Troubling/trouble in the academy

So this week we are talking about feminist and queer pedagogies. What does it mean to make trouble (or be in trouble) in the academy? Or, what is troubling/troublesome about the academy? There are so many different ways to think about this and I am excited to hear/read some of your thoughts.

In my own work in feminist pedagogy, I am interested in the links between critical thinking/reading and troublemaking. Check out this quicktips on critical reading strategies  (you can also download a pdf version) offered at the U of M Center for Writing website. From a feminist and/or queer perspective, what strategies does it leave out for how to read critically? In what ways does it foster (or does it?) the troubling of texts? What other tips do you think should be offered that could enable students to read texts queerly or through a feminist lens? What if we created our own document for troubling a text?


perhaps its because i often think through my own experiences to understand things, but my thoughts when reading this post were first personal then theoretical.

i often feel like i am "troubling" the academy or "being trouble" in two distinct ways. first, because i am a first generation college student, and second because i have a traumatic brain injury.

although it is undoubtedly (slowly) getting better, most members of the academy are still middle class, white men. now of course middle class white women are more present. in some departments and at bigger schools, there might be a handful of people of color. or people originally from lower class backgrounds. in my experience however, most of these people conform to some version of "academic assimilation" i cannot (and would not) deny the privilege my whiteness gives me, but growing up my mother and i referred to ourselves as "upper class poor white trash." my mom is a functioning illiterate and my dad is a mechanic. i grew up on welfare. my cultural references and understanding of the world "troubles" many people in the academy. pedagogically this comes out in my very informal manner of teaching, and also my seemingly inability to refrain from cussing. i do not mean to be inappropriate, but being "who i am" is often read as such. it is very "troubling" for an instructor to drop the f-bomb during lecture. and i am waiting for the point in my academic career when i get called out on this. i want to resist academic assimilation. but i am not sure if thats possible, and to what extent. am i just failing to conform to the standards of the academy or am i troubling it with my specific class based perspective and demeanor?

in a completely other manner, i am also troubling the academy because of my a traumatic brain injury. on the spectrum of brain injuries it is comparatively quite minor. and for that i am lucky. however, i have realized this year how my TBI does indeed trouble the academy and my own pedagogy in unforeseen ways. i think there is a lot of lip service that goes on around accommodating disabilities at all levels. its surprising to me how PC academic institutions are, but how little the people in these institutions really know or understand disabilities. at the graduate level this is level of unintelligibility is almost astounding. brain injury and phd student are commonly held to be mutually exclusive. and i am attempting (despite many predictions of failure) to challenge that. when your brain processes or works in anyway that is different, the academy in a very practice day to day sense is troubled. whether this difference is from a brain injury, or a learning disability, or some variation on the autism spectrum. the academy, and institutions of education have specific formats for what it means to "learn" and "teach" and "think." if you learn or teach or think it a different way -for whatever reason- people often do not know how to react or interact with you. furthermore, people often hesitate or even refuse to learn about your process because it does not fit what they understand as an acceptable learning process. similarly, i am now attempting to formulate what my pedagogical style will be, knowing that my processing and abilities are peculiar and in some ways problematic for potential students to follow.

all of this is to stay, that i think differently-abled bodies and minds trouble the academy. even though most departments and universities and even people are too polite and PC to outright acknowledge this, to me there is no question that it is often troubling for them.

(i hope it is okay that i wrote on a more personal level in this entry. i know this is an academic blog and want to keep it as such -because its awesome- this was just the only way i knew to respond).

Thanks, Angela, for your comments. They remind me of several ways of troubling education (not just the academy) that I have been thinking a lot about since starting grad school last semester: 1.) what is considered "appropriate" in the classroom (and its attendant spaces, like writing or this blog) and 2.) why our bodies, minds, emotions, etc. are all important if we are to learn well.

Both in my program and in the mass media, there is a lot of talk about student disengagement from schooling/education on all levels. Yet in most spaces, these conversations never get around to the level of asking how we can expect students to engage with school when they can't bring all of themselves into the classroom. If schooling on all levels is to work, we need to be able to bring in all of ourselves--our minds (and the many different ways they work), our emotions, and our bodies. I understand that there are different ways of functioning in different spaces, but too often these are never interrogated or explained and so people who don't know how (especially the unwritten rules) or can't or won't (often because it may requiring leaving too much of the self behind) function in those ways are "left behind" and those of us who can function in those ways are never challenged. And we all miss opportunities to grow and learn.

A major way for me of troubling (that I admit that I have difficulty with and need to challenge myself on) is asking why questions about "appropriateness" in the classroom. If I swear in my day-to-day life (which I do), why do I feel it is "inappropriate" to do so in class? (As a sidenote, I once heard Pam Africa of MOVE talk about how problematic it was that people get more upset with her for swearing in speeches than they do over the death and destruction of human minds and bodies. That freed me up some, but school is still a new thing for me.) Why is laughter in classrooms so subversive? What is so "inappropriate" about our bodies that we can't talk about them in class? (In another part of Teaching to Transgress , bell hooks tells a story of a "typical day of teaching" in which the teacher didn't even have time/space to use the bathroom.) Why is telling personal stories (such as Angela did) not considered as "academic"? (This is a big one for me, since I have learned the most in my life from engagement with personal narratives, my own and others. But these touch hearts and souls, not just minds, and that also is not "appropriate.") Who makes the decisions/rules and then who is left out by them?

I'm leery of asking questions being a form of troublemaking in itself, since it doesn't necessarily get anywhere, but I think it is a crucial starting place.

To Angela: I also relate to coming from a working-class background, and entering the academy with a background of some skepticism towards elitism. I appreciate your insights on this front.

To Shannon&Angela: Both of you address really important questions about "acceptability" and "appropriateness." I struggle with both of these a lot as a student and an instructor, particularly around issues of body and sex. I brought this up in Sara's Feminist Pedagogies class, but I went through a break-up that really messed me up a bit over a year ago, and I would come to class after horrible hysterical breakdowns (i lived with my partner at the time, there was lots of fighting) and I didn't feel like it was "appropriate" to share any of that with my students, but had someone in my family passed away or been in the hospital, I would have shared that. Why is one more valid than the other?

Of course, and I hope this gets brought up in class, discloaing sexual orientation is a hugely important queation to address. But even things like eating disorders, for example....Are you allowed to share personal experiences with taboo topics as a pedagogical tool?

Finally, I want to talk about the group I'm in (along with Shannon now, yeah!), Graduate Student Workers United (GSWU) that is trying to organize a grad student union. Labor activism is certainly trouble-making, and re-framing grad students as "grad student WORKERS" troubles this sort of "you're lucky that you're here, so we can exploit you" stuff the U gets away with. I am interested in school occupations, student unions and all efforts to reclaim agency from the corporatized university as examples of trouble making in the academy. Please visit the GSWU facebook if you want to be involved with this:

My comment refers back to one of Sara's initial questions about the Writing Center's guidelines for critical reading, namely, what do theyleave out?

Ironically, i think one of the major things hat the guidelines leave out is the question: What does the author/text NOT say, or leave out? Why do you think this is? What effect does this have?

I think that one way of troubling a text is to pay attention to what is not included. Often, these are not simple omissions, but political choices.

Another question I would like to see added is to the guidleines is: What assumptions does the author/text make? What pre-suppositions does the atuhor/text's argument rely on? Are these assumptions founded, or can they be contested?

I think another way to trouble a text is to trouble the assumptions on which it is grounded. Not only when reading but, in general, we take a lot for granted. If something sounds like "common sense" we don't think to question it. We don't investigate whether it incorporates racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise unfounded and harmful reasoning. We don't test the logic of the argument. Thus, as critical readers, I believe we should question or trouble any assumptions that underlie the text's arguments. This is one way of doing what Kumashiro calls for in "Troubling Education," whcih is to stop perpetuating oppressive knowledges (54).

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