October 2011 Archives

Civility in the classroom, Buddhism as a way of knowing.

Although the entirety of Friday's colloquia was thought provoking, two particular aspects of Dr. Squires talk stood to me: interpersonal civility in Academia and Buddhism as an alternative entry point into theorizing. I have been thinking about both on my own all semester, so I found the space for thinking about these things as a community particularly rewarding this week.

It is no secret that many educators love bell hooks because of her "radical" feminist pedagogy. Dr. Squires did not speak directly about hooks' work in education theory, but the conversation about civility situated itself in my mind in the classroom. Following Brittany's question about civility between colleagues who find themselves in differently places in the hierarchy of recognized academic achievement, the talk left me thinking about how we (graduate students) interact with one another in the classroom. I have been focused on this idea all semester with respect to the space I personally take up in the classroom. Dr. Squires talk provided an interesting alternative frame for my thoughts. Just as its important for instructors to think about the dynamics of their classroom as a part of pedagogy, it is equally important for members of a class to think about their participation in that space and what kind of energy they put forth. To some extent we are all responsible for the spaces we move within. Even if we do not have the power, authority, or ability to shift the dynamic dramatically we can - as Squires outlined - control how we respond and situate ourselves in those moments. The examples of how bell hooks responded to hostile colleagues at conferences shows exactly this. I've found that so many of my graduate seminars have gotten bogged down with what I've previously called ego, but with what Squires/hooks calls dominator culture. When, as a member of a conversation, your desire in that exchange is to be right, or to be recognized as the most knowledgeable you are participating in dominator culture. Even if you are the most knowledgeable, to interact with peers as though their lack of understanding is a burden to you is more than unproductive, it is hostile. I was particularly taken by the conversations about when to say "I'm not your teacher" in regard to explaining privilege to those who have it blinding and when to take the time and work with someone who generally wants to be a more conscious human being.

All of this is to position the hooks quote Squires put forth to us as a standard for academic interpersonal civility. What would classrooms, department meetings, committee meetings, mentor/mentee meeting look like if we all asked ourselves not just "what's in it for me" but also or more so, "and what can I do for you?" What could we learn, where would this take us if we honestly approached each moment with this attitude?

Unsurprisingly I was incredibly excited to hear bell hooks' Buddhist practice centered as one of the major frameworks for her thinking. As someone who has studied Buddhism for 10 or so years, this connected directly to my academic projects. Like hooks much of my thinking is framed in my mind through my Buddhist practice, even though I often use other language to discuss it. Squires is exactly right in her response to a question posted to her - Buddhism is not the answer, and hooks does not position it at such. Buddhist thought is simply another avenue or entry point toward answering some of the difficult questions we face as feminist scholars/thinkers/activists. As Squires showed so much of Western academic thinking is based on Judeo-Christian thought. To situate your work on alternative ways of knowing is to risk being viewed as unsubstantial.

My question then - via hooks/Squires - is how does structuring your feminist analysis though Buddhism differ from other feminist epistemologies seen as "alternative?" Could Buddhism Feminist thinking be seen as equal to Women of Color Feminisms, or Latina/Chicana Feminisms, or Queer Feminisms? To start thinking from some place else in rejection of dominant modes of thought is without question a feminist practice. If we are looking for different answers, then starting with different parameters for our questions seems advantageous. How might Squires talk, and bell hooks, help us understand Buddhism, eastern philosophies and other non-western genealogies of thought as a worthwhile, and equally valid mode of theorizing?

Teaching Community: bell hooks and Civility

Catherine Squires talk on bell hooks aimed to place her work in conversation with media and critical communication theory to prompt the field to rethink how it understands the topic of civility and communication in the public sphere.

In this talk I found the following connections extremely compelling:

1. According to Squires reading of bell hooks the starting point for civility is not unity or consensus, but rather equity and mutuality (what can I do for you). Hooks makes this distinction, because she believes the most important step in this process is resisting the bondage of dominator culture. dominator culture is the constant positioning of the self over the other. A mechanism of power that we are all implicated within.

