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April 23, 2013

Thoughts on an OSL workshop

A guest post by Dr Nick Monk

Thanks very much for inviting me to facilitate this session, it was a pleasure to work with all of you, and it’s really interesting for me to read these observations. It was one of those very stimulating workshops, for me, in which I felt I learned a great deal from the participants, both about the subject matter and about myself as an academic. It was clear to me that my understanding of gendered knowledges was extremely limited, and was confined by my own disciplines, by the broader culture in which I operate, and by ‘who I am’. In response to this, if I was to repeat this workshop and if I was, again, to choose the bulk of the material, I would include more on masculinity, and more that sought to invite more explicitly the flourishing of non-western perspectives. I think this from Anna really hits the mark:

“The debate in my group focused on the various exclusions in feminist discourse: the way mainstream feminism is really white, Western, middle-class feminism, and the way gender studies in the academy often (though certainly not always) reflect this hegemony. It’s all about whose voices are heard – by who gets the most seats at the discursive table – and this is of course determined by existing power structures. This project’s ‘radicality’ has to be about acknowledging the existing power structures within the academy – both in teaching and in research (e.g. disciplinary boundaries) – and then trying as best we can to get away from them, to re-imagine the university.”

Having said this, I couldn’t help but think, amid the generally welcome critique of liberal/enlightenment/humanist values, that without these phenomena we probably wouldn’t have been together in that room with the freedom to debate in the kind of detail, with the kind of richness of perspective, that we did. Which, of course adds a further layer of complexity.

I thought also that the session ‘worked’ really well at a practical level, and I was delighted with the range of creative responses to the materials with which the participants were confronted. The depth and breadth of ideas generated and/or aired in the session seemed to me exponentially larger than had we simply organised a discussion, and I felt that everyone had an opportunity to contribute. The differences between what was produced by the two groups using the same materials exemplified this, and the exchange of views at the end, I thought, set the stage for debates to come. My only regret was that we didn’t have time for the ‘embodied’ stage of the workshop. For me this kind of work is at its best when participants are engaged in work that ‘performs’ (in the broadest sense) elements of the intellectual dynamic. In this case it seems to me that the strength of the relationship between embodiment and gender is so strong that the session could only have been powerfully enhanced by participants moving into tableaux. Husserl’s sense of grasping an idea, or object, as it simultaneously grips us is germane, here, as – according to the phenomenologists – we necessarily ‘understand’ or ‘know’ with our bodies as well as our brains - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl/

I’m really pleased, finally, that people have responded in the way they have, and Katharina’s idea of a ‘different’ OSL session is the kind of thing I hope for most when I run work like this.

Thanks again,

Nick Monk.

Dr Monk is an Assistant Professor in English and Comparative Literary Studies and Deputy Director of the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick.


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