Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?
- 1 Starting point and context
- 2 Working group 2015-2016
- 3 Organising the mobilization: non-normative approaches
- 3.1 Experiments with terminology – shifting the framework
- 3.2 Experiments with roles
- 3.3 Experiments with different languages in the room
- 3.4 Experiments with spatial conventions
- 3.5 Experiments with temporalities: When do we learn?
- 3.6 Experiments with university procurement: catering
- 3.7 Experiments with university procurement: hosting
- 3.8 Experiments with budgeting
- 4 The Mobilization 12 - 14 Oct 2016
- 5 The Workbook
- 6 Notes (Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?)
Starting point and context
"Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?" is a long-term collective investigation into intersectional, feminist, and decolonial pedagogies that led to a three-day international mobilization at HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg, 14 - 16 October 2016. The workgroup formed after a conference at our institution, in which the keynote was entirely based on white, Western, male references, a fact that was hard to digest for the community of students and teachers at the art academy. A workgroup was formed to rethink the format of a conference and explore knowledge practices from an intersectional feminist, queer, and de-colonial perspective.Therefore the working group embarked on an experiment to explore in which ways a conference on knowledge practices can be organized that practically rethinks and tests the very formats it employs and thereby directly translates the addressed theoretical concepts into action.
Working group 2015-2016
"Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?" working group formed at Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg in autumn 2015 and consisted of students, staff, and administrators (Kanchan Burathoki, Rose Borthwick, MC Coble, Andreas Engman, Gabo Camnitzer, Eva Weinmayr). The workgroup's aim was twofold: Firstly, to provide a space to discuss the highs and lows in our daily learning and teaching practice at the academy. Secondly, to study and review the implemented university protocols and institutional habits that either further or hinder specific modes of learning and teaching. Our reflection on our own experiences in the classroom (from both perspectives: teachers and students), the lucky moments, as well as failures and anxieties, was then expanded by the collective study of relevant texts on feminist intersectional de-colonial pedagogies. We came up with a set of core questions, that we wanted to focus on. "How is knowledge transmitted and validated?"; "What is the power of citation practices?"; "When do we learn?"; "What kind of resources are we accessing to learn?"; "How can we broaden our understanding of feminist and non-Eurocentric knowledge?"; "How can we understand justice, equality, and diversity that is not blind to differences such as gender, sexual orientation, race, class and dis/ability?"; "Can management be thought in terms of care rather than administration?"
The workgroup consisted of students, staff and administrators , and its work can be described in two phases. In the first six months, we held bi-weekly lunchtime meetings to meet and share our teaching experiences, conflicts with students or management, as well as reading and discussing texts. It is also important to note that these regular meetings offered a space to share informally information and gossip, things that were not officially circulated but crucial for understanding the social fabric of the institution and the people working together at the academy.
As the work was proceeding, the lunch meetings seemed too short and pressured, and we started to have dinners at homes, met in bars, or communicated online. We met in our studios and offices, went for walks and field trips, held day-long sessions. We also invited guests for workshops, such as Katarina Bonnevier and Annette Kraus.  We read texts, shared experiences, raised doubts and concerns. In a nutshell, we followed our desires not to struggle forward and chew on these questions as individuals. Instead, we got together to acknowledge the importance of queer intersectional feminist and decolonial issues in education as a group.
We started an online shadow library gathering a wide range of material from different historical periods, territories, backgrounds – material generated inside and outside of academia. It was hosted on a private Google Drive that was shared with people in and outside the workgroup who asked for permission.
Organising the mobilization: non-normative approaches
The second phase was focused on planning and organizing a 'conference,' marking the closing of Valand Academy's 150th-anniversary events, that fundamentally rethinks and practically tests the modes, formats, and scope of coming together to create and transmit knowledge.
The organizing practices are analyzed in more detail in section 10 "Reflection and theorization." Since I will argue in this thesis that organizing practices are to be recognized as work, I will, in the following, break down a range of topics that were part of our experiments.
Experiments with terminology – shifting the framework
The working group attempted to rethink the normative terms and related roles, the functions, and hierarchies these produce by crucially redefining the nomenclature. The term "conference," for example, was replaced by the word "mobilization." This shift of descriptor produces a different framework: A mobilization shifts the emphasis on the agency, on that what follows. Compared with standard formats of sharing well-packaged knowledge in the form of papers, we aimed at a more practical, dynamic, activist and generative encounter. Participants who join a mobilization come with different desires, energies, and mindsets – wanting to work out together practical ways to translate research, knowledge, and experience into practice: "What has been mobilized?"
Experiments with roles
We defined three roles:
Annotated by AE
An "instigator" is a person or group invited to prepare a contribution that will activate each of the mobilization's forums and their topics. An "invited participant" is a practitioner and theoretician invited to attend and participate in the mobilization, because they were inspiring to us, had no particular role or task, but contributed through their knowledge and experience informally. And thirdly, "participants" are mobilization attendees helping to work through the event's questions – active and vocal, or active and quiet.
