Project 4 * Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?
Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy? is another collective project that I submit for this PhD. This "project page" (distinct from the chapter pages) provides an overview of the project's methodological steps and elements. A comprehensive reflection on the findings, as well as conflicts and contradictions that emerged, is presented in chapter 05*Reflection, theorization of submitted material. Here, as with the Piracy Project page before, the pink right-hand column houses thoughts and reflections from the other members of the working group. This comment feature allows for differing opinions and comments with a different emphasis than my own, and ones that I have not included in the body text. This feature reflects the multiplicity and complexity inherent to collective practice that a single-authored narrative can only hope to achieve.
- 1 Starting point and context
- 2 Working group 2015–16
- 3 Organizing 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, the event October 12–14, 2016
- 5 The Workbook
Starting point and context
Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy? is a two-year collective investigation into intersectional, feminist pedagogies that led to a three-day international mobilization at HDK-Valand, Academy of Arts and Design, University of Gothenburg, October 14–16, 2016. This project had been in dialogue with a critical community of feminist and decolonial practice at the Academy and greatly informed by the elective course "Critical pedagogy and project leading in the Academy" run by Mick Wilson (2015–18) and Gabo Camnitzer (2015–16).The concrete starting point for forming a workgroup was the "Critical Practices: Education from art and artists" conference, in which the keynote lecture happened to be based exclusively on white, Western, male references – a fact that was hard to digest for some of the students and staff in the audience. The workgroup that subsequently formed aimed to rethink the notion of what a conference is (and could be) from an intersectional feminist, queer perspective. Therefore, the workgroup embarked on an exploration of how a conference on knowledge practices and art education could be organized in a way that fundamentally rethinks and test the very formats it employs, thereby directly translating the addressed theoretical concepts into practice.
Working group 2015–16
The working group formed in autumn 2015 and included students, staff, and administrators (Kanchan Burathoki, Rose Borthwick, MC Coble, Andreas Engman, Gabo Camnitzer, Eva Weinmayr). Its 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 how university protocols and institutional habits either further or hinder radical, emancipatory and inclusive modes of learning and teaching based on intersectionality. This included reflecting on our own experiences and felicitous moments in the classroom (from the perspective of both teacher and student), as well as experienced failures and anxieties. These discussions were then expanded by the collective study of relevant texts on intersectional feminist and decolonial pedagogies leading to a set of core questions: "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?"
Working group lunchtime meetings
A core group crystalized (Kanchan Burathoki, Rose Borthwick, MC Coble, Andreas Engman, Gabo Camnitzer, Eva Weinmayr) and organized the meetings, posted flyers on the walls of the academy and sent out emails to invite our colleagues and students to join – even if only occasionally. In the beginning, the meetings were attended by 20 to 30 people. Over time the attendance shrunk to around six committed members. The work can be described in two phases. In the first six months, we held bi-weekly lunchtime meetings to share our teaching experiences, conflicts with students or management, complemented by readings and discussions of texts.
As the work was proceeding, the lunch meetings seemed too short and pressured, and the group started to have dinners at participants’ homes, met in bars, or communicated online. We met in our studios and offices, went for walks and field trips, held day-long sessions, and invited guests for workshops.
The working group was an occasion for informal sharing of information that was not officially circulated, but was crucial for understanding and intervening in the social fabric of people working together at the academy. It provided a space to share experiences, raise doubts and concerns, and allowed the members to follow the desire to not to struggle with such questions as individuals, but rather to acknowledge the importance of queer, intersectional feminist issues in education as a group.
In an online shadow library, the group gathered a wide range of material from different historical periods, territories, and contexts, generated both inside and outside of academia. The resource was hosted on a private Google Drive that was shared with people in and outside the working group who requested access.
Organizing the mobilization: non-normative approaches
The second phase was focused on planning and organizing an international conference that marks the closing of a series of events celebrating Valand Academy's 150th-anniversary. This was the opportunity to fundamentally rethink and test the possible modes of coming together to create and transmit knowledge in practice.As I will argue in this thesis that organizing practices are to be recognized as work, it is important to pay close attention to the small and often hidden decisions and moves, that allow – or not – for certain things to happen. These experiments in feminist organizing are discussed and analyzed in detail in chapter 05*Reflection, theorization. What follows below is a summary of the project's elements and methodological steps.
Experiments with terminology – shifting the framework
The working group attempted to rethink the normative terms and related roles typically found in an academic conference setting, and the functions and hierarchies these produce, by redefining the nomenclature employed. The term "conference," for example, was replaced by the word "mobilization." This shift of descriptor produces a different framework: a mobilization shifts the emphasis onto the agency, onto what is to follow. In place of standard formats of sharing well-packaged knowledge, such as papers, we aimed at a more practical, dynamic and generative encounter. Participants who join a mobilization come with different desires, energies and mindsets – wanting to work out practical ways to translate research, knowledges and experiences into practice, together. Therefore, the important question is: What has been mobilized?
Experiments with roles
For the mobilization 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 English since we had participants coming from eight European countries. The major part of the workgroup is not native Swedish speaking, and a large part of HDK-Valand's programs are in English. Still, we are aware that language creates imbalances, borders, and exclusions. To mitigate these conflicts we experimented with real-time translation (English-Swedish-English) on a writing pad (Etherpad) that was projected in the room.
