All 3 entries tagged Knowledges

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July 04, 2013

"Bodies" in Open Space Learning

‘Bodies’ in the context of an interdisciplinary project is a hugely diverse theme and the task of covering the current, relevant debates and topics could seem like a daunting prospect.

The Open Space Learning (OSL) session on Bodies was born from needing to explore what ‘Bodies’ means to an interdisciplinary project, and to begin the process of generating sub-themes and subsequent content for the GK module.

As I come from a Women’s Studies and Sociology background, it felt important to gather ideas from other disciplines and seek help to embrace what ‘Bodies’ means to other disciplines within academia. I know how a Feminist Sociologist might interpret ‘Bodies’, but I needed to know more about how the theme might be understood within differing frameworks.

Open Space Learning is a pedagogic methodology that pursues a move away from the traditional lecture/seminar framework of university teaching and learning, it

“Seeks to offer a transdisciplinary model of pedagogy that has the potential to transform the student experience in higher education by creating conditions in which learning is immediate, enactive and alive” (Monk et al, 2011:1)

Using ‘open spaces’ rather than the more conventional classroom-with-desks, OSL strives to break down the power relationship and hierarchy of the teacher/student model. The members of the group work alongside the facilitator and by collectively and actively engaging with the teaching materials (which could be text, images, objects, performance), seek to produce new and alternative knowledges. (Ibid)

OSL encourages a physical engagement with the materials and a sense of embodiment not possible in the more traditional classroom or lecture setting (Monk et al, 2011:2). It therefore seemed like an obvious choice when planning an event to investigate Bodies and a useful vehicle through which to explore the theme and it’s complexities.

I as facilitator provided a range of images and pieces of text relating to “Bodies” in some way. I divided the group into 2 and gave each group the same resources. I asked the groups to then ‘make sense’ of the images, to discuss their personal and group interpretations and to feedback on their thoughts understandings of the images and discussions.

I wanted to use a variety of images and pieces of texts to instigate discussion, consider sub-themes and what it all means for the GK project and eventual MA module – from both the perspective of teaching methods and content.

There are therefore, 2 main issues to consider when reflecting upon the session itself:

1. With regards to content generation, was the OSL session useful? And

2. With regards to OSL as a teaching method – did it work and could it work for the GK module?

As for content generation, the session resulted in more questions than answers really, but it was still useful. We had some interesting conversations, and there were definitely some ideas to take away.

As a teaching method, it could definitely work, but there are some important issues to consider. Generating images and pieces of text from the facilitator’s perspective is problematic. One sets out with the intention of covering as much as you can, but sometimes, producing and sourcing resources from outside of your discipline or knowledge set, can be difficult. It’s really important to seek outside contributions – I did request images and pieces of text, and did get some very useful contributions, but this could have been more diverse if people were more forthcoming with their own ideas and images/texts.

Also, there is a limit on how many images you should use – too many and the exercise becomes difficult and therefore ineffective. I had to cut out some of the images I had sourced, and found myself regretting my editing choices on the day. Bodies is such a huge theme that perhaps it needed more than one session. That said, I was (am) a complete novice at facilitating this kind of seminar/workshop/session and so somebody with more expertise would probably have made more use of the method and therefore generated more useful results.

The OSL framework incites debate and discussion, and encourages and enables the questioning of your own interpretations of a range of materials. I will definitely be making time to learn more about this as a teaching method, and using it in my own teaching as well as recommending it in the creation of the GK module.

References:

Monk, N et al, (2011) Open Space Learning: A study in transdisciplinary pedagogy, London: Bloomsbury


May 27, 2013

The essay as a form of assessment

Writing about web page http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/the-essayification-of-everything/

In a New York Times blog post, French Studies lecturer Christy Wampole writes of the difference between the kind of "essay" we usually write - and have our students write - these days, and the type of "essay" written by Montaigne, the 16th-century Frenchman who pioneered the genre. "Essai" means "attempt" - it was a way of trying out an idea, of making a suggestion and seeing how it worked - of "groping" around a topic, as Adorno put it. Now, of course, what is called an essay, particularly in an academic context, has almost the opposite properties:

Much of the writing encountered today that is labeled as “essay” or “essay-like” is anything but. These texts include the kind of writing expected on the SAT, in seminar papers, dissertations, professional criticism or other scholarly writing; politically engaged texts or other forms of peremptory writing that insist upon their theses and leave no room for uncertainty; or other short prose forms in which the author’s subjectivity is purposely erased or disguised. What these texts often have in common is, first, their self-conscious hiding of the “I” under a shroud of objectivity. One has to pretend that one’s opinions or findings have emanated from some office of higher truth where rigor and science are the managers on duty.

Second, these texts are untentative: they know what they want to argue before they begin, stealthily making their case, anticipating any objections, aiming for air-tightness. These texts are not attempts; they are obstinacies. They are fortresses. Leaving the reader uninvited to this textual engagement, the writer makes it clear he or she would rather drink alone.

