and then being seen as a Failure), we aren’t as invested in proving that we aren’t ever wrong. This enables us to make room for exciting and inspiring conversations with others that involve much more than concluding who got it right and who didn’t. Failure also encourages us to experiment and be creative with how we approach ideas, problems and people. This is especially true when we don’t imagine failure as something that threatens to undermine us and our authority and when we embrace it as a necessary and invigorating part of the process (of thinking, writing, learning, engaging).
While there are many ways to practice and promote this vision of failure (as contributing to openness, as encouraging experimentation), I am particularly interested in how blogs (my personal ones and the ones I use in my class) can serve as powerful spaces for valuing failure (and valuing vulnerability, openness and experimentation). Here, let me briefly explain how I used my blog for my spring 2010 Contemporary Feminist Debates course to explore and practice the idea of valuing failure.
Instead of using the language of failure (which is negative and can immediately induce fear and suspicion amongst the students), I described the process of not being right or failing to be right in terms of uncertainty, contestability and curiosity. I reworked one traditional notion of debate by shifting our focus away from the contesting of competing claims to the critical and creative exploration of negotiating between (and living with) multiple visions of what is or should be right. In this way, I transformed the idea of failure from being wrong to not being the only one right.
The course blog played a central role in this process of imagining and practicing a new vision of feminist debate-as-curiosity. Because this blog entry is getting way too long (surprise, surprise), I want to highlight one particular blog exercise that I used to reinforce the idea of failing (that is, failing to know) as valuable. I developed a category on the blog titled, “This is a feminist issue because…”. Students were required to post one example of something that they believed to be a feminist issue and then respond to at least two other students’ examples. Here is my explanation:
So, this category is for posting images, news items or anything else that you feel speaks to issues related to feminism. It could also include anything that you believe especially deserves a feminist analysis. And it could include topics, issues, or events that you feel are connected to feminism or deserve a feminist response, but you are not sure how or why. Entries filed under this category should invite us to apply our growing knowledge of feminism/feminist movement/s to popular culture/current events or should inform us about ideas, topics, or images that are important for feminism. When posting an entry/example, you could pose a question to the reader or provide a brief summary on the example and/or why you posted it.
While the purpose of this blog category was to document a wide range of feminist issues and approaches, the unanticipated (and somewhat anticipated) effect of this category was to demonstrate to students that feminist movement is not any one thing and that we can’t ever fully know what feminism is or how it should proceed. While this made some students angry (“if feminism is too broad, it becomes meaningless!”) and many uncomfortable, it made other students curious and inspired them to rethink debate and feminism outside of its rigid borders. In the context of this blog, the failure to come up with any definitive or comprehensive conclusions of what feminism or a feminist issue is resulted in a larger success–it opened them to new ways of thinking about feminism and enabled (at least some of) them to embrace not knowing (check out what I write about this idea in my final thoughts entry).
Failure is very important part of the process of breaking old habits and creating new ones. So much so that I have included a category on that blog entitled, Failure. While there is much that could be said about how failure (that is, doing things in un-virtuous or out-of-balance ways) is an important part of our moral and practical education, I simply don’t have the energy to write much more about that right now. At some point soon, I would like to carefully read and maybe comment on Putting on Virtue in relation to this question. But, I digress.
From my perspective (STA has a different perspective), I am interested in exploring my/our various habits of consumption and how to break and/or rework them. Perhaps one of my central approaches to this breaking/reworking process is to give some serious attention to the moments when I fail. I like to analyze why it didn’t work and ask lots of questions–what happened? how could it happen differently? what are some of the deeper issues that prevent me from breaking habits that I know are bad, harmful, unjust? Why do I have so many half-finished bags of tortilla chips? Why did I panic and buy the processed ham? And why did I order the large beer sampler?
Some people might imagine such a focus on failure to be depressing or discouraging; I find that not focusing on how/when I fail to be unproductive, uncritical and (almost) a guarantee that I will fail again.