2. This process of communicative exchange also requires that we tolerate ambiguity. In hooks conception this means that each party must engage in exchange willing to walk away without making any clear determinations, but accept fragmentation and psychological discomfort. Squires uses the example of the media's persistent demand that the current "occupy" movement provide them with a leader and a specific set of agenda items. In many ways drawing our attention to the limits of our current communcative practices.

These points were of interest to me, because Squires project unearths past writings by hooks that many publishers have deemed as passé'. However, it is clear that much of her work is still very relevant to the current "age of fracture" (i.e.;post-movement era). As I consider the role that dominator culture and the tolerance of ambiguity (a phrase that other women of color feminists like Gloria Anzaldua utilize) plays in the creation of civility I imagine that this conversation can not happen without talking about the ways that language or particular discursive manuvers frame these debates or discourses of civility.

Catherine's Revisiting Hook

It is fascinating that Professor Catherine Squires puts together many Bell Hook's works to rethink civility in political discourse instead of focusing on the representation of Black women which is prevailing in Communication Studies. I find several interesting point in her talk which relates to my own works.

It is interesting that Catherine talks about the frustration from viewing Hook as an academic icon in the past but "old fashion" now. She explains the "disappear" of Hook is really because the publishers and audience's looking for something new--kind of a "flavor of the month" thing. When I was in the lecture, what was in my mind was this big scholar as a celebrity and superstar image and I was struck again by the marketization of the academia and the commoditization of scholars. Catherine's revisiting Hook not only provides us a broader and more nuanced way to look at Hook's work but also alert us to view scholars and their works as a changing intellectual process of knowledge production rather than a token.

I think it's also insightful for Catherine to link C Wright Mills' concept of "sociological imagination" to Hook's writings and how it invokes different ways of thinking civility, democracy and domination. Catherine discusses how Hook's writing style is accused of switching from theory and ideal type to personal narrative and storytelling as well as her integration of spirituality and intellectuality in her work which are invalid to many conventional scholars. But "sociological imagination" allows for this "vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society" and advocates scholars and researchers' ability to shift from one perspective to another to ask new questions, see new connections and therefore produce new knowledge. Since disciplined knowledge we have are from particular fields and they are already normative, normalized and normalizing, jumping from different perspective might help us to see norms and think out of it. For examples, Catharine talks about Hook's idea to reanimate civil society which takes real people into account to rebuilt democracy. This concept of democracy is very different from how it is defined in political science which maintains and reproduces the political domination. Catharine further points out how to build civility according to Hook: 1. Learn how to resist domination but avoid romanticizing the past and 2. use civility strategically as glue. Catherine also notes the important in Hook's works of the ability to tolerate ambiguity in interpersonal, bureaucratic and intergroup levels rather than pushing consensus which is considered the basis of democracy as well as incorporated into the culture and logic of domination. Hook's works invite dialogues and connection among people through which to interrogate and negotiate power.

Catherine's lecture ends with her drawing connection between Hook and Plato and Freud because Hook has been accused of not doing enough scientific research. Catharine tells us that it is important to learn that we all use narratives which are culturally grounded to understand the world and guide our works. I think it is important and valid to examine our narratives and feel free to use them as the departure point for our work.

I think Catherine's talk also echoes what we just discussed about postpositivist realist theory. I don't know if she has considered using it in her own book but it will definitely helps.

Performing the Proper Medicalized Subject

Although Reg's prepared talk was compelling in its own right, it was the dialog during the question and answer portion of the colloquia that left my mind reeling. More specifically, my interest was peaked by the questions regarding the impact of affect, and the positionality of the narrator, as a narrator, within the archive.