By contrast, the older essay-writing mode

is defined by contingency and trying things out digressively, following this or that forking path, feeling around life without a specific ambition: not for discovery’s sake, not for conquest’s sake, not for proof’s sake, but simply for the sake of trying.

It's unclear whether Wampole is advocating or simply describing a contemporary return to this older form - an ambiguity she seems to leave deliberately open in her avoidance of an air-tight argumentation style. Her blog-post-cum-essay is rich with nuance, situating random ideas next to each other, and refusing to alight on any particular conclusion. It is exploratory rather than decided.

This struck me as having a lot of overlap with our own pedagogical goals in the Gendered Knowledges project. Something we've been grappling with is how to fit the requirements of assessment into a Gender and Sexuality Studies course that is taking an exploratory, subjective attitude, and that is open to students from all academic backgrounds. Perhaps opening up academic writing forms to greater flexibility, and greater subjectivity, could be one potential answer to this quandary. We could encourage students to attend to their own thoughts, and their own lives, through a writing style that meanders in and out of the theoretical concepts they're learning in a non-linear, non-argumentative fashion. A kind of un-exam.

What do you all think of this as a method? What could be some problems with it for the modules we're designing?


April 29, 2013

A Queer Salon with Open Barbers

openbarbers1


On June 17th we are hosting a Queer Salon at Warwick, in the open space of the Reinvention Centre at Westwood.

The event brings together different traditions of the ‘salon’, providing space for cultural exchange, intellectual debate and the cutting of hair. All are welcome to join in the scheduled events (to be announced nearer the time), to lounge around with a queer text, to meet others for discussion, to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and/or to get their hair cut by the wonderful Greygory and Felix from Open Barbers.

Open Barbers have the following manifesto:

‘We offer a personalised and warm haircutting experience with a queer and trans friendly attitude. We seek to promote the diversity of identities in society and celebrate people’s appearance in the way they wish to be seen.’

As well as running a weekly evening salon and social space in London, Open Barbers take part in queer events such as festivals. I met them at the Shout festival in Birmingham where they were happily received by a diverse range of passers-by who were visiting the community venue the midlands arts centre (the mac) and were tempted by a free haircut (the lovely cakes and biscuits may also have played a part) and conversation. Here Open Barbers were part of a programme of events around queer kinship curated by Birmingham artist Lisa Metherell.

Like fellow radical snippers The Haircut Before the Party (from whom I received a funky crop at Fierce Festival in 2012 and who offer haircuts in exchange for conversation) this is a haircut with a difference. I think the difference is in the politics.

For Open Barbers, the heteronormativity of the mainstream hairdressers or barber’s shop is made explicit, and their approach is characterised by a radical openness, challenging the gendered assumptions of hair/style. Cutting hair and getting your hair cut are social, intimate, embodied experiences: the hair salon is often a space of strangers’ bodies in close encounters where unfamiliar hands, faces and heads are reflected around a room of multiple mirrors. The lights are often bright. There are un/familiar smells of products and people. A room full of gazes, performances, identities, conformities, resistances, pains and pleasures – all deeply gendered in multiple and complex ways. Open Barbers don’t attempt to hide or neutralise these political dimensions but to play with them, build on them, understand them, celebrate them.

The act of the haircut is also an exchange. The labour of the haircut is usually exchanged for money. There are other less explicit exchanges: of physical care and attention, conversation, sympathy, empathy, ideas, opinions, dis/agreement, mis/understanding, knowledges. These are of course always framed and shaped by their context: most commonly the context of the capitalist, heteronormative haircut. Within this frame, particularly for queer subjects, some things cannot be spoken; some identities are invisible, some knowledges are inadmissible and some ideas would not be understood, should we dare to share them.

For Open Barbers, these multiple politics and problematics of exchange are out in the open. Visitors are invited to pay what they can afford for the cut, and the queer openness permits some otherwise unspeakable thoughts, ideas, desires to be shared. Greygory began Open Barbers as ‘Queer Cuts Exchange’, explaining:

‘I would offer alternative haircuts and others offered something back. Hair cutting is something I really enjoy, and it was important for me that people reciprocate with something that they enjoy too. The exchange happened not based on skill level or some notion of equivalent value, but on the basis of people’s enjoyment’ (Zoya, 2011).

We hope many of you will come and join us on June 17th. There will be opportunities to book a haircut, come and join a scheduled activity, or just pop in to hang out in the salon and get a trim if the mood takes you and Greygory and Felix are not already booked up!

I am growing mine in anticipation …

References

Zoya (2011) Open Barbers is Styling Genderqueer London - Interview with Open Barbers ,13 September 2011, Dapper Q

http://www.dapperq.com/2011/09/open-barbers-is-styling-genderqueer-london/


See a short film about Open Barbers at http://vimeo.com/56508433


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