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March 25, 2009

Discussion Notes 3/25

- What do you mean by practice as opposed to theory?
Quotes: Ortega 68 theorizing w/out checking and questioning
-some theorizing feels like its actually making sense of the everyday but often not, doesn’t address impact. What are the ramifications/impact of actually trying to practice that which we theorize?
-Are there ways that talking is practice? Need more theorizing that comes from systems
example? How much this reading impacts teaching; K-12 education- non-teachers create the ways of teaching. Rather, need pragmatic, collaborative approach
-Is this partly a function of bad theory, rather than an attribute of theory generally? What is the definition of theory that we are relying on?
-99% of K12 educators have never heard of Audre Lorde
-everyday theorization-trying to understand and explain what we encounter – vs. theorization that gets labeled as expert and is therefore published/ shared/ communicated (whereas most everyday theorization is not shared)
-Limitations on what you can talk about in the K12 classroom, different types/degrees of gatekeeping
-possible distinction between bad theory that doesn’t adequately engage vs theory that is intentionally ignorant; tension within Segrest between theory and practice- memoir (flesh and blood practices), then history/ theory. How to do this better may start with thinking about this tension
-Meaning of “intersectional work”? Across queer/gender/race; Segrest 47, creating generative change contra gatekeeping; Segrest 34 “magnitude of the task” & Ortega 71 white feminists as gatekeepers. Inevitability of intersectional analysis- impossibility of ever considering a single identity factor in isolation, need to reject as “bad theory” work that fails to recognize the intersectionality of identity
Access: How do we get this work to move & connect? How does this work get sustained? How do we not become cynical/ stay resilient? Segrest talks about getting sick, moving from activism to education- coping. Isn’t education necessarily activist?
-Segrest quoting Walker: Take what you can use and let the rest rot; Lugones 81 not interested in assigning responsibility but in understanding the phenomenon
-Getting sick vs getting shot in your own home, being imprisoned; different kinds of danger in troublemaking; taking on risk as function of privilege (which is what makes it dangerous) & cycling through forms of activism/levels of commitment that are appropriate for her (Segrest) at that time.

March 24, 2009

Troublemaking and Academic Freedom

Here is an article that Sara F. found....

My assessment of the way in which some academics contrive to turn serial irresponsibility into a form of heroism under the banner of academic freedom has now been at once confirmed and challenged by events at the University of Ottawa, where the administration announced on Feb. 6 that it has “recommended to the Board of Governors the dismissal with cause of Professor Denis Rancourt from his faculty position.” Earlier, Rancourt, a tenured professor of physics, had been suspended from teaching and banned from campus. When he defied the ban he was taken away in handcuffs and charged with trespassing.

Stanley Fish

February 8, 2009, 10:00 pm
The Two Languages of Academic Freedom

Last week we came to the section on academic freedom in my course on the law
of higher education and I posed this hypothetical to the students: Suppose
you were a member of a law firm or a mid-level executive in a corporation
and you skipped meetings or came late, blew off assignments or altered them
according to your whims, abused your colleagues and were habitually rude to
clients. What would happen to you?

The chorus of answers cascaded immediately: “I’d be fired.” Now, I
continued, imagine the same scenario and the same set of behaviors, but this
time you’re a tenured professor in a North American university. What then?

I answered this one myself: “You’d be celebrated as a brave nonconformist,
a tilter against orthodoxies, a pedagogical visionary and an exemplar of
academic freedom.”

My assessment of the way in which some academics contrive to turn serial
irresponsibility into a form of heroism under the banner of academic freedom
has now been at once confirmed and challenged by events at the University of
Ottawa, where the administration announced on Feb. 6 that it has
“recommended to the Board of Governors the dismissal with cause of Professor
Denis Rancourt from his faculty position.” Earlier, Rancourt, a tenured
professor of physics, had been suspended from teaching and banned from
campus. When he defied the ban he was taken away in handcuffs and charged
with trespassing.

What had Rancourt done to merit such treatment? According to the Globe and
Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20090206.PROF06/TPStory/?query=rancourt>,
Rancourt’s sin was to have informed his students on the first day of class
that “he had already decided their marks : Everybody was getting an A+.”

