Faculty Abstracts

Paper Abstract
Pablo Schyfter

“My paper will compare pedagogical ambitions, challenges and opportunities in teaching introductions to science studies and gender studies. Specifically, I will study how each sets out to challenge and undermine powerful, ubiquitous and stubborn assumptions. Science studies takes aim at the unsullied and objective scientific fact; gender studies confronts the universal and immutable sex binary. In both cases, the challenge is to demonstrate the importance and benefit of casting aside comfortable ideas and embracing messier understandings. Just as important is the ambition of affecting students’ perception of their social surroundings. I consider what pedagogical lessons can be transferred between fields.”


The Born-Again Feminist? [OR Feminist Pedagogy versus the Feminist Self or Troubling Academia: Itirerative and Irritant Feminists]
Kanchana Ruwanpura

21st century British academia: why am I even writing about feminism and feminist politics within academia?  Weren’t feminist struggles for gender equity won eons ago, when I was an undergraduate in a small women’s only liberal arts college in the USA – as I saturated in a feminist awareness and politics in the classroom and outside?  It takes being thrown into a mostly men, mostly scientist work environment to rudely wake up to the reality that gender equality consideration get trodden on a frequently troubling rate that my feminism is reborn again with equal measure of invigoration and despair.  This auto-ethnography traces why we feminists will not go away and are here to stay; and equality measures are much more than a documenting, a tick-box exercise and is hardwork and solidarity politics.


Decolonising Feminist Classrooms – A Reflexive Account
Radhika Govinda

The call to decolonise the feminist academy first emerged nearly three decades ago in the writings of trailblazing feminist scholars like Chandra Talpade Mohanty. So what has changed since then in feminist classrooms? What are the pedagogical challenges of engaging with questions of difference and decolonisation in feminist classrooms today? How does the global neoliberal logic of knowledge production and dissemination affect the project of decolonising feminist classrooms? What are the particular dilemmas that a feminist of colour like myself encounter when attempting to ‘teach to transgress’ to ‘Western eyes’? How do I get my students to engage with questions of marginalisation and privilege, ethnocentrism and hegemony? What impact does this engagement have on my own sense of location and subjectivity? This paper is a reflexive account of the potentials and problems of trying to decolonise pre-dominantly white feminist classrooms in an elite British University in the age of neoliberalism. It explores the politics of embodied intersectionality, of questioning institutionalised white bias in the curriculum, and of making space for feminism in the broader structures of neoliberalism in higher education.


An Outsider Within: Dilemmas of an Academic Feminist in Management
Fiona Mackay

 Women have made uneven progress in the Academy: whilst they now outnumber men in most universities in the global North, academia remains stubbornly gendered as masculine as well as patterned by horizontal and vertical segregation. Cultural, economic and social barriers remain, which marginalise women and privilege majority men (Atkin & Vicars, 2016; Equality Challenge Unit 2015). There is a small but growing body of work that addresses gendered and intersectional inequalities in the Academy – as a workplace, as a professional field, a set of organisations, and arena of knowledge production. Much of the attention has been focussed on efforts at  gender mainstreaming.

Whilst still rare, women are achieving important leadership roles inside Universities. This paper will explore the practical, political and theoretical dilemmas posed for feminists who enter leadership positions in the age of the rise of the “neo-liberal Academy”.  These are familiar dilemmas for feminists working inside bureaucracies (see, for example, Ebyn and Turquet  2013). So what does – or can-  feminist academics do when they take on senior management roles?  How do academic feminists experience being simultaneously the embodiment of institutional authority (to manage, regulate, quantify, monetise) as well as a source of oppositional knowledge?  To what extent are there opportunities to work with the grain of an institution to challenge the gendered status quo from within? Or are academic feminists-who-manage inevitably co-opted and compromised?  The paper will provide me the opportunity to reflect upon a sustained period of senior academic leadership at the University of Edinburgh.


Social and Political Science in Practice: An Experiment in Co-Production
Meryl Kenny

This paper explores the potential of student co-production as a mechanism for advancing feminist pedagogies. It summarises the findings of a recent experiment in student co-production at the University of Edinburgh, drawing on lessons from the course Social and Political Science in Practice, convened by the author. SPS in Practice provided a framework for a faculty-student team to co-produce interactive learning and teaching resources for a new introductory-level course Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World, intended to offer a rigorous (but accessible) introduction to gender to students from an inter-disciplinary social science perspective. The paper reflects on how the project was set up, how it operated, and its outcomes, and in doing so, seeks to contribute to wider debates over the promises and drawbacks of interdisciplinary feminist pedagogies, collaborative teaching, and the co-production of knowledge.


When Women Study-The Feminist Possibilities of Women’s Education
Krishna Menon

Substantive understanding of equality establishes the significance and centrality of access to education in a liberal democracy such as India and the other South Asian states in the region.  A series of exclusions have however characterized this landscape in the region.  My paper will argue that the nature of this exclusion has been gendered and one of the most   significant lines of exclusion has been along caste and gender. In order to address this exclusion the Constitution of independent India for instance, incorporated within it the provision for special provision for backward castes and groups, while also affirming the universal right to equality.  Of the many special provisions, the introduction of ‘reservation’ of   seats and positions in government funded educational institutions has been the most controversial.  The existence of single-sex, especially women only educational institutions has been another provision. This paper will examine a history of modern education for women in the region, with specific focus on women’s only educational spaces and its role in challenging dominant perceptions of gender and power in South Asian societies.  Do these spaces challenge conceptions of women’s role in a traditional society? Or is it a merely token, or worse still does it reinforce the existing understanding about women’s role in an unequal society?  Do these institutions extend the   surveillance and control of female sexuality and agency that are so typical of the role of families in the South Asia?  This would provide a backdrop for an evaluation of the role played by women’s studies as an academic discipline in this region and the possibility of resistance emerging from these centres.