Experiments with spatial conventions
The conceptual work of redefining the roles and formats of how we meet in a conference or in the classroom produces the questions around spatial conventions in "disciplined" learning and teaching environments. With architect Katarina Bonnevier we investigated in which ways the existing furniture and room layouts might influence behavior and determine the roles in the seminar room (speaker, listener, etc). With Annette Krauss, we experimented with unorthodox and unexpected uses of furniture (chair, table, arrangements) to experience what they do to our bodies and how they constellate in the seminar/conference room. The overall question was how we could gather bodies in one room in a way that would allow for shifting roles, for informality, for a surprise to loosen up habits and reflect on the normativity of more traditional arrangements.
In a second step, we tested unconventional spaces in the academy building as sites to hold our sessions. For example, the main staircase in the entrance (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).
In a third step, we commissioned Rachel Barron, a recent alumna, to develop the interior design concept for the main assembly space, the Glasshouse. With brightly colored translucent fabric, Rachel divided the room into several visually and spatially connected layers to displace the central dynamic of the room into various ambiances and atmospheres.
Experiments with temporalities: When do we learn?
Time-scheduling is one of the main tasks when organizing a conference or teaching. How much time should be allocated to the big assemblies, how much for working in small groups, and when can informal gatherings take place?
Annotated by MC
What happens outside scheduled structures? The Forum "When do we learn?" was an experiment to see what can be learned when we fall asleep together 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 roles by exposing ourselves to the experience of vulnerability while being asleep in one room.
Experiments with university procurement: catering
The procurement protocol of Gothenburg University allows for only a limited number of approved caterers for events. Any attempt to order food from less established, experimental, or social food projects is not envisaged or permitted. With the help and the inventive work of our administrators, as well as the move to declare our choice a conceptual part of the mobilization, it was possible 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’s collective based in Gothenburg’s suburb Hammarkullen. In the interview that we conducted with Hoppet, Hajar Alsaidan explains how two sisters started a catering business to gain financial independence from their husbands, to support women in the community, and to donate money to children with blood diseases in Iraq.
Experiments with university procurement: hosting
In a similar vein, the university's policies concerning the hosting of guests can be rather restrictive. Only a small and exclusive list of large hotels in Gothenburg have accreditation with the university. In an effort to provide more friendly accommodation and create more inspiring social encounters, colleagues or friends offered a spare room, bed or sofa in their Gothenburg homes, for most of the mobilization´s participants.
Annotated by AE
This distributed hospitality not only allowed many students and freelancers – living on small budgets – to join the mobilization, it also produced to some extent a shared responsibility and collectivized authorship of the event. The significance of this effect will be discussed in the chapter 05*Reflection, theorisation: An institutional object.
Experiments with budgeting
Redefining roles and responsibilities requires a careful attention to budgeting and payments. We received a budget of 100.000 SEK from the art academy. All instigators who prepared one of the Forums received the same fee – 3000 SEK. For invited participants, who were encouraged to attend and contribute informally, we tried to reimburse travel costs and to host 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 distinguishing 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, and who should be paid for what? The fact that nobody was paid created a clear framework of a gift economy, but it is problematic in terms of unpaid labor at a state-run art university.
Annotated by mc
The Mobilization, the event October 12–14, 2016
The three-day event had 120 participants from eight European countries. It was structured in eight Forums that are listed below, and a range of smaller workshops/working groups – 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), Jeuno JE Kim (Moving Around and Reading Aloud in Göteborg), and Maddie Leach (Breakfast Yoga). The published program gives detailed info.
Annotated by MC
Eating together is today for many a normative activity and the effects 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 a similar vein to the rethinking of the normative conventions in learning and teaching described above, the workgroup experimented with new forms of producing and circulating a publication for the event. Published one month in advance, 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 "public 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 discussed in detail in the book chapter "Outside the Page – Making Social Realities with Books" and in the chapter 05*Reflection, theorization of projects.
The workbook is also available online as a PDF and as a printed copy. It is distributed through AND Publishing and circulates internationally in independent bookshops. It is distributed by Printed Matter in the US and has been cataloged in the online library Library Stacks and included into the WorldCat catalog.
It is most rewarding that our efforts to disseminate the book in a specific way – that I will describe in sections that follow – resulted in the widespread use of the book as course reading at HDK-Valand. It has also been included in reading lists elsewhere, read in feminist reading groups, acquired by institutional libraries, and donated to artist/activist archives.
Public Assembling Day
During an public assembling day" we displayed the printed A3 sheets of the publication on long tables in the main entrance hall of the Academy, inviting passers by (students, staff, administrators, 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 – merging the moments of production with those of distribution –created a different sense of ownership of the book because the reader invested time and manual labor in producing their own copy. Most importantly, it created a social occasion in which 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 copies.
In a second step, the workgroup enlarged each page of the book to an A0-size poster and distributed these on the walls of the academy in publicly accessible spaces with heavy footfall (main entrances, corridors, staircases, kitchens, etc.) as well as toilets and bathrooms where people would have time to retreat and read. The sites were chosen for their spatio-temporal qualities and usage. For example, the lift or the bathrooms were good places for a demanding text about White Privilege, whereas sites of passage, such as corridors and staircases, were well suited for visuals or shorter text pieces. A good spot proved to be next to the photocopier, because people tend to 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 readers' actual body that creates the sequence determined by their encounters with the scattered pages on their daily trajectories through the academy. The book’s pages were up for four months, and their material presence served as a provocation, as a set of clues and cues embedded in the field of disciplinary forces within the day-to-day work environment of the art academy.
One rationale for this experimental form of distribution – explored in more detail in chapter 05*Reflection, theorization of projects – was that the political potential of the Let’s Mobilize workbook could be better activated through social and collective readings. Posting the pages on the academy walls can be seen as an act of "inserting" the book (and its content) materially into the social fabric and thus claiming space in the educational institution.
Annotated by AE