Difference between revisions of "Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?"
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Revision as of 18:02, 9 November 2019
'Let's Mobilise: What is Feminist Pedagogy?' is a long-term collective investigation into intersectional, feminist and de-colonial pedagogies, that led to the collective organising of a three-day international mobilisation at Valand Academy in October 2016. The workgroup was set up by the desire to articulate and create space for a queer and feminist perspective on learning and teaching inside and outside of Valand Academy with the aim to organise a conference, which fundamentally rethinks how knowledge can be formed and transmitted from a feminist, queer and de-colonial perspective. The feminist pedagogies working group was made up of students, staff and administrators (Kanchan Burathoki, Rose Borthwick, MC Coble, Andreas Engman, Gabo Camnitzer, Eva Weinmayr).
- 1 Working group 2015-2016
- 2 Organising the mobilisation
- 3 The Mobilisation 12 - 14 Oct 2016
- 4 The Workbook
- 5 What has been mobilised?
- 6 Notes (Let's Mobilise: What is Feminist Pedagogy?)
Working group 2015-2016
'Let's Mobilise: What is Feminist Pedagogy?' working group formed formed at Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg in autumn 2015. It was an immediate reaction and response to a keynote contribution, encapsulating a Western, white and male mantra at the aforementioned conference. The fact that this keynote in the context of a "Critical Practice" in arts education conference is exclusively based on white, Western and male references was hard to digest for the community of students and teachers at the art academy. The core working group formed of students, staff and administrators (Kanchan Burathoki, Rose Borthwick, MC Coble, Andreas Engman, Gabo Camnitzer, Eva Weinmayr). The work group was set up by the desire to articulate and create space for a queer and feminist perspective on learning and teaching inside and outside of Valand Academy with the aim to organise a conference, which fundamentally rethinks knowledge practices from a feminist, queer and de-colonial perspective. It's aim was twofold: Firstly to provide a space to discuss the highs and lows in our own learning and teaching. To study and review university policies and institutional habits, to read together relevant texts on feminist intersectional de-colonial pedagogies. This happened in bi-weekly lunchtime meetings that were open to the whole academy. We came up with a set of core questions, such as '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 difference such as gender, sexual orientation, race, class and dis/ability?'; 'Can management be thought in terms of care rather than administration?'
All students and staff at Valand Academy were invited to join this open work group. We held regular lunchtime meetings, had dinners at homes, met in bars or communicated over Skype. We met in our studios and offices, went for walks and field trips, held day-long sessions and invited guests to brainstorm with and to learn from. We read texts, shared experiences, raised doubts and concerns. In a nutshell, we just followed our desires not to struggle forward and chew on these questions as individuals. Rather we got together to acknowledge the importance of queer intersectional feminist and decolonial issues in education as a group.
Our work can be described in two phases. The first six months we held bi-weekly lunchtime meetings in order to meet and share our teaching experiences, conflicts with students or management, as well as to read and discuss texts.
What is more, we started an online text archive, where a wide range of material was uploaded from different historical periods, territories, backgrounds – material generated inside and outside of academia. These meetings offered also a space to share information about what happened under the surface of the institution, things that were not officially circulated but crucial for understanding the social fabric of the people working together at Valand Academy.
Organising the mobilisation
The second phase was more focused on planning and organising a 'conference', marking the closing of Valand Academy's 150th-anniversary events, that practically tests and redefines the format and style of coming together to create and transmit knowledge.
The organising practices are analysed in more detail in chapter  Reflection and Theorisation. However, I decided to list the organisation practice under the rubric 'submitted material', because I will argue that organising practices are to be recognised as work.
Experiments with terminology – shifting the framework
The working group attempted to rethink the normative terms and related roles, functions and hierarchies at the Valand Academy by crucially redefining the nomenclature. The term conference, for example, was replaced by the word mobilisation, because we aimed at a more practical, dynamic, activist and generative outcome, compared with standard formats of sharing well-packaged knowledge in form of papers. This shift of descriptor produces a different framework: A mobilisation shifts the emphasis on the agency, on that which follows. So participants who join a mobilisation 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 mobilised?"
Experiments with roles
We defined three roles: An "instigator" is a person or group invited to prepare a contribution that will activate each of the mobilisation's forums and their topics. An "invited participant" is a practitioner and theoretician invited to attend and participate in the mobilisation, because they were inspiring to us, had no particular role or task but contributed through their knowledge and experience informally. And thirdly, "participants" are mobilisation attendees helping to work through the event's questions – active and vocal, or active and quiet.