Interrogating the Self and Categorising the Other: A Feminist Lens to Understanding Performance and Social Location
Sumangala Damodaran

Social discrimination and its manifestations in universities and other public spaces have been thrown into the limelight in recent years by the spate of attacks against women, dalits and religious minorities in India, as also by the movements against such discrimination. Universities have been important spaces where both discriminatory as well as resistant articulations have taken place. My paper will discuss the experience of teaching two courses on discrimination, where questions of race, caste and gender are taken up beyond the intersectionality lens, and what challenges this has produced within the classroom. The two courses, one in Development Studies titled Identity, Discrimination and Development and the other in Performance studies titled Music and the Popular Imagination both take up theoretical issues and debates around fundamental notions of the self and the other, but also extensively examine experience, i.e., notions of the self and other as lived experiences. Specifically, the experience of interrogating the self in a collective exercise with the students and the complexities of social location that it throws up, one in the case of understanding development and the other in the case of understanding the production and reception of music, will be addressed in the paper.


The Framing of Gendered Violence in Neoliberal Times: Challenges of Feminist Pedagogy
Bindu K.C.

The paper I will be presenting intends to relook at the changing discourse on  violence in the contemporary feminist discourse, especially focussing on some of the strong voices that articulate the rights of “the public” – especially public spaces and mobility – for women.  Two movements that have rocked the country that raises gender centrally as an issue – the post Jyoti Singh assault and murder movement, popularly known as Nirbhaya movement in the Indian media, as well as the Kiss of Love movement that articulated the right for public display of erotic affection which began in Kerala and took an all India form, serve as background for this paper.

While these movements appear as movements to occupy public space by women, they also frame sexual violence in public places against women (and to some extent sexual minorities) as the most important threat.  But, unlike the discourse some years ago, they do not present the “safetly” discourse as a bargain that good women have to make with patriarchy throwing the “bad girls” into its brutal arms.  They completely assert women’s bodies and pleasures and this becomes a way to frame violence itself.  The changes that have happened through liberalisation, the access to media and social networking that is connected but not limited to one’s kin group through virtual world etc have played a very important role in bringing about this changing discourse.

Yet, the unfortunate pitching of the agential pleasure asserting woman figure against the slum dwelling, criminal lower class (very often embodied as lower caste and sometimes minority community) man might work towards punishing the poor – with the state and penile apparatus working towards the incarceration (in real prisons as well as abstract exclusions from spaces) of lower class men as solution to the problem of violence against women in public spaces.  This exposes the agential woman – the feminist figure of our contemporary times – as colluding with a caste-class structure – while asking, quite legitimate questions about safetly, mobility, violence and agency.

The paper would deal with how these questions translate into feminist classrooms?  How does one deal with the post nirbhaya generation in a gender studies class room? How to keep the hope and legitimate expectations of feminist solidarity alive but with the knowledge of collusion of neoliberal feminisms with caste class stuctures?  How to impart this complexity, in order to keep a politics of hope alive?  That is the challange that I have faced as a teacher of violence in classes that deal with feminism.


Engaging Resisting Subjects
Rachana Johri

Feminist thought has radically transformed the teaching of Social Sciences and Humanities in the past several decades. Given feminist concerns with questions of epistemology and the production of subjectivity, it is not unusual for students of these disciplines to acquire a capacity of self reflexivity that enables them to reflect upon questions of gendered violence in their life outside the class room. My concern in this paper is to shift the  focus away from this familiar space to other disciplines such as Commerce and Management that are often taught within the same Campuses as Social Sciences and Humanities but rarely concern themselves with questions of feminism or of gendered violence. In India, such Programs are amongst the most popular and sought after.  However, my assumption is that the practices of such disciplines effectively produce subjectivities that may be fundamentally resistant to questions of gendered violence . My interest in this domain comes from an assumption that these students are educated into the rationality of the ‘Market’ and therefore see themselves as epitomising modernity and success. My concern in this paper is to ask how questions of gendered violence are understood by such students. Does the curriculum taught to students of Commerce and Management in Indian Universities include a reflection on these questions? Does a tradition of research exist within these fields that critically reflects upon such questions? This paper will seek to answer such questions with a view to understand how such an engagement might be brought into classrooms.


Between Discomfort and Negotiation: Law as a ‘Troubled’ Space in Feminist Pedagogies
Rukmini Sen

With diversity and hierarchy as the reality of classrooms in India, this paper will built upon experiences and pedagogies of transacting transforming complex ideas on intimacy through the legal landscape. In a country, where law is dominantly seen as liberator, how do young minds encounter and engage with law’s promise and its fissures with everyday societal constraints? Classrooms become an important space of access to (progressive) information and political/legal possibilities, but also a site of discomfort—since most women and men find ideologies of the classroom/university and the home/family in contradiction. This paper comes out from reflexive exercises on the classroom practices of a course titled Law and Society aimed at Sociology students, with one objective being learning feminist critiques of the legal construction of sexuality and intimacy (through laws on sexual violence and marriage). How does the Masters student negotiate this ‘troubled’ socio-legal territory? Does law remain distant in the midst of caste and sexuality norms determining everyday choices (for example marital partner) and un-freedoms? Does feminist pedagogy create enabling language in this complex meandering?