Tagged: feminism

Taking it Slow

It is that time of year again in which the timelines and retrospections and evaluations flood our heads, hearts and mailboxes. It is the time of year that forces us ruthlessly to succumb to neoliberal and societal pressures and ask ourselves: what have we done? What have we reached? These questions hit close to home when I look at anthropolandia, where I haven’t posted anything in over three months now. Lack of time? Lack of inspiration? Or is this maybe not just an example of individual failure, but a reflection of something that is wrong with a broader structure?

I have recently read an article about Slow Scholarship from a Feminist collective. (You can find it here at the ACME journal.) In it, the authors Alison Mountz, Anne Bonds, Becky Mansfield, Jenna Loyd, Jennifer Hyndman, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Ranu Basu, Risa Whitson, Roberta Hawkins, Trina Hamilton and Winifred Curran advocate for an approach to scholarship that makes it possible again for good scholarship to ripen. The idea shouldn’t surprise:

Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire. (p. 1237)

This was the first article in weeks that I read because I wanted to, not because I had to for whatever kind of obligation. Where is innovation going to come from, if there is no time to explore? Among my colleagues and friends pursuing doctoral degrees, I know literally no-one who hasn’t struggled with their project at some point. Sure, this is not just, or in every case, a question of slowing things down. And the position from which I look at the problem is exceptional, because most doctoral students either don’t have the same financial security, or a much higher workload to comply with while trying to write their dissertations. But the longer I look at this phenomenon, the more I think that something has to be done. Something that is not limited to individual (self-optimizing) coaching sessions, but something that will make space for the uniquely personal, even, and maybe especially if, it doesn’t fit into an overarching scheme of profitability.

Some propositions from the article on how we can make space for the slow moments of scholarship, those that include the best ideas and the dearest projects, are these:

  • Talk things slow! Let other people know about the slow scholarship movement, discuss is with your peers and organize! The more, the merrier, and the more likely you are to find time to thin if the people around you are aware of the situation.
  • Take care of yourself and others! While you can only take care of others if you also take care of yourself, you shouldn’t forget about them, either. Especially if you find yourself in a position in which you have the power to influence in work schedules, make plans that work for as many people as possible.
  • Write fewer emails! Have a look at how writing, sending and receiving emails can be improved for all people involved over at emailcharter.org!
  • Good enough is the new perfect! When it comes to things you have to do (compared to the things you want to do), reach for the minimum. Perfectionalism is a real time killer, and this way you might get back some precious time to think.

For 2018, I wish for you and me to have the ability and strength to tackle some of these, and make the niches we’re inhabiting a little more inhabitable again.


6. Reading: Wounds of Passion

I’ve been meaning to read some bell hooks for quite some time, and now that I find myself again in a little crisis about making my work more political, while at the same time exploring and discussing forms of writing, Wound of Passion (1997, Owl Books) came my way. To be honest, it didn’t much help me in both aspects, and especially in the beginning I was tempted to just let it be. But I’m not really good at not finishing books, so I went through with it, and halfway in, it finally hooked me. (Yeah, excellent pun, I know.)

What I liked best about it is probably the way she makes small, everyday problems in a relationship appear meaningful for a feminist project, and how she conveys the subtleties (and often not so subtle ties) of racism and classism. The book gave me a good idea about what intersectionality means “in the real world”, in which one has to provide for oneself. I thought it had little of writing for being subtitled “a writing life”, but then again the fact that it was hard to even find the little space for writing there is, shows how real the struggles hooks describes are.

How did I come across the book?

I was searching for something radical, feminist, by a person of color, on writing, to see if there was any way for me to make discussions about genre more political. I had read a chapter of Black Looks during my bachelor’s degree and remembered her name.

When and where did I read it?

During fieldwork in Bogotá, on several afternoons in cafés, but also on the bus to the library, or before going to bed. I also had it with me on a trip to Chile, where I didn’t look into it, however. On the plane there, it got me involved in a conversation with a priest, who thought (guessing from the cover motive, which shows two hands with red crosses on them) I was reading something religious. He was a little disappointed when I told him what the book was about.