Experiments with different languages in the room
We decided to hold the mobilization in the English language since we had participants from eight European countries. The major part of the workgroup is not native Swedish speaking, and a large part of Valand Academy's programs are in English. Still, we are aware that language creates borders and exclusions. Therefore we experimented with translation (English-Swedish-English) on a realtime writing pad that was projected into the room. xx, xx, xx took turns in taking notes by translating them into Swedish.
Experiments with spatial conventions
With redefining the roles and formats comes a rethinking of spatial conventions. Together with architect Katarina Bonnevier we investigated in which ways the traditional room layouts and use of furniture shape the roles and modes we meet for learning and teaching. The aim was to develop interventions that open up the spaces and queer the habits of their use. In which way can bodies gather in a room that goes beyond traditional round table discussions (Glasshouse), frontal lectures (Aula), or presentations (screen).
In a second step, we experimented with gathering in unconventional spaces in the academy building to hold our Forums. The main staircase (Forum 1: How to start? –– “Sextalks MTG”), the kitchens (Forum 4: “When do we learn? Collectively preparing food”), the space between the fixed seating rows in the Aula for a staged play reading (Forum 7: Strike while the iron is hot)
Rachel Barron, a recent alumna, developed the design concept for the main assembly space. With brightly colored translucent fabric, she divided the room into several visually and spatially connected layers.
Experiments with temporalities: When do we learn?
The question "When do we learn?" is tightly connected to time scheduling.
Annotated by MC
How do you schedule the time for big assembly forums, for working in small groups, for informal gatherings? What happens outside scheduled structures? One of our experiments consisted of doing a one-night communal sleep-over in the main assembly room.
We were curious to learn about the intimacy of this shared experience of brushing teeth at the kitchen sink, bedtime readings, falling asleep, and having breakfast in pajamas. It was an attempt to transgress the boundaries of professional/academic roles and bodies by exposing ourselves to the experienced vulnerability while being asleep in one room.
Experiments with university procurement: catering
Gothenburg University has a limited list of approved caterers for conferences or symposia. Any attempt to order food from less established, experimental, or social food projects is not envisaged or permitted. Only by the inventive work of our administrators, and the trick to declare it a conceptual part of the mobilization, we were able to order food from the local women's food collective Hoppet. Hoppet (Hoppet för kropp och själ - The Hope for Body and Soul) is an Arabic, Iraqi, Kurdish and Persian women collective based in Gothenburg’s suburb Hammarkullen. Hoppet started a catering business to gain financial independence from husbands, to support women in the community, and to donate money to kids with blood diseases in Iraq.  By ordering food from Hoppet, we want to support the women collective's fight for a safe space and promote care and hospitality through the food we were eating together. Thirdly, we wanted to experiment with strategies on how to bring small and alternative vendors into the procurement system of the university to support other forms of economies. 
Experiments with university procurement: hosting
In a similar vein, the university policies regarding the hosting of guests are restrictive, as only a small exclusive list of big and anonymous hotels in Gothenburg have accreditation with the university. In an effort to offer more friendly accommodation and create more inspiring social encounters, we found for most of the mobilization´s participants a spare room, bed or sofa offered by colleagues or friends in their Gothenburg homes.
Annotated by AE
This hospitality not only allowed many students and freelancers – living on small budgets – to join the mobilization. It also made the mobilization a distributed effort of solidarity and responsibility across the art school.
Experiments with budgeting
Redefining the roles and responsibilities requires a customized approach to traditional budgeting and payment protocols. We received a budget of 100.000 SEK from the All instigators who prepared one of the Forums received the same fee. For invited participants, who were encouraged to attend and contribute informally, we were trying to reimburse travel costs and hosted them in spare rooms or sofas in our academy community. Organizers and volunteers, all the helping hands needed to run such a carefully planned event were not paid. This, for some in the group, controversial decision, is based on the difficulty of finding criteria on how to distinguish the tasks and efforts invested by a large number of people. Because so many people contributed in so many different ways, it was difficult to decide where to draw the line, who should be paid for what? The fact that nobody was paid created on the one hand a clear framework of a gift economy, but is problematic in terms of unpaid labor at a state-run art university.
Annotated by mc
The Mobilization 12 - 14 Oct 2016
The three-day event had 120 participants from eight European countries. It was structured in eight Forums and a range of smaller workshops/working groups. They were run by Ann-Charlotte Glasberg Blomqvist (Walking, thinking, talking), Romi Rüegger (Mentoring and practices of collective supervision), Annette Krauss (Lifelong learning and the professionalized learner), and Jeuno JE Kim (Moving Around and Reading Aloud in Göteborg), Maddie Leach (Breakfast Yoga). The published program gives detailed info.