But that, as the saying goes, is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it
is the mass of reasons Rancourt gives for his grading policy and for many of
the other actions that have infuriated his dean, distressed his colleagues
(a third of whom signed a petition against him) and delighted his partisans.

Rancourt is a self-described anarchist and an advocate of “critical
pedagogy,” a style of teaching derived from the assumption (these are
“that our societal structures . . . represent the most formidable instrument
of oppression and exploitation ever to occupy the planet” (Activist
Teacher.blogspot.com, April 13, 2007).

Among those structures is the university in which Rancourt works and by
which he is paid. But the fact of his position and compensation does not
insulate the institution from his strictures and assaults; for, he insists,
“schools and universities supply the obedient workers and managers and
professionals that adopt and apply [the] system’s doctrine — knowingly or

It is this belief that higher education as we know it is simply a delivery
system for a regime of oppressors and exploiters that underlies Rancourt’s
refusal to grade his students. Grading, he says, “is a tool of coercion in
order to make obedient
rabble.ca., Jan. 12, 2009).

It turns out that another tool of coercion is the requirement that
professors actually teach the course described in the college catalogue, the
course students think they are signing up for. Rancourt battles against this
form of coercion by employing a strategy he calls “squatting” – “where
openly takes an existing course and does with it something different.” That
is, you take a currently unoccupied structure, move in and make it the home
for whatever activities you wish to engage in. “Academic squatting is
needed,” he says, “because universities are dictatorships . . . run by
self-appointed executives who serve capital interests.”

Rancourt first practiced squatting when he decided that he “had to do
something more than give a ‘better’ physics course.” Accordingly, he took
the Physics and Environment course that had been assigned to him and
transformed it into a course on political activism, not a course about
political activism, but a course in which political activism is urged — “an
activism course about confronting authority and hierarchical structures
directly or through defiant or non-subordinate assertion in order to
democratize power in the workplace, at school, and in society.”

Clearly squatting itself is just such a “defiant or non-subordinate
assertion.” Rancourt does not merely preach his philosophy. He practices it.

This sounds vaguely admirable until you remember what Rancourt is, in
effect, saying to those who employ him: *I refuse to do what I have
contracted to do, but I will do everything in my power to subvert the
enterprise you administer. Besides, you’re just dictators, and it is my
obligation to undermine you even as I demand that you pay me and confer on
me the honorific title of professor. And, by the way, I am entitled to do so
by the doctrine of academic freedom, which I define
ideal under which professors and students are autonomous and design
their own development and interactions.”*

Of course, as Rancourt recognizes, if this is how academic freedom is
defined, its scope is infinite and one can’t stop with squatting: “The next
step is academic hijacking, where students tell a professor that she can
stay or leave but that this is what they are going to do and these are the
speakers they are going to invite.” O, brave new world!

The record shows exchanges of letters between Rancourt and Dean Andre E.
Lalonde and letters from each of them to Marc Jolicoeur, chairman of the
Board of Governors. There is something comical about some of these exchanges
when the dean asks Rancourt to tell him why he is not guilty of
insubordination and Rancourt replies that insubordination is his job, and
that, rather than ceasing his insubordinate activities, he plans to expand
them. Lalonde complains that Rancourt “does not acknowledge any impropriety
regarding his conduct.” Rancourt tells Jolicoeur that “Socrates did not
grades to students,” and boasts that everything he has done was done “with
the purpose of making the University of Ottawa a better place,” a place “of
greater democracy.” In other words, I am the bearer of a saving message and
those who need it most will not hear it and respond by persecuting me. It is
the cry of every would-be messiah.

Rancourt’s views are the opposite of those announced by a court in an
Arizona case where the issue was also whether a teaching method could be the
basis of dismissal. Noting that the university had concluded that the
plaintiff’s “methodology was not successful,” the court declared
freedom is not a doctrine to insulate a teacher from evaluation by the
institution that employs him” (Carley v. Arizona, 1987).