Experiments with languages
Paying attention to the sometimes oppressive dynamics connected to language, we commissioned two live translators, who were live translating the two main languages (Swedish-English) on an online writing pad projected into the room.
Experiments with spatial conventions
When the roles of speakers change, the traditional furniture set up and layout of standard seminar rooms or lecture halls don't work anymore. Therefore we invited queer architect Katarina Bonnevier for a workshop to investigate the existing rooms at the Academy and how they could be queered and opened up for uses, that go beyond round table discussions (glasshouse), frontal lectures (Aula) or presentations (screen). Rachel Barron, a just-graduated MA student developed a decoration with translucent fabric, which brought colour into the main assembly room, the “glasshouse”, and divided the room into several visually and spatially connected layers. For our seven Forums, we used the staircase in the main building for the “Sextalks MTG”, the Aula for a play reading of “Strike while the iron is hot” on the stage and between the rows of chairs in the audience, the four kitchens for “When do we learn? Collectively preparing and eating food”, the glasshouse for “How do we start?”, “What is this thing about diversity?”, “Rethinking where the thinking happens” and the closing session “Where to go from here?”. With Forum 4, “When do we learn?”, a sleep-over in the glasshouse, we experimented with informal learning outside scheduled structures. See the full programme here .
Experiments with budgeting
Experiments with university procurement: catering and hosting
The local women's food collective Hoppet prepared food for the first mobilisation forum: "How do we start?". Hoppet (Hoppet för kropp och själ - The Hope for Body and Soul) is an Arabic, Iraqi, Kurdish and Persian women association based in Gothenburg’s suburb Angered. Hoppet started a catering business to help women 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 both support the women’s collective fight for a safe space and promote care and hospitality through the food we were eating together.  By declaring the commissioning of Hoppet as a conceptual part of the mobilisation – and with inventive support of our administrators – we could bypass the restrictive procurement procedures at the university that permits only a restricted list of university-approved caterers and does not allow to order food from less established, informal or social food projects.
In a similar manner, we wanted to experiment with strategies on how to bring small and alternative vendors into the procurement system of the university in order to support other forms of economies. The university policies regarding the hosting of guests are restrictive. Only a small exclusive list of big and anonymous hotels in Gothenburg have accreditation with the university. In an effort to offer more friendly and personal accommodation and create more inspiring social encounters, we found for most of the mobilisation's participants a spare room, bed or sofa, offered by colleagues or their friends in their Gothenburg homes. This hospitality not only allowed many students and freelancers living and working on small budgets to join the mobilisation. It also made the mobilisation a distributed effort of solidarity and responsibility across the art school community.
The Mobilisation 12 - 14 Oct 2016
In the same vein of the re-thinking of the normative formats, habits and conventions in learning and teaching described above we experimented with new forms of production and distribution of the workbook for the event. Published one month before the event, its function was to invite the academy community into the conversation and introduce the topics and questions of the mobilisation to the wider academy. The workgroup's experiments of contextual publishing are in detail discussed in → Outside the Page - Making Social Realities with Books The book's pdf is available for free download and is available as a printed copy. It is internationally 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 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 own copy of the book. With the help of the working group, people gathered around the tables in order to familiarise themselves with the content and the topics of the mobilisation 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 labour in producing their own 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 them across the walls of the academy. The sites were chosen 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 … 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 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 mobilised, the mobilisation happened right in the centre 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)
What has been mobilised?
Subsequent invitations to workshops and talks The different experiences of 'telling about' includes
- a presentation at Exploiting Justice, Symposium, Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Gothenburg, 2016
- What is an Artschool, Chelsea College of Art, London, 2016
- 'Doing Together', a workshop with students at Cologne University, Institute of Art and Art History: Feminist Arts Education series, 2017
- [I think there were more... Andreas, MC, Rose ... you did something at HSM? Any other occasions?]
Notes (Let's Mobilise: What is Feminist Pedagogy?)
- 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 organisation and food, feminism, precarity and women’s liberation in Let's Mobilze: What is Feminist Pedagogy workbook 
- It is distributed by Printed Matter in the US. And it has been catalogued in the online library Library Stacks and included into the WorldCat catalogue.
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