Annotated by MC
Eating together is today for many a normative activity and the affects of doing this are often taken for granted. While the concept of risk is at the forefront of eating, it is not something that we are consciously reflecting on while at a casual dinner (except the many people suffering from food allergies), unconsciously the embodiment of risk is still foundational when eating today and this becomes risking something in public when we’re eating together. The radicality happens with the social configuration of subjectivities in a group when the group is risking something together, in the act of coming together through eating food a specific bond of care for the other is created out of necessity of the risk involved in this act. Therefore cooking and eating together installs a foundation of care in a group from which a different kind of conversation and interaction can arise generated by the commensal experience.
Care is intrinsic to feminism and so cooking and eating together becomes embodying feminisms! This is even before we start to reflect on the symbolic act of blurring the boundaries between the domestic and the professional which becomes apparent when claiming space for cooking, cleaning doing the dishes together in the context of the professionalised university today.
Annotated by AE
In the same vein of the rethinking of the normative formats, habits, and conventions in learning and teaching described above, the working group experimented with new forms of producing and circulating the workbook for the event. Published one month before the event, its function was to invite the academy community into the conversation and to introduce the topics and questions of the mobilization to the wider academy. This invitation took place in the form of a "collective assembling day" to collate and bind the pages into a book and via an experiment to turn the Academy building into a walkable book. These experiments that could be called "contextual publishing" are in detail discussed in the text "Outside the Page - Making Social Realities with Books" and in the section "Reflection, theorization of projects."
The book's pdf is available as a download and as a printed copy. It is distributed through AND Publishing and circulates internationally in independent bookshops. It has subsequently been used as course literature at HDK-Valand, included in reading lists, read in feminist reading groups, acquired by institutional libraries, and donated to artist/activist archives.
Public Assembling Day
During an "Assembling Day," we displayed the printed sheets of the book on tables in the main entrance hall of the Academy, inviting students, staff and administrators and technicians to collate and bind their copy of the book. Assisted by the working group, people gathered around the tables to familiarise themselves with the content and the topics of the mobilization while figuring out how to bind a book. This unconventional approach to merge the moments of production and distribution created a different sense of ownership of the book because the reader already invested time and manual labor in producing their copy. And most importantly, it created a social occasion where people with different roles at the Academy who rarely meet in day-to-day academy life sat around tables chatting to each other while folding, collating and binding their copy of the book.
In a second step, the workgroup enlarged each page of the book to an A1-size poster and distributed these across the walls of the academy in publicly accessible spaces with heavy footfall (main entrances, corridors, staircases, kitchens, etc.), as well as toilets where people would have time to retreat and read. We choose the sites for their spatial-temporal qualities and usage. For example, the lift or the bathrooms could do with a demanding text about White Privilege, whereas corridors, staircases – sites of passage – were well suited for visuals or shorter text pieces. A good spot proved to be next to the photocopier because people do spend time in front of the machine waiting for their copies to be printed. By turning the academy building into a "walkable book," the narrative is not constructed by the binding of the book, by fixing it into a given sequence. Instead, it is the reader’s actual body on its daily trajectory through the workplace that creates encounters with the dispersed pages and their sequence of reading. The book’s pages were up for four months, and their material presence served as a provocation, as a set of clues and cues connected to the field of forces within a day-to-day work environment.
One rational was whether the political potential of the Let’s Mobilize Workbook could be better activated through social readings or reading as a collective practice? Posting the pages on the academy walls is an act of situating the book and its content materially into the social fabric of the educational institution. The posters’ materiality and sizes claim space and presence among the daily forces of encounters, discoveries, creations, articulations, anxieties, and disciplinary struggles. If these pages mobilized, the mobilization happened right in the center of the institution, or in Nora Sternfeld's words “in the in-between spaces that emerge between representation and presence, theory and practice, and above all between the current state of affairs and the possibility of changing it.” (Nora Sternfeld)
Annotated by AE
Notes (Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?)
- The core group organized the meetings, posted flyers across the walls of the academy to let our invite our colleagues and students to join, even if only occasionally. In the beginning, the meetings were attended by 20-30 people. Over time the group shrunk to around ten committed members.
- Architect Katarina Bonnevier had worked on queer architecture and helped us to examine how the normative use of spaces and furniture produces specific configurations of bodies and, therefore, roles and patterns in the space. In a workshop with Annette Krauss, we did some of her "Unlearning" exercises.
- The events marking the 150 include 'Critical Practices: Education from Arts and Artists Conference' convened by Mick Wilson at Valand Academy (October 2015) and the 'Meaning Making Meaning' exhibition curated by Gabo Camnitzer at A-venue (March 2016) in Gothenburg.
- Read interview with Hajar Alsaidan, one of Hoppet’s founding sisters, about how Hoppet started, the foundations of the organization and food, feminism, precarity and women’s liberation in Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy workbook 
- Interestingly, this initial "registration" of Hoppet in the University's procurement system opened the way to cater for subsequent events at the university. Hoppet catered, for example, for the PARSE conference "Human" 13 - 15 November 2019, organized by the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, University of Gothenburg.
- It is distributed by Printed Matter in the US. And it has been cataloged in the online library Library Stacks and included into the WorldCat catalogue.