I believe it was Kevin Murphy who began the conversation about the patient's position as narrators of their own medicalized/pathologized subjectivity at St. Elizabeth's hospital. This question - "what does it feel like to be a medicalized subject?" - speaks directly to my own academic interests, but more importantly made me think critically about narrative as both performance and affect. Kevin asked that we think about how the patients may or may not be using their psychoanalytic writing to "perform the proper subject," and for what purposes. Eli Vitulli followed up on this comment suggesting that Reg look to Disability and Transgender Studies as places of inquiry where similar strategic performance has been theorized. Of course, such performance is enacted through assimilating into the recognized and rewarded metanarrative as determined by the institutional powers. I wonder though about instances where this performance of the proper subject occurs without strategic or intention on the part of the patient. As Eli noted, previous scholarship has well noted cases where marginalized subjects adopt the dominant, necessitated narrative in order to gain access to the material realities they desire (i.e. gender reassignement surgery). I am curious though about the narratives of patients who were less calculated. What does it feel like to be a medicalized subject when as that subject you sincerely buy into the dominant discourse of healing provided for you, only then to find that discourse unrewarding? What does it feel like to be a medicalized subject who is failed?

This question pulls my thinking into the related conversation about the power of affect in narrative. To think of the patients in St. Elizabeth's struggling with the psychic pain of their pathologization is unquestionably and affective project (at least for me). I will risk sounding dramatic and admit that when Reg shared various quotes from the archive my heart sank. Most notably, I felt what some feminists of color have called a "blood memory" when she quoted a fellow archivist who said of the archive; "this is our holocaust." The idea posited of "affect as a point of identification" stuck me as exactly right, but also as an idea that I need to further explore. In an academic tradition that has for so long theorized, or thought through, identity, what does it mean to feel identity or identification? This is perhaps the reverse of José Muñoz's description of disidentification. What does it mean, and where does it take us - as academics specifically - to feel our work? As the colloquia conversation asked, what are the ethics of this affective identification and how does that structure our project? As Reg admitted its almost, if not totally, impossible to shut off our affective connection to our work - especially when it is work like this project - how can we account for its presence in an ethical way? Lastly, related to my own interests what are the relationships between narrative and affect, and affect and identification? Especially for people who find themselves positioned as pathologized/medicalized subjects?

Psychiatric Scrutiny, Race & Queerness

After attending Regina's talk, which focused on the role of psychiatric scrutiny on homosexual life at St. Elizabeth's hospital, I found the following anecdotes beckoned more exploration.

First, I found Reg's overall project compelling as she grappled with how to approach the archive. More specifically, she explored what different narratives would be produced by reading against the grain or reading along the grain of the colonial archive. However, I wonder how Reg intends on tempering the fact that all these writing were done through correspondence and guided direction from Dr. Kartman. In this sense the archive's encounter with power defines how each patient presented themselves. So then what does that say about this archival representation overall?

Second, Reg noted that while reading the archive she was looking for information out of place that could serve to disrupt some of the narratives that she had already been reading. She came upon some writing by a Black woman named Helen Pale, one of the only Black people featured in this archive. She noted this was out of place for the following reasons: Black people at this time were not deemed worthy of psychiatric scrutiny, she spoke of her queerness in different ways than the other white patients and she made direct references to the ways that material injustices made her "crazy". I found this very striking and in many ways believe these writings alone could necessitate an entire project on mental health in the Black community, the exclusivity of mental health practices and/or the power of race in the prescription of deviance. However, I wonder how do we make sense of the fact that Helen never directly claimed homosexuality? Or that the doctors did not prescribe a particular diagnosis like transvestism to her file? How much of that lack of information speaks to what Helen was willing to share and/or Dr. Kartman's own perceptions of Black female sexuality at the time? What were those perceptions? What cultural or political factors during this time could have shaped those perceptions?

Lastly, Reg repeated the sentence, "Using those documents that were never meant for our eyes," a number of times. While I found the consistent interrogation of the "power" she assumed by embarking on the project an important one, I also believe that it became clear that it consumed her mind throughout the early reading process. I think once Reg is able to determine for herself why engaging with this archive is so important and for whom, I think she will begin to not only pose this conundrum but then begin to share herself with her readers.

I think we all commit ourselves to various projects for different reasons, but for me I don't believe feminist work should be produced and be called feminist work unless a clear connection to the politicization of real lives on the ground is made. This archive is ripe for a number of great connections.

Good Luck!



  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Idalia Robles De Leon

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Jerod Greenisen

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