If you want to read books that focus on black women, you better start writing and keep writing. (p.99)

16. Reading: Untenrum frei

Untenrum frei by Margarete Stokowski (Rowohlt, 2016) is only the third book this year I read in German, and it’s already the end of October and on my list are just two more German titles. Now that has absolutely nothing to do with the book, and does not even give for a good explanation for this curiosity. I simply don’t like reading translations, and I don’t get to many recommendations on German books or authors. (You are very welcome to change this, though!) But back to Margarete’s manifesto. I think one can rightfully claim this, as it is a very thoughtful, angry, comprehensive and funny 200-something page thinkpiece on feminism and why you should be in it, too. So far nothing surprising, as this kind of literature has had a new wave for at least the last year with works such as Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable things, or Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s We should all be feminists, among others.

But Stokowski does not just offer a German perspective. She does not limit herself to some regionalism, yet always carefully reflects her position and therefore, the impossibility of claiming a voice for someone other than herself. But her voice will  not be silenced, so much is clear after reading through Untenrum frei. It is enjoyably radical, yet never unjust – no Bra-burning, no man-hating, if you will. Instead, she wonderfully masters a mixture of sound arguments to counter many of the standardized pub talk fears and doubts about feminism, with wit and humor that make it a very entertaining yet educating read. It made me want to learn some of her comebacks by heart so as to always have them ready for the next pub.

How did I come across the book?

I saw it recommended in two magazines I am reading. Also, I have known Stokowski’s columns on gender for Spiegel Online, which I always enjoyed for their No-Shit-attitude. Plus, I often think, she is the only person there doing serious journalism, for her texts are never clickbaity and always very well argumented.

When and where did I read it?

On a four day holiday with my mom at the Baltic sea. My mom will be the next to read it, because she liked the cover a lot (it is very minimalistically chic), and heard me laugh a lot while reading. Plus, she was the one who first mentioned feminism to me and is always interested in my recommendations.

Maybe it says a lot about the fragility of gender that instructions on being the two main ones have been issued monthly for so long.  (Rebecca Solnit cited in Stokowski, p. 94)

15. Reading: The Worrier’s Guide to Life

Can you still call it reading, when it’s actually comic drawings? I’m gonna go with Yes, here. Gemma Correll’s beautiful The Worrier’s Guide to Life (2015, Andrews McMeel) is most definitely something you want to read or look at in a time of crisis. The “World Champion Over-Thinker” created some wonderful illustrations of all the things one can worry about, spanning every issue from health, fashion, social gatherings, work, travel, leisure, and of course love. You might just have a look at her beautiful tumblr here to get some impressions of her work.

Does it work?

Well, the one thing that’s for sure is it will make you laugh, and maybe that really is all that was missing for your day to be a tiny little bit nicer than you thought. Also, especially her work on periods and body positive attitudes help make some serious troubles more visible and raise awareness without the niggling. My personal favorite? The impostor-syndrome suffering fetus: “I bet all the other fetuses are way further along in their development…” – “What am I doing with my life?”

3. Reading: The Vulnerable Observer

The Vulnerable Observer by Ruth Behar (1996, Beacon Press) is a mixture of memoir and diasporic ethnography, or maybe more precisely one that crosses borders, both geographically and in genre. The collection of six essays covers a remarkable range of topics: memory, trauma, death rites, classism, racism, feminism, and, most importantly, lessons on how to write and become a good observer. An observer that is touched and committed, and who has no fear of being moved by the stories she comes to know and engage in. Half of the essays have already been published elsewhere, however, especially the one giving the book its title is already another classic on anthropological practice and writing. I was also especially touched by the invisible border that divides the life of two women in My Mexican Friend Marta Who Lives across the Border from Me in Detroit, and the longtime traumatizing effect a childhood injury can have on ones life in The Girl in the Cast. The last one, Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, is a plea for an anthropology that engages and embraces feeling, while at the same time defending another classic in anthropological writing on affect, namely Renato Rosaldo’s Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage.

How did I come across the book?

I’ve known the title for years, and always wanted to read it at some point. Now that I am preparing a seminar for undergraduate students, I could finally get it done. I’m still not sure which of the essays will go into the syllabus, because many offer possibilities on discussing the ways affect works in anthropology.

When and where did I read it?

At work, for work. I read each essay on its own, so it’s been six days in total. One could possibly make it in one session, but since the stories are deeply moving, I preferred to take it slow – you’ve been warned.

The programmatic final of the book can indeed be taken as a poignant summary:

Call it sentimental, call it Victorian and nineteenth century, but I say that anthropology that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore. (p. 177)