The Arizona court thinks of academic freedom as a doctrine whose scope is
defined by the purposes and protocols of the institution and its limited
purposes. Rancourt thinks of academic freedom as a local instance of a
global project whose goal is nothing less than the freeing of revolutionary
energies, not only in the schools but everywhere.

It is the difference between being concerned with the establishing and
implementing of workplace-specific procedures and being concerned with the
wholesale transformation of society. It is the difference between wanting to
teach a better physics course and wanting to save the world. Given such
divergent views, not only is reconciliation between the parties impossible;
conversation itself is impossible. The dispute can only be resolved by an
essentially political decision, and in this case the narrower concept of
academic freedom has won. But only till next time.

An interesting event if you get this in time...

The Center for German & European Studies and the Dept. of History
cordially invite you to a presentation by the Early Modern historian
Johannes Dillinger. He will speak on the nexus between state-building
and a discourse on treason and terrorism.

Dr. Johannes Dillinger, Oxford Brookes University, England "Treason.
Arson. Poison: Traitors and Terrorists in the Early Modern Period"
Tuesday, March 24, 12:00-1:20 PM
1210 Heller Hall (History Dept. conference center)
(light refreshments)


Is terrorism a 20th-century phenomenon? People in the early modern
period recognized a variety of political crimes: "crimen laesae
majestatis," "perduellio," "breach of the Empire's peace" or simply
"treason." The legal definition of these crimes helped to outline the
ideal of the well-ordered state. On a more concrete level, the
emerging states of the early modern period had to face crimes that
resembled latter-day terrorism in many ways. The authorities as well
as the populace feared organized gangs of criminals in the pay of
rival political or religious leaders. These gangs were said to attack
the civilian population using arson and mass poisoning in order to
destabilize whole states. The fear of the terrorist "state destroyer"
was part and parcel of state building from its very beginning.

DR. JOHANNES DILLINGER is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at
Oxford Brookes University, England. He received a Ph.D. from the
University of Trier. His dissertation, a comparative study of 1300
witch-trials in two German principalities, won the Friedrich Spee
Award for outstanding contributions to the historiography of
witchcraft. He also won a prestigious Emmy Noether Grant of the
German Research Association.

March 7, 2009

Notes for Questions 2/18/09

Brad Stiffler
GWSS 8190
Notes on Questions

That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation

Being Outside
Some of the writing is reminiscent of Homi Bhabha’s notion that all changes come from the borders or margins of society. But, is this the same as an outside? What constitutes a border region? Butler theorizes inside/ outside as constantly shifting notions that are mutually constitutive. The various authors in That’s Revolting offer different notions of inside/outside that are complex and different. For instance, in the “Legalize Sodomy” essay, whether one is inside or outside prison is shifted by the legalization of certain sexual practices. However, the barrier is merely shifted, as other sexual practices are still criminalized. This is true both of the inside/ outside the law barrier and the power/pleasure/ “outsider” status border that is operative in such situations.

The Academy
The academy is another inside/ outside construct developed by various authors in the collection. It is restricted and codified discursive space. How does this relate to Butler’s notion of internal critique? She offers a critique from within feminism not to tear it down but to productively push its boundaries from within. Is this a useful construction of how to be a “freak” or “troublemaker” without the traditional trappings, such as being an “outside” voice? In this way, does this book valorize the “outsider” position? Does it do so uncritically? Furthermore, it is possible to look at some visions of outsider identity as necessitating a utopian impulse or organizing vision. Is there a way to insist on negation without these future-oriented ideas?

Troublemaking through (And the Trouble with) Affinity Politics
The question of social movement is central to That’s Revolting. When does organizing break down? Why? When do these movements start replicating the same hierarchical structures of dominant society? How did ACT-UP, never wanting to be an “insider” group, still end up as an institution? Can a real-deal, trouble-making queer really be part of an organization or group? (p.256). Assumed similarities/ goals need to be analyzed to organize without identity as central. Can it be a queer project and still be inclusive? This type of coalition politics are supposed to be hard, provisional (Bernice Reagan Johnson). However, we always organize with friends and people we already know. Are shared values a stumbling block for critique? Is there an element of anti-intellectualism in organizing that doesn’t allow constant, fracturing, internal critique? The focus on action in some groups can be seen to exile thinking in some instances.

Is “resisting assimilation” about how you position yourself in relation to a dominant? Can such a framework be considered a purely “negative” politics? If assimilation is conceived of as some form of conformity with dominant structures, then resisting it outright may be a way to consistently negate dominant identity. However, this notion of the outside as place constituted by those on the margins as a place of minority identity. Is taking part in such an identification a “positive” project that rearticulates dominant notions of identity and social organization?

Pride, Creating Public and Personal (Bodily?) Space, and Not Being a Victim
Does being a parent require a certain level of assimilation? Can you remain a queer when others constantly assume you are a normal, heterosexual parent with a child? p. 104. The discussion of these issue in That’s Revolting do not resolve the issue of whether assimilation is conferred by others or about self-definition. Do you have to resist the way others may simple identify you as a normal? Performativity is key here. How do you perform resistance? Who polices these performances of oppositional identity? These issues have been considered in the study of subcultures by British Cultural Studies theorists (Dick Hebdige Subculture: The Meaning of Style). Is it an issue of intent?

March 4, 2009

Discussion notes 3/4


The Pregnant Man/T he Octomom: Monstrous troubling names:

-Who are really the troublemakers?
-How does the heteronormative institution of motherhood cast judgment?
-Why are his sexual parts troubling to others?
-What is the media’s role in troubling these circumstances?
Is this gender trouble at its finest?

Nadya vs “Jon & Kate + 8” and the Duggers (18 kids):
-What is she troubling and they aren’t?
- Why are fertility and science in trouble?

Is Beatie a monster or was he made one?
Media portrays him as “the freak”
Homonormativity makes it unsurprising that some GLBT groups disapproved of the Beaties b/c they reinstate the notion of these couples a freakish
Is there more resistance to trans couples than same-sex? Who is trying to assimilate and how?
Beatie disrupting transnormative paradigm by straddling the gender line
Idea of spectacle: How gender trouble exposes “the real” as spectacle
Nancy breastfeeding, Salma Hayek: something weird about that but not in the same way
-When you breastfeed a child that isn’t yours, you aren’t giving that child the antibodies it needs; history of wetnursing and slavery

What does this really mean for the children? Hard to see that (Ocotmom) as the same as the pregnant man.

What is “good” troublemaking vs troublemaking for the spectacle? Is there a continuum of spectacle? As troublemakers/troubling names, does their very existence make them objects of trouble or are they subjects engaged in active troublemaking? Did they decide to make a spectacle?
Spectacle as grotesque/freak show, as carnivalesque (Bakhtin), as political? How do Beaties fit into these characteristics, when they put themselves out there as normal yet the spectacle is still there- exploitation?

Re Foster on lunch counter sit-ints: They weren’t trying to be spectacles but claiming their right to humanity, to be there. Is going on Oprah, being on the Advocate cover, a claiming of humanity that got taken up as spectacle?
What is, at that moment, the representation? Sit-in participants as deliberate counterspectacle to typical media portrayals of black bodies; ACT UP as response to dominant spectacle. How are Beaties harnessing that for their own benefit? Thus becomes an issue for groups who don’t want that controversy/ version of identity vs family seeking benefits. Recognizing the material conditions of spectacle in a strategic sense. It’s all a struggle for control of representation.

Does productive/effective troublemaking have to be connected to more thoughtful, deliberate, organized, populist goals- making it better for others and not just yourself? How do we define deliberate, purposeful?

Foucault “What is Enlightenment” and idea of im/maturity in Kant: How does im/maturity determine whether troublemaking is productive? Obedience and discipline and the possibility of resistance- is there more possibility of resistance in being immature, as opposed to the “managed freedom” of maturity? Individual vs collective social responses- is immaturity operating in the same way on an individual vs collective basis? Foucault’s axes of knowledge/power/ethics and the possibility that troublemaking points the way to an ethic that does not see maturity as the typical ethical position- is there another way to think about being responsible